Sunday, May 25, 2008


Gordon Brown is being urged by ministers to scrap rises in car taxes and petrol duty as he struggles to regain popularity after a humiliating by-election defeat. The Prime Minister faces the gravest crisis of his career after seeing the safe Labour seat of Crewe lost to a resurgent Tory party. Yesterday a backbencher said openly that it was time Mr Brown stood down.

Cabinet colleagues are privately urging him to tackle the issue of motoring costs as a way of helping households struggling with rising fuel, energy and food bills. The new car taxes have proved so unpopular that one Labour MP described them as "a poll tax on wheels". [After a tax that led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher]

Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, is facing more calls to cancel the 2p increase in petrol duty this autumn following a month of record prices at the pump and a recent surge in the price of oil. The Treasury is understood to be considering an about-turn on the plans, which would see hundreds of pounds added to the tax bills of millions of drivers.

On Thursday Mr Brown saw a 7,000 Labour majority in Crewe and Nantwich turned into a majority of just under 8,000 for the Conservatives. David Cameron claimed it was a "remarkable victory" and said the campaign marked the "end of New Labour". If the by-election swing was repeated in the next general election, nine Cabinet ministers including Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, and Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, would lose their seats.

Labour ministers yesterday blamed traditional "mid-term blues" when people are feeling the pinch. But Mr Brown's colleagues are urging him to show that he understands the pain people are feeling by addressing problems that will be caused when the rises take effect. One former minister said: "They should be discussing this in the Treasury. ''It is a grievance that can be addressed and it would do Gordon some good."

A junior minister added: "Every MP is getting it in the neck about the cost of driving and it isn't going to be enough to keep talking about world oil prices. We should be thinking about what we can do to help. "It's going to cost money but we found money for 10p tax so if we have to borrow a bit more for this, so be it." The Labour MP Derek Wyatt, who is defending a majority of only 79 in his Kent seat, called for immediate cuts in fuel duty.

In his first comments since the loss of Crewe in such humiliating fashion, Mr Brown yesterday appeared to indicate that he was prepared to look at helping motorists. He said: "People want us to address what are very real challenges, challenges of rising petrol prices when people go to the petrol station, challenges at the supermarket when people see rising food prices, gas and electricity bills that have gone up as a result of oil prices going up.

"We will address these problems and the message that I think is absolutely clear and unequivocal is that the direction of the Government is to address all these major concerns that people have, and the task that I have is to steer the British economy through these difficult times." Treasury sources said no decisions will be taken on any measures before the Pre-Budget Report in the autumn.

The Daily Telegraph has launched a campaign to get a Fair Deal for Motorists after Budget measures announced in March included a "showroom tax" of up to 950 pounds [$1900] a year for cars emitting high levels of carbon dioxide. It will be introduced in 2010 in the run up to a possible general election. Under other changes motorists will see their road taxes increase. Cars will be divided into 13 groups depending on their CO2 emissions. The move will hit dozens of popular family cars, including models such as the Renault Espace, Vauxhall Zafira and Ford Galaxy, which will see their road tax rise from 210 this year to between 430 and 455 by 2010.

One Labour MP, who is a parliamentary aide to a senior Cabinet minister, said: "There is a real fear among backbenchers that these taxes could be the last straw with petrol already soaring in cost. One MP said to me it will be our very own poll tax but on wheels." After Labour MPs forced through a major policy reversal on the abolition of the 10 pence tax rate, with a 2.7 billion change in income tax allowances, they feel emboldened to press for more concessions. One former minister said: "Middle England is in serious revolt. We have to prove we are listening by announcing now we will shelve the next increase in petrol duty.''

Yesterday Mr Brown's leadership was openly questioned by Labour MPs. Some in the party believe he has just two months to save his premiership. Graham Stringer, the Labour MP for Manchester Blackley, said: "The real debate that goes on within the Labour Party among MPs and party members is 'Is it more damaging for the party to change leader, or to hope that things will get better in the next two years?'

