Monday, July 30, 2007

The jatropha gold-rush

It will of course eventually be found to give people cancer

The jatropha bush seems an unlikely prize in the hunt for alternative energy, being an ugly, fast-growing and poisonous weed. Hitherto, its use to humanity has principally been as a remedy for constipation. Very soon, however, it may be powering your car. Almost overnight, the unloved Jatropha curcushas become an agricultural and economic celebrity, with the discovery that it may be the ideal biofuel crop, an alternative to fossil fuels for a world dangerously dependent on oil supplies and deeply alarmed by the effects of global warming. The hardy jatropha, resilient to pests and resistant to drought, produces seeds with up to 40 per cent oil content. When the seeds are crushed, the resulting jatropha oil can be burnt in a standard diesel car, while the residue can also be processed into biomass to power electricity plants.

As the search for alternative energy sources gathers pace and urgency, the jatropha has provoked something like a gold rush. Last week BP announced that it was investing almost 32 million pounds in a jatropha joint venture with the British biofuels company D1 Oils.

Even Bob Geldof has stamped his cachet on jatropha, by becoming a special adviser to Helius Energy, a British company developing the use of jatropha as an alternative to fossil fuels. Lex Worrall, its chief executive, says: "Every hectare can produce 2.7 tonnes of oil and about 4 tonnes of biomass. Every 8,000 hectares of the plant can run a 1.5 megawatt station, enough to power 2,500 homes."

Jatropha grows in tropical and subtropical climates. Whereas other feed-stocks for biofuel, such as palm oil, rape seed oil or corn for ethanol, require reasonable soils on which other crops might be grown, jatropha is a tough survivor prepared to put down roots almost anywhere. Scientists say that it can grow in the poorest wasteland, generating topsoil and helping to stall erosion, but also absorbing carbon dioxide as it grows, thus making it carbon-neutral even when burnt. A jatropha bush can live for up to 50 years, producing oil in its second year of growth, and survive up to three years of consecutive drought.

In India about 11 million hectares have been identified as potential land on which to grow jatropha. The first jatropha-fuelled power station is expected to begin supplying electricity in Swaziland in three years. Meanwhile, companies from Europe and India have begun buying up land in Africa as potential jatropha plantations. Jatropha plantations have been laid out on either side of the railway between Bombay and Delhi, and the train is said to run on more than 15 per cent biofuel. Backers say that the plant can produce four times more fuel per hectare than soya, and ten times more than corn. "Those who are working with jatropha," Sanju Khan, a site manager for D1 Oils, told the BBC, "are working with the new generation crop, developing a crop from a wild plant - which is hugely exciting."

Jatropha, a native of Central America, was brought to Europe by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century and has since spread worldwide, even though, until recently, it had few uses: malaria treatment, a windbreak for animals, live fencing and candle-making. An ingredient in folk remedies around the world, it earned the nickname "physic nut", but its sap is a skin irritant, and ingesting three untreated seeds can kill a person.

Jatropha has also found a strong supporter in Sir Nicholas Stern, the government economist who emphasised the dangers of global warming in a report this year. He recently advised South Africa to "look for biofuel technologies that can be grown on marginal land, perhaps jatropha".

However, some fear that in areas dependent on subsistence farming it could force out food crops, increasing the risk of famine. Some countries are also cautious for other reasons: last year Western Australia banned the plant as invasive and highly toxic to people and animals.

Yet a combination of economic, climatic and political factors have made the search for a more effective biofuel a priority among energy companies. New regulations in Britain require that biofuels comprise 5 per cent of the transport fuel mix by 2010, and the EU has mandated that by 2020 all cars must run on 20 per cent biodiesel. Biodiesel reduces carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 80 per cent compared with petroleum diesel, according to the US Energy Department.

Under the deal between BP and D1, 80 million pounds will be invested in jatropha over the next five years, with plantations in India, southern Africa and SouthEast Asia. There are no exact figures for the amount of land already under jatropha cultivation, but the area is expanding fast. China is planning an 80,000-acre plantation in Sichuan, and the BPD1 team hopes to have a million hectares under cultivation over the next four years. Jatropha has long been prized for its medicinal qualities. Now it might just help to cure the planet.


