Friday, November 30, 2007


An email from Tim Ball []

International Herald Tribune 22 November: The Chinese Foreign Ministry representative Song Dong is singing the same song we heard about CFCs. China (and India) said you have received the benefits of CFCs with a 30% reduction in food loss through refrigeration. Now you are telling us that this chemical is destroying the ozone and we should therefore forego the benefits you have already obtained. The proposal was the West reduce their CFCs and allow China and developing nations to increase theirs. We said no. They said fine, then we won't sign the Montreal Protocol.

I appeared before a Canadian Parliamentary Committee on the ozone issue and raised questions about this unilateral application problem. The aide to the Chair scurried out and returned 10 minutes later with the information that China and India were only producing 5% of the world's CFC production. I replied, yes, now, but if China and India increase their production to provide refrigeration for over 2 billion consumers how was our objective obtained? They changed the subject.

There never was a single piece of scientific evidence of CFCs affecting ozone in the ozone layer, no more than there is for CO2 and climate change except in computer models. Later, the IPCC TAR report identified changes in solar radiation as the most likely cause of ozone variations. This is isn't surprising because as I told the Committee and anyone else who would listen that ozone is created by sunlight or at least the ultraviolet portion. At that time climate science was still locked into the concept of a solar constant even though solar physicists were describing it as a variable star.

This mentality carried over into climate studies and still predominates today as two of the major changes in solar activity (Milankovitch Effect and the relationship between solar magnetism and cosmic radiation) that affect climate are ignored. As environmental activists have cynically understood, once politicians have something in their heads facts and logic are redundant. They are doing the same thing with CO2 - the parallels between CFCs and CO2 are amazing and the only difference is the magnitude of impact on western economies are profound.


Dere's a hole in da bucket, Dear Liza, dear Liza!

China and India should be spared the full burden of fighting climate change, the United Nations said yesterday in an agenda-setting report published just days ahead of an intergovernmental conference to agree a successor to the Kyoto protocol. The report of the UN Development Programme recommends that countries such as China and India should be allowed to increase their emissions to 2020, then reduce them by only 20 per cent compared with 1990 levels by 2050, while the rich industrialised countries shoulder a cut of 80 per cent.

The report will provide ammunition for developing countries wishing to avoid adopting stringent targets on emissions. Beijing, New Delhi and others have argued that rich countries carry more responsibility for the climate because most of the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere came from the growth of their industries. But the White House has stressed it would not sign up to an agreement that did not include China and other developing nations going through rapid industrialisation.

Heated discussions over the share of the burden that each country should take for cutting emissions are likely to be the main focus of UN talks on climate change beginning next week in Bali. The talks, the most important since the Kyoto protocol was drafted in 1997, will mark the first negotiations on a potential successor to the treaty, the main provisions of which expire in 2012.

The UNDP report estimates that the world needs to spend about 1.6 per cent of gross domestic product each year until 2030 in order to prevent emissions from rising to dangerous levels. In a sign of the scale of the task facing ministers at Bali, the report also risked opening old wounds by questioning whether the carbon-trading system established at Kyoto was less effective at reducing emissions than a carbon tax - such as the one proposed yesterday by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, in Beijing.

Kevin Watkins, lead author of the report, told the FT: "Long-term investment needs predictability of price, and a tax is the way to do that. Cap-and-trade is not particularly working. We need to develop the strategy into a carbon tax." Mr Watkins said cap-and-trade systems had a part to play in the short term but carbon taxes would be more effective in the longer term. "You could go for a really stringent cap-and-trade system in the short run then gradually introduce a tax, with cap-and-trade being phased down and the carbon tax phased up," he said.

But any debate over carbon taxes versus carbon trading could be damaging ahead of the negotiations for a successor to Kyoto. A debate raged for several years before it was resolved in favour of trading, enshrined in the Kyoto protocol. The world trade in carbon was worth more than $30bn (œ14.5bn, _20bn) last year, with most of the transactions taking place under the European Union's emissions trading system, designed to meet the bloc's Kyoto commitments.

Michael Grubb of Cambridge University said: "I find it extremely boring [to talk about taxes versus trading] as we did that 10 to 15 years ago. Taxes combine a price on carbon with a huge revenue transfer from business to government, which is a dumb place to start." Paul Klemperer, professor of economics at Oxford University, said there were sound economic reasons for preferring a tax, but warned that economists must also take politics into account, and a cap-and-trade system might be more palatable to voters than a tax. He said: "We are not in a perfect world so to take a position on this purely on economics would be foolish."

Myron Ebell, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in the US and a prominent sceptic on global warming, said: "We are fairly confident that we can defeat a carbon tax in the US. Cap-and-trade is going to be harder to defeat if the Democrats gain more House and Senate seats in the next election and win the White House."



Gordon Brown today gave his unequivocal support for a third runway at Heathrow in an address to a conference of business leaders. Speaking at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, the prime minister said that business was right to call for airport expansion and that Britain's prosperity depended on it. "Even as we place strict local environmental limits on noise and air pollution and ensure that aviation pays its carbon costs, we have to respond to a clear business imperative and increase capacity at our airports," Brown said. "Our prosperity depends on it: Britain as a world financial centre must be readily accessible from around the world."

He added that the government had demonstrated its determination not to shirk the long-term decisions but to press ahead with a third runway. The prime minister's insistence that airport expansion is necessary comes a week after he set out his green vision for cutting C02 emissions in Britain by 60% by 2025.

Critics described Gordon Brown's plans for tackling climate change as "confusing and deeply worrying". "Last week he talked about making Britain a world leader in developing a low-carbon economy. But allowing airports to expand will seriously threaten our targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The Government must tackle aviation emissions. It should include the UK's share of carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation in its new Climate Change Bill, scrap airport expansion plans and fundamentally re-think this country's unsustainable transport strategy, " said Friends of the Earth director, Tony Juniper.

Other green campaigners questioned whether Mr Brown is capable of listening to responses to the public consultation over Heathrow which is currently underway. "You're left wondering if this prime minister is capable of listening to the public. He certainly doesn't seem to be listening to climate scientists," said Greenpeace's executive director, John Sauven.



In his recent testimony to the Iowa Utilities Board, Rev. James Hansen argued that the construction of a new coal-based power plant is equivalent to the holocaust. The trains that bring coal to the new power plant are nothing else than the death trains that were moving the Jews to extermination camps:

"... If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains - no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species ..."

Kraig Naasz, the president and CEO of the U.S. National Mining Association, suggested that this comparison was both repellant and preposterous. It trivializes the suffering of millions of people while it irrationally evaluates the actual reasons behind various climate phenomena: one additional power plant in the U.S. surely can be no "tipping point" especially when China builds a new plant every week.

Naasz recommended Hansen to apologize to the hard-working men and women in the coal mining and railroad industries. What did Mr Hansen do? You may guess.

Hansen sent Naasz a letter advocating additional delusions about an unprecedented motion towards a climate catastrophe. He has also confused the U.S. founding fathers with Lenin and Stalin when he mentioned that the U.S. founding fathers created America for [a couple of communist cliches]. And what about the very paragraph comparing power plants with the Nazi extermination camps?

Well, Mr Hansen simply repeated it and wrote that there was nothing scientifically invalid about the paragraph. If the paragraph makes Mr Naasz uncomfortable, maybe it should. ;-) Mr Hansen should be treated as a mentally ill person, the healthy people should be protected from him, and I assure you that there is nothing scientifically invalid about this sentence of mine. If it makes Mr Hansen or other lunatics feel uncomfortable, maybe it should.


Britain: Recycling isn't anything like as eco-friendly as its propagandists would have us believe

For obvious reasons I am not going to tell you where I live, but for aggrieved council taxpayers whose wheelie bins have been left unemptied because the lid wasn't quite shut I know of an alternative way of disposing of waste: come and dump it round my way. I can guarantee you that you won't get caught. Whenever a pile of rubbish has appeared illegally dumped on a roadside the council has scratched its head and come to the conclusion: sorry, there is not a lot we can do, other than to scrape it up at taxpayers' expense and sent it to landfill.

Illegal dumping is a problem that is only going to get worse as the Government continues its ham-fisted efforts to reach its recycling targets. Every time a local authority devises another punitive scheme - fining householders for the crime of failing to fulfil the evermore prescriptive rules for putting out the rubbish - it is another powerful incentive for antisocial householders to tip their rubbish under the nearest hedge. If I was the South Wales man fined recently because a single sheet of paper had found its way into the wrong recycling container I know what I would be tempted to do: deposit next week's rubbish on the council's doorstep.

We don't have a coherent strategy for dealing with waste. Rather, in recycling, the Government, local authorities and their contractors have discovered a very useful device for raising money and excusing slovenly service. Need some extra revenue and can't put council tax up any more? Fine those who put a tin can in a bag meant for plastic bottles. Need to slash your budget? Switch to fortnightly collections and say you are doing it to encourage recycling - even though in many countries with higher recycling rates than ours urban areas have daily waste collections.

Few conscientious, middle-class folk who sort out their waste into half a dozen different containers each week realise that technology already exists to make this palaver redundant. Many American cities have increased their recycling rates by switching to single-stream collections of recyclable waste that are then sorted in an automated plant. The collected waste is emptied on to a conveyor belt, where systems of magnets and optical scanners pick out most of what can be recycled, leaving humans to sort out the residue. When introduced in Maryland it resulted in 30 per cent more waste being recycled than under the previous system, where householders were made to sort out their recyclables by hand.

But I suspect it will be a long time before we see such technology here thanks to the near-religious fervour for recycling collections among British environmentalists. We are made to go through the weekly ritual of sorting our bottles from our magazines not because it is the best way of collecting recyclable material but because it is thought to be good for us.

The whole issue of recycling has been clouded by green ideology. The EU set it targets for increasing recycling back in 1999 without properly questioning whether that is always the best way of disposing of rubbish. That we can't go on covering the country with landfill sites is obvious, but it is far less clear-cut whether recycling or incinerating waste is the best environmental option. Recycling your plastic bottles may make you glow with virtue, but if they have to be carted halfway around the world to be recycled, and then large quantities of energy are consumed in the recyling process, it is far from obvious that you are doing the planet a good turn.

