Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Newsweak makes some interesting admissions

Article below on global warming's absence as a campaign issue makes two observations that are true, critical, and almost never admitted by the chattering class. First, only the (bi-coastal) elite are interested in the issue or deeply concerned. Second, reducing emissions will be hugely expensive. But in their typical Left-Elitist way they do not even consider the possibility that people may have good reason for being skeptical of the scare

In the summer of 2006 I went to see Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who was running the Democrats' successful effort to regain control of the House of Representatives. I had been reading a great deal about global warming in the mainstream press ("Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid" warned Time). So I asked Emanuel, how are the environment and global warming playing out there in the heartland? Is it stirring voters? No, he replied. In the 2006 congressional elections global warming was virtually a nonissue, he said, a low-priority item way behind the war and the economy and old staples like education and health care. Global warming is an issue for the elites, he said, not for the average voter.That's still true. The mainstream media continues to write urgently about global warming. Last month NEWSWEEK asked on its cover which candidate will be the most green. On Sunday the New York Times Magazine produced a special issue on how to reduce your carbon footprint-from changing your light bulbs to walking more to eating "slow food." Any reader of old-line mainstream media-the traditional news source of the upper middle class-would think that the country is rallying to a crisis.

But the disconnect persists. National polls show that the environment ranks fairly low as an issue that moves voters. In the Pennsylvania primary global warming was such a peripheral issue that exit pollsters did not even bother to measure voter attitudes toward it. Many younger voters wish the candidates would talk more about global warming. But most voters worry more about jobs and keeping fuel cheap. Aside from speaking in broad generalities and making vague promises, the candidates steer away from involved debate on global warming. (Enabled, it should be said, by political reporters. Of the more than 3,000 questions asked in the more than 20 presidential debates, fewer than 10 mentioned global warming.)There is an enormous class divide on the subject. The chattering classes obsess about greenhouse emissions. The rest of the country, certainly the older and less well-off voters, can't be bothered. Slow food to most people means that the waitress at the local IHOP is falling behind. The politicians duck the issue, or so it seems.

It may be, though, that the politicians know something they are not saying-and that the green-conscious upper classes do not wish to confront. Making a serious dent in global warming would be hugely costly. Fueled by population growth and a growing prosperity in underdeveloped parts of the world, greenhouse emissions will more than double by 2050, according to most estimates. About three-quarters of the growth will come in developing countries like China and India that, for understandable reasons, are not about to forgo economic growth at a time when their average citizen still consumes about a fifth as much energy as the average American.

President Bush talks about cutting the rate of growth by 20 percent or so. But that won't do much to keep the temperatures down or the seas from rising. Other politicians posture. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger boasts of a plan to drastically cut his state's greenhouse emissions. But he doesn't spell out how this goal can be achieved.The only way to get from here to there on slashing greenhouse emissions is by massively enforcing limits on consumption, which means heavy regulation, or much higher taxes. Or by developing breakthrough technologies, like a way to cheaply recapture carbon emissions or safer nuclear technology. (The technology has to be so cheap that China and India will buy it.) Higher oil prices will stimulate investment in alternative fuel sources, but every halfway believable estimate leaves us still heavily dependent on fossil fuels.It would be nice to hope that the scientists will solve our problems, and I pray for them. But the politicians will have to get involved and put the thumb of government on the scale-and then lean hard. That means calling for sacrifice-serious wartime sacrifice.


If lies and misrepresentations earned you the name "Hero of the planet", you might well keep repeating them too

Immortalized by Ernest Hemingway, the fabled snows of Mount Kilimanjaro look like a mere dusting [Groan! How often does that nonsense have to be debunked?]. Lake Chad, once a major African water resource, is now only 10 percent of what its surface area was decades earlier. And closer to home, Montana's Glacier National Park seems a misnomer as the ice mass continues to recede. "I'm showing you these not so that you should be panicked," Christiana Figueres said. "We should be more than panicked."