"If the party is to renew itself and get its policies in line with what the people we represent want, then it is the responsibility of senior members of the Cabinet to say we're going in the wrong direction, it's impossible to change the situation that we are in at the moment and to say to Gordon that they intend to stand for election. Without that, we are heading for electoral disaster."

In a day of recriminations, Labour's Compass group disowned the party's by-election literature which accused Edward Timpson, the winning candidate, of opposing ID cards for migrants - ignoring the fact he opposed them for everyone. George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said: "There is a new nasty party in British politics today."



BIBAI, Japan - These rugged green mountains, once home to one of Asia's most productive coal regions, are littered with abandoned mines and decaying towns - backwaters of an economy of bullet trains and hybrid cars. But after decades of seemingly terminal decline, Japan's coal country is stirring again. With energy prices reaching record highs - oil settled above $135 a barrel on Thursday - Japan's high-cost mines are suddenly competitive again, and demand for their coal is booming. Production has jumped to its highest in nearly four decades, creating a sensation rarely felt in these mining communities: hope. "We are seeing a flicker of light after long darkness," said Michio Sakurai, the mayor of Bibai, on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido. "We never imagined coal would actually make a comeback."

Soaring commodity prices have had distorting effects across the global economy, driving up food prices and prompting fears of future energy shortages. But they have been an unanticipated boon to the coal producing regions of countries like Japan that had written off coal mining as a relic of the Industrial Revolution.

In Bibai, once a thriving cultural center that had a ballet troupe and five cinemas showing first-run Hollywood movies in its heyday in the 1950s, the population shrank to 27,800, from 92,000. As mining jobs evaporated, they left behind rows of abandoned clapboard-fronted stores that give some neighborhoods the air of a ghost town.

While Japan's coal industry remains tiny, its revival is an example of how higher commodity prices are driving a search for resources even in some of the world's most urbanized and developed nations.

In recent months, South Korea has experienced calls to create a domestic coal industry in order to reduce dependence on imports. In the United Kingdom, where coal's decline became a symbol of withered industrial might, companies are increasing production and considering reopening at least one closed mine as demand for British coal rises.

"It's now the perfect storm with demand for our coal from South Africa to China and Australia," said Rhidian Davies, president of Energybuild, an operator of mines in South Wales that will increase production at one of its mines tenfold over the next five years.

More here

Sunspot cycles may hold key to global warming/cooling

The 2008 winter was the coldest in 40 years for the upper Midwest, Plains states and most of Canada. Minnesota newspapers report that this year's opening of the locks to Mississippi barge traffic, delayed by three weeks, was the latest since the modern waterway opened in 1940. Eau Claire, where "old-fashioned winters" have been a thing of the past, recorded 43 days of below-zero temperatures, while folks down in Madison shoveled away at a 117-year record snowfall throughout the season, as did many in New England and Canada.

Rare snowfalls struck Buenos Aires, Capetown, and Sydney during their mid-year winter, while China continually battled blizzards. Even Baghdad experienced measurable snowfall. Antarctic pack-ice far exceeded what Captain Cook saw on his 18th century voyage into the Southern Ocean. On the continent itself the miles-thick ice continues to accumulate despite peripheral melting along the Antarctic Peninsula and occasional calving of an ice block.

At the opposite pole, floe-ice once again spans the entire Arctic Ocean, and by April it had extended into the Bering Strait, making up for the much heralded melt-back last summer.

From January 2007 through the end of January 2008, the average global temperature fell by nearly a degree Fahrenheit, based on data obtained by the MET Office in Great Britain and other international temperature monitoring networks.

What are we to make of this? The recent climate conference held in New York City, sponsored by the Heartland Institute, provides some answers. Several hundreds climatologists in attendance dispelled notions that the global warming debate is over. Most attendees, who readily acknowledge the existence of post-Little Ice Age warming, believe man-made emissions are unlikely to cause major climate change and signed a declaration to that effect.