Alternatively, your plastic bottle could be burnt in a power station, its stored energy used to generate electricity that would otherwise require fossil fuels, and the waste heat distributed to local public buildings and homes. This is exactly what happens in the case of the Eastcroft combined heat and power plant, which has been consuming nearly a third of Nottinghamshire's waste since it opened in 1973. Further development on waste incinerators in Britain has stalled, however, thanks to the assumption that waste must be recycled at all costs.

In a retrospective attempt to justify the policy on recycling, the Government's waste quango, the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), recently asked the Technical University of Denmark to undertake a review of worldwide research on the debate between recycling and incineration and their respective contributions towards greenhouse gas emissions. The review has been quoted by green groups wanting to "debunk the myth" that recycling isn't all it is cracked up to be. But it fails to debunk anything. Of 37 studies into the issue of paper recycling, for example, six arrived at the conclusion that paper is better incinerated than recycled, and nine indicated it makes little difference environmentally either way. Of 42 studies into plastic recycling, eight concluded that plastic is better incinerated and two said there was little difference.

Notably, all but one of the remaining that came down in favour of recycling used the assumption that 100 per cent of the plastic could be recycled, which is not reflected in practice. In studies where a more realistic assumption was made, that 50 per cent of the plastic could be recovered, the conclusion was firmly that incineration was better for the environment.

In any case, none of the studies reflected what we know from anecdotal evidence happens in practice: that an unknown quantity of recyclable material exported to China ends up being burnt or dumped. It is certainly better for the British environment if waste is shipped off to China, but not so good for the Chinese who have to live with the consequences.

In some cases, recycling is unquestionably the best option. We have, after all, been melting down and recycling metals since long before the word recycling was invented, because it has made economic sense to do so. But to make a blanket assumption that only recycling can save the planet, as current policy says, owes more to religion than science. From the rats poking around unemptied dustbins in Barnet to the piles of smouldering plastic waste in backwoods China, this is a policy that needs urgent review.



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.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dunes, climate models don't match up with paleomagnetic records

Yet another peer-reviewed study challenging the "consensus" before the Bali meeting. It shows in fact that the consensus is inconsistent with the data. So much for consensus

For a quarter-century or more, the prevailing view among geoscientists has been that the portion of the ancient supercontinent of Pangea that is now the Colorado Plateau in southern Utah shifted more than 1,300 miles north during a 100-million year span that ended about 200 million years ago in the early Jurassic Period, when Pangea began to break up.

Paleomagnetic records are found in igneous rocks that permanently record the direction of the Earth's magnetic field at the time they solidified from the molten state. Paleomagnetism is an important tool for geoscientists in tracking the movement of Earth's tectonic plates over time and records in North America indicate that the Colorado Plateau moved from the equator to about 20 degrees north latitude from 300 million years ago to 200 million years ago.

But new research by geoscientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Michigan challenges that theory, based on extensive climate modeling studies and sedimentary records found from Wyoming into Utah and Arizona.

In the Nov. 23 issue of the journal Science, UNL geoscientists Clinton Rowe, David Loope and Robert Oglesby, former UNL graduate student Charles Broadwater, and Rob Van der Voo of the University of Michigan, report findings that indicate the area must have remained at the equator during the time in question. "It's a puzzle, a 'conundrum' is the word we like to use," Oglesby said. "And in the Science paper, we're not solving the conundrum, we're raising the conundrum."

The root of the conundrum is Loope's ongoing research in the Colorado Plateau that began when he was working on his doctorate at the University of Wyoming in the early 1980s. A sedimentologist and an expert on dune formation, he eventually saw that from central Wyoming into central Utah, ancient dunes preserved in the region's 200 million- to 300-hundred-million-year-old sandstone formations all faced southwest, meaning that the winds over that extensive area were almost constantly from the northeast. As his study progressed, he discovered that the direction of the dunes shifted to the southeast in what is now southern Utah, meaning the wind direction shifted to the northwest. What's more, those prevailing winds were consistent over the entire 100 million years in question and the shift in wind direction could only have occurred at the equator. "I thought that was very curious," Loope said. "It didn't seem to fit with what we think we know about where the continents were."

Loope is also a paleoclimatologist (who studies ancient climates), as are Rowe and Oglesby, who also have expertise in climate modeling. The three geoscientists began working together, trying to find a computerized climate model that would explain the discrepancy, but they couldn't find any that worked. "We ran the model in any different number of configurations just to see if we could make it do something different," Rowe said. "It didn't matter what we did to it, as long as you had some land, and it was distributed north and south of the equator, you would end up with this monsoonal flow that matched these records from the dunes. "The equator is the only place you could get this large-scale arc of winds that turn from the northeast to the northwest as they moved south. Nowhere else would you get that as part of the general circulation unless the physics of the world 200 million years ago was very different from what it is today. And we just don't think that's the case."

Puzzled by the discrepancy between their research and the paleomagnetic records, they turned to Van der Voo, an expert on paleomagnetism. "We brought Rob in to try to see if he could help us sort it out, and he's like, 'Gosh, guys, I don't know. This is a conundrum,'" Oglesby said. "It's important to note that we have not just a paleomag person as a co-author, but arguably the best-known paleomag person in the world -- and he's as confused as we are."

Van der Voo agreed that, for now, there's no clear answer to the conundrum. "The nicest thing would have been if we had a solution, but we don't," Van der Voo said. "All we can say is that we have this enigma, so perhaps our model of Pangea for the period in question is wrong or the wind direction didn't follow the common patterns that we recognize in the modern world. Neither seems likely, but we're bringing this inconsistency to the attention of the scientific community in hopes of stimulating further research."

And further research is exactly what's on the agenda, Oglesby said. "We'll come up with everything we can possibly think of," he said. "From the point of view of the climate model, the paleogeography, the vegetation, the topography, local-scale vs. large-scale, paleomag, going back and rethinking everything that the dunes tell us. We'll go back to square one in everything, trying to figure it out."


The Phenomenological Approach to Estimating the Effect of Total Solar Irradiance on Climate

I've mentioned before that the flawed `hockey stick' temperature reconstruction is used to reduce the role of the sun in climate change. Little pre-industrial temperature variability would help support the claim that 20th century warming is mainly anthropogenic in origin. Scafetta and West have recently published a continuation of their phenomenological approach to estimating the role of total solar irradiance (TSI) in climate change, which compares TSI reconstructions with temperature reconstructions.

Interestingly, Scafetta and West conclude that: "if we assume that the latest temperature and TSI secular reconstructions, WANG2005 and MOBERG05, are accurate, we are forced to conclude that solar changes significantly alter climate, and that the climate system responds relatively slowly to such changes with a time constant between 6 and 12 years. This would suggest that the large-scale computer models of climate could be significantly improved by adding additional Sun-climate coupling mechanisms."

I should point out that solar irradiance is only one potential solar effect on climate and the IPCC rate the `level of scientific understanding' (LOSU) of `solar irradiance' as `low.' Even the contrived Lockwood and Frohlich (2007) paper pointed to the possibility of an unknown `solar amplifier' and the expected fall in future solar activity. Furthermore, it is possible that equivalent solar forcing is `different' to greenhouse gas forcing.

Anyway, the JGR paper entitled: `Phenomenological reconstructions of the solar signature in the Northern Hemisphere surface temperature records since 1600' by N. Scafetta and B. J. West can be found here. It's a good read, so enjoy!


The study referred to above appears in the Nov. 3, 2007 issue of JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH. Direct link to study here. From Conclusion:

"In conclusion, if we assume that the latest temperature and TSI secular reconstructions, WANG2005 and D24S03 SCAFETTA AND WEST: SOLAR CONTRIBUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE 8 of 10 D24S03 MOBERG05, are accurate, we are forced to conclude that solar changes significantly alter climate, and that the climate system responds relatively slowly to such changes with a time constant between 6 and 12 a. This would suggest that the large-scale computer models of climate could be significantly improved by adding additional Sun-climate coupling mechanisms."

Ethanol madness

Anything rather than drill for oil in American waters or in Alaska

Ethanol mania is one of the primary reasons that the price of corn has doubled over the past 15 months, in turn driving up prices for basic foods from milk to bread. (Skyrocketing demand for feedstock grain to raise meat for India, China and Latin America's burgeoning middle-class is the other major underlying cause.)

This year, 93 million acres of corn were planted in the U.S, the most since 1944 and 20% more than in 2006. Rising prices mean even more cropland is likely to be turned over to corn. The U.S. government's renewable fuels standard, which went into effect on Sept. 1, calls for 7.5 billion gallons of corn ethanol to be blended into gasoline by 2012. Follow-up legislation now wending its way through Congress raises that number to 15 billion gallons by 2022.

Fifteen billion gallons is about 10% of America's current annual gasoline consumption. An acre of corn yields barely 300 gallons of ethanol. To make that much ethanol a full 40% of American cropland would need to be dedicated to corn, sending food prices through the roof.

Scads of tax dollars are being thrown at agribusinesses to achieve this insanity. Total government support for biofuels in the U.S. was $7 billion accounting for about half the global total. According to projections, Uncle Sam will shell out $13 billion next year and $16 billion a year by 2014. In all, the government is on track to spend a total of $92 billion on ethanol subsidies by 2012.

A new report from the International Institute of Sustainable Development, a pro-free trade group based in Geneva, makes a case that the American taxpayer is paying more in subsidies to produce each and every gallon of corn-based ethanol than it would cost to buy oil that produced the equivalent amount of energy. That's just nuts.

Are Americans at least getting reductions in net emissions of greenhouse gases for their money? Yes, but nothing like those elsewhere. Brazilians use sugarcane to make ethanol and Europeans wheat and sugar beet. Of the four crops, corn has the least impact on emission levels--spewing only 18% less pollution than conventional gasoline.

That is a benefit, but not a compellingly cost-efficient one. The Institute of Sustainable Development reckons that eliminating a ton of carbon dioxide through biofuels could cost anywhere between $150 and $10,000. But even if it costs just $150, that is still far more expensive that many other ways of reducing carbon emissions, such as making vehicles more efficient. The open market values a ton of carbon dioxide emissions at far less that $150. For that price you can buy credits to offset 40 tons of carbon dioxide on the Chicago Climate Exchange.