The author and Kyoto Protocol negotiator for the United Nations spoke yesterday morning before an audience of about 250 in the PepsiCo Theater at Norwalk Community College. Figueres, whom National Geographic and the Ford Motor Co. dubbed "Hero of the Planet" in 2001, was speaking as part of an Earth Day 2008 celebration sponsored by NCC's Student World Assembly. She had been invited by Madeline Barillo, the college's director of public relations....

Figueres cited climate changes due to deforestation and dependence on fossil fuels that have increased the planet's greenhouse gases. She said that scientists have discovered that dips and swells in atmospheric carbon dioxide "over the past 600,000 years," have been pretty consistent, with maximum carbon dioxide levels of less than 300 parts per million. That number is now 380 parts per million, she said, "and within 40 years, we will be at carbon dioxide concentrations we can't predict." "Lo and behold, we have one home, our planet," Figueres said. "We are all absolutely interconnected and interrelated." For example, rising temperatures that caused Lake Chad to shrivel resulted in a mass migration to Darfur, which, in turn, led to genocide.

Figueres also described doomsday scenarios in which melting polar ice caps would cause water levels to rise, flooding sections of Manhattan and Florida, and wiping the Maldive islands in the Indian Ocean off the map. Underscoring that this is not apocalyptic hyperbole, Figueres noted that 10 of the hottest years on record occurred in the last 14 years, with 2005 being the hottest [An outright lie. 1998 was the hottest].

Yet Figueres offered some hope. "The good news is that it can be averted," she said, mentioning alternative energy resources and the benefits of cutting carbon emissions. "We have a psychological barrier," she said before the talk. "It's not even a technological barrier, because the technology is there. The problem is that we've grown comfortable in our obsolete ways."

NCC student Matt Loter, president of the school's Student World Assembly, said Figueres was the perfect choice for a speaker on Earth Day because "of the interconnectedness of the world in all the decisions we make. "It's the idea of getting people to think on the global and local scale, and the changes you can make in both."


Another university that dislikes intellectual diversity

Good evidence of intellectual mediocrity

By pioneering the science of seasonal hurricane forecasting and teaching 70 graduate students who now populate the National Hurricane Center and other research outposts, William Gray turned a city far from the stormy seas into a hurricane research mecca. But now the institution in Fort Collins, Colo., where he has worked for nearly half a century, has told Gray it may end its support of his seasonal forecasting. As he enters his 25th year of predicting hurricane season activity, Colorado State University officials say handling media inquiries related to Gray's forecasting requires too much time and detracts from efforts to promote other professors' work.

But Gray, a highly visible and sometimes acerbic skeptic of climate change, says that's a "flimsy excuse" for the real motivation - a desire to push him aside because of his global warming criticism. Among other comments, Gray has said global warming scientists are "brainwashing our children."

Now an emeritus professor, Gray declined to comment on the university's possible termination of promotional support. But a memo he wrote last year, after CSU officials informed him that media relations would no longer promote his forecasts after 2008, reveals his views: "This is obviously a flimsy excuse and seems to me to be a cover for the Department's capitulation to the desires of some (in their own interest) who want to rein in my global warming and global warming-hurricane criticisms," Gray wrote to Dick Johnson, head of CSU's Department of Atmospheric Sciences, and others.

The university may have moderated its stance since last year. Officials said late last week that they intend to support the release of Gray's forecasts as long as they continue to be co-authored by Phil Klotzbach, a former student of Gray's who earned his doctorate last summer, and as long as Klotzbach remains at CSU. When Klotzbach leaves, he will either produce the seasonal forecasts at his new position, or end them altogether.

Not only does this internal dispute reveal a bit of acrimony at the end of Gray's long career at CSU; it highlights the politically charged atmosphere that surrounds global warming in the United States. "Bill Gray has come under a lot of fire for his views," said Channel 11 meteorologist Neil Frank, a former director of the National Hurricane Center and a friend of Gray's. "If, indeed, this is happening, it would be really sad that Colorado State is trying to rein in Bill Gray."

