Thursday, May 22, 2008


An email from Dan McLuskey []

For what it is worth, it takes more energy to manufacture the average car than it will ever consume during its driving life. This means that the government push to drive motorists to buy new cars is the worst possible action with regard to emissions. The best action is to reward people for keeping their cars longer. Of course, if this is effective, it will have major ramifications for the viability of the motor vehicle manufacturing industry.


With more than 71,000 people dead, buried, or missing in China following last Monday's 7.9 magnitude earthquake [`China in mourning over earthquake', BBC Online Asia-Pacific News, May 19], and the 78,000 now thought to have perished in Myanmar (Burma) from the May 2 Cyclone `Nargis' [`Burma to mourn cyclone's victims', BBC Online Asia-Pacific News, May 19], I thought it might be helpful to provide a detailed historical context for our understanding of the size of such natural disasters. I thus present:

'A Premier League of Deaths from Natural and Semi-Natural Causes' [in order of expected number of fatalities] ...

More here


By David Henderson (Formerly Head of the Economics and Statistics Department of the OECD, and currently a Visiting Professor at the Westminster Business School, London)

I am pleased and honoured to be opening the discussion at this 2008 Clare Distinguished Lecture, and I would like to thank the Master and Fellows of Clare for inviting me to do so.

In his talk, Professor Munasinghe has put before us a rich and varied menu. Drawing on his extensive published work, as also on his experience as a high-level participant on the international scene, he has provided a wide-ranging review of leading world issues together with a comprehensive suggested framework for policy. His has been a notable presentation.

However, I have to say that both his view of the world and his proposed orientation of policy are not mine: he and I are a long way apart. When the Master wrote inviting me to speak today, I was careful to check before accepting. I wanted to be sure that he and the Fellows would be happy for the opening remarks in today's discussion to come from a dissenter. Today's lecture has not served to undermine or qualify my dissenting status.

In my remarks, I will focus on broad areas of disagreement, rather than on specific points and arguments - of which there could be many - arising from Professor Munasinghe's lecture.

I have two main areas or headings of dissent. One goes a long way back, while the other has emerged more recently.

More here

31,000 scientists reject 'global warming' agenda

'Mr. Gore's movie has claims no informed expert endorses'

More than 31,000 scientists across the U.S. - including more than 9,000 Ph.D.s in fields such as atmospheric science, climatology, Earth science, environment and dozens of other specialties - have signed a petition rejecting "global warming," the assumption that the human production of greenhouse gases is damaging Earth's climate. "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate," the petition states. "Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth."

The Petition Project actually was launched nearly 10 years ago, when the first few thousand signatures were assembled. Then, between 1999 and 2007, the list of signatures grew gradually without any special effort or campaign. But now, a new effort has been conducted because of an "escalation of the claims of 'consensus,' release of the movie 'An Inconvenient Truth' by Mr. Al Gore, and related events," according to officials with the project.

"Mr. Gore's movie, asserting a 'consensus' and 'settled science' in agreement about human-caused global warming, conveyed the claims about human-caused global warming to ordinary movie goers and to public school children, to whom the film was widely distributed. Unfortunately, Mr. Gore's movie contains many very serious incorrect claims which no informed, honest scientist could endorse," said project spokesman and founder Art Robinson. WND submitted a request to Gore's office for comment but did not get a response.

Robinson said the dire warnings about "global warming" have gone far beyond semantics or scientific discussion now to the point they are actually endangering people. "The campaign to severely ration hydrocarbon energy technology has now been markedly expanded," he said. "In the course of this campaign, many scientifically invalid claims about impending climate emergencies are being made. Simultaneously, proposed political actions to severely reduce hydrocarbon use now threaten the prosperity of Americans and the very existence of hundreds of millions of people in poorer countries," he said. In just the past few weeks, there have been various allegations that both shark attacks and typhoons have been sparked by "global warming."

The late Professor Frederick Seitz, the past president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and winner of the National Medal of Science, wrote in a letter promoting the petition, "The United States is very close to adopting an international agreement that would ration the use of energy and of technologies that depend upon coal, oil, and natural gas and some other organic compounds."

"This treaty is, in our opinion, based upon flawed ideas. Research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful," he wrote.

Accompanying the letter sent to scientists was a 12-page summary and review of research on "global warming," officials said. "The proposed agreement would have very negative effects upon the technology of nations throughout the world, especially those that are currently attempting to lift from poverty and provide opportunities to the over 4 billion people in technologically underdeveloped countries," Seitz wrote.