Yes, there are social reasons, legitimately chosen, that explain why countries subsidize their farmers, ranging from food security to a desire to protect traditional rural ways of life. To their defenders in Japan, no more so than those in America or France, farm subsidies are as much about national identity as economics.

But biofuel subsidies aren't really about the largely mythical Midwestern family farm. In the U.S., 80% of farm subsides go to massive agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland, General Mills and Cargill. Biofuel subsidies give politicians the rare opportunity feed the maw of the agribusiness lobby while at the same time painting themselves "green" for the environmentally concerned voter. Perversely, biofuel subsidies harm both the environment and the hungry in poor nations. The sooner we stop this madness, the better off we all will be.


Why the public shrugs at global warming

The secretary-general of the United Nations, upon issuing yet another global-warming report a couple of weeks ago, announced that "we are on the verge of a catastrophe." Kevin Rudd, Australia's just-elected prime minister, has said that fighting global warming will be his "number one" priority. And Al Gore, propelled by his Nobel Prize, still travels the world to warn of doom. His latest stop was the Caribbean, where earlier this month he told a gathering of the region's environmental officials that rising seas, the result of melting polar icecaps, would threaten their island paradise.

And yet the public does not seem to feel all that heatedly about the warming of the planet. In survey after survey, American voters say that they care about global warming, but the subject ranks quite low when compared with other concerns (e.g., the economy, health care, the war on terror). Even when Mr. Gore's Oscar-winning film, "An Inconvenient Truth," was at the height of its popularity, it did not increase the importance of global warming in the public mind or mobilize greater support for Mr. Gore's favored remedies--e.g., reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by government fiat. Mr. Gore may seek to make environmental protection civilization's "central organizing principle," as he puts it, but there is no constituency for such a regime. Hence even the Democratic Party's presidential candidates, in their debates, give global warming only cursory treatment, with lofty rhetoric and vague policy proposals.

There is a reason for this political freeze-up. In "Break Through," Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger argue that Mr. Gore and the broader environmental movement--in which Mr. Gore plays an almost messianic part--remain wedded to an outmoded vision, seeing global warming as "a problem of pollution to be fixed by a politics of limits." Such a vision may have worked in the early days of environmentalism, when the first clear-air and clean-water regulations were pushed through Congress, but today it cannot mobilize enough public support for dramatic political change.

What is to be done? Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger want to replace the pollution paradigm with a progressive one. They broached this idea in "The Death of Environmentalism," a controversial 2004 monograph that ricocheted around the Internet. "Break Through" gives the idea a fuller exposition and even greater urgency. The authors contend that the environmental movement must throw out its "unexamined assumptions, outdated concepts, and exhausted strategies" in favor of something "imaginative, aspirational, and future-oriented."

Let it be said that Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger are anything but nature-scoffing know-nothings. They have worked for environmental organizations for years. Thus there is a certain poignancy to their view that "doomsday discourse" has made the green movement just another liberal interest group. They want environmentalism to have a broader appeal--enough to address major ecological concerns, including global warming. But no one, they contend, is going to demand draconian emission limits--the kind that would actually slow the warming trend--if they bring down the standard of living and interrupt the progress of the economy.

A progressive approach, the authors say, would acknowledge that economic growth and prosperity do not, in themselves, pose an environmental threat. To the contrary, they inspire ecological concern; the environment, Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger say, is a "post-material" need that people demand only after their material needs are met. To make normal, productive human activity the enemy of nature, as environmentalists implicitly do, is to adopt policies that "constrain human ambition, aspiration and power" instead of finding ways to "unleash and direct them."

Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger want "an explicitly pro-growth agenda," on the theory that investment, innovation and imagination may ultimately do more to improve the environment than punitive regulation and finger-wagging rhetoric. To stabilize atmospheric carbon levels will take more--much more--than regulation; it will require "unleashing human power, creating a new economy."

It is not that the authors are opposed to the government playing a role in this "new economy." They would like to see federal programs offset the harm of regulation, for instance, acknowledging the trade-offs of environmentalist policies. If auto workers lose their livelihood because of a new fuel-economy rule, they may need to be compensated, perhaps by a health-care subsidy. The authors' most detailed proposal is for a government-funded "Apollo Project" to spur the development of low-carbon energy technologies. Regulatory-centered approaches to climate change, they say, are "economically insufficient to accelerate the transition to clean energy." An "investment centered" approach is better.

Such a shift in focus would be welcome, of course, but it is hard to see why their centralized subsidy plan would produce commercially profitable--that is, "pro-growth"--technologies better than the multiple efforts of private investors. In short: Why would an "Apollo" plan succeed where the Synthetic Fuels Corp. failed? Having accepted the platitude that "human governance is what makes markets possible," the authors embrace the fatal conceit that markets can somehow be planned or manipulated to achieve a grand and worthy purpose.

Still, "Break Through" does bust up big parts of the old paradigm, not least by challenging environmentalists to rethink their "politics of limits." In an odd way, the doomsaying of the global warmists has had a tonic effect, revealing, nearly 40 years since the first Earth Day, that environmentalism is stuck in a midlife crisis. Messrs. Nordhaus and Shellenberger want desperately to get it unstuck. If heeded, their call for an optimistic outlook--embracing economic dynamism and creative potential--will surely do more for the environment than any U.N. report or Nobel Prize.


Civil Society Report Rejects "Kyoto 2"; says climate policy should focus on removing barriers to adaptation

A new Report* produced by a coalition of over 40 prominent civil society organisations from 33 countries says that governments should reject calls for a post-Kyoto treaty ("Kyoto 2") with binding limits on carbon emissions. The report says a better strategy would be to focus on removing barriers to adaptation, such as subsidies, taxes and regulations that hinder technological innovation and economic growth.

From 3-14 December, government officials will be in Bali, Indonesia, for climate talks. They are set to discuss the establishment of a new treaty, dubbed "Kyoto 2", which would require all countries to limit emissions of greenhouse gases.

The Civil Society Report on Climate Change concludes that such emissions caps would be counterproductive: they would undermine economic development, harm the poor, and would be unlikely to address the problem of climate change in a meaningful way.

"Kyoto 2 is the wrong solution. Such a treaty would harm billions of poor people, making energy and energy-dependent technologies, such as clean water, more expensive, and would perpetuate poverty by retarding growth", said Kendra Okonski, Environment Programme Director of International Policy Network, one of the 41 organisations who published the report. "Given that nations are having trouble complying with the relatively small emissions cuts required under Kyoto, the economic and social consequences of a Kyoto 2 Treaty could be devastating", added Ms Okonski. The Civil Society Report argues that adaptation is the best way to enable people to deal with a changing climate. That means:

* enabling people to utilise technologies capable of reducing the incidence of disease, such as clean water, sanitation, and medicines;

* deploying technologies - e.g. flood defences, roads, sturdier houses, and early warning systems - that reduce the risk of death from weather-related disasters;

* removing barriers to the use of modern agricultural technologies, which would better enable people to adapt to changing conditions;

* eliminating subsidies, taxes, and regulations that undermine economic growth - thereby enabling people better to address current and future problems.



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.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What they didn't tell you about that shipwreck

You'd never read this in the mainstream media: The owner of MS Explorer that sank, leaving a huge carbon footprint at the bottom of the Antarctic Ocean Friday is an acolyte of teensy-weensy carbon footprint crusader Al Gore. G.A.P. Adventures CEO and Explorer owner, Bruce Poon Tip and Gore have similar ideals, "filling their schedules with speaking engagements on environmental change to educate global audiences." And that's straight off of In fact, as recently as last April, both Poon Tip and Gore gave presentations at the Green Living Show in Toronto. "I expressed my admiration for Mr. Gore's commitment and leadership which spans more than 20 years," commented Poon Tip. "I also invited him aboard our legendary polar expedition ship, the MS Explorer to visit the Arctic."

The legendary polar expedition ship."had at least five faults at its last inspection," according to Greenpeace spokeswoman Bunny McDiarmid. "Maritime records show the MV Explorer has completed more than 40 cruises to the ice, but has lately been suffering maintenance and safety problems."

Maintenance and safety problems never kept the MS Explorer from setting out for the Antarctica two weeks ago. Good thing Gore was otherwise occupied when 154 passengers and crew had to be rescued at sea when their eco-cruise ship struck ice in the Antarctic Ocean and started to sink early Friday morning. (None of the eco warriors aboard MS Explorer were identified in weekend media coverage). Twelve Canadians-10 tourists and two expedition guides on the eco-adventure cruise-spent anxious frigid hours in lifeboats once they were evacuated from the Explorer. In addition to the 12 Canadians were travelers from the United States, Britain, Australia, France and several other countries on board the ship.

There was little mention in the mainstream media that the passengers were comprised of eco warriors or that they had spent thousands of dollars to see ice at a much closer range than they ever dreamed. Making it a Thanksgiving Day to remember, the polar cruise came with that sinking feeling of a miniature Titanic. Passengers and crew aboard the Canadian cruise liner waited in frigid temperatures for some two hours before pick up in a part of the ocean with no land in sight.

How the vessel sustained a "fist-sized hole" is a mystery taken down to the ocean floor. The 38-year-old vessel was sold by Abercrombie & Kent (A&K) to G.A.P Adventures in 2004. A&K has since acquired Explorer II, now called "Minerva". A well-known ship in marine circles, the 75-metre Explorer was built in 1969 and was specifically designed with a reinforced double hull to withstand ice and other environmental challenges.

Near the South Shetland Islands, the ship began to take on water and a distress call was made. The Explorer's pumps managed the incoming water while passengers and expedition staff were gathered in the ship's lecture hall and informed of the emergency. All eco warrior passengers had received evacuation training on their first day at sea, and news reports indicated that nobody panicked when things started to go wrong.

As the Los Angeles Times described it: "The first cruise ship built to ply the frigid waters of Antarctica became the first to sink there Friday. The red-hulled Explorer struck ice, taking water as 154 passengers and crew members scrambled to safety aboard lifeboats and rafts. The ship later went to the bottom." According to one blogger who plans an Antarctica trip, "apparently, most (Explorer passengers) did not have wallets or passports with them," adding in a Note to Self: "Wear identification belt at all times."

