Sunday, September 09, 2007

Misinformation hamstrings debate on climate change

Nicole Gelinas starts and ends her August 23 essay in the Wall Street Journal, titled "A Carbon Tax Would Be Cleaner," with errors that negate whatever insights the rest of the essay provides.

The opening sentence alludes to survey data showing most Americans believe "humans are contributing to climate change" and we should do something about it "right away." According to Ms. Gelinas, this justifies moving to a political solution even though "skeptics may grumble that the science isn't settled." This is ludicrous. Most surveys show deep disagreement and skepticism about alarmist predictions of global warming, and all surveys show large majorities oppose taking specific actions - such as raising energy taxes - to do anything about this so-called crisis. Despite a billion-dollar-a-year PR campaign by the left, the public is not demanding higher energy prices.

Ms. Gelinas proceeds to give cap and trade schemes a well-deserved trashing, but then closes her essay by saying "if it's true that a global warming consensus really exists - and not just in press releases and speeches - politicians and business leaders wouldn't be afraid to suggest [a carbon] tax. They would insist on it." She may think she is calling the bluff of politicians and business leaders who have been using global warming to gain attention or subsidies, but this comes much too close to endorsing a carbon tax.

Many politicians would sell out their voters in a New York minute in return for having a say in how hundreds of billions of dollars in new public revenue could be spent. And many corporate CEOs would sell out their customers with equal alacrity if they thought a carbon tax would weigh more heavily on competitors than on themselves.

Carbon taxes and more generally energy taxes are, in fact, a bad idea. They tax an important source of productivity growth, and hence slow economic growth. They are unrelated to the use of government services, and so fail a traditional test of good policy. They are less visible to taxpayers than either income or retail sales taxes, and thus (like the dreaded value-added tax, or VAT) enable governments to secretly raise more tax revenue than a fully informed electorate would allow.

And most importantly, energy taxes are not necessary. Scientists and economists are rapidly arriving at the same conclusion: global warming is not a crisis, and there is no need to raise energy prices to combat a nonexistent threat.


The energy bill that wasn't

HUMAN EVENTS' readers are understandably difficult to shock these days with new examples of Congress' political arrogance. Yet, as the House of Representatives was putting the finishing touches on their version of what they oddly call an "energy bill" -- dedicated to restricting energy supplies as well as demand -- the Republican House Energy Action Team released an eye-catching missive exposing what may be a new low for the Democrat-controlled 110th Congress.

Despite the well-deserved ridicule of "carbon offsets -- those "indulgences" being sold to let liberals assuage their green consciences over using energy by, for example, promising to plant a tree -- our lawmakers are plotting to spend millions of your dollars on them. Where this "offset" green pork would wind up is anyone's guess. Al Gore and his company is one option, though the Financial Times notes how it's all a scam, anyway. (Is Gore a registered lobbyist, because he just pulled off a coup that would make Jack Abramoff blush?)

As bad or worse, Congress wants environmental activists to be able to impose liability on the government -- that is you, the taxpayer -- for supposedly causing "global warming" if a judge or jury in San Francisco thinks that would be a good idea.

The House Government Reform Committee under "Hollywood" Henry Waxman (D-CA) agreed to create a new litigation pathway through which plaintiffs -- "aggrieved parties" as the bill defines them -- can sue to make the government buy these indulgences in a mandatory drive to be "carbon neutral." He did so by sneaking a new basis for lawsuits into their massive anti-energy bill.

The amendment also exposes the taxpayer to liability for paying the aggrieved -- with a provision making sure their lawyers are taken care of too, of course -- harmed by the federal government causing global warming. (Investment advice: Go long on environmental ambulance chasers in the 9th Circuit, whose judges love such claims.)

At least they were nice enough to hurriedly scribble in the margins of the amendment a limitation that only U.S. citizens can do this.for now. (You can view this Pay the Trial Lawyers and Green Pressure Groups Act in the final version of the House anti-energy bill, which awaits "conference" with the Senate version, at pp. 291-295.) This quiet little provision was snuck in the bill as a very big favor to the environmentalist lobby that spent so much to restore Mr. Waxman's chairmanship.

For background, not everyone is able to simply march into court and sue someone -- particularly when the defendant is the government. To gain access to the courts one must demonstrate "standing" to sue. Jurisdictions vary on the specifics but essentially this means they must present a) a real, non-hypothetical harm, distinct from the general population, b) arising causally from someone else's actions, and c) to which a favorable decision could provide relief.

This requirement attempts (too often in vain) to thin the herd of litigants jamming our courtrooms. It is particularly troublesome to the environmental lobby as applied to their white whale, "global warming", because on any practical, non-emotive level it is impossible to empirically establish causation between human activities and any demonstrable climatic change, let alone for a particular defendant to do so. Further, they have problems proving that they could have been distinctly harmed by "global warming."

Should the environmentalists get past the gatekeeper requirements of standing and also having a "cause of action", for example, negligent infliction of harm by causing "global warming", they stand decent odds of encountering a sympathetic federal judge or jury. At that point we'll have a stampede as the greens seek to impose yet one more agenda on America through the courts that they could not obtain openly through the democratic process.

