Monday, March 24, 2008

Global cooling hits Britain

Britain is enduring its most miserable Easter for 25 years as Arctic winds sweep in, bringing snow, hail and sleet. Snow began falling in Scotland yesterday and was expected to move south over the next few days, with forecasters saying that a white Easter looked increasingly likely across much of the country.

People wrapped up warmly to take a stroll along the seven-mile promenade in Bournemouth, Dorset, as temperatures dropped to 7C. Last Easter thousands of people sunbathed on the sandy beach as temperatures topped 20C. Holidaymaker Andy Hemmings, 55, from St Albans, Herts, said: "The sun is out but the winds are very chilly. We are warming ourselves up with a hot chocolate."

Beverly White, of Bournemouth council's tourism department, said that hotels were full despite the freezing conditions. She said: "We have had a lot of last-minute bookings. The weather is pretty atrocious all over Britain but I think people have just said, 'to hell with it'."

A yachtsman was airlifted to hospital after he was tossed into the Solent from a race boat during a force-eight gale. He was suffering from hypothermia when he was hauled out of the water by the crew of another vessel.

In Hampshire a sudden heavy downpour caused a string of accidents including an eight-car pile-up near Basingstoke which, in turn, caused delays of several hours on the M3. A family of four, including two children, were taken to hospital.

Parts of the rail network were crippled by engineering works, with timetables on some of Britain's busiest routes slashed to one train per hour or fewer as operators made way for 75 million worth of track-laying and bridge repairs. The two million passengers using the rail system each day over Easter will face further problems as they try to return home on Monday. Iain Coucher, Network Rail's chief executive, said: "We are doing this for the benefit of the passengers. We never do any unnecessary work."

Police in Dover said that many travellers had been unable to catch ferries because of high winds in the Channel and heavy road traffic. About 16 million cars are expected on the roads over the weekend. Motoring organisations said that the great getaway had passed off relatively smoothly as people staggered their leaving times. But the real test will come on Monday when millions of drivers try to return home at roughly the same time. By then the weather will have worsened leading to icy road conditions. Up to four inches of snow is expected in Scotland.

Bob Syvret, a forecaster at the Met Office, said: "There are several cold fronts coming down from the Arctic, which will continue for the next few days. This will be a mixture of rain, hail, sleet and snow and most places will be at risk." Easter Sunday temperatures could drop to as low as -3C at night with a band of snow and sleet forecast to move down from the North. The bad weather is most likely to affect the Midlands but snow could even reach London, forecasters said. During Easter 1983, Scotland, the Midlands and Kent received up to four inches of snow.

Motoring groups yesterday reported jams in the South West and East Midlands, and 10-mile tailbacks on the M4 in Wales. Severe weather warnings were issued to drivers on the Taye, Skye and Erskine bridges in Scotland.


Death by Environmentalism

For the last half century, the environmentalist movement has been a dominant influence on the cultural and political scene. This is widely viewed as a blessing, whose progressive result has been without exception the improvement of our society. John Berlau has written a book aimed at kicking that smug sense of green achievement smack in the teeth.

Berlau makes a sharp and vigorous presentation of the view that the environmentalist movement has had some very unfortunate consequences. He begins by reviewing the history of the successful campaign by environmentalist organizations to demonize DDT and other pesticides. DDT was first discovered in the 1870s and found to be a potent insecticide in the 1930s. But it was the U.S. military that pushed its mass production at the outbreak of World War II. With the troops facing both malaria and typhus - which had killed millions in World War I - the army knew it had to find some way to combat the vectors, i.e., the disease-carrying insects (lice and mosquitoes). It gave the assignment to Merck, and one of Merck's top chemists (Joseph Jacobs) was able to set up a plant to mass produce DDT. Starting in 1943, DDT was widely used; it stopped a number of wartime typhus epidemics.

It was then used worldwide in the 1950s and early 1960s to stop malaria, which it almost eliminated. But after Rachel Carson's popular book "Silent Spring" (1962), in which she alleged that DDT and other pesticides were killing wildlife and hinted that they were causing cancer in people, DDT was banned. As Berlau notes:

In 1948, Sri Lanka had 2.8 million cases of malaria. By 1963, after years of DDT use, that number had dwindled to 17 cases. But then in 1964, U.S. environmentalists and world health bodies convinced Sri Lankan officials to stop spraying. By 1969, the number of malaria cases had shot back up to pre-DDT level of 2.5 million. (41)

Since then, Sri Lanka has used other pesticides to control the disease, including - ironically, given the environmentalist alarm about it - malathion. As to the worry (voiced by Carson and repeated to this day) that insects will just rapidly develop resistance to DDT, Berlau makes several points. First, if we introduce an antibiotic like penicillin, yes, bacteria will become resistant. But that takes a fair amount of time, during which people's lives are being saved.