Passengers and crew were taken to a Chilean military base on King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands, from which they were flown home yesterday. Meanwhile, Greenpeace believes tourism in Antarctica should be strictly limited because of the fate of MS Explorer, but the silence is deafening from Poon Tip and Gore about the huge carbon footprint left on the ocean floor.


We are set on a course of 'planet saving' madness

Christopher Booker comments from Britain

The scare over global warming, and our politicians' response to it, is becoming ever more bizarre. On the one hand we have the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change coming up with yet another of its notoriously politicised reports, hyping up the scare by claiming that world surface temperatures have been higher in 11 of the past 12 years (1995-2006) than ever previously recorded.

This carefully ignores the latest US satellite figures showing temperatures having fallen since 1998, declining in 2007 to a 1983 level - not to mention the newly revised figures for US surface temperatures showing that the 1930s had four of the 10 warmest years of the past century, with the hottest year of all being not 1998, as was previously claimed, but 1934.

On the other hand, we had Gordon Brown last week, in his "first major speech on climate change", airily committing his own and future governments to achieving a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 - which is rather like prime minister Salisbury at the end of Queen Victoria's reign trying to commit Winston Churchill's government to achieving some wholly impossible goal in the middle of the Second World War. Mr Brown's only concrete proposal for reaching this absurd target seems to be his plan to ban plastic bags, whatever they have to do with global warming (while his government also plans a near-doubling of flights out of Heathrow).

But of course he is no longer his own master in such fantasy exercises. Few people have yet really taken on board the mind-blowing scale of all the "planet-saving" measures to which we are now committed by the European Union. By 2020 we will have to generate 20 per cent of our electricity from "renewables". At present the figure is four per cent (most of it generated by hydro-electric schemes and methane gas from landfill). As Whitehall officials privately briefed ministers in August, there is no way Britain can begin to meet such a fanciful target (even if the Government manages to ram through another 30,000 largely useless wind turbines).

Another EU directive commits us to deriving 10 per cent of our transport fuel from "biofuels" by 2020. This would take up pretty well all the farmland we currently use to grow food (at a time when world grain prices have doubled in six months and we are already face a global food shortage). Then by 2009, thanks to a mad gesture by Mr Blair and his EU colleagues last March, we also face the prospect of a total ban on incandescent light bulbs. This compulsory switch to low-energy bulbs, apart from condemning us to live in uglier homes under eye-straining light, is in practice completely out of the question, because, according to our Government's own figures, more than half Britain's domestic light fittings cannot take them.

This year will be remembered for two things. First, it was the year when the scientific data showed that the cosmic scare over global warming may well turn out to be just that - yet another vastly inflated scare. Second, it was the year when the hysteria generated by all the bogus science behind this scare finally drove those who rule over us, including Gordon "Plastic Bags" Brown, wholly out of their wits.



By Andrew C. Revkin

For two decades, scientists and environmental campaigners have been on an ongoing quest for imagery and analogies sufficiently jarring to focus public attention on global warming and motivate a climate-friendly change in how we get and use energy. In 1988, James E. Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who, through much of his career, has pressed elected officials to limit greenhouse gas emissions, constructed "loaded" cardboard dice for a Senate hearing, to illustrate that we were, in essence, tipping the climate system toward ever higher odds of unpleasant events like droughts and flooding rains. Last month he went a lot farther, directly invoking imagery from the Holocaust in discussing how warming would cause a mass of biological extinctions.

The statement came in testimony Dr. Hansen gave on Oct. 22 before the utilities board of his native state, Iowa. He pressed the case for forbidding the construction of new coal-burning power plants unless and until technologies were developed to capture and store the heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions. The full text of the testimony is at Dr. Hansen's Columbia University home page,'s the relevant section:
"Coal will determine whether we continue to increase climate change or slow the human impact. Increased fossil fuel CO2 in the air today, compared to the pre-industrial atmosphere, is due 50% to coal, 35% to oil and 15% to gas. As oil resources peak, coal will determine future CO2 levels. Recently, after giving a high school commencement talk in my hometown, Denison, Iowa, I drove from Denison to Dunlap, where my parents are buried. For most of 20 miles there were trains parked, engine to caboose, half of the cars being filled with coal. If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains - no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species."

The statement reprises language Dr. Hansen used earlier in the year. This time, he was excoriated in a letter from Kraig R. Naasz, the president of the National Mining Association, who demanded an apology for miners and railroad workers. That letter is also posted on Dr. Hansen's home page, along with Dr. Hansen's response.Mr. Naasz wrote:
"The suggestion that coal utilization for electricity generation can be equated with the systematic extermination of European Jewry is both repellant and preposterous". "Your advocacy on behalf of global warming is ill served by an invidious comparison that manages not only to trivialize the suffering of millions but undermines your credibility as a rational observer of a complex phenomenon."

Dr. Hansen response on this point was:
"There is nothing scientifically invalid about the above paragraph. If this paragraph makes you uncomfortable, well, perhaps it should." "The only additional required explanation, clearly stated in my testimony, is that coal-fired power plants that capture and sequester the CO2 are consistent with preserving creation, life on the planet as we know it, but the required technology is not yet ready. Until technology is ready, there should be a moratorium on construction of new coal-fired power plants in developed countries. Developing countries must phase out such construction within a decade. Realization that all coal-fired power plants without actual carbon capture will have to be "bull-dozed" in the next several decades, in all countries, should serve as an effective brake on new construction of coal-fired power plants during the next few years in all countries. For better understanding, I recommend a more careful reading of my testimony."

This all lay dormant until the last few days, when bloggers and others critical of Dr. Hansen's portrayal of the dangers of global warming posted fresh complaints on the Web. I sent the query below this morning to Dr. Hansen to explore his Iowa statement and reactions. As soon as I have a response, I'll post it.
Hi Jim, It would be nice if we lived in a world where, when faced with an environmental problem, reporters only have to discuss risks delineated by science and the range of societal responses. But sometimes we have to write about language, too. I need to ask you a few questions about your framing of the climate challenge. I saw your Iowa testimony when you distributed it by email last month but I didn't have time to read all the way through. Now, many people opposing greenhouse-gas restrictions are the warpath over your reference to death trains and crematoria in your argument for freezing coal-plant construction to avoid dangerous human-driven warming. Your letter back to the coal rep says:
"There is nothing scientifically invalid about the above paragraph. If this paragraph makes you uncomfortable, well, perhaps it should."

As I said above, we live in a world where science is not the only thing that matters. Here are my questions:

1) I assume you chose your language carefully. I see you've been quoted before describing coal trains as death trains. Were you concerned that Holocaust survivors and relatives of victims might take offense?

2) Have you received complaints from any yet? Have you received support from any?

3) Do you think that this kind of metaphor is the only thing that can jog the public or officials to change?

4) Some say that whatever you think about the dangers of global warming, this kind of language inevitably becomes the issue, distracts from the real questions, and could in fact further polarize or paralyze discourse. Is there any merit to their view?

5) This is a quirky question, but necessary: Who is the victim of of the mass murder you framed in your testimony - nature or people? Nature has endured many "natural" mass extinctions and stresses as conditions on Earth have changed, so it'll doubtless endure this human-caused assault in time. Is your concern about what we humans lose in a world with less biological diversity, or about the insult itself?


Meteorologist Craig James explains the real CO2 sequence

In response to the many comments I have received recently questioning my position on global warming, I'd like to offer this summary:

There are several possible causes for warming and cooling of the atmosphere on a global scale. Periodic astronomical cycles, such as the Milankovitch Cycles, solar variations, volcanic activity, the shift in phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO), the Arctic Oscillation (AO), plus many others certainly all play a huge role. I have written about the natural oscillation of the oceans and their affects on temperatures in several posts on this site. Of course the mainstream emphasis today is on increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. If I conducted a survey asking people whether the temperature rises first and then CO2 levels increase, or vice-versa, I'm sure we could all guess the prevailing opinion is that CO2 levels increase first. I think it is very important for everyone to understand, this is not the case.

I am not doubting that humans have been responsible for an increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 and that this CO2 increase may have contributed to some of the warming we have experienced by a process known as positive feedback. But it does seem as if the climate models overstate this positive feedback and several others such as those for water vapor. A close inspection of the temperature and CO2 records shows that the warming we see now should be much greater if CO2 was the dominant factor. To illustrate this, let me repost one of my previous articles called "Does the Earth Have a Temperature Regulator".

It seems to me as if there hasn't really been much attention given to the fact that CO2 increases occur AFTER the temperature begins rising and therefore cannot be the initial cause of global warming. Even the most vocal proponents of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) acknowledge this fact. The web site Real Climate states:
From studying all the available data (not just ice cores), the probable sequence of events at a termination goes something like this. Some (currently unknown) process causes Antarctica and the surrounding ocean to warm. This process also causes CO2 to start rising, about 800 years later. Then CO2 further warms the whole planet, because of its heat-trapping properties. This leads to even further CO2 release.

They are well aware that CO2 does not cause the initial warming but they say it does amplify the warming once underway. The interesting thing to me though is what causes the warming to stop, even though CO2 is still RISING?

Take a look at this chart (above) from the Vostok ice core record over the last 460,000 years.

The second chart is a close up of the last 18,000 years (since the last glacial maximum).

The third chart is of the last 200 years, encompassing the industrial revolution.

The charts were all taken from this web page. Notice on all three charts the recent rapid rise in CO2 on the right hand side of the chart WITHOUT an equivalent rise in the temperature.

There was a rise in temperature but you would expect it to be more if the response was linear. This seems to be good evidence that the temperature response to rising CO2 levels is logarithmic, not linear. A subsequent doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will not produce the amount of temperature increase the first doubling did. But what is even more interesting to me can be seen on the first chart going back 460,000 years. There are five warm periods, or interglacials, on the chart. The current one has lasted the longest. Every time the temperature has warmed to more than 2 degrees Celcius above the mid 20th century benchmark (the 0 degree line) for a significant time, cooling followed. It appears that if the +2C threshold is exceeded for some period of time, a new glacial, or cooling, phase follows. According to the authors of the web site where I got the chart:

A linear trend line fitted to the temperature data would indicate that the critical +2C level would be reached in about 40 years. But we don't know that the trend is linear.