Recently, the 9th Circuit allowed an environmentalist lawsuit to proceed which seeks to block taxpayer supported (OPIC and ExImBank-financed) overseas energy projects on the basis they will cause global warming, on the absurd grounds that the plaintiffs uniquely enjoy national parks. This narrow exception still leaves the environmentalist extremists without a useful cause of action to apply more broadly.

Such a ridiculous proposition would require specific legislation. Have no fear, the Democrats are here. While the greens' doppelgangers in Congress are unable to pass Kyoto-style energy rationing legislation, they can sneak provisions into bills making lawsuits easier.

Congress pulled this stunt at a particularly brazen moment, with the electorate already suspicious in the face of an abandoned promise to eliminate earmarks, antagonized over a passport fiasco reminding us how the government inefficiently squanders their tax dollars, and fresh off a (for now successful) revolt involving "twelve million undocumented Americans".

Worse, it comes in the same legislation in which our inefficient but free-spending government also seeks to impose mandates to stop the private sector from what Congress just knows is too inefficient use of its own money -- a so-called "energy bill" that does little more than restrict supplies of energy including in ways that will drive up the cost of food (more than it already has), fuel, electricity and cars.

Mark Twain used to joke that everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it. Now we know the trial lawyers have decided to sue over it, and have found a great ally in the current Congress, which has agreed to set up hardworking taxpayers to funnel lucre into phony carbon offset schemes and trial lawyer pockets.


Mine Your Own Business

One would think only a crazy couple would declare war on environmentalists by presenting them on film as snobs, hypocrites and enemies of the poor. Luckily for those of us who think one-sided debates are boring, Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney are just crazy enough to question the environmentalists' opposition to mining projects in poor countries in a documentary-"Mine Your Own Business"-that is gaining attention.

McAleer, an Irish journalist who covered Romania for the Financial Times, and McElhinney, his wife and co-producer, look at three mining investments: a gold project by Gabriel Resources in Rosia Montana, in Romania's Transylvania region; Rio Tinto's ilmenite project in Fort Dauphin, in Madagascar; and a vast Andean operation undertaken by Barrick Gold in Chile's Huasco Valley.

In the movie, many of the critics who claim to live in the affected areas are less than honest. One, a Swiss environmentalist who leads the opposition to mining in Romania, actually lives in the sort of town to which many of the impoverished peasants of Rosia Montana want to move.

The activists are adamant that the locals should preserve their "pristine" environment. A Belgian environmentalist says the people of Rosia Montana would rather use carts and horses than pollute the air with cars. "She says this to get noticed," counters a Romanian peasant who looks totally bewildered.

Half a world away, when confronted with the argument that denying the people of Fort Dauphin a chance to obtain jobs would keep them poor, the leading critic of the ilmenite project and the owner of a luxurious catamaran pontificates to Gheorghe Lucian, an unemployed Romanian traveling with the film's crew: "I could put you with a family here and you can count how many times people smile ... and I can put you with a family that is well-off in New York and London and you can count how many times they smile, and then you can tell me who is rich and who is poor."

You can imagine what this esoteric interpretation of wealth sounds like to Lucian, the Romanian who graduated from Rosia Montana's Technical College and is desperate to find a job. Two-thirds of his fellow villagers lack running water and use outside bathrooms even in freezing winter. For him, as for the other 700 prospective employees of the mining project back home, the choice is literally "between having a job and leaving."

The film crew also traveled to the Chilean Andes to find out who was leading the fight against Barrick Gold. It turns out-as one local villager explains-that those who oppose the investment are mainly rich landowners who don't want the peasants working on their lands for a pittance to flock to the mines for twice their current wages.

McAleer tells us that the claim the mining project will displace three glaciers that provide irrigation for local agriculture is false. The glaciers will not be affected and the company will build a reservoir to guarantee that local farmers have a decent supply of water.

Will this industrial progress in Romania, Madagascar or Chile pollute the environment? Well, the alternative is much worse. Communist-era gold mining, which was technologically backward, bureaucratic and unaccountable, turned Rosia Montana's river into disgusting filth. In Madagascar's Fort Dauphin, slash-and-burn agriculture-the sort the rural poor resort to in order to survive-has destroyed the rain forest.

It would be naive to think these mining companies are in it for altruistic motives-they obviously want to make a profit. But the truth-one that Lucian, the unemployed Romanian, discovers as he ventures beyond his country for the first time in his life-is that progress involves hard choices. The wealthy nations of today were themselves "pristine" environments in which people gradually gave up traditional ways of life to improve their living conditions. Who are we to deny the poor of today the chance to do well for themselves when an opportunity arises if they decide to take it?

Yes, moving from the traditional to the modern way of life involves costs. But as one British professor at Kent University says: "People need to be trusted to work these things out for themselves.... Environmentalists feel they have the moral authority to tell them what to do."

Not all nongovernmental organizations are as elitist and unfair to poor people as the many this film exposes. Not every mining project is as respectful of local choices as the ones depicted in this film. But this documentary speaks volumes about the Manichean vision that many bleeding-heart Americans and Europeans have of the dilemma between tradition and modernity in the developing world.