Second, DDT causes less resistance than most other pesticides, because it repels bugs before killing them. Indeed, even resistant bugs continue to be repelled, as the World Health Organization noted recently when it advocated reintroducing DDT for limited indoor use.

As if defending DDT weren't enough, Berlau argues at length that the banning of asbestos as a fire retardant has been a major cause of deaths, because no other substance even comes close to its ability to halt the spread of fire. He argues in particular that the lack of asbestos fireproofing was a major contributor to the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings after the 9/11 attacks, and urges that asbestos be used again in military shipbuilding (with appropriate worker protection).

Berlau covers in detail a number of other issues, with arguments that are sure to rile environmentalist tempers. He argues that cars are a Godsend and that big cars save lives. He suggests that environmentalists (especially such people as "population guru" Paul Ehrlich) have a not-so-hidden agenda of stopping people from having children, viewing children as a kind of pollution. He supports the view that far from there being a shortage of trees, "There has never been a better time for forests and wildlife" (155). He argues, indeed, that because we have fossil fuels, we don't have to chop down trees for fuel.

Moreover, he holds that the biggest threat to forests is the environmentalists themselves, because they fight the harvesting of old growth, leaving forests more prone to disastrous fires. He also makes the case that far from the Bush administration's being to blame for the high death toll from hurricane Katrina, it was the environmentalists who are to blame for this also. In 1977, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Louisiana-based environmentalist group Save Our Wetlands stopped the construction of flood-control gates (like the ones used in the Netherlands) that likely would have saved New Orleans from the flooding.

Finally, Berlau argues that the so-called mainstream environmentalist movement covertly encourages ecoterrorist groups such as Earth First! and the Earth Liberation Front.

Berlau's book is nothing if not provocative; it is certainly an enjoyable read. You are compelled to at least a grudging admiration for an author saucy enough to have chapter titles such as "Rachel Carson Kills Birds" and "Hurricane Katrina: Blame it on Dam Environmentalists." But there are some areas in which I find the book lacking.

For one thing, I'm surprised that Berlau didn't explore some other areas of dubious environmentalist action, such as the push for ethanol and the often bizarre and useless recycling schemes that have been foisted upon cities across the nation. I would have loved to see him review the decisive role of the environmentalist movement in killing off the American nuclear power industry, something that has cost us dearly in lost lives and treasure. It is ironic to hear environmentalists pontificate about global warming, after having helped increase our reliance on (foreign-produced) fossil fuels.

Also, Berlau's book is a little too tendentious. Have the environmentalists done nothing right? I mean, nobody would hold that all or even most of what environmentalists have done has been bad for people. And while Berlau doesn't say that the environmentalists have done nothing good, he might have noted some of the cases where they clearly have. For example, their push for cleaner air clearly was crucial in helping improve air quality in many cities. More to the point, he should have explored in more depth the central problem here, namely, the lack of balance shown by environmentalists. Nobody denies that we need to protect our environment, that unbridled business activity can create negative externalities such as pollution and other environmental damages. Certainly Berlau doesn't deny this.

As he points out, most people, by far are conservationists - they fervently desire a clean and protected environment. But they balance that desire against other values, such as the health and safety of their fellow human beings. That is the difference between normal respect and concern for the ecosystem, and the sort of unbalanced and fanatic desire for a completely untouched environment that motivates many of the movement's leaders.

For instance, it would be one thing to oppose the routine use of DDT, say, for commercial agriculture, if there is scientific evidence that it is harmful to animal life. Killing off species to save a few pennies on the cost of a pound of apples is unconscionable. But it is quite another to ban it altogether, even barring its use for disease vector control, and routinely oppose all other pesticides for that use, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people - who are animals just as much as are other species - will die in consequence.

Again, stopping the widespread spraying of structures with asbestos by unprotected workers (who later develop horrible lung diseases) was clearly the sane thing to do. But that's not the same as demanding that every last trace of asbestos be ripped out of buildings on the chance that someone may develop lung disease late in life, knowing that as a result thousands may die in fires who would have been spared if asbestos, carefully produced and controlled (as it is abroad), had been used in ships and skyscrapers.