I think it is logarithmic, not linear or exponential as the authors suggest, meaning it will take much longer than 40 years to reach the +2C threshold. But once it reaches that threshold, what makes the temperature start to fall again, especially if CO2 levels are still rising? Does the earth have a built in temperature regulator? Does melting of the Arctic ice slow down the thermohaline circulation enough to initiate a new ice age? Or is the "iris effect" real as described in this article? Whatever it is, there certainly seems to evidence from the Vostok ice core, which the AGW people accept, that the Earth will again regulate itself to prevent any runaway global warming."

Will the increasing levels of CO2 override the historical pattern of a +2C threshold? I can't find an answer to that anywhere. Also, if you look again at the long term chart above, you will see that the ice ages do not begin every 100,000 years as the Milankovitch Cycles would predict. Wikepedia states:
The Milankovitch theory of climate change is not perfectly worked out; in particular, the largest observed response is at the 100,000 year timescale, but the forcing is apparently small at this scale, in regard to the ice ages. Various feedbacks (from carbon dioxide, or from ice sheet dynamics) are invoked to explain this discrepancy.

Another issue I want to emphasize has come about because of all of the concern regarding the low Arctic sea ice extent measured this fall. I can't state this strongly enough. THERE IS NO CORRELATION BETWEEN ARCTIC AIR TEMPERATURES AND ARCTIC SEA ICE!

Here (above) is a graph of Arctic air temperatures since 1880.

The second chart is a graph of Arctic Sea Ice extent since 1900. The air temperatures in the Arctic were warmer in 1940 than now. The sea ice extent began to diminish in 1950 as air temperatures were going DOWN. If there is no correlation, there can be no causation. Also, never once mentioned in the mainstream media is the fact that the southern hemisphere sea ice extent was at a record MAXIMUM this year.

It seems to me the argument that the current rise in CO2 is solely responsible for the changes we have seen over the past several decades ignores much of the historical record and places an unwarranted confidence in computer model forecasts, which those of us who forecast weather know all to well, are NOT reality. I do think I am open to being convinced otherwise, but as of yet, I haven't seen the smoking gun that would do so.


Chris de Freitas: Don't blame me for the heat

(Dr Chris de Freitas is an associate professor in the School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science, University of Auckland)

Greenpeace spokeswoman Susannah Bailey's attack on branches of the New Zealand business sector, which she accuses of continuing to plead grey on global warming, misses the key point.Political action on climate change is not a game to be played and won or lost, and Greenpeace does us a disservice by encouraging that view. Little does the public realise the debate over climate change usually conflates issues of science and politics.The robustness or otherwise of the science underpinning the role of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the key to assessing the risk from human induced climate change issue. But seldom if ever are the uncertainties of the science discussed.

Seldom if ever is the question asked: Where is the evidence for catastrophic climate change from human action? Rather than search for the evidence, groups like Greenpeace defer to authorities, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a political entity which appears to have a monopoly on wisdom in global warming matters. Rather than debate the issues, they attack those who disagree, using defamatory labels. Yet the opposite of scepticism is gullibility.

The fanatical name calling and personal attacks expose the strong ideological elements that drive global warming alarmist thinking. It's as if the depth of passion is overcompensation for doubt and uncertainty. Why else would environmentalists squander so much effort trying to discredit individuals and organisations who disagree? Few scientists are willing to put their head above the parapet, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that, to paraphrase Voltaire, it is dangerous to be right when the authorities are wrong.

Moreover, vote counting is a risky way to discover scientific truth. Scientific validity is not determined by a show of hands. Pronouncements from Greenpeace or the IPCC do not and cannot change the facts. No one doubts humans affect climate. The debate is whether the effects are "dangerous". There is no hard evidence that increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere put there by human activities are causing or will cause dangerous change to global climate.

The Earth's surface has warmed slightly over the last 150 years, but research shows that floods, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes have not increased in frequency.The climate facts are well established and well recorded, but often ignored when it comes to global warming catastrophism:

* There have been four periods of global warming in the past 1500 years.
* Data clearly show the Earth cooled during a recent 35-year period despite the continuing rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
* In recent times, global temperature has been steady since 1998, despite the continuing rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
* Average global sea level rise has shown no acceleration over the past 300 years.
* And it is an uncontroversial fact that all climate models are unreliable, so their output is not evidence of anything.

Recent climate change is within natural variation, and although this in no way confirms that it is due to natural variation, climate history clearly demonstrates that natural variation can explain the moderate climate change we have seen up until 1998.

One could argue that we should take the observed net 0.6C warming trend over the past 100 years seriously, but by itself it looks rather benign, and may even be beneficial.

Even if the signatories to the Kyoto protocol meet their commitment, the climate science community is unanimous on the view that its impact on global warming would be imperceptible. The fact is that the Kyoto targets are not based on science. Taking into account the economic costs, the Kyoto Protocol could be worse than doing nothing.It fails to establish long-term goals based on science, it poses serious and unnecessary risks to national economies, and it is ineffective in addressing climate change because it excludes major parts of the world.

There is a desperate need for balanced reporting to redress widespread misunderstanding of climate change and the role of human activities.



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.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The new Australian government and Kyoto: A brief comment

The new Australian government is remarkably conservative for a nominally Leftist government so it is likely that its Leftist moves will be more token than significant. And the resolve of Prime-minister-elect Kevin Rudd to sign the Kyoto treaty is a good example of such tokenism. Australia's emissions of carbon dioxide are already in line with what most of Europe has achieved so the signing will make little difference.

It should also be noted that Rudd will have to get the treaty through the Senate and, in a quirk of Australian politics, he is unlikely to be able to do that until July, 2008. Senate membership does not change until then and the present Senate is conservative-dominated. So Rudd's talk of "immediate" action is just the usual political flim-flam.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper dubs Kyoto accord a mistake at end of Commonwealth summit

Stephen Harper concluded a Commonwealth summit Sunday by bluntly describing the Kyoto accord as a mistake the world must never repeat. The prime minister characterized the landmark climate change deal as a flawed document and served notice that Canada will not support any new international treaty that carries its fatal flaw. Harper said the key error of Kyoto was slapping binding targets on three-dozen countries but not the rest, including some of the world's biggest polluters like the United States, China and India. So Canada will enter key negotiations on a post-Kyoto deal next month with a relatively simple position: all major polluters must be included, or there's no deal.

Harper came under fire from some quarters for promoting that view at the Commonwealth summit but was adamant that the everyone-in approach is the only solution. Harper's stance places the bar for success extremely high at upcoming United Nations talks in Bali, Indonesia, but he said it's better than the incrementalist approach of the past. "This was the Kyoto mistake," Harper told a news conference at the summit's conclusion. "We already did the 'One-third of the countries will take binding targets and let's hope the rest fall into line."' "We're already there. That hasn't worked."

Harper's remarks on Kyoto offer the latest in a series of public stances he has taken on the treaty, which demands six per cent emissions cuts below 1990 levels by 2012. Five years ago he described it as a money-sucking socialist scheme and ridiculed the science of global warming when the previous Liberal government ratified the treaty. More recently, he's simply described its targets as unattainable because of the Liberals' well-documented failure to cut emissions, a view that was reflected in his government's policy-setting throne speech.

On Sunday, he suggested Kyoto was flawed all along. "We already saw Kyoto," he said. "If we get a third of the world to sign on first and wait for the other two-thirds, it's never going to happen."

Harper says he has helped to achieve something that's never been done before: Getting the United States, China and, now, India, to agree to tackle climate change at successive international summits. At the G8, at APEC, and now with India at the Commonwealth, he got the world's biggest economies to agree to the general principle of cutting emissions. Just a few days ago at an Asian summit, India refused to endorse a resolution that called for it to strive toward undefined, so-called "aspirational" goals on greenhouse emissions. But this week, the Indians and the entire 53-member Commonwealth did sign on to such an agreement. Harper was a key player in making that happen, and some other countries were furious at Canada as a result.

To procure India's approval, the Commonwealth had to strip out any reference to binding targets in a resolution that had the support of almost any country. Some foreign diplomats were so disgusted that they sought out Canadian journalists to tell them what their country was doing behind closed doors. One called the Harper approach a perfect recipe for making sure nothing happens.

Canada was among the only countries to oppose a resolution that had called on developed countries to meet binding targets, without making any reference to developing ones like India. The other major holdout, Australia's government led by John Howard, was turfed from office in an election during the summit. Howard's successor, Kevin Rudd, has promised to sign the Kyoto accord immediately upon taking office.....

But the prime minister disputed reports that Canada was isolated at the summit and pointed out that his government helped write the climate change deal that was ultimately adopted. "For the first time in a very long time Canada's voice is being heard. And the consequence of our voice being heard is we're getting the changes we want to see," he said.


UN climate circus rolls in on CO2 cloud

IT HAS been billed as the summit that could help save the planet, but the latest United Nations climate change conference on the paradise island of Bali has itself become a major contributor to global warming. Calculations suggest flying the 15,000 politicians, civil servants, green campaigners and television crews into Indonesia will generate the equivalent of 100,000 tonnes of extra CO2. That is similar to the entire annual emissions of the African state of Chad.

When it was first conceived, only a few thousand politicians civil servants and environmentalists were expected to attend the conference - about normal for such an event. The meeting, which runs from December 3-14, aims to create the framework for a successor to the Kyoto treaty on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, which expires in 2012. However, climate change's growing political importance has led to a surge in interest in the conference, which is being held in the luxury holiday resort of Nusa Dua on Bali's palm-fringed southern coast.

Attendees are expected to include celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, the actor, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, and Al Gore, the former US vice-president. Many are merely "observers" who have no formal role to play in the talks, which largely involve government ministers and officials. Among these observers are 20 MEPs and 18 assistants whose itinerary includes a daytrip to the idyllic fishing and surfing village of Serangan. The UN has also recently received thousands of new registrations from groups campaigning for the environment or fighting against poverty. WWF, one of the largest, is sending more than 32 staff to the meeting. Thousands more are coming from businesses, especially the burgeoning carbon trading sector, which already carries out global transactions worth œ12 billion a year and has an acute interest in the outcome of Bali.