Robinson said the project targets scientists because, "It is especially important for America to hear from its citizens who have the training necessary to evaluate the relevant data and offer sound advice." He said the "global warming agreement," written in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, and other plans "would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind." "Yet," he said, "the United Nations and other vocal political interests say the U.S. must enact new laws that will sharply reduce domestic energy production and raise energy prices even higher.

"The inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness include the right of access to life-giving and life-enhancing technology. This is especially true of access to the most basic of all technologies: energy. These human rights have been extensively and wrongly abridged," he continued. "During the past two generations in the U.S., a system of high taxation, extensive regulation, and ubiquitous litigation has arisen that prevents the accumulation of sufficient capital and the exercise of sufficient freedom to build and preserve needed modern technology.

"These unfavorable political trends have severely damaged our energy production, where lack of industrial progress has left our country dependent upon foreign sources for 30 percent of the energy required to maintain our current level of prosperity," he said. "Moreover, the transfer of other U.S. industries abroad as a result of these same trends has left U.S. citizens with too few goods and services to trade for the energy that they do not produce. A huge and unsustainable trade deficit and rapidly rising energy prices have been the result.

"The necessary hydrocarbon and nuclear energy production technologies have been available to U.S. engineers for many decades. We can develop these resources without harm to people or the environment. There is absolutely no technical, resource, or environmental reason for the U.S. to be a net importer of energy. The U.S. should, in fact, be a net exporter of energy," he said.

He told WND he believes the issue has nothing to do with energy itself, but everything to do with power, control and money, which the United Nations is seeking. He accused the U.N. of violating human rights in its campaign to ban much energy research, exploration and development. "In order to alleviate the current energy emergency and prevent future emergencies, we need to remove the governmental restrictions that have caused this problem. Fundamental human rights require that U.S. citizens and their industries be free to produce and use the low cost, abundant energy that they need. As the 31,000 signatories of this petition emphasize, environmental science supports this freedom," he said.

The Petition Project website today said there are 31,072 scientists who have signed up, and Robinson said more names continue to come in. In terms of Ph.D. scientists alone, it already has 15 times more scientists than are seriously involved in the U.N.'s campaign to "vilify hydrocarbons," officials told WND. "The very large number of petition signers demonstrates that, if there is a consensus among American scientists, it is in opposition to the human-caused global warming hypothesis rather than in favor of it," the organization noted.

The project was set up by a team of physicists and physical chemists who do research at several American institutions and collects signatures when donations provide the resources to mail out more letters. "In a group of more than 30,000 people, there are many individuals with names similar or identical to other signatories, or to non-signatories - real or fictional. Opponents of the petition project sometimes use this statistical fact in efforts to discredit the project. For examples, Perry Mason and Michael Fox are scientists who have signed the petition - who happen also to have names identical to fictional or real non-scientists," the website said.

The petition is needed, supporters said, simply because Gore and others "have claimed that the 'science is settled' - that an overwhelming 'consensus' of scientists agrees with the hypothesis of human-caused global warming, with only a handful of skeptical scientists in disagreement." The list of scientists includes 9,021 Ph.D.s, 6,961 at the master's level, 2,240 medical doctors and 12,850 carrying a bachelor of science or equivalent academic degree. The Petition Project's website includes both a list of scientists by name as well as a list of scientists by state.


The Hubris of Environmentalists

Not that the greenies have a monopoly on hubris—many humans seem to have the idea that what they have created, or what they value, must be preserved as is for all time. But environmentalists showcase the concept so very well, not only in their actions but in the fact that their most formidable opponent is often nature itself.

The recent Chilean volcanic eruption offers an excellent case in point, as presented in North Face Founder Saves, Fights Nature as Chile Volcano Erupts. Here are the first few paragraphs:
North Face Inc. founder Douglas Tompkins and his wife Kristine have spent $50 million to save Chile's rain forest. Now nature is rebelling: A volcano that has erupted for the first time in 9,000 years is ravaging the reserve they have built.

The Chaiten volcano sits on the southern edge of Pumalin Park, a 300,000-hectare (740,000-acre) site created by the Tompkinses to preserve a swath of Patagonia. Ash and rivers swollen by volcanic mud have damaged land, trees and trails on a third of the park and threaten to obliterate 17 years of work, Kristine Tompkins said.

"It's a mess, a serious mess," she said in a May 13 phone interview from Pumalin's administration center at Puerto Varas, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the volcano. "If it gets worse, it could hammer in a big way the infrastructure we've built, and wipe out forests that'll take thousands of years to return."

Ah, chaos, you are the great leveler of mankind! Of course, the Chilean government has jumped in to the situation as well:
Douglas Tompkins, who says he is a proponent of so-called Deep Ecology, a philosophy that blames technology from laptop computers to nuclear power plants for damaging the environment, has upset local officials and business people by refusing to allow logging, hydroelectric dams and a proposed roadway through his reserve.