Berlau might have devoted some analysis to asking why such an unbalanced approach to the vital aim of conserving the environment exists in the environmentalist movement. I would suggest that there is a major strain of pagan or secularist religion, Gaea worship, that informs the movement. This strain of thought, a weird sort of neo-Romantic pantheistic nature cult, has been prevalent since Rousseau in the Enlightenment era, but it exploded throughout the culture in the 1960s. Not all environmentalists share this worldview, but it is the one that drives the movement. And it is one that often downplays the value of people - devalues them and, indeed, de-animates them. That is a topic I would love to see explored in depth.


Of Vikings and Polar Bears and Science

A letter to the WSJ

In response to your March 14 editorial "Carbon Fiat": Ecological issues have been used as political focuses, starting at least with the Greens in Europe, Rachel Carson, George McGovern's candidacy and Al Gore.

One result has been advocacy in place of objective evaluation of data. Journalists and politicians drive the debate -- Al Gore and Thomas Friedman writing in the New York Times.

The first IPCC report was challenged by 1,500 climate scientists. Many of them had participated in the preparation of the report. They objected to the distortion of the report by non-scientists who controlled the report and effectively buried the great uncertainties that had been emphasized in the studies leading up to that report.

Prof. Richard Lindzen, a professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT, has challenged Al Gore's assertion that there is a consensus on global warming. I have reviewed weather-station data throughout the world available at the National Climate Data Center of NASA. And I've found no evidence of warming from about 1860 to 1998.

The paleolithic climate records analyzed in Science show periodic cycles in which temperatures and CO2 concentrations have varied from much lower to much higher than current values. We know that the Vikings had farms on Greenland. (What happened to the polar bears then?)

On March 2-4 this year, there was a conference in New York City sponsored by the Heartland Institute that addressed the issues of global warming from a skeptical point of view. The speakers included credible climate scientists, economists and agriculture experts. The program included discussion of alternate explanations for climate change.

Perhaps the Journal could convince someone like Prof. Lindzen to write occasional articles informing us about the opinions of climate scientists on the question of global warming. Unless more rational positions are given public voice, we will see more distorted actions like the carbon fiat you wrote about.


Perennial Arctic Ice Cover Diminishing, Officials Say

A comment on the guesswork below follows it:

The amount of long-lasting sea ice in the Arctic -- thick enough to survive for as much as a decade -- declined sharply in the past year, even though the region had a cold winter and the thinner one-year ice cover grew substantially, federal officials said yesterday. Using new data from NASA's ICESat satellite, researchers over the past year detected the steepest yearly decline in "perennial" ice on record.

As a result of melting and the southward movement of the thicker ice, the percentage of the Arctic Ocean with this stable ice cover has decreased from more than 50 percent in the mid-1980s to less than 30 percent as of last month. "Because we had a cold winter, the public might think things have gotten better," said Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "In fact, the loss of the perennial ice makes clear that they're not getting better at all."

The surprising drop in perennial ice makes the fast-changing region more unstable, because the thinner seasonal ice melts readily in summer. The Arctic lost an unprecedented amount of ice during last summer's unusual warmth, and Meier said conditions are right for a similarly large melt if the temperatures are at all above normal this year. The area of thick Arctic ice lost over the past two decades equals 1 1/2 times the size of Alaska.

While normal weather variation plays a role in yearly ice fluctuations, officials said the dramatic decline in perennial ice -- which can range from 6 feet thick to more than 15 feet thick -- appears to be consistent with the effects of global warming. Officials said the loss of long-lasting ice was less the result of warming of the atmosphere than of a long-term rise in ocean temperatures and the effects of the "Arctic oscillation," a variable wind pattern that can either keep icebergs in the Arctic (when the wind pattern is "negative") or push them south (when it is "positive").

Climate experts believe that both the rising water temperature and increasingly frequent "positive" oscillations are a function of global warming. Josefino Comiso of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the lead author of a related 2007 study, said Arctic Ocean temperatures appear to be rising quickly because less of the water is covered by ice, which reflects sunlight and keeps water temperatures lower. After last summer's very warm weather, the amount of ice cover shrank dramatically, and the water became warmer.

He said climate experts have concluded that the Arctic oscillation, which is a natural climate phenomenon, is also being modified by global warming. The dynamics are not yet understood, but it appears that higher temperatures in the tropics and elsewhere make it more likely that the oscillation will push icebergs down past Greenland and into the Atlantic.

Arctic sea ice always grows and shrinks, ranging from an average minimum in September of 2.5 million square miles to an average winter maximum in March of 5.9 million square miles. Instruments on NASA's Aqua satellite, as well as Defense Department satellites, showed that the maximum sea ice extent in March increased by 3.9 percent over that of the previous three years because of the winter. Nonetheless, the total ice coverage was still 2.2 percent below the long-term average.