CSU officials insist that is not the case. The dean of the College of Engineering, which oversees atmospheric sciences, said she spoke with Gray about terminating media support for his forecasts solely because of the strain it placed on the college's sole media staffer. "It really has nothing to do with his stand on global warming," said the dean, Sandra Woods. "He's a great faculty member. He's an institution at CSU." According to Woods, Gray's forecasts require about 10 percent of the time a media support staff member, Emily Wilmsen, has available for the College of Engineering and its 104 faculty members.

A professor of public relations at Boston University, Donald Wright, questioned why the university would want to pull back its support for Gray now, after he has published his forecasts for a quarter-century. "It's seems peculiar that this is happening now," Wright said. "Given the national reputation that these reports have, you would think the university would want to continue to promote these forecasts." Gray, he said, seems to deliver a lot of publicity bang for the buck. The seasonal forecasts are printed in newspapers around the country and splashed across the World Wide Web.

There also seems to be little question that prominent climate scientists have complained to CSU about Gray's vocal skepticism. The head of CSU's Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Dick Johnson, said he has received many comments during recent years about Gray - some supportive, and some not. The complaints have come as Gray became increasingly involved in the global warming debate. His comments toward adversaries often are biting and adversarial. In 2005, when Georgia Tech scientist Peter Webster co-authored a paper suggesting global warming had caused a spike in major hurricanes, Gray labeled him and others "medicine men" who were misleading the public.

Webster, in an e-mail from Bangladesh, where is working on a flood prediction project, acknowledged that he complained to Johnson at CSU. "My only conversation with Dick Johnson, which followed a rather nasty series of jabs from Gray, suggested that Bill should be persuaded to lay off the personal and stay scientific," Webster wrote....

Although he ceded lead authorship of the forecasts to Klotzbach in 2006, Gray has remained the headliner in storm prognostication. He annually is among the most popular draws at the National Hurricane Conference. In recent years, as he has increasingly made sharp public comments about global warming, Gray quickly became one of the most prominent skeptics because of his long background in atmospheric sciences. His views on the climate - he says Earth is warming naturally and soon will begin cooling - have been applauded by some scientists, particularly meteorologists such as Frank. But they are out of step with mainstream climate science. The most recent report by an international group of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, concluded that there was 90 percent certainty that human activity had caused recent warming of the planet.

Yet at U.S. universities, threats to the rights of scientists who hold minority viewpoints are generally frowned upon. A prominent legal scholar, Stanley Fish of Florida International University, said university public relations offices should not pick and choose where resources go, based upon the content of a professor's work. "If it can in any way be established that (Gray's) global warming views were the basis of this action, then it is an improper action," Fish said.

In his memo, Gray clearly indicates that he believes his academic freedom is imperiled: "For the good of all of us in the Department, the College and at CSU, please believe me when I say this is not a direction any of you want to go," he wrote. "Our department and college are strong enough to be able to tolerate a dissenting voice on the global warming question."



As world food and energy prices rise, look for the policy community to come up with new rounds of explanations and fresh batches of bad policy. A current favourite among United Nations' operatives and the CBC is to blame the current all-purpose whipping boy for adverse economic developments: hedge funds and speculators.

No doubt speculators are playing the food and energy markets. But speculators don't make much of a scene working stable commodities and smooth-functioning markets. It's a dull business of dodging and covering and protecting, as buyers and sellers play out strategies to offset their risks. Speculation is a hot business only when outside forces conspire to upset the tedium - a hurricane that wipes out oil supply routes and orange groves, or a drought that dries up grain fields. Speculators follow the storms, they don't create them. They rescue markets from crises created elsewhere.

The "elsewheres" of the current global spikes in key food and energy markets are not hard to find. All roads lead to government policies and state-run institutions, beginning with central banks. There seems little doubt that the U.S. Federal Reserve and other controllers of monetary policy have set conditions for a global bout of inflation. The U.S. dollar price of oil, rice, wheat and other commodities is in large part the story of a falling U.S. dollar, weakened by U.S. government policies.

In developing countries, the U.S. dollar is still the only true purchasing unit, and consumers who don't have enough of them - due to fixed exchange rates or currency controls - bear the burden of the falling U.S. dollar through higher costs for food and energy.