Indonesian officials say the final tally could reach 20,000 - and fear it could stretch the resort's infrastructure to the limit. About 90% of the emissions will be generated by delegates flying thousands of miles to Bali, with the rest coming from the facilities they will be using. Chris Goodall, a carbon emissions expert who did the calculations for The Sunday Times, estimated that each person flying to Bali would, on average, generate the equivalent of 6.48 tonnes of CO2. If 15,000 people attend, this adds up to over 97,000 tonnes of CO2. To this must be added about 13,000 tonnes of CO2 from the conference venue and hotels - a total of 110,000 tonnes. Goodall, author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, said: "One wonders how many people would have gone if the conference had been held in a wet October in Pittsburgh." ....

Three ministers in the British delegation are staying in 330 pounds-a-night suites at the Westin Resort Nusa Dua hotel, each with their own bedroom, living room and dining room. Such apparent luxury is justified, say aides, by their need for somewhere to hold private meetings.

One of the biggest delegations is being assembled by the European Union, which is expected to send Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, and 90 officials. In addition, all 27 EU countries are expected to send separate national delegations. Germany has one of the biggest, with around 70, and France follows close behind with 50. Even Latvia will be represented by four delegates, while Malta, an island populated by 400,000, will have two.


Another comment on the Oppenheimer admissions

Michael Oppenheimer admits consensus skews science: 'Setting aside or minimizing the importance of key structural uncertainties in underlying processes is a frequent outcome of the drive for consensus'

In a Policy Forum article inspired by the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Oppenheimer et al. (2007) write in the 14 September issue of Science that "with the general credibility of the science of climate change established, it is now equally important that policy-makers understand the more extreme possibilities that consensus may exclude or downplay." Why is that? Because, as they continue, "setting aside or minimizing the importance of key structural uncertainties in underlying processes is a frequent outcome of the drive for consensus."

In light of this illuminating admission, we note that the setting aside of key uncertainties in the climate modeling enterprise could well lead to more extreme possibilities at both ends of the climate prognostication spectrum, such that not only may earth's surface air temperature rise somewhat more than is predicted by the current IPCC consensus, it could equally as easily rise somewhat less than that august group has opined. And for the IPCC's current full range prediction of 21st century warming (1.1-6.4øC), somewhat less warming could well turn out to be indistinguishable from no warming at all.

But how could this possibly be? The answer may well be found in the implementation of another important principle enunciated by Oppenheimer et al., i.e., their contention that the basis for quantitative uncertainty estimates "must be broadened [our italics] to give observational, paleoclimatic, or theoretical evidence of poorly understood phenomena comparable weight with evidence from numerical modeling."

As a prime example of important paleoclimatic evidence that has been largely ignored by the IPCC, we cite the stunning results of the many studies we continue to identify and analyze in our Medieval Warm Period Project, where each week we highlight the findings of a different paleoclimatic study that reveals the time domain and various climatic characteristics of this probably warmer-than-present century-scale period of a thousand years ago, when the atmosphere's CO2 concentration was only about 70% of what it is today.

A repeat performance of whatever caused that earlier warm period (it was clearly not a spike in the air's CO2 concentration) may well be what brought about the Little Ice Age-to-Current Warm Period transition; and its possible full or partial reversal some time over the next 93 years could well result in the mean global air temperature in AD 2100 being equal to -- or even less than -- today's mean air temperature.

Likewise, an example of a poorly understood phenomenon of truly huge climatic significance is the means by which small changes in solar activity are able to bring about significant changes in climate. As Lean (2005) describes it, "a major enigma is that general circulation climate models predict an immutable climate in response to decadal solar variability, whereas surface temperatures, cloud cover, drought, rainfall, tropical cyclones, and forest fires show a definite correlation with solar activity."

In a display of open-mindedness uncharacteristic of most climate alarmists, Oppenheimer et al. go on to suggest that "a special team of authors could be instructed to examine the treatment of unlikely but plausible processes," stating that such analyses might even be conducted by "competing teams of experts."

Unfortunately, past findings of the IPCC are already driving massive political and governmental actions throughout the world; and backtracking -- which is what the implementation of Oppenheimer et al.'s suggestions would effectively constitute -- simply cannot be tolerated by those who have invested so much political and economic capital in the reigning climate-change paradigm of CO2-as-global-warming-demon ... unless, of course, people suddenly come to their senses and begin paying attention to all of the pertinent scientific literature, as we attempt to do here at CO2Science.


The grinch who stole Christmas cards

Grade school pupils in Wales have been banned from exchanging cards in the name of saving the planet and its `wretched' Africans.

In recent years, as the festive season draws closer, stories inevitably emerge about how `political correctness has gone mad', with council officers censoring Christmas carols on the grounds of `religious preference', re-branding Christmas `Winterval' and preventing people from hanging up decorations or bringing home-made food to school Christmas parties in the name of `health and safety' (1). But for evidence that environmentalism is now overriding `PC' favourites like multiculturalism and health and safety, look no further than Evan James Primary School in Wales, which has banned Christmas cards - on environmental grounds.

`The reasons for not having cards are endless', head teacher Nicholas Daniels claims. Although one could speculate that a big motivating factor was to remove the crushing burden of handing out the cards from teachers (`We are a big school. We have 68 pupils in two classes in year six. The magnitude of cards is horrendous'), Daniels' argument was explicitly moral. `We did take a strong moral ground on the matter. We knew we would face opposition but we decided to do this on moral and environmental grounds. Cards in school cause litter problems and can become a popularity contest about who gets the most.' (2)

Evan James Primary School pupils are therefore prevented from handing out their own cards on school property. The head teacher at the neighbouring Parc Lewis Primary School has followed suit by discouraging cards and urging parents to `donate one pound (instead of cards) for Oxfam and we will send the money to purchase a goat or mosquito net (for a family in Africa)'. This was explicitly `to help us get the Eco School Gold Award-Green Flag' (3).

School kids are already regularly being fed alarmist stories about the coming climate apocalypse, not least through the dissemination of Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth to all schools, despite its well-understood inaccuracies. Now children are being told that even the simple pleasure of exchanging Christmas cards with their friends is sinful, and re-educated to redirect their desires away from warm human interactions to winning an `Eco School Gold Award-Green Flag'.

If the report earlier this year which suggested that half of children often lose sleep from worrying about climate change is anything to go by (4), rather than lying awake in excitement waiting for Santa Claus, children will be kept up by scary visions of climate catastrophe.

The Welsh schools' policies neatly express the general hectoring, moralising tone of environmentalists, and they show how firmly `green' ideas have taken hold in our public institutions. The message being conveyed here is, first, that regardless of how much pleasure we might get from it, consumption is wasteful, and, second, that it is even morally degenerate, since there is an implicit trade-off between Western consumption and the well-being of the world's poor. So parents are implored help `a family in Africa' instead of buying cards for their own kids.

The idea that it might be possible to expand consumption, and hence improve living conditions, in both the West and the developing world is simply not considered. Rather than being taught that the problems we face are social, and amenable to being overcome through concerted collective action, kids are being taught the reactionary dogma that society has limitations that cannot be transcended. The only way to deal with inequalities is for us Westerners to stop consuming and to donate pittances to the poor (in both senses of the word) Africans.

Imploring us to buy goats or mosquito nets for Africans instead of cards or gifts for each other does not just further a miserabilist attitude to the festive season over here, but a patronising attitude to Africans. As Sadhavi Sharma has pointed out before on spiked, rather than helping fulfil Africans' own aspirations for a developed society where they, too, can enjoy high levels of consumption, these `gifts' reinforce the image of the developing world as just a huge farm and subsistence farming as a `way of life' rather than an undignified activity that no one would engage in out of choice (5). Mosquito nets, too, are, at best, a second-best solution to a malaria pandemic that is killing a million Africans a year (6). If the schools really want to help Africa, why not raise money for the electricity, transport and communications infrastructure that would really lift communities out of grinding poverty?

There is one last twist to the story. One of the `countless reasons' given by Nicholas Daniels for banning cards was that not all children get the same amount'. So handing out cards `can become a popularity contest about who gets the most, with the risk some children could be left out' (7). So now even distributing Christmas cards has a potential `risk' attached to it. But schools cannot shield children from every potential threat to their self-esteem, and nor should they. Children don't all have the same number of friends, but no one is (yet) suggesting that we should ban friendships for fear of a negative impact on the self-esteem of those children who have few friends. Coddled children will never become sufficiently robust to deal with the fact that differences in personality and popularity are simply a fact of life.

It seems, that in the run-up to the festive season, children will just continue to learn all the wrong `facts of life': that consumption is bad, that the `poor little black babies' in Africa need you to sacrifice your Christmas cards so they can have a goat, that the environment poses absolute limits to human development, and that normal human interactions pose a threat to our basic sense of well-being. Merry Christmas, everyone.



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.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Global cooling comes to Switzerland

If last season was one for Europe's skiers to forget, the coming months on the slopes look more propitious than in recent memory, thanks to large snowfalls in recent days.The white windfall, although confined to the northern Alps and omitting France, prompted some Swiss and Austrian resorts to open early. Heavy snow forecast for the southern Alps on Saturday and Sunday might trigger the same there, as ski operators on both sides of Europe's mountain divide strive to make up for the misery of last season, when poor conditions and abnormally high temperatures prompted widespread fears about global warming.

No one has forgotten about climate change but the recent low temperatures and heavy snowfalls have at least temporarily shelved the gravest fears. Such anxieties can have profound consequences on mountain communities. Austria, for example, depends on tourism for about 9 per cent of its gross domestic product: in popular winter sports regions such as the Tyrol or Vorarlberg the proportion is even higher.

The latest snowfalls - up to one metre in resorts in northern Switzerland - have come as an immense relief. Lech, the upmarket Austrian ski resort, last December repeatedly had to postpone the start of its season because of scant snow and temperatures too warm to allow for artificial snowmaking.

