Sunday, September 23, 2007

PESKY! Arctic sea ice is returning after low point

Mustn't laugh!

Arctic sea ice may have started rebuilding after reaching a record low, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. Arctic ice now covers 4.18 million square kilometres, the agency said Thursday, up from 4.13 million on Sept. 16, which appears to have been the minimum. Some variability could still occur, however, the agency cautioned.

The previous record low for Arctic sea ice was 5.32 million square kilometres, set on Sept. 20-21, 2005, and the average low at the end of the summer melt is 6.74 million square kilometres.

The Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along the coasts of Canada and Alaska remains open but is starting to refreeze, the centre said. The Northeast Passage along the coast of Siberia is closed by ice, according to the research co-operative.



It does in any case take some pretty wacky models to predict that warming will REDUCE precipitation. Warmer oceans evaporate more so should produce more rainfall

Climate change may lead to lush growth rather than catastrophic tree loss in the Amazonian forests, researchers from the US and Brazil have found. A study, in the journal Science, found that reduced rainfall had led to greener forests, possibly because sunlight levels are higher when there are fewer rainclouds.

But scientists cautioned that while the finding raises hopes for the survival of the forests, there are still serious threats. Climate models have suggested that the forests will suffer as the region becomes drier and will release huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.



Environmental hysteria leads to poor and self-contradictory policy-making according to Hysteria's History: Environmental Alarmism in Context, a new report released today by the Pacific Research Institute (PRI). In Hysteria's History, author Amy Kaleita, policy fellow in Environmental Studies at PRI, charts the progression of hysteria starting with Rachel Carson's influential book Silent Spring up to the current global warming controversy.

"A major challenge in developing appropriate responses to legitimate problems is that alarmism catches people's attention and draws them in," said Dr. Kaleita. "Alarmism is given more weight than it deserves, as policy makers attempt to appease their constituency and the media." Examples of poor and self-contradictory policy choices in California include:

Taxpayer money spent on a lawsuit against nearly the entire automobile industry in North America to seek damages that have not yet occurred.

The Low Carbon Fuel Standard recently promulgated by the governor of California to promote the use of ethanol in the state's fuel supply. Ethanol reduces fuel efficiency, which means drivers will need to burn more fuel to go the same distance.

San Francisco's ban on the use of plastic bags in city businesses. In reality, the manufacture of paper bags releases more greenhouse gases than the manufacture of plastic bags.

"Environmental alarmism should be taken for what it is-a natural tendency of some portion of the public to latch onto the worst, and most unlikely, potential outcome," said Dr. Kaleita. "Alarmism should not be used as the basis for policy. Where a real problem exists, solutions should be based on reality, not hysteria."



By Amy Kaleita, Ph.D with Gregory R. Forbes

Lessons from the Apocalypse

Apocalyptic stories about the irreparable, catastrophic damage that humans are doing to the natural environment have been around for a long time.

These hysterics often have some basis in reality, but are blown up to illogical and ridiculous proportions. Part of the reason they're so appealing is that they have the ring of plausibility along with the intrigue of a horror flick. In many cases, the alarmists identify a legitimate issue, take the possible consequences to an extreme, and advocate action on the basis of these extreme projections. In 1972, the editor of the journal Nature pointed out the problem with the typical alarmist approach: "[Alarmists'] most common error is to suppose that the worst will always happen."82 But of course, if the worst always happened, the human race would have died out long ago.

When alarmism has a basis in reality, the challenge becomes to take appropriate action based on that reality, not on the hysteria. The aftermath of Silent Spring offers examples of both sorts of policy reactions: a reasoned response to a legitimate problem and a knee-jerk response to the hysteria. On the positive side, Silent Spring brought an end to the general belief that all synthetic chemicals in use for purposes ranging from insect control to household cleaning were uniformly wonderful, and it ushered in an age of increased caution on the appropriate use of chemicals. In the second chapter of her famous book, Carson wrote, "It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that... we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife, and man himself."

In this passage, Carson seemed to advocate reasoned response to rigorous scientific investigation, and in fact this did become the modern approach to environmental chemical licensure and monitoring. An hour-long CBS documentary on pesticides was aired during the height of the furor over Silent Spring. In the documentary, Dr. Page Nicholson, a water-pollution expert with the Public Health Service, wasn't able to answer how long pesticides persist in water once they enter it, or the extent to which pesticides contaminate groundwater supplies. Today, this sort of information is gathered through routine testing of chemicals for use in the environment.