In defence of golf (really)

Environmentalists claim that golf is a rich man's game that is scarring the planet. Is no sport safe from the eco-moralising of the whingerati? Comment from Britain:

As you might have guessed I'm no golf anorak. (I'm not sure what the correct term is for a hardcore golf enthusiast. `Golf ultra' doesn't ring true, but given their penchant for trainspotterish waterproofs, I think `golf anorak' sounds about right.) You won't, for example, have caught me glued to Radio 5 Live's saturation coverage of last week's British Open at Carnoustie. Nor was I particularly enamoured to see golf monopolising the sports pages of the newspapers - interrupted only by the obligatory Beckhamwatch article. I'm not suggesting that the press should ignore golf, rather that it should tuck it away somewhere less obtrusive, perhaps alongside the chess or the sudoku. In short, anywhere but on the sports pages. So no, not a golf lover. And yet, when golf comes under attack from a bunch of self-loathing middle-class worthies, I find myself uttering the slogan: `We are all golfers.'

I did consider writing a gratuitously provocative anti-golf article. You know the sort of thing. Ten Reasons Why Golf isn't a Proper Sport: 1) There is no PGA Tour drug-testing regime because there's so little athleticism in golf that nobody is sure how drugs might enhance performance. 2) Old people play it.and so on. It would have been a doddle. But then I found that US journalist Ben Alder had beaten me to it. After reading Adler's diatribe, `The case against golf', on the Guardian Unlimited website, I felt no option but to defend the maligned golfing community (if there is such a thing). Adler, you see, hates golf because of its environmental impact. `The construction and maintenance of golf courses is harmful to fragile ecosystems the world over', he writes. `Its proliferation as the international pastime of the leisure class is multiplying the problem, and its approval by governments and societies epitomises the wasteful and scurrilous approach to development that is replicated in miniature on millions of suburban lawns.' (1)

Adler is not the only person to argue that golf is a green issue. A coalition of environmentalists and anti-globalists has even held an annual `No Golf Day' to highlight the environmental damage caused by this heinous leisure pursuit. Inevitably, George Monbiot, the man who put the `mental' into environmentalism, has long opposed the globalisation of golf. `The proliferation of courses in the South is great news for golfers, and disastrous news for everyone else,' wrote Monbiot. `Peasant farmers are deprived of vast tracts of productive land, rivers and aquifers are shrivelling up, pesticides threaten both medical and ecological calamity' (2).

The problem with the green case against golf, which pretty much goes for the green case against anything, is that almost any worthwhile human activity, with the possible exception of composting your own shit, leaves some kind of environmental footprint. Monbiot, for example, doesn't just stop at golf. In a supremely silly article in Observer Sport Monthly last year he argued that pretty much all sports were helping to kill the planet - with the exception of frisbee (which, it goes without saying, isn't actually sport) (3). Who needs satire when you've got the rantings of George Monbiot?

If sports-hating green killjoys aren't complaining about golf's contribution to eco-Armageddon, then white middle-class liberals are bashing it for being white and middle-class. Take, for example, former Marxism Today editor Martin Jacques, who specialises in handwringing articles about elitist, white-dominated sports. `It seems an iron law that the more expensive and exclusive the sport, the whiter are its participants and spectators. Where the costs of entry are minimal, there is a wide avenue of opportunity for those with little or nothing, which is why football is just about the most democratic sport of all', wrote Jacques recently. `Contrast that with golf, where expensive real estate means that the cost of entry for a golf club is out of reach of the vast majority of those of colour. Cast your eye down the entry list for the US Open and it is overwhelmingly white.' (4)

I'm not going to try to deny golf's elitist origins or its stuffy traditions. I could, for instance, point out that the early golf professionals were working class; that, in Western Europe and North America, golf is no longer the exclusive preserve of the leisured classes; and that plenty of top golfers, like Angel Cabrero and Seve Ballesteros to name but two, come from fairly humble backgrounds. However, I've no doubt that Jacques would be able to wheel out plenty of Masai herdsman or Indian shanty-town dwellers for whom golf club membership is simply unaffordable. And he'd be right. In the world's poorest countries, golf is clearly a luxury.

But so what? Does that mean that golf's appeal cannot be universal? Even I, a confirmed golf-sceptic, can see that the game is capable of generating excruciatingly dramatic tension. Although the context is different and some of the apparel is a bit daft, the essential human drama of golf is easily recognisable. Sergio Garcia bogies the eighteenth hole. England bottle a penalty shoot-out. It's pretty much the same thing: a failure of nerve under supreme pressure.

The truth is that you don't have to be able to participate in a sport to enjoy or understand it. Most of us will never be able to drive a racing car yet that doesn't stop motor racing being one of the most popular spectator sports in the world. We might not technically comprehend why one engine outperforms another but all of us can grasp the concept of a race. One guy goes tries to go faster than the other - it's a fairly internationally recognised concept. Similarly with golf: although I've never set foot on a golf course (seaside crazy golf is as near as I've come) I can appreciate the skill, dedication and mental resilience that is required to excel at golf. The contest, the battle, the heartache of defeat, the unbridled joy of victory - these are all universally understood.