President Michelle Bachelet's government announced May 8 it would ban all land purchases in the area hit by the volcano, after local officials said they were concerned that Tompkins would try to take advantage of the eruption to buy out farmers whose livelihood could be wiped out.

The possibility that Tompkins would seek to enlarge his holdings was "an important factor in the decision" to seek a ban, Claudio Alvarado, the opposition Congressional deputy for the area, said in an interview. The aim is to "avoid speculation and people taking advantage of the situation," he said.

Let me get this straight: this “deep ecology” dude preserved some Chilean forest by building “self-guided trails, rustically luxurious cabins and elegant visitors' center”—with a straight face, one must presume. And an ancient volcano’s resurgence may wipe it all out ...

It’s almost enough to convince me there is some kind of god of nature.



Does government funding of scientific research speed technological progress and spur economic growth? It is a truism among academic researchers that federal funding is necessary for fundamental research and that such funding is perpetually inadequate. In his 1945 report to the President, Science: The Endless Frontier, director of the federal Office of Scientific Research and Development Vannevar Bush argued that some areas of science "are likely to be cultivated inadequately if left without more support than will come from private sources." Given the economic and defense challenges faced by the United States after the Second World War, Bush claimed, "[W]e are entering a period when science needs and deserves increased support from public funds."

Bush did explicitly note that technological progress depended upon industry translating scientific discoveries into new therapies, products and services. "Industry will fully rise to the challenge of applying new knowledge to new products. The commercial incentive can be relied upon for that," wrote Bush. The problem, as he saw it, was that the profit motive was not strong enough to induce enough private investment in basic science. Part of the problem is that research results would be available to competitors, so a business could not profit sufficiently from its investment in basic research.

Now comes Terence Kealey to question these commonplaces in Sex, Science and Profits: How People Evolved to Make Money. Kealey is a biochemist and vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, the only independent university in Britain. To some extent, Sex, Science and Profits recapitulates the arguments Kealey made in his 1996 book The Economic Laws of Scientific Research (favorably reviewed in reason in 1997). What is new is that Kealey applies the gimlet eye of evolutionary psychology to his delightful romp through the history of human technological progress.

As human bands of hunter-gatherers improved their hunting technologies and grew in numbers, prey animals and other foods became increasingly scarce. So hunger encouraged the invention of agriculture and domestication of some animals. The New Stone Age saw a burst of technological innovation as people began to specialize and to trade. As goods proliferated and trade expanded, merchants invented writing systems, such as cuneiform and hieroglyphics, to keep track of grain, pots, sheep and goats, beer, spices, and cloth.

Kealey traces the fits and starts of technological progress through stagnant Bronze Age empires like Egypt and Assyria to the technologically innovative small merchant cultures such as the Phoenicians, Philistines, and Lydians that made crucial advances like the alphabet, ironworking, and coins. Technology stagnated under the Romans and surprisingly made headway during the Dark Ages which saw the invention of three-field crop rotation, the heavy plow and the horse collar which lifted food production by more than 40 percent. These inventions arose in areas of northern Europe where farmers sold food to city markets. This meant that they could specialize in growing food and obtain other goods they needed in trade from city dwellers. In the deep countryside where feudalism held sway, crop yields did not markedly improve for centuries. The period also saw the invention of windmills, trousers, butter, barrels, and buttons.

Then came the Renaissance in Italian merchant cities which invented double entry bookkeeping. This advance in accounting enabled enterprises to accumulate debts and credits in their own rights, making them entities separate from any individual. Italians also invented insurance to cover the risks of trading. The first stock exchange opened in Antwerp in 1460. Kealey then takes us to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution which again took off in small trading countries, especially the Netherlands and England. The common thread that he identifies is that technology takes off when individual and property rights are recognized.

Kealey shows in nearly every case the crucial inventions of the past two and half centuries were called forth by markets, not invented by scientists working from ivory towers. These include the steam engine, cotton gin, textile mills, railroad engines, the revolver, the electric motor, telegraph, telephone, incandescent light bulb, radio, the airplane-the list is nearly endless.

The story of the airplane is instructive. After the Spanish-American War, the federal government supplied a grant of $73,000 to the director of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel Pierpont Langley to develop heavier-than-air craft. All six of Langley's prototypes crashed, the last one on October 7, 1903. Two months later, Ohio bicycle mechanics, Orville and Wilbur Wright, launched their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Their R&D budget? About $1,000.