However, there was, as we have seen, a more sinister and tragic response to the hysteria generated by Silent Spring. Certain developing countries, under significant pressure from the United States, abandoned the use of DDT. This decision resulted in millions of deaths from malaria and other insect-borne diseases. In the absence of pressure to abandon the use of DDT, these lives would have been spared. It would certainly have been possible to design policies requiring caution and safe practices in the use of supplemental chemicals in the environment, without pronouncing a death sentence on millions of people.

A major challenge in developing appropriate responses to legitimate problems is that alarmism catches people's attention and draws them in. Alarmism is given more weight than it deserves, as policy makers attempt to appease their constituency and the media. It polarizes the debaters into groups of "believers" and "skeptics," so that reasoned, fact-based compromise is difficult to achieve. Neither of these aspects of alarmism is healthy for the development of appropriate policy.

Further, alarmist responses to valid problems risk foreclosing potentially useful responses based on ingenuity and progress. There are many examples from the energy sector where, in the presence of demands for economy, efficiency, or less pollution, the marketplace has responded by developing better alternatives. That is not to say that we should blissfully squander our energy resources; on the contrary, we should be careful to utilize them wisely. But energy-resource hysteria should not lead us to circumvent scientific advancement by cherry-picking and favoring one particular replacement technology at the expense of other promising technologies.

Environmental alarmism should be taken for what it is-a natural tendency of some portion of the public to latch onto the worst, and most unlikely, potential outcome. Alarmism should not be used as the basis for policy. Where a real problem exists, solutions should be based on reality, not hysteria.

Source (PDF)


A lorry driver is taking the Government to court over a film that he believes is biased and shouldn't be shown to children in schools. 'The debate over the science of climate change is well and truly over." So said David Miliband in February. Mr Miliband, who was then environment secretary, was responding to a report from the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This left the minister so confident that there was nothing more to say on the matter that he and Alan Johnson, the then education secretary, announced that they would be sending a film about climate change to all 3,385 secondary schools in England.

A neutral, objective assessment of the evidence, perhaps? One that took care to present all sides of the argument so that pupils could make up their own minds? Not at all: it was Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, described by Mr Johnson as "a powerful message about the fragility of our planet". Since ministers regarded the debate as well and truly over, they were "delighted" to send school children a polemic that took as its central thesis the argument that climate change - the increase in global temperatures over the past 50 years - was mainly the result of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. This is indeed the view of the IPCC, and most of the world's climate scientists. But other people disagree.

One of them is Stewart Dimmock, 45, a lorry driver and school governor from Kent. His sons, aged 11 and 14, attend a secondary school in Dover which has presumably received a copy of Mr Gore's film. "I care about the environment as much as the next man," says Mr Dimmock. "However, I am determined to prevent my children from being subjected to political spin in the classroom."

You might think there ought to be a law against this - and there is. Section 406(1)(b) of the Education Act 1996 says that local education authorities, school governing bodies and head teachers "shall forbid... the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school". And if political issues are brought to the attention of pupils while they are at a maintained school, the authority, the governors and the head are required by the next section of the Act to take "such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that... they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views".

What precisely do these words mean? No court has yet ruled on them. But that opportunity will come in a week's time when Mr Dimmock takes legal action against Ed Balls, the new Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Mr Dimmock's lawyers are trying to prevent the film being shown in schools. At this stage, they are asking for permission to challenge the Schools Secretary's decision to distribute it. This was refused in July after a written application. But if permission is granted at an oral hearing next Thursday, the judge is expected to consider the merits of Mr Dimmock's application for judicial review straight away.

A day in court, with expert evidence, does not come cheap - especially if Mr Dimmock loses and has to pay part or all of the Government's costs. Where will the money come from? "The funding is a private matter for him," says John Day, Mr Dimmock's solicitor. Mr Day will not be drawn further, but he does confirm that his client is an active member of the New Party. Its manifesto says that "political opportunism and alarmism have combined in seizing [the IPCC's] conclusions to push forward an agenda of taxation and controls that may ultimately be ineffective in tackling climate change, but will certainly be damaging to our economy and society".

What, though, of the issues? According to his solicitor, Mr Dimmock accepts that the planet is getting hotter; he is not trying to prevent climate change being taught in schools. What he does not accept is that sending out a 93-minute film made by the former vice-president of the United States is the right way to do it. "Gore has gone on record as saying he believes it is appropriate to over-represent the facts to get his message across," says Mr Day. "One of the very clear inferences from the Gore film is that areas such as Bangladesh will be under water by the end of the century. He is talking about sea levels rising by 20 feet."

But this is not backed up by the IPCC, the solicitor says. Their view is that sea levels will rise by 1.3 feet over the next 100 years. A rise of 20ft would require rising temperatures to continue for millennia.