So, let's not beat ourselves up over the fact that Third World subsistence farmers can't afford to play golf. That's not the fault of golf but of a lack of economic development. Golf may not be everyone's cup of tea, but surely there are more important things to get worked up about? Indeed, when the ethical whingerati start having a pop at such an innocuous pastime, it awakens my inner Jack Nicklaus. So, give me a Pringle jumper and a pair of plus fours - and, I guess, a set of golf clubs too - so that I too can exercise mankind's inalienable right to tee off like Tiger.


Windpower, union stupidity and green lies

Comment from Australia

For those of you who think that our union officials are not all that bright, look no further than Dean Mighell, the southern states branch secretary of the Electrical Trades Union who recently forced to resign from Australian Labor Party. What makes this particular union Neanderthal interesting is the regrettable fact that he is genuinely representative of what is laughingly called the "unions' intelligentsia".

This union hotshot is so dense that he promotes policies that would impoverish his members in the dim-witted belief that raising the ratio of labour to capital creates high-paying jobs. As evidence one merely has to refer the statement he made several years ago that stopping the construction of gas-fired generators in favour of windmills would increase the demand for labour and raise real wages. This birdbrain and his fellow halfwits argued that centralised power generation doesn't create enough jobs.

That power stations are built not to maximise jobs but to generate electricity at the lowest possible cost is apparently far too complex an argument for Dean Mighell to grasp. In pursuit of jobs, rather than prosperity, these intellectual giants of the union movement - and the ALP - once met with state government officials and Pacific Hydro (a so-called Australian renewable energy company) to discuss building windmill generators with the purpose of creating more jobs. (The company had already built an 18-megawatt windmill in the state., the output of which has been greatly exaggerated).

According to the absurd logic of these economic and scientific illiterates, windmills create more jobs because they are labour intensive. So are wheel barrows and shovels. Does this mean that all earth moving machinery should be banned by law? That scores of factories should be set up to manufacture nothing but shovels and wheelbarrows? Think of the enormous number of jobs this would create. And think of the gigantic wage cuts that such a policy would impose on the masses.

I am deadly serious about this comparison. There is no fundamental economic difference in principle between sabotaging the building of gas-fired power stations and the banning of bulldozers. The only thing that makes them differ is that the latter proposal is self-evidently stupid while the union's proposal requires the kind of knowledge that most people do not possess - and that includes the dimwits who run the state Liberal Party.

First and foremost, what raises real wages for everyone is capital sometimes called the material means of production. The less capital per worker the lower real wages will be. It follows that any policy that raises the labour-capital ratio is a recipe for lowering real wages. And that is exactly what these windmills would do.

No the upper limit for a windmill is about 59.3 per cent. This is also called the Betz limit. What the Betz tells us is that it is impossible for any windmill or wind turbine to turn more than 59.3 the per cent of the wind's energy into mechanical or electrical energy. In English so plain that even a union official can understand it - wind power is dilute and that's where its diseconomies of scale come from. And diseconomies of scale mean rising costs, not falling costs. Another insurmountable technical problem is the scientific fact that the maximum power one can extract from a windmill is also proportional to the third power of the wind's velocity. This means that even small changes in wind velocity will generate huge disproportionate changes in output, even with the best designed windmills.

A 1978 British study will give readers some idea of just how inefficient these windmills are. It calculated that it would take 20 million windmills with 100 foot diameter blades to meet the country's electricity needs. For America, it would have been something like 250,000 windmills with 300 foot blades. How many windmills would it take today? Can you imagine our union activists climbing one of these monsters to fix a fuse? Not on your life. This is Australia, mate. (That the study is nearly 30 years old is irrelevant. Physical laws do not change with the passing of time).

Denmark is one country from whose energy mistakes Australia could certainly learn. It allowed itself to be conned by green fanatics in to diverting masses of scarce capital into building wind farms, much to the disgust of real scientists and engineers. The country is now in the ridiculous situation where its theoretical generating capacity is three times that of peak demand. Yet, according to a 1999 estimate, wind accounts for only about 1.7 per cent of electricity production - at a cost of about $AUS600 million in annual subsidies. On the other hand, gas-fired power stations have concentrated power and economies of scale, which means falling costs. By this means, the price of electricity is lowered. And that means lower input prices for industry which in turns expands the demand for more jobs.

Nevertheless, despite experience, scientific studies and engineering knowledge the Labor Government's energy kommissars are sabotaging the state's future electricity supplies by implementing so-called `clean power' policies. And they are doing it with the support of economic illiterates like Dean Mighell'. In the meantime, the State Liberal Party's economic illiterates are busy putting together its own green energy policy which will - if I have been properly informed - be tantamount to economic euthanasia.

