Monday, April 21, 2008


The European commission is backing away from its insistence on imposing a compulsory 10% quota of biofuels in all petrol and diesel by 2020, a central plank of its programme to lead the world in combating climate change. Amid a worsening global food crisis exacerbated, say experts and critics, by the race to divert food or feed crops into biomass for the manufacture of vehicle fuel, and inundated by a flood of expert advice criticising the shift to renewable fuel, the commission appears to be getting cold feet about its biofuels target.

Under the proposals, to be turned into law within a year, biofuels are to supply a tenth of all road vehicle fuel by 2020 as part of the drive to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the same deadline. The 10% target is "binding" under the proposed legislation. But pressed by its scientific advisers, UN authorities, leaders in Europe, non-government organisations and environmental lobbies, the commission is engaged in a rethink. "The target is now secondary," said a commission official, adding that high standards of "sustainability" being drafted for biofuels sourcing and manufacture would make it impossible for the target to be met.

Britain has set its own biofuels targets, which saw 2.5% mixed into all petrol and diesel fuel sold on forecourts in the UK this week. The government wants to increase that to 5% within two years, but has admitted that the environmental concerns could force them to rethink. Ruth Kelly, transport secretary, has ordered a review, which is due to report next month.

A commission source indicated that the EU executive would not object if European governments ordered a U-turn.

More here

Stop the CO2 scare, before it's too late

As President Bush finally caved in to international pressure last week and committed the US to spending untold billions of dollars on "the fight against global warming", I happened to be in Washington at the same time, talking on the same subject to more than a dozen very lively and opinionated radio shows. I was there with my co-author Richard North, at the invitation of an enterprising Washington think-tank, the Independent Women's Forum, to launch our book Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming, Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth.

Speaking to audiences across the country, for up to an hour at a time, we were impressed by how well informed -and sceptical about global warming - were the array of presenters who interviewed us. We told them it would have been unthinkable to have such intelligent conversations on this subject on any BBC programme back in Britain.

But the highlight of our visit was dinner with Dr Fred Singer, a distinguished US scientist, formerly professor at two universities, and founder of the US satellite weather service. He has done more than anyone in the scientific counter-attack against the ruthless promotion of global warming orthodoxy by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Dr Singer played a key part in last month's scientific conference in New York organised by the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), and gave me an advance copy of its new report (which is now available online - just Google "sepp" and "NIPCC").

The report - Nature Not Human Activity Rules the Climate - presents a devastating analysis of the IPCC's case. Intended for a lay audience and signed by scientists from 15 countries, it takes all the key points of the IPCC's "consensus" case and tears them expertly apart, showing how the Intergovernmental Panel has either exaggerated, distorted or suppressed the evidence available to it, or has imputed much greater certainty to its findings than is justified by the data.

One of the central flaws in the IPCC's case is its reliance on computer models, based only on those parts of the evidence which suit its chosen "narrative", omitting or downplaying hugely important factors which might produce a very different picture. These range from the role played by water vapour, by far the most important of the greenhouse gases, to the influence of solar activity on cloud cover.

The report's most startling passage, however, is one that examines the "fingerprint" of warming at different levels of the atmosphere which the computer models come up with as proof that the warming is man-made. The pattern actually shown by balloon and satellite records is so dramatically different that, even on the IPCC's own evidence, the report concludes, "anthropogenic greenhouse gases can contribute only in a minor way to the current warming, which is mainly of natural origin".

The significance of this can scarcely be overestimated. At just the moment when, thanks to the overwhelming pressure generated by the IPCC, the world's politicians, led by the EU, are committing us to spending untold trillions of pounds, dollars and euros on measures to "mitigate" the claimed effects of man-made warming, here is a galaxy of experts producing hard evidence that - if the problem exists at all - the official explanation for it is oriented in wholly the wrong direction.

Furthermore the consequences of that warming and of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have, on balance, been wholly beneficial, by increasing plant growth.

The real danger, the report warns, is not a continued warming but that temperatures and agricultural production might drop as the world faces its worst food shortage in decades (now being made worse by the crazed rush to give over farmland to biofuels). And if that is the way the evidence lies, how much are any of our politicians doing to prepare for a crisis already upon us?



Last week, the New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin blogged about the World Bank's decision to finance a major new coal fired power plant in India. Revkin ended his blog with a question: "Is all of this bad? If you're one of many climate scientists foreseeing calamity, yes. If you're a village kid in rural India looking for a light to read by, no."

In response, the famed environmental writer Bill McKibben asked his own question: "The really interesting question, to follow on the last sentence of the story, is: what if you're an Indian kid looking for a light to read by-and also living near the rising ocean, or vulnerable to the the range expansion of dengue-bearing mosquitoes, or dependent on suddenly-in-question monsoonal rains."