The weathermen are still wary of predicting whether the early promise points to a vintage winter. Switzerland's Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology will release its three-month projection next week but the one-month forecast looks encouraging: "We forecast temperatures to fall below normal next week and slightly below average for the three following ones," says Jacques Ambuehl, a Swiss meteorologist. "Although the arctic air will be relatively dry, we expect about 30cms in new snow."

In common with other experts, Mr Ambuehl is unwilling to suggest weather patterns have returned to some sort of normality after last year's unseasonably warm winter, when temperatures were about 3 degrees C above the long-term average. He is factual about events so far: "Last week's snowfalls were certainly quite extreme. We have no record, especially at mid altitudes, of such an event in the past.


IPCC: separating fact from fright

Today's alarmist claims about the planet `spinning into a troubling void' are not backed up by the findings of the latest IPCC report.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the final part of its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) at the weekend, bringing together material from the reports of three working groups published over the past year into one `synthesis report' (1). But despite the alarmist words of senior UN and IPCC officials, the report does not make the case that a climate timebomb is about to explode. We should not allow a vision of climate catastrophe - aka `The Science' - to railroad society into policy decisions that might leave humanity worse off.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, speaking at the launch of the new report in Valencia, Spain on Sunday, described climate change as `the defining challenge of our age', though stressing that `concerted and sustained action now can still avoid some of the most catastrophic scenarios' (2). In an earlier statement in September this year, Ban told a high-level climate change meeting in New York: `Today, the time for doubt has passed. The IPCC has unequivocally affirmed the warming of our climate system, and linked it directly to human activity. The scientists have very clearly outlined the severity of the problem. Their message is quite simple: we know enough to act; if we do not act now the impact of climate change will be devastating; and we have affordable measures and technologies to begin addressing the problem right now. What we do not have is time. The time for action is now.' (3)

In other words, there is no longer room for doubt and we need to start negotiations to replace the Kyoto treaty with a new, emissions-cutting treaty that includes both developing and developed countries in its remit. But before we get bounced into this position, it is worth sounding a few notes of caution.

The report doesn't match the alarmism

The headlines from the new report, as presented by IPCC chairman Rajendra K Pachauri, include: warming of the climate system is unequivocally happening, with increasing global air and ocean temperatures; rising global average sea level; reductions of snow and ice; greater frequency of extreme events like flood-inducing rain and droughts; increased risk of species extinction; increased problems of water supply, declining food production and disease in many parts of the world.

However, behind the more alarmist statements made in press conferences, the actual IPCC working group reports - certainly as regards the physical basis for climate change - have at least engaged to some extent with alternative explanations and forecasts for warming, and have couched their assessments more carefully and cautiously than either the public pronouncements of IPCC officials or popular discussion of climate change would suggest.

So, for example, while the headlines would suggest that the Greenland ice sheet is about to melt, catastrophically resulting in sea level rises of seven metres, the report makes clear that this process would take millennia. The report actually suggests that sea level will rise over the next century by 18-59 centimetres. Meanwhile, the report says: `Current global model studies project that the Antarctic ice sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and gain mass due to increased snowfall.' In other words, unless great chunks fall off the edge of the South Pole's ice sheet, the mass of ice is likely to get bigger. While the overall rise in sea levels could still be damaging to very low-lying coastal areas, there will be no need to build an ark any time soon.

You would never get this more balanced impression from the mainstream media, however. For example, the UK Independent on Sunday ran the headline: `A world dying, but can we unite to save it?' A recent environmentalist survival guidebook claimed that planet Earth is `speeding into a troubling void'. Such melodramatic outbursts have been widespread in the British and European media over the past couple of days. Television documentaries, commentators and politicians seem to be suggesting that civilisation itself is under threat, as they hint that we are heading for a future where a few hardy survivors will inhabit a scorched earth devoid of other animals or plant life, like something out of Mad Max. The truth is very different.

A damaging distraction

What the IPCC reports actually talk about are the more prosaic problems of water supply, agricultural production, disease, extreme weather events and flooding: all of these are already-existing problems, and all of them are potentially resolvable through relatively simple societal and technological developments.

Yet rather than discussing the need for more development, and a concerted global strategy to tackle social problems as they exist right now - not just in 100 years time - all of the attention and energy of political leaders is being focused on how we can stop producing so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Any really serious attempt to cut greenhouse gas emissions - demands for a 50, 60 and even 90 per cent cut are being bandied around - would require a dramatic cut in travel and goods distribution, energy production and construction (because cement production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions), or some other radical changes in the way that we do these things.

To attempt to force through emission cuts without having in place new, low-carbon technologies and the social infrastructure required to employ them would mean not simply cutting economic growth, but also downsizing developed economies and ditching any attempt to modernise and develop poor countries. On the basis that climate change would be detrimental to the welfare of some people, the suggestion is to impoverish everyone - to be on the safe side. That is simply irrational, and inhumane: it would leave the world's poor as they are, while making Westerners poorer, too.

Science vs `The Science'

In truth, when global leaders suggest that we must make swingeing emissions cuts, they almost certainly do so in bad faith. Such cuts are not desirable or achievable at present. However, the current concern about the environment provides leaders with a moral mission through which they can prop up political life. In an era when There is No Alternative to the free market, and the future is usually envisaged as a bleaker version of the present, politics - perhaps even society itself - appears to have no purpose. Trying to avoid global catastrophe seems the nearest thing to a big idea that can bring us all together, even if the underlying message - `humans are screwing up the planet' - is a misanthropic one.

Hence the heat and bitterness with which IPCC reports are dissected and discussed. Because if the problem seems anything less than urgent, then there's the possibility that it will be ignored by the mass of the population, or, more likely, carefully compared to other problems to see which are the most pressing. Thus, the IPCC process is a thoroughly politicised one, and it has been been since day one, as Tony Gilland has before noted on spiked (see Digging up the roots of the IPCC). The widely publicised policy documents are the result of scientific reviews being scrutinised by a rag-tag of political appointees and campaigners to produce a statement that suits a variety of agendas. Ironically, after years in which the IPCC reports have been accused of being hijacked by greens, green campaigners are now arguing that the reports are being watered down for political ends.

The reason the IPCC matters so much in public debate is not because it provides us with a summary of current climate science (which the workgroup reports do attempt to do, for better or worse), but because it provides leaders, commentators and activists with something else entirely: `The Science.' This product may look like a set of scientific statements, but is in many ways the exact opposite of science. `The Science' is `unequivocal' rather than sceptical and cautious in its conclusions; `The Science' is built on an artificial consensus rather than on a real battle of competing ideas that admits the possibility that current thinking could be completely wrong; `The Science' very strongly implies a particular direction for policy (greenhouse gas emission reductions) which is apparently above politics, rather than merely informing a political debate about how we take society forward on the basis of human need and desire.

Armed with `The Science', campaigners and politicians demand all sorts of sacrifices based on one of the few remaining sources of authority that still cuts any ice with the majority of the population. Perversely, the very success of science in improving our lives is being latched on to as a means of potentially making our lives worse in the future.

The way forward

No doubt some scientists are honestly trying to get to grips with an enormously complex system: the world's climate. And as a precautionary response to climate change, we might quite reasonably decide that efforts should be made to replace some current technologies - for example, those based on fossil fuels - with low-carbon alternatives. This would be a path that we might well choose to take even if climate change were not an issue, since viable low-carbon technologies could increase energy security and reduce other forms of pollution. We could also introduce adaptive measures now - from better flood defences to more secure forms of water supply in both developed and developing countries - that would be beneficial regardless of whether or not climate change proves to be extreme.

This kind of thing has been illustrated in Bangladesh in recent days. In 1991, a tropical cyclone brought destruction and flooding that killed about 130,000 people. Since then, the government of Bangladesh has created cyclone shelters and an early warning system. Last week's cyclone killed at least 2,000 people, and the final death toll may exceed a monumentally tragic 10,000. Yet the recent storm was, if anything, stronger than the one in 1991. If communications and infrastructure could be improved further, it is possible that widespread loss of life caused by storms in Bangladesh could become a thing of the past. It would be tragic indeed, and ironic, if we let scare stories about possible future storms distract us from improving people's living standards in Bangladesh and elsewhere right now.

While we should respect science and development, we should have little respect for `The Science'. If the more alarmist statements of the past few days are to be believed, we should all accept that we must be less well-off because our consumption would hurt people like those in Bangladesh. This scientifically suspect moral blackmail to further the aims of politicians and campaigners is - unequivocally - a change for the worse.


Commonwealth nations oppose emissions targets

THE group of 53 Commonwealth nations has shied away from introducing binding targets to reduce greenhouse gases, despite admitting climate change threatens the survival of some of their members. Australia and Canada opposed moves to introduce targets which would have committed them and their Commonwealth counterparts to cutting emissions by certain amounts, like those in the Kyoto protocol. Instead, the Commonwealth nations drew up an "action plan'' which said developed countries should take the lead in slashing emissions.

It said while they recognised climate change was a "direct threat to the very survival'' of some member states, including the Pacific island of Tuvalu which faces being washed away by rising sea levels, there should be "flexibility'' when it comes to addressing the issue. The document added that actions to address climate change beyond the Kyoto protocol's emissions targets, which expire in 2012, should have "respect for national circumstances''. "We firmly believe that no strategy or actions to deal with climate change should have the effect of depriving developing countries of the possibility of sustainable economic development,'' the document said. "Our shared goal should be to achieve a comprehensive post-2012 global agreement that strengthens, broadens, and deepens current arrangements and leads to reduced emissions of global greenhouse gases. "This should include a long term aspirational global goal for emissions reduction to which all countries would contribute.''

The heads of the Commonwealth nations signed off on the document despite calls by chairman, Malta's Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, to slash emissions targets in half by 2050. He had hoped the document would send a strong united message about the Commonwealth's commitment to tackling climate change before a major international conference on the issue begins in Bali next month.

Outgoing Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon said the action plan was a "quite a leap forward''. "It certainly doesn't say that every country is going to agree to binding caps being introduced, but as a document going to Bali it is substantial,'' he said. "One of the key points of this is a recognition that some want to say a lot and some want to be a little cautious on what they should say or commit to before Bali. "To get consensus everyone had to be brought on board. There are some who are clearly not prepared to use that term binding at this stage. I say 'at this stage' (because) this is in advance of the Bali meeting.''