Global Dimming

By Joel M. Kauffman, Professor of Chemistry Emeritus at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

Yesterday evening (4 Sep 07) PBS ran a Nova on "Global Dimming." The thesis was that human-generated dust in the air has compensated for human-generated CO2 and held down the temperature rise, along with weaker solar output. This is nothing new, since the explanation for the 1940-1970 global cooling was a type of air pollution called sulfate aerosols.

The announcer spoke a climate shibboleth that the vast majority of climate scientists believed the human-generated "greenhouse gasses" caused global warming. The truth about this is the opposite; most scientists do not (Singer SF, Avery DT, Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1,500 Years, Lanham, MD: Roman and Little field, 2006, p. 134). The most active of the "greenhouse gasses" was never mentioned by name; it is, of course, water vapor (Joel M. Kauffman, Water in the Atmosphere, J. Chemical Education, 2004, B81(8), 1229-1230). CO2 can hardly have been the cause of warming because its level in air has been higher than it is now at least 3 times between 1812 and 1962 as shown by 90,000 direct chemical measurements (Beck, E.-G., 180 Years of Atmospheric CO2 Gas Analysis by Chemical Methods, Energy & Environment, 2007, 18(2), 259-282). Further, there is no recent correlation between CO2 levels and atmospheric temps as you may see easily from a NOAA graph.

The "star witness" was Dr. James Hansen of NASA who said that global warming has been about 0.8 deg C in the last century, most in the last 30 years. The only parts of the globe with most warming in the last 30 years are big cities. For example, the least populated counties of CA gained 0.2 deg C from 1910 to 2000, while the most populated counties gained 2.3 deg C (Goodridge, J. D., Comments on Regional Simulation of Greenhouse Warming Including Natural Variability. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 1996, 77(July), 3-4), as did New York City. With an allowance for such urban heat island effects, the global temp. rise from 1905-1940 was similar to the one from 1970-2003 ( Dr. Hansen's flawed USA ground station temps from 2000-2006 needed a Y2K correction provided by the Canadian Steve McIntyre showing that 1934 was the warmest year of the last 100, not 1998 or 2006; see for yourself. Objective reporting would have meant showing how Dr. Hansen's runaway climate warnings since 1987 have been overdone by using a rebuttal witness.

A David Travis did a clever experiment on the contribution of jet contrails to warming. He compared the days before 9/11 and 4 days after with the 3 days when all aircraft were grounded. He found that the day/night temp. difference was 1 deg C more when jets were absent. The culprit was said to be dust in the jet exhaust that caused water droplets to form. First, the effect of humidity on day/night temp. difference was understood at least 100 years ago. In the narration this difference somehow became equated to an overall warming. Next, jet exhaust is equal in numbers of molecules of water and CO2. At stratospheric temps. water vapor would form white ice trails pretty fast.

A Prof. Ramanathan said that anything done to create energy causes atmospheric pollution. What a shock for proponents of hydro, wind, solar and nuclear power! His claim was that the particulate pollution over the northern Malidive Islands from India was absorbing 10% of solar energy. He failed to rule out water droplets in the wispy clouds shown in a satellite photo.

Repetitive photos of industrial plants of unknown type were shown to demonstrate dust pollution, a common ploy. But some or all of the plants were emitting steam, not smoke.

The sun's output was claimed to have dimmed in the last 20 years, but others note that the opposite is true (Prof. Lance Endersbee, Climate Change is Nothing New! New Concepts in Global Tectonics, no. 42, Mar 07, Singer & Avery, above, p190-1).



Germany's environment minister is usually famed for his tough stance on climate change but yesterday attention switched to his allegedly extravagant flying habits. Under the headline: "How our environment minister poisons the air," the newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported that Sigmar Gabriel often took planes to meetings. Citing a list from the defence ministry, the paper said he had taken more flights with military-run planes than any other minister in the first half of the year. Bild am Sonntag said about 425 flights had been made using military planes and helicopters in the first six months of 2007.

While most of these flights carried a large delegation, 34 had only one or two passengers. Mr Gabriel flew seven times alone or with one colleague. The Bild am Sonntag noted that Mr Gabriel and the family minister, Ursula von der Leyen, often flew from their home town of Hanover, especially at the start or the end of the week. Spokesmen for both politicians insisted all the flights were essential, adding they would otherwise have missed important meetings. [Meetings are obviously more important than saving the planet]



The Lockwood paper was designed to rebut Durkin's "Great Global Warming Swindle" film. It is a rather confused paper -- acknowledging yet failing to account fully for the damping effect of the oceans, for instance -- but it is nonetheless valuable to climate atheists. 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 (See the first sentence of the paper) really is invaluable. And the basic fact presented in the paper -- that solar output has in general been on the downturn in recent years -- is also amusing to see. 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. See my post of 7.14.07 and a very detailed critique here for more on the Lockwood paper

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Because Kyoto gives China free rein

Yeah, like acid rain. I predict that in 10-20 years all that concrete being used to elevate the Chinese to a more modern society, will be crumbling like a certain part of eastern Canada.