But food and energy prices are both heavily influenced by government policies in other ways. World trade in food, especially key commodities, is blanketed by market-killing incentives and disincentives, and smothered by central-planning agencies. We have Canada's supply-managed dairy regimes, massive U.S. trade-distorting agricultural policies, European protectionism and paralyzed world trade talks. In the developing world, uncountable regulations, subsidies, taxes and trade restrictions freeze and distort market forces.

The world food system cannot cope with shocks because markets can't function. A microcosm of the kind of policy paralysis that exists is Indonesia, where rice supply and demand is at the mercy of government agents and price controls. As Steve Hanke, of Johns Hopkins University, reports below, the situation is likely to get worse, not because of speculators, but because governments are now seizing the opportunity. "Now that governments in the rice-consuming countries have hit the panic button, we are witnessing a stampede to introduce more interventionist measures, discredited central-planning solutions and more government-to-government trade deals."

In a part of the world with rampant trade in everything from television parts to shoes and shirts, only about 6% to 7% of the number one basic food, rice, is traded. The rest is locked down by national farm protectionism and misguided attempts to control local prices.

The world is not "running out of food," as some have glibly claimed, any more than it is running out of oil. There is certainly rising demand for food, but what the world doesn't have is markets and trade systems capable of responding to that demand. The idea that there might be limits to global food production is just another formulation of the ancient belief that there is only room for so many people consuming so much resources. The world is running out of the open trade and free-market options that can cope with changing demand and supply patterns.

One reason for rising food prices is rising energy prices, another commodity group that in recent years has come under aggressive government control around the world.

The World Investment Report last year highlighted the transformation of world oil and gas supply from a private investor-controlled - and market driven - business to a state-controlled business. The top 10 oil firms in the world are all state owned, accounting for 77% of the total, with Russian firms controlling another 6%. Only about 10% of world oil reserves are in the hands of investor-owned firms such as Exxon Mobil.

State control delivers the usual benefits: erratic and politically driven policy and, in places such as Russia and Venezuela, a national petroleum industry whose production rates are declining. State-generated supply problems are a major factor behind rising oil prices.

These twin pillars of the world's state-dominated industries - food and energy - converge in many ways. Food production needs fuel. But never before has fuel production needed food. Thanks to biofuels, the two most controlled and regulated industries in the world are converging. And we wonder why prices are going up.



Another failed energy policy, courtesy of the Washington central planners

Big-government, command-and-control technocrats believe that when central-planning fails, the solution is a better plan and smarter planners. They never step back and look at whether planning makes sense in the first place. This was true of the Soviet Union, with tragic five-year plan after five-year plan. It was true of Communist China, with Mao's revolutionary upheavals. And today, here in the United States, it is true of government energy policy.

The 1970s and early 1980s saw all manner of failed energy policies - from Nixon's Project Independence price controls, to Ford's CAFE mandates, to Carter's Synthetic Fuels Corporation and windfall profits tax, to Bush and Clinton's publicly financed push for electric cars. The latest example is the 36 billion gallon biofuel mandate enacted into U.S. law last year.

U.S. dependence on imported energy continues to reach record levels while no commercially viable biofuels have been produced. At the same time, the government-subsidized burning of our food supply to create ethanol has both increased carbon dioxide emissions and driven up food prices at a startling rate. This must end.

Even environmentalists are calling for a halt to government subsidies and mandates on biofuels. Lester Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, and Jonathan Lewis, a climate specialist with the Clean Air Task Force, spoke out on Earth Day with an article titled "Ethanol's Failed Promise." They outlined the desperate need for Congress to abandon a policy that should never have been enacted. In a daze over rising fuel costs, increased dependence on foreign oil, and a fear of carbon emissions, Congress has been backing the politically favored food-to-fuel ethanol program. But "the mandates are not reducing our dependence on foreign oil," wrote Brown and Lewis. "Last year, the United States burned about a quarter of its national corn supply as fuel - and this led to only a 1 percent reduction in the country's oil consumption."