Isn't politics wonderful? Within days of Gordon Brown's address to the conservation group WWF, in which he pledged eye-wateringly tough reductions in British emissions of Co2, the Government has announced its support for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport. "This time he really gets it," Greenpeace's executive director had enthused after the Prime Minister's "Let's save the polar bear" speech. Yesterday, following the Transport Secretary's endorsement of BAA's expansion plans, Greenpeace was back to its default position, spitting ecological tacks.

You might think this is a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing (or possibly the left hand not knowing what the left hand is doing) especially given the Government's growing reputation for administrative chaos. In fact it is entirely deliberate. The Government both wants to claim "leadership in the fight against climate change" while at the same time it - quite understandably- does not want to do anything which might reduce this country's international competitiveness. It knows that these two objectives are incompatible - very well, then: it will contradict itself.

Gordon Brown's commitment to the most stringent reductions in C02 emissions yet announced by a British Prime Minister follows exactly the path set by his predecessor. Mr Blair would, with a great moral fanfare, pledge this nation to achieve some carbon emission target. Then, when it became completely clear that we were not on track to meet it, he would announce - with equal confidence and certainty - not an easier target but an even tougher one than that which we were failing to achieve.

The civil servants who live in the real world of facts and actually have to devise the practical policies to meet these political flourishes have become increasingly panicky. A month ago there was a leak of an especially desperate memo in which officials warned that the previous Prime Minister's commitment to produce 20 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020 was facing "severe practical difficulties".

As we know, that is senior civil servant speak for "this will be absolutely impossible." One of the memos rather plaintively pointed out that if we admitted this publicly and tried to advocate a general lowering of such targets internationally, there would be "a potentially significant cost in terms of reduced climate change leadership".

Here we see the absurd grandiosity of our global ambitions, partly a legacy of Tony Blair's messianic approach, but which is to some extent a characteristic of the British political class as a whole. More than half a century since the collapse of the British Empire, our leaders still seem to think that what we do or say is as important in the eyes of the rest of the world as it was when we really did rule the waves. It is a grotesque vanity, economically as well as politically.

It has been written often enough that any likely reduction in Co2 emissions from our own generation of electricity is not just sub-microscopic in terms of any measurable effect on the climate: the People's Republic of China is now opening two new coal-fired power stations every week. Real "climate change leadership" would be developing "clean coal" technology and selling it to the Chinese - but for some reason that does not fascinate politicians in the way that targets do. It is insufficiently heroic.

We can see the same national self-obsession in the debate over the environmental consequences of opening a third runway at Heathrow: last year China announced plans to expand 73 of its airports and build 42 new ones. Yes, the British government could demonstrate "increased climate change leadership" by blocking BAA's plans to build another runway at Heathrow. Does anyone seriously imagine that the consequence of further congestion and delays will be something other than a transfer of traffic from that airport to others in the immediate vicinity, such as Charles de Gaulle, which already has much more capacity?

For those on the provisional wing of the British environmental movement, arguments about a loss of business to other countries are irrelevant. They would insist that this complaint makes no more sense than saying that it's necessary to sell arms to unpleasant dictatorships because if we don't, other countries will, to the benefit of their own economies.

If, like George Monbiot, you regard flying as morally equivalent to "child abuse", then, yes, the executives of BAA should be thrown in jail ( after a fair show trial, of course) and never be let out. As for any recession deriving from a closing down of Heathrow - pah! A recession would be a good thing, since it would lead to further reductions in Co2 emissions.

I accept that there will be many sensible people living in the area around the Heathrow Terminals who will not welcome the increase in planes taking off and landing. On the other hand, there has been an aerodrome at Heathrow since the 1930s and the first Terminal was opened by the Queen in 1955: that is to say, there are unlikely to be many home-owners living in the Heathrow area who bought under the impression that he or she would enjoy peace and quiet. Doubtless the property prices there reflect that fact.

Anyway, why worry about airports when we are going to ban the plastic bag? That, you will recall, was the "eye-catching initiative" within Mr Brown's WWF speech. It was artfully designed to capture the headlines in the popular press, and duly did so. The Prime Minister declared that we should "eliminate single-use plastic bags altogether in favour of more sustainable alternatives." Perhaps, since Mr Brown argued that fighting climate change was the political challenge for the younger generation, students should already have been marching on Whitehall with placards declaring "Ban the Bag."

The only problem with that is that plastic bags, though undeniably irritating when left lying around, are essentially the by-product, rather than the cause, of fossil fuel generation. Approximately 98 per cent of every barrel of oil, once refined, is consumed as petrol or diesel. If the remaining two per cent of naphtha was not used for packaging, it would almost certainly be flared off - which is pure waste.

Paper bags have the reputation of being environmentally sounder, but I don't see how this can be justified. They require significantly more space in landfill, being much less compressible - and don't they come from trees, which we are meant to be preserving as capturers of Co2? Besides, if the plastic bag is to be banned, what are we going to use to line our rubbish bins? We need to know the answer to such important questions, Prime Minister, before we allow you to put us forward as the saviours of the planet.



"The increase in China's energy demand between 2002 and 2005 was equivalent to Japan's current annual energy use." This nugget of information, buried in the International Energy Agency's latest World Energy Outlook, tells one almost all one needs to know about what is happening to the world's energy economy. Neoclassical economics analysed economic growth in terms of capital, labour and technical progress. But, I now think, it is more enlightening to view the fundamental drivers as energy and ideas. Institutions and incentives provide the framework within which the development and application of useful knowledge transforms the fossilised sunlight on which we depend into the stream of goods and services we enjoy.

This is the world of abundance that China and India are now joining. Nothing short of a catastrophe will stop them. For the pessimists, however, particularly climate-change pessimists, catastrophe will follow. What is certain is that the challenges ahead are huge. Here, then, are the highlights of the new report.

First, if governments stick with current policies (which the IEA calls the "reference scenario"), the world's energy needs will be more than 50 per cent higher in 2030 than today, with developing countries accounting for 74 per cent, and China and India alone for 45 per cent, of the growth in demand.

Second, this huge increase in overall demand occurs even though energy intensity of gross world product falls at a rate of 1.8 per cent a year.

Third, fossil fuels are forecast to account for 84 per cent of the increase in global energy consumption between 2005 and 2030.

Fourth, world oil resources are, insists the IEA, sufficient to meet demand at prices close to $60 a barrel (in 2006 dollars). But the share of world supply coming from members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will rise from 42 per cent to 52 per cent. Moreover, "a supply-side crunch in the period to 2015, involving an abrupt escalation in oil prices cannot be ruled out".

Fifth, coal's share in global commercial energy is forecast to rise from 25 per cent to 28 per cent between 2005 and 2030, because of its role in power generation. China and India already account for 45 per cent of world coal use and drive over four-fifths of the increase under the "reference scenario".

Sixth, some $22,000bn (a little under half of 2006 world gross product) will need to be invested in supply infrastructure, to meet demand over the next quarter century.

Seventh, even with radical measures to reduce the energy intensity of growth under the "alternative policy scenario", global primary energy demand would grow at 1.3 per cent a year, only 0.5 percentage points a year less than in the "reference scenario".

Eighth, China will become the world's largest energy consumer, ahead of the US, shortly after 2010.

Ninth, under the reference scenario, emissions of carbon dioxide will jump by 57 per cent between 2005 and 2030. The US, China, Russia and India alone contribute two-thirds of this increase. China becomes the world's biggest emitter this year and India the third largest by 2015.

Tenth, even under the IEA's more radical "alternative policy scenario" CO2 emissions stabilise only by 2025 and remain almost 30 per cent above 2005 levels.

The rest of the world, then, wishes to enjoy the energy-intensive lifestyles that have, hitherto, been the privilege of less than a sixth of humanity. This desire does, however, have big consequences for the world's economic, strategic and environmental future.

The obvious economic question concerns future prices. Today, the price of oil, deflated by the unit value of exports from the high-income countries, is higher than it has been since the beginning of the 20th century. Barring big technological breakthroughs in energy supply or unexpectedly large finds of oil and gas, energy would seem likely to remain relatively expensive.

Yet, to many, a surprise of the 1980s was how much supply finally came on stream and how low demand growth became after the price shocks of the 1970s. Might such an adjustment happen again and, if so, how quickly? Or should we regard the combination of fast-growing giant emerging economies and the dominance of national energy suppliers as fundamentally different?

The big strategic questions concern energy security and the shift in the balance of power towards unattractive regimes, be they Vladimir Putin's Russia, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad's Iran or the House of Saud's Arabia.

The shift in the balance of power occurs in two ways: first, a growing proportion of the fuels vital for what we now think of as civilised life come from just a few, not necessarily friendly, suppliers; second, these countries are becoming vastly richer. Thus, Opec revenues are forecast to triple (admittedly, in depreciating dollars) between 2002 and this year.

The challenge to security comes partly from the difficulty of replacing oil as a transport fuel. Thus, the concentration of likely supply in the Middle East is, inevitably, a concern. So, too, is Europe's growing reliance on Russian gas.

Concerns over energy security also come from the potential for competition for supplies among the big consumers. The sensible approach is to rely on the market. But that may be hard when prices shoot up. At some point, American politicians may ask why the US expends blood and treasure in order to achieve security in the Middle East for the benefit of China. True imperialism - the attempt to seize energy resources for one's own benefit - would be a ghastly error. But to err is all too human.

Finally, we have global warming. Three points shine out on this. First, despite the blather, nothing effective has been done or yet seems likely to be done. Second, effective policy will require big changes in incentives across the globe, including, not least, in the large emerging economies. Third, dramatic changes in technology will also be required, the most important of which will be towards carbon-capture-and-storage at coal-fired power plants.

What is the bottom line? It is simple: commercial energy is the staff of our contemporary life. As demand for energy rises, nothing is more important than ensuring increased supply and efficient use, while curbing environmental damage. Today's high prices are a start. Fundamental innovation and high prices on greenhouse gas emissions must follow.



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.