McKibben may think he knows better but I think the answer for that village kid would probably be the same. Take the electricity and the light to read by and worry about malaria and monsoonal rains later. To get some idea of the problems facing people in rural India, just consider the following:

1. In India, the literacy rate is only 64%. The female literacy rate is even lower. In half the households in rural India, there is not a single female member above the age of 15 who can read or write.

2. Out of a population of one billion, more than 300 million Indians live on less than a dollar a day.

3. In India, some 400,000 children under the age of five die each year from diarrhoea caused by easily preventable factors such as poor hygiene and unsafe drinking water.

4. Indian society continues to be plagued by extreme forms of discrimination and exploitation based on the traditional caste system. There are many millions (estimates range from 40 million to 100 million) of bonded laborers (slaves) in India today, mainly belonging to the lowest castes, the Dalits.

5. There still exists widespread discrimination against women in India. Economist Amartya Sen estimates that in the developing world, due to the preference for sons over daughters, and due to the sheer neglect of women and girls, some 100 million women are simply missing.

In this scenario, how can one seriously suggest that the village kid in India should give up her hopes of prosperity, education, and health care today, in order to prevent rising ocean levels many years down the road? What would Americans do in the same situation? Or Europeans? Or human beings anywhere?

There are some very good reasons why people in rural India should first worry about their basic human necessities today, rather than about the long term effects of global warming.

First, if you and your family don't have access to such things as clean water and basic health care, neither you, nor your children, nor your grandchildren may even be around long enough to witness tomorrow, making the future rise or fall of the world's oceans a moot point.

Second, the life of an educated, healthy and modestly prosperous person living in tomorrow's globally-warmed world of higher ocean levels may well be better than the poverty stricken life of an Indian villager in the pre-global-warming world. In other words, even if the most dire predictions about global warming come true, some of the poorest people in the world may still be better off tomorrow if they are able to enjoy some of the fruits of development, such as education, health care, electricity, etc.

Third, and most important, maybe horses will fly. Let me tell you an Indian story about the Mughal Emperor Akbar and his witty minister, Birbal. One day, for some reason, Akbar became very angry with Birbal, and ordered that he be beheaded. Birbal pleaded for his life, but to no avail. Then Birbal hit upon an idea. He promised Akbar, that if he was spared for a year, he would make Akbar's favorite horse fly. Akbar relented, and let Birbal live. When a friend asked Birbal how he planned to make the horse fly, Birbal replied, "anything can happen in a year; Akbar can die; the horse can die; and who knows, maybe the horse will fly."

In a slightly different context, what this means is that, first and foremost, human beings need to achieve a certain minimum level of material well-being and sense of security. And once this is achieved, who knows what wonders can happen. If the billions of impoverished people in the developing world can get widespread access to education, health care, and job opportunities, who knows what the unleashing of their talent and energy can achieve. Having met their basic needs, maybe they will start thinking about the environment. Maybe new ideas will burst forth. Maybe new and better energy technologies will be adopted, which will not only address global warming, but also ensure a minimum standard of living for all people everywhere. Maybe horses will fly.

As Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger put it in the book Breakthrough, "the satisfaction of the material needs of food and water and shelter is not an obstacle to but rather the precondition for the modern appreciation of the nonhuman world".



Lawrence Solomon's book profiles nearly three dozen top scientists who have resisted the pull of climate alarmism

Once upon a time, the media believed in the open exchange of opinions regarding public policy. People who had doubts about one or another claim put forward by activists and crusaders could express those thoughts without fear of censure or ridicule. And, to be fair, that is still the case in many areas of social policy.

But there's one hot-button issue on which virtually no dissent is allowed: climate change. In a style reminiscent of the old Soviet Union, people disagreeing with any element of the agenda pursued by Al Gore and his climate catastrophists have been derided as "deniers," a term clearly intended to equate dissent with mental illness, if not post hoc complicity in atrocities (as in "Holocaust denier"). "Fifteen per cent of the people believe the moon landing was staged on some movie lot and a somewhat smaller number still believe the Earth is flat," Gore says. "They all get together on a Saturday night and party with the global-warming deniers."

While only a few hotheads have proposed a physical gulag for the deniers, the mainstream press has created a media gulag. Former Boston Globe editor Ross Gelbspan urged the media to do just that in July 2000: "Not only do journalists not have a responsibility to report what skeptical scientists have to say about global warming, they have a responsibility not to report what these scientists say," he told a Washington audience. Analyses of media coverage show that the three big U.S. television networks (CBS, NBC, and ABC) have taken Gelbspan's message to heart: in the last half of 2007, only 20 percent of stories about climate change mentioned skepticism or dissenting viewpoints. Essentially, climate catastrophism is treated as fact.