The failure to reduce oil dependence is not the only flaw in the ethanol program. It also has driven food prices disturbingly high. The World Food Program is warning that the upward pressure on food prices is likely to lead to a "silent tsunami" of hunger. Josette Sheeran, the program's executive director, warned that "The price of rice has more than doubled in the last five weeks." The World Bank estimates that food prices have increased by 83 percent in three years. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown acknowledged what many have been saying for years: "The production of biofuels needs to be urgently re-examined."

Unintended consequences are the inevitable result when politicians pick untested feel-good solutions to market-created concerns. A decade of ethanol policies has once again proven this true. But we now stand on the cusp of an even larger congressional blunder: cap-and-trade. And this time higher food prices will not be the only negative result.

The Congressional Budget Office says current cap-and-trade legislation would amount to a $1.2 trillion tax hike on the American economy over the next ten years. This tax will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for gasoline, electricity, heating oil, food, and any product that is transported to market. In the throes of an ethanol disaster, it would be inexcusable for politicians to ignore these hardships.

But we've seen this too many times before. Each new generation of central planners believes the previous generation wasn't smart enough. Yet central economic planning is forever doomed to failure since the approach itself limits human freedom, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and innovation. These are the true engines of prosperity, and they will best manage all our problems, including those in the energy arena.


Something Strange Explained

Post below recycled from the Australian blog A Western Heart. See the original for links

Sydney Morning Herald environment reporter, Ben Cubby ominously writes, "Something strange is happening to our weather." Cubby recently came to our attention when he published statistics purporting to show that Australians each used one tonne of plastic bags per year, or that they were using bags weighing 5.5kg each. The article was belatedly corrected with national plastic bag usage reduced by a factor of 1000, but not before the hyped-up message got through.

Now under the hyped-up headline, "Extreme weather is here to stay," Cubby tells us that, "Sydney has endured the most sodden school holidays in living memory," and, "the longest unbroken spell of April drizzle for 77 years," and, "unseasonably early snow fell in the mountains at the weekend." That's what passes for "extreme" these days. It reminds me of then-ALP leader Kim Beazley telling us how Howard planned to replace his "extreme IR laws" with something, well, "even more extreme".

Experts from the BoM are quoted, "The weather's been anything but normal over the last six months... I can't recall a longer period of sustained weather patterns, of various kinds."

Various kinds of weather! Sodden school hols; extreme April drizzle; hopeful skiers. Cubby sounds like he's channeling Eric Oldthwaite from the Ripping Yarns series: When it weren't drizzlin', it were extreme drizzlin'. What could be causing these remarkable weather patterns?
"A zone of high pressure in the Tasman Sea is the main cause of the record-breaking weather because it has a "blocking" effect, meaning that once a weather pattern arrives, it sticks around for a long while."

Oh well, there you go. Seems that "something strange" can be explained quite easily. Let's hear from another expert:
"This has less to do with global warming and more to do with the natural kinks and dips you see in weather patterns each year."

This was from the co-director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of NSW. It's pretty tough when even the climate change guy won't get excited about your various kinds of weather patterns.


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 blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.



Anonymous said...

"By pioneering the science of seasonal hurricane forecasting and teaching 70 graduate students who now populate the National Hurricane Center and other research outposts..."

Instead of honoring our elders we (not me, THEM, the boomers) have cut our heroes down on purpose? Why? Because we have had not real world wars or a Depression. MAD ("Mutually Assured Destruction") has ended world wars. So Generation X and Y (which I am between so am some sort of throwback to old books, actually), have had NO training in anything but being spoiled. Now the boomers (the aging children of the orgy that was the postwar era) want free medicines. Fine. They'll get them. Fixed medicines. New research will begin taking place in China. It's now China that is the center of the world, since India is too poor, Japan too small and small-thinking, and Russia is just too cold, in every sense of the word.

You Australian's to the rescue? Beh. It's going to be America again, minus a mere decade of self-consciousness.

Anonymous said...

anonymous said:

"So Generation X and Y (which I am between so am some sort of throwback to old books, actually), have had NO training in anything but being spoiled."