And the very old ice, which remains in the Arctic for at least six years, made up more than 20 percent of the Arctic in the mid- to late 1980s, but by this winter it had decreased to 6 percent. Flying over the Arctic, one might perceive the sea ice cover as broad, Meier said, but that apparent breadth hides the fact that the ice is so thin. "It's a facade, like a Hollywood set," he said. "There's no building behind it."

While the Arctic sea ice is changing fast, the same is not true in Antarctica. Comiso said the amount of ice surrounding the continent is little changed over recent decades, although some ice loss has been occurring around the continent's peninsula and on some glaciers. Antarctica is significantly less tied to the world's weather patterns and is considered to be less subject to the effects of global warming so far.

The report drew concern from Rafe Pomerance, president of the environmental group Clean Air-Cool Planet. "This is another startling and serious indicator of massive changes in the Arctic due to climate change," he said in a statement. "It is one more reminder that we must address the global warming with a level of commitment and resources equal to the problem."

With the behavior of Arctic sea ice becoming an increasingly important issue, NASA is planning to launch a follow-on satellite mission, ICESat II, in 2015.



This new assertion appears to fly in face of a previous NASA study and a Nature study which said that "naturally" caused "unusual" winds blew out older thicker ice. See this page for an exactly opposite conclusion in peer-reviewed studies.

Excerpt from earlier study: "A second NASA team, using data from the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite, recently concluded that changes in the Arctic Oscillation were, "mostly decadal in nature," rather than driven by global warming."

It appears the alarmists are now claiming all natural climate events to be caused by warming. Notice how the scientist asserts global warming is causing the shift in Arctic oscillation despite the fact that he openly admits 'the dynamics are not yet understood.". Really? Then why assert warming is the cause if 'the dynamics are not yet understood'? How sad for science. To quote him again: "He said climate experts have concluded that the Arctic oscillation, which is a natural climate phenomenon, is also being modified by global warming. The dynamics are not yet understood, but it appears that higher temperatures in the tropics and elsewhere make it more likely that the oscillation will push icebergs down past Greenland and into the Atlantic."


If China's carbon usage keeps pace with its economic growth, the country's carbon dioxide emissions will reach 8 gigatons a year by 2030, which is equal to the entire world's CO2 production today. That's just the most stunning in a series of datapoints about the Chinese economy reported in a policy brief in the latest issue of the journal Science.

Coal power has been driving the stunning, seven plus percent a year growth in China's economy. It's long been said said that China was adding one new coal power plant per week to its grid. But the real news is worse: China is completing two new coal plants per week.

That power is being used to drive an enormous manufacturing expansion. China has increased steel production from 140 million tons in 2000 to 419 million tons in 2006, the authors report. Even more recent numbers from the International Iron and Steel Institute show China's production leading the world at 489 million tons, more than double Japan and the US combined. That steel is getting used quickly too. In 1999, Chinese consumers bought 1.2 million cars. That number had increased 600% by 2006, when 7.2 million cars were sold.

And yet with all these numbers, Chinese per capita emissions remain one-quarter of our own here in the US. If the Chinese economy steps into our carbon footprint, all other greenhouse gas reduction efforts will be for naught.

FULL STORY here See also here


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Anonymous said...

You should talk much more about China. I'll look; you probably already have a blog about it...nope. Finally I'm ahead of you. God, having read the first chapters of your 1974 book, you are now really on a roll. I guess age stops one having to be so cordial, and academic. China is a semi–successful fascist country. Despite their dithering in keeping North Korea dark at night on Google Maps, what's up with China and it's great Firewall? They need to import women, by the way, meaning they must pay through the nose to support in-migration. Or else export their males, but so many of them not having even finished high school, they are not exactly in great demand and are not exactly allowed to leave permanently either.

Anonymous said...

"Berlau might have devoted some analysis to asking why such an unbalanced approach to the vital aim of conserving the environment exists in the environmentalist movement. I would suggest that there is a major strain of pagan or secularist religion, Gaea worship, that informs the movement. This strain of thought, a weird sort of neo-Romantic pantheistic nature cult, has been prevalent since Rousseau in the Enlightenment era, but it exploded throughout the culture in the 1960s. Not all environmentalists share this worldview, but it is the one that drives the movement. And it is one that often downplays the value of people - devalues them and, indeed, de-animates them. That is a topic I would love to see explored in depth."

I have a theory on this. Its about the emotion envy and personality disorders in which people dreadfully fear being envied, which may explain why celebrities take up liberal causes so readily, and why environmentalists want to cripple the US economy, especially since 9/11 when a culture that very much envies us, started a war with us. Thus the "it's our fault" crowd.