The dissidents often have much more impressive scientific qualifications than the climate catastrophists. Fortunately, not all journalists have bowed to the politically correct climate crusade. Lawrence Solomon, a columnist for Canada's National Post-and the victim of an earlier smear campaign-decided to ask who these "deniers" really are and what they really believe. What he found is telling: "Among all the deniers I have profiled," Solomon writes, "I have never encountered one who disputes that there is such a thing as a greenhouse effect, or that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.... The arguments are all about how powerful the effect is, especially when considered in combination with other factors, various feedback mechanisms both negative and positive, and other influences that might or might not overwhelm the effect of CO2." In other words, Solomon found that the "deniers" are, in fact, not in denial at all. They are merely dissidents from the political orthodoxy of climate catastrophism.

Gore would have you believe that these dissidents are marginal players in the scientific community. Solomon shows otherwise. In his new book, The Deniers (Richard Vigilante, $27.95), which is a compilation of his National Post columns, Solomon profiles 34 global warming dissidents who boast impeccable scientific credentials and, in some cases, mind-boggling accomplishments in the field of climatology. By my calculations (supplemented with a bit of Googling), Solomon's "deniers" have published nearly 4,000 articles in peer-reviewed journals and well over 100 books. A list of their academic honors and high-level appointments would be longer than this entire review. The dissidents often have much more impressive qualifications than the climate catastrophists.

In recent years, I too have been slandered as a global warming "denier" in the blogosphere, despite having never denied manmade climate change. I have felt the urge-as Solomon says his deniers have-to downplay my dissidence. Reading The Deniers, however, has strengthened my resolve. It reminds me that in dissent against catastrophic predictions and wrongheaded carbon-regulation schemes, dissidents are in prestigious and courageous company. And it reminds me that the stakes are high: misguided carbon controls have not only damaged economic growth, they have also caused environmental harms, from deforestation, to overtaxed aquifers, to the damming of massive rivers. More recently, misguided biofuel programs-which can be traced at least partly to climate change fears-have contributed to rising food prices and global hunger.

I wish that Solomon's book had been titled The Dissidents, so that it could have been accurately judged by the cover, and I only figured out why he didn't choose this title when writing this review: Solomon wanted his columns to be read, and he knew that many people have bought into global warming propaganda so deeply that they would not have read past that title. It's a shame that one has to resort to such tricks, but we cannot argue with success: The Deniers made it into the newspaper, and then into a book, which is a great achievement in these days of climate alarmism and intellectual bullying.



Sarah Edwards worries about the gasoline she burns, the paper towels she throws out, the litter on the beach, water pollution. She worries so much, it literally makes her sick. "Fear, grief, anger, confusion and depression," Edwards says, pointing to the negativity that has manifested itself in real-life symptoms such as neck and shoulder pain, fibromyalgia and fatigue. "I had so much pathos. It's so sad," says Edwards, who moved from California's crowded Santa Monica to a secluded cabin in Los Padres National Forest to help her cope. Now, she says: "We only drive to the grocery store every three weeks. We have our own source of water. We compost and no longer heat every room on the first floor."

Edwards suffers from eco-anxiety, the growing angst experienced by those who can't handle the thought that they - or anyone - are in some way contributing to global warming, species extinction and dwindling natural resources. She recently launched a blog called "Eco-Anxiety" because she believes environmental dangers should be taken seriously. "This is severely disturbing," she says.

Experts say discussions about the environment - a growing favorite topic in the media - often focus on worst-case scenarios and ever-dwindling resources. So it's no surprise that all that bad news is taking a toll on some psyches. But not all psyches. John Berlau, author of "Eco-Freaks: Environmentalism Is Hazardous to Your Health," said eco-anxious people need to get a life and get the facts about the environment before freaking out. "It may put their mind partially at ease knowing that not all experts subscribe to these apocalyptic views," he said.

Things have gotten so bad, a new kind of therapy has sprouted up to keep people from going nuts over the environment. It's called "eco-therapy" or "eco-psychology." The time on the couch isn't spent delving into a patient's childhood to find the source of misery. Instead, it looks at how much time a person spends in nature, the person's carbon footprint and what the individual is doing to save the planet. And the prescribed treatment may be as simple as a dose of recycling or - you guessed it - hugging a tree.

Sound like a joke? Ecopsychology, popularized in the early 1990s by social critic Theodore Roszak, is being taught in colleges and universities across the country, including at Harvard Medical School. Linda Buzzell, founder of the International Association for Eco-Therapy, said the field is so new that there are few statistics to indicate how many practitioners are using the techniques, but the Web site for the International Community for Ecopsychology lists more than 100 eco-therapists in the United States.