But what about now? Governments are spending more than ever on scientific research. Isn't government-funding of basic research crucial to the development of new technologies? What about the Manhattan Project? Nuclear power? The Apollo moon-landings? The Internet? Kealey isn't claiming that government-funded research achieves no breakthroughs, but he is questioning if those breakthroughs are worth the cost. Surely government R&D funding must be helping to increase economic growth? That is the received wisdom argued centuries ago by Bacon, half a century ago by Bush, and is heard nearly every week at Congressional hearings today.

The issue is complicated, but what evidence is available is damning. In particular, Kealey cites a 2003 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report, The Sources of Economic Growth, which finds "a marked positive effect of business-sector R&D, while the analysis could find no clear-cut relationship between public R&D activities and growth, at least in the short term." This finding mirrored a 2001 OECD working paper which showed that higher spending by industry on R&D correlates well with higher economic growth rates. In contrast to the academic truisms about the need for federal funding, the study found that "business-performed R&D...drives the positive association between total R&D intensity and output growth." The OECD researchers noted that publicly funded defense research crowded out private research, "while civilian public research is neutral with respect to business-performed R&D."

In other words, government funded civilian research didn't appear to hurt the private sector but there was not much evidence that it helped, at least in the short term. The report concluded, "Research and development (R&D) activities undertaken by the business sector seem to have high social returns, while no clear-cut relationship could be established between non-business-oriented R&D activities and growth." Economic growth associated with R&D was linked almost entirely to private sector research funding. The OECD report did allow that perhaps publicly funded research might eventually result in long-term technology spillovers, but that contention was hard to evaluate. The 2003 OECD study also noted, "Taken at face value they suggest publicly-performed R&D crowds out resources that could be alternatively used by the private sector, including private R&D."

A 1995 analysis done by American University economist Walter Parker also finds that government funding crowds out private research. "Once private research is explicitly controlled for, the direct effect of public research is weakly negative, as might be the case if public research has crowding-out effects which adversely affect private output growth," concludes Parker. Weakly negative? Government funding may retard technological progress? Is it possible that the funding for NASA has crowded out private space transport research and development? Or more currently, that private companies are not investing in carbon capture and sequestration research as a way to mitigate man-made global warming because they are waiting for the federal government to fund such research?

There is much more controversy and evidence to savor in Sex, Science and Profits, e.g., his argument that patents should be abolished except for those covering pharmaceuticals and that technological innovation often precedes scientific discovery. Everyone now agrees that centralized planning fails to produce economic progress. Kealey may well be on to something when he argues that centralized planning also fails to produce scientific progress.


Australia's Tim Flannery, the dotty false prophet

Comment by Andrew Bolt

YOU'D think a record of dud predictions would shame Alarmist of the Year Tim Flannery into silence. But, no. It seems this professional fearmonger has learned instead that global warming is a faith that grows on panic, not facts. So, undaunted, Flannery this week amped up the hype to warn that global warming was now so terrifying we may have to change the colour of the sky. As a "last barrier to climate collapse" we might within the next five years have to fire the "gas" sulphur (actually a solid) into the stratosphere to keep out some of the sky's rays.

There are obvious problems with his plan. First, Flannery concedes "the consequences of doing that are unknown". Second, some lousy consequences are known - for a start, sulphur is an element in acid rain. But third, global warming in fact halted in 1998 - a basic point confirmed by almost all measuring bodies but not yet by Flannery.

How Flannery gets away with such flummery has been a mystery to me, but I blame in part our extraordinary groupthink. For instance, while 31,000 scientists were happy this week to sign a petition in the United States denying there was convincing evidence that man's gases caused catastrophic global warming, I can't think of more than a dozen in Australia who'd dare do the same. And I can think of even fewer journalists who'd back them if they did. That's why Flannery is still treated as a hero of the ABC and The Age, despite a string of predictions that should have made him a laughing stock, not 2007 Australian of the Year. Here's a condensed list.

* Three years ago he warned global warming could leave Sydney's dam's dry by 2007. They are two thirds full.

* Perth would be so devastated by drought that it would be a "ghost city" in decades. In fact, the city has just recorded its wettest April on record.

* The ice caps would melt so fast that the seas would lap the roofs of "an eight-storey building". In fact, the United Nations' influential IPCC, itself accused of alarmism, says at worst the seas will rise this century by 59cm.

* Hurricanes would become more frequent. In fact, the long-term trend of hurricanes and cyclones is highly disputed, as is any link to warming.

The hype pushing the global warming scare is the most sustained assault on reason in my lifetime. While Flannery remains a prophet, the rational should tremble, even before he starts firing sulphur into our sky.



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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