Ha, me too, never slackened, never spoiled, and am such a throwback to old books that I line my whole apartment with new shelves, weekly. A work I cannot find except in French for $1500 is THE famously influential Enlightenment era encyclopedia on Science, Art and Craft:

Alas, there *is* no translation to English, merely volunteer online efforts that will take another decade to complete. The entry on Atomism is here, for instance:

"The world is new. Everywhere we look there are proofs of its newness. But the matter of which the world is composed is eternal. An immense (in fact, an infinite) quantity of hard, hooked, square and rectangular atoms or particles of all shapes have always existed. They are indivisible, continually in movement and striving to advance. All of them fall through empty space, and if they had continued in this way forever, they would have never joined together and the world would not exist. But some of these atoms happened to deviate a little from their paths, which squeezed and stuck some of them together, so that various bodies were formed, such as the sky, the sun, the earth, man, intelligence and a kind of freedom. Nothing was done by design. It must not be thought that men’s legs were created with the aim of carrying our bodies from one place to another; that fingers were provided with joints so we could grasp what we would need; that the mouth was given teeth to grind down food, or that the eyes were skilfully placed on supple and mobile muscles so that we could move them easily and see all around us in an instant. No higher intelligence made our bodies so that they would serve us, but on the contrary we make use of what we find as the need arises." - Lucretius (not of Borg, ~ 60BC)

Lucretius claimed we had free will due to quantum mechanics ("the random tendency for atoms to swerve").

* * *

My 86 year old father grew up in the Depression, fixed aircraft instruments in Alaska in WWII (with degrees in optics, geology and engineering he was too smart for infantry duty or even flying despite having a pilot's license...since he needed glasses). Along the Aleutian Islands, they recovered and reverse engineered a Japanese Zero, quite a find at the time, he claimed. Being the main microscopic mechanism mechanic on the base (he used to repair watches before the war), he could order huge cases of pure ethanol as cleaning solvent, so was very popular.

Indeed it is not even yet Generations X or Y but their parents and grandparents, the Boomers, that want medicines. I'm afraid my now blind old man will make it to 90 in 4 years and existing cancers will take hold, since various trials for new medicines ended, and luckily, though they castrated him a bit, he doesn't need diapers like those who are diagnosed earlier. But without proper insurance, he cannot buy the medicines for cancer. Even his politics is skewed by this.

The problem is, despite for a few blogs like Ray's, my "Great Generation" father is the only extremely smart person I can find to interact with. Nowadays, smart kids are computer freaks, mostly, and professor types are social misfits (with the exception of chemists and virologists).

Indeed though, it was in my Ph.D. era in the 90s that a big switch occurred, namely that the Chinese students stopped getting green cards to say here and work for Merck, but went right back to China, especially chemists, but more so, biologists. It was, at the time, a choice, so China must have been spending like mad to get them back. Did you know that hard science Ph.D. students in the USA do NOT PAY A PENNY for school, but in fact are PAID a living wage. Why? Because, unlike in the Liberal Arts, the research professors NEED hard workers. Once the graduate students at Columbia organized a week long strike, back in the late 90s. Us hard science students, who worked on birthdays, even Christmas, took no notice.

At state schools the Chinese never assimilated into US culture, and slurped away at weird food like slurping was all the rage, but the ones at Columbia or Harvard were urbane and shed their Chinese logo blue jeans for American fashion, and in fact often married American citizens in order to stay in the USA, usually meaning a postdoc scooped them up after finally taking notice since they dressed rather provocatively and laughed at dumb jokes.

Alas, nowadays, it's not the Environment that needs fixing, but indeed "old books" that must be translated and offered up, to rekindle the Enlightenment that we have, as a culture, lost the spine to support.


ytba said...

"Another university that dislikes intellectual diversity" -- a precautionary tale

Sure, it makes perfect sense. I mean if it takes so much time for them to respond to requests for information, that can seriously eat into pencil sharpening time. And if a university wants to stay under the radar, dropping such an attention-getter is the way to go. I mean, if too many highschool students hear of them, there might be a glut of undesireably over-qualified candidates, increasing their workload even more. Can't have that, now, can we?