Buzzell told in an e-mail that due to increased awareness about the environment with films such as Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," more people are attuned to "our challenging environmental situation." She said it is "making more and more therapists and clients aware that there is no such thing as human mental or physical health separate from the health of the planet."

The American Psychological Association has no official position on the merits of what it calls an emerging field. But some health care professionals say eco-therapy is more of the latest in a line of money-making gimmicks targeted at the environmentally conscious, an industry estimated by the green group Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability Association at $228 million a year, and growing.

Melissa Pickett, an eco-therapist in Santa Fe, N.M., who says she treats dozens of patients a month, said sometimes she has to tell extreme greenies to chill out for their own good. "The global warming craze will cause your clients to go into extremism fueled by fear," she says. And with eco-therapy around, that extremism can get expensive. Eco-therapy can cost as much as traditional psychotherapy, upwards of $100 an hour. There's a lot of green in being green.

More here

Reality bites Australia's Green/Left

Plastic bag defeat; Price-control defeat

The two ministers set on an inevitable collision course by a contradictory pre-election promise by Kevin Rudd were both mugged last week. Rudd had pledged to simultaneously reduce the impact of climate change and bring down the cost of living for families. In the case of Environment Minister Peter Garrett, it was at the hands of his own state Labor colleagues. In the case of Consumer Affairs Minister Chris Bowen, it was by reality.

First to Garrett. In January he boldly declared he wanted to phase out single use plastic shopping bags by the end of this year. He wanted a plan for how to do this ready for a meeting of federal and state environment ministers last week. For Garrett the deadline turned into a disaster and public humiliation. His Labor colleagues dealt him a brutal lesson on Realpolitik that exposed Garrett's failure to either consult properly with the industry or negotiate effectively with the states.

Instead of a decisive move towards a ban in the form of a retail charge on plastic bags at the check-out -- the outcome Garrett wanted -- Thursday's meeting more resembled a policy version of a splatter attack. South Australia is now going it alone with a proposed ban. Victoria has offered to trial a retail charge in consultation with the big supermarkets. And there's to be a working group to look at raising the use of re-usable bags and biodegradable bags. Twisting in the wind, Garrett emerged from the meeting with a bunch of weasel words declaring the result to be "substantial and positive". "We felt a mandated charge on plastic bags is another cost for Australian communities who are feeling the pinch," Garrett said.

It was all bollocks, of course. Garrett felt no such thing -- at least until he got into the meeting. A retail charge was always his preferred option. It was what his department was costing behind the scenes, despite his public denials. The fact is that having ruled out an immediate ban, and having also ruled out the Commonwealth imposing a levy, the only option left was a check-out charge.And it wasn't Garrett who was alert to the fact that this would cause financial pain to families. It was the states, led behind the scenes by New South Wales Treasurer Michael Costa and Victorian Environment Minister Gavin Jennings, with support from Queensland Premier Anna Bligh.

Costa got into the act after Garrett's plans for a bag charge were revealed last month. And he wasn't having any of it, immediately talking with the big food chains to see where they were with Garrett. That wasn't very far because, according to sources in the retail sector, he had barely bothered consulting them. Costa and the rest of the states quickly woke up to the fact that Garrett's plan required all the states to pass uniform regulations to put it into place. But that would mean the states would also have to police what would effectively be a new tax, and wear the political backlash that would inevitably follow.

On Thursday they made it clear that wasn't on. For Garrett to save some face, Jennings stitched together a deal for a trial in Victoria. The research into bio-degradable bags had been something the supermarkets had been pressing for some time. It should have been the threshold question for the entire debate. The result? Although Garrett wouldn't say it publicly, his office sheepishly admitted late on Thursday that the minister's bold plan to phase out plastic bags by the end of the year could not now be met.

Now onto the minister at the other end of the environment debate, Chris Bowen. He's the minister responsible for trying to bring down the price of petrol [gasoline], which if he achieves it, of course, will increase greenhouse gasses. As Consumer Affairs Minister, he is also the one trying to bring down the cost of living while Garrett is trying to push it up via a charge on bags. Bowen's contribution last week was to unveil a national FuelWatch scheme to cut pump prices.

Well kind of. Before the election Labor promised to put "a cop on the beat" when it came to oil companies ripping off motorists. Now facing the reality of actually having to do that -- and bombarded with concerted questions about whether FuelWatch actually works to bring down prices --Bowen's rhetoric has substantially changed. Suddenly price wasn't the main reason for introducing FuelWatch. "The much more important reason for doing this is to give consumers more information," Bowen said.

Rudd too was laying on the caveats with a trowel: He said the aim was to help families "get the best possible prices for petrol when they go to fill up". "We can't promise the world," he said. "We can't promise the impossible." It's now the "best possible" price for petrol, not the "lowest". Mugged indeed. And playing the voters for mugs as well.



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


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