"This film is a very powerful piece of work, says Mr Day. "There is a real risk that children are going to gulp on this and just digest it and accept it." Michael Sparkes, also from the law firm Malletts, adds that Mr Gore's central premise - that carbon dioxide emissions are causing the recently observed global warming - is taken by the film as proved. "There is no discussion of the fact that the climate is changing naturally all the time, whether warming or cooling," he said. He questions the examples given in the film, suggesting that there are often local causes for shrinking lakes and melting glaciers.

Mr Dimmock's lawyers will therefore argue that distributing this film to schools is either unlawful under section 406 of the 1996 Act or unlawful because it does not offer the balance required by section 407.

But, says the Government, balance is precisely what we are providing. Teachers need only go to a public website called to download and print - at their schools' expense - a 48-page guidance note. The current version of this note acknowledges that "teachers have a duty to give a balanced presentation of political issues and to avoid political indoctrination". It advises teachers to divide the film into three strands: Areas where there is undisputed scientific consensus, such as the clear evidence that global temperatures are rising; Areas where there is a "strong scientific consensus but where a small minority of scientists do not agree", for example that gas emissions from human activity are the main cause of climate change. "When dealing with such issues teachers may wish to refer to alternative views but make it clear that they do not accord with the weight of scientific opinion," the Government says; and Areas where there is political debate, such as how we should respond to climate change. "When addressing these areas, teachers must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that pupils are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views."

The Schools Department says: "The law does not prevent teachers or schools from showing material which includes expressions of political opinion. But it does require that, when such material is shown, the opinion is presented in a balanced way."

Mr Day says his client is not satisfied with this. "You have a fundamentally flawed film, scientifically and politically, where the onus is being placed on teachers to draw the thorns and to remedy the defects," he says. "Is that fair on teachers?" Whether the written guidance is enough to balance the impact of Mr Gore's undoubtedly political views will no doubt be at the heart of next week's hearing. But is the debate over the science of climate change "well and truly over"? Not a chance.


Bottled water: You can't win

Article below from the elite Smith College of Massachusetts

Along with the integration of local food into the dining halls, the advent of the new blue water bottles proves to be another large step in Smith's sustainability movement. In late August, the GrAccourt Gate issued a statement that claimed Smith to be "at the leading edge of a movement to wean Americans off bottled water." The intention to reduce bottled water consumption is undoubtedly noble, considering the prolific evidence of its detriments including lax federal regulations regarding the water's cleanliness and the possibility of environmental damage to local communities and ecosystems caused by excess pumping. Also of note is our continued reliance on oil, perpetuated by the process of shipping plastic bottles - made in China, for example - to the United States.

Yet in the midst of "saving money and resources," what effect does Smith's new plan have on the individual? What is the impact of using the snappy new Smith-blue water bottle? Let us begin with the ironic matters, if only because they are more entertaining: The bottles are still made in China and they're essentially non-recyclable, saying so on the bottom of the bottle. This fact is discreetly noted by the number "7" within the recycling symbol. Recycling numbers range from one to seven and denote the different kind of plastic used in the construction of the product. In our case, the number seven means that our bottles are constructed out of polycarbonate - a blend of multiple plastics - which complicates the recycling process. It is the active ingredient in the polycarbonate, bisphenol A (BPA), that is the main concern of this article.

Bisphenol A is a synthetic estrogen that was created in the 1930s and is used in the production of polycarbonate plastics. However, as the plastic ages, whether from prolonged use or exposure to corrosive matter in the form of acids, bases or heat (aka soda, milk or dishwashers), BPA detaches chemically and seeps into our drink. The side effects of this exposure, however small, are numerous according to studies performed by government and university scientists. The biggest of these potential problems is the permanent alteration of DNA. There continues to be an ongoing debate over the truth and severity of this issue by scientists and the American Plastics Council. The scientists claim that BPA (a pseudo-estrogen) interrupts communication between traditional estrogen receptors found on the cell membrane and the genes which rely upon estrogen signaling. This interruption can alter physiological processes such as brain growth and reproductive development. The majority of scientific studies have been performed on laboratory mice, though, which have received doses of BPA in proportion to the average levels thought to be present in humans.

The presence of BPA is seemingly ubiquitous in our lives. It is found not only in water bottles, but also in baby bottles, the inside lining of canned foods, dishware and sunglasses, to name a few. While the detrimental side effects of BPA have been scientifically proven, this article is by no means a call to revolt against all things polycarbonate. Rather, it is meant to raise the consciousness on this issue and aimed to point out the difficulty in choosing a truly alternative "safe" method to the "wrong" methods made obvious through public slander.



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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