*Any youngster with a calculator can work this out from the following very rough rule-of-thumb formula P =r2v3. So if the radius of the blades is 3 metres and wind power is 30 mph, output will be 243 megawatts. Should wind velocity drop to 15 mph output will plummet to 33.75 megawatts which amounts to an 88 per cent drop in output. Therefore the greens' claim that one can run a modern economy on windpower is a malicious lie.


Global warming policies for mass poverty

Comment from Australia

The newly formed Carbon Sense Coalition today described the Global Warming Policies of both Federal and State government and opposition parties as "Policies for Poverty". Chairman of the new group, Mr Viv Forbes, says that at a time when scientific and informed opinion was becoming more sceptical of the apocalyptic prophecies of the Global Warming Industry, politicians and the media were competing to propose the most extreme and expensive options to "solve" a non- problem.

"A coalition of big business, big government and state funded media and research bureaucrats is colluding to impose job losses, power shortages and increased costs for electricity, transport and food on the unsuspecting Australian community - a well designed total package of Policies for Poverty." "Ordinary workers, consumers and taxpayers will be sacrificed on this Altar in the vain hope that it will have some beneficial effect on earth's future climate". "Even casual analysis of the evidence will show that even if Australia closed every coal mine and power station, and stopped all cars, trucks, ships and aeroplanes, it would be impossible to detect any effect on world temperature". "Politicians seem prepared to impose enormous costs on the Australian people in order to achieve miniscule effects on a non problem".

"Professor Lance Enderbee has published graphs of mean temperatures from 27 rural recording stations in Australia for 100 years from 1890 to 1990. The trend is horizontal, with mean temperature in 1990 below that for 1880. This has occurred during the century of the motor car, two world wars, and massive growth of coal burning for steel production and power generation. Rising carbon dioxide levels have had no effect on temperatures". "A similar data set for six Australian capital cities shows a generally rising trend in temperature since 1950 - that is, rising temperature in Australia is an urban effect, not a result of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere." "Urban heating is caused by air conditioners pumping heat into or out of buildings, motors cars exhausting hot fumes, hot factories, millions of hot bodies, politicians emitting hot air, hot concrete and bitumen, polluted air, fewer breezes and less cool pastures, swamps and scrub." "This urban heating will be made worse by the silly proposal to replace electric appliances (whose source of heat and emissions is controlled in an isolated power station in the countryside) with millions of small open fires burning in gas stoves and hot water systems in every home all over the city."

"The federal government and five state governments have six different programs and models covering emissions trading, carbon caps, carbon taxes and renewable energy schemes. Each jurisdiction is rushing to set up new energy, greenhouse and climate change offices with hierarchies of expensive public officials to staff them. "Merchant banks are gearing up for the easy profits to be generated by carbon trading. Lawyers are preparing for the rush of new business from the disputes, legal challenges and shady deals which will follow the complicated sets of laws and regulations on carbon caps, emissions trading rules, conditions covering free permits, penalties, exemptions, offset policies, early abatement rules, reporting requirements and international trading rules". "All of this is creating a totally artificial industry living on the sweat of ordinary workers, farmers, miners, foresters, consumers, tax payers and shareholders."

"Every carbon cap or tax will increase the cost of electricity in every home, farm and factory. Every increase in power costs will drive one more business and its jobs to China or India. Every subsidy for playthings like solar collectors or wind farms will cause an increase in taxes. And every ethanol plant built will increase the costs of every bit of food on the table of every home in the country - all of these are Policies for Poverty."

"The long term effects on the community will be obvious, but different. Emission traders and regulators will get bonuses in their pay packets. The beautiful people in the leafy suburbs will cut back on cappuccinos. Grain and sugar farmers supplying ethanol plants will prosper. All other farmers and consumers will suffer losses as grain, sugar and electricity costs rise. Coal miners will lose their job. Factory workers will lose their house. Politicians will lose office."



The Lockwood paper was designed to rebut Durkin's "Great Global Warming Swindle" film but it is in fact an absolute gift to climate atheists. What the paper says was of course all well-known already but the concession from a Greenie source that fluctuations in the output of the sun have driven climate change for all but the last 20 years really is invaluable. And the one fact that the paper documents so well -- that solar output is on the downturn -- is also hilarious, given its source. Surely even a crazed Greenie mind must see that the sun's influence has not stopped and that reduced solar output will soon start COOLING the earth! Unprecedented July 2007 cold weather throughout the Southern hemisphere might even be the first sign that the cooling is happening. And the fact that warming plateaued in 1998 is also a good sign that we are moving into a cooling phase. As is so often the case, the Greenies have got the danger exactly backwards.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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