Bill Gray, dean of hurricane forecasters, attributed short-term climate change to slow-moving deep ocean currents that result from variation in the salinity of water sinking near the poles and ultimately welling up again along the coast of South America. These fluctuations account for the comings and goings of the familiar El Nino/La Nina cycles and the longer Pacific Decadal Oscillation that stretches over a large area of the eastern Pacific.

Solar experts highlighted how sunspots, and associated magnetic storms on the Sun's surface, affect Earth's weather and climate. The previous (very strong) 11-year sunspot cycle, associated with the recent warmth, ended in 2007, after having peaked in 2002. The new cycle should have already begun, but hasn't yet.

In the absence of sunspots, solar flares are minimal. Flares eject massive streams of electrons and protons outward from the Sun. A portion of this stream, called the "solar wind", bathes our planet producing the aurora and interfering with communications. The solar wind, as it interacts with Earth's magnetic field, also protects us from the harmful effects of cosmic radiation.

During periods of weak solar activity - as at present - cosmic rays (high-energy protons originating in interstellar space) penetrate through the troposphere and ionize oxygen and nitrogen molecules. The ions become nucleating sites for water vapor that condenses into clouds. And when sunspots are at a minimum, more clouds form and correspondingly more sunlight is reflected back into space. The enhanced reflectance (albedo) cools the Earth.

We all have experienced how quickly the temperature drops when the sun ducks behind a puffy white cloud on a warm, dry afternoon. Past cool periods, identified with the late stages of the "Little Ice Age" and with the Maunder and Dalton climate minima, closely correlate with low sunspot numbers (astronomers have kept close tabs on sunspots since Galileo's time).

Some solar-physicists are now saying if the current cycle doesn't begin to produce spots soon, we can expect a cool-down like the 19th-Century Dalton minimum - or worse. Decades-long cooling in the past brought crop failures to Europe from repeated summer frosts and restricted growing seasons.

With grain shortages already staring us in the face, we'd be advised to begin thinking about a global cool-down instead of a warming that may or may not continue. We might consider ways to transform semi-desert into arable land and to develop seed with shorter maturing cycles suitable for a sub-boreal grain belt. If cooling should begin in earnest, we will quickly forget global warming as we face the new challenges ahead.


Authoritarian Science In London

Tomorrow, May 24, the G-8 environment ministers will be in Japan to commence their annual meeting. Back in London, though, the world's oldest science academy, the Royal Society of London, recently has become a vocal advocate of climate alarmism. RS fellows have included Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

But, under the previous leadership of Lord Robert May, the Society seems to have taken a wrong turn. They even tried to enlist other science academies into joining them in an alarmist manifesto. However, the U.S. National Academy, though sharing some of these views, decided not to sign up, and the Russian Academy of Sciences has taken an opposing position.

In June 2007, the Royal Society published a pamphlet, titled "Climate Change Controversies: a simple guide," designed to undermine the scientific case of climate skeptics. They presented what they called "misleading arguments" on global warming and then tried to shoot them down.

In countering the RS pamphlet, I have prepared a response that is being published tomorrow by the London-based Centre for Policy Studies under the title "Not so simple? A scientific response to the Royal Society's paper."

Throughout, the Royal Society has relied heavily on the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which used to be regarded as a reliable source of scientific information. The RS thus adopts the IPCC claim that current warming is almost certainly anthropogenic (human-caused) but presents no independent evidence to support such a claim.

In its pamphlet, the Royal Society purports to speak on behalf of a consensus of scientists. But no such consensus exists. Direct polling of climate scientists has shown that about 30% are "skeptical" of anthropogenic global warming. More than 31,000 American scientists recently signed the Oregon Petition, which expresses doubt about the major conclusions of the IPCC, and opposes the drastic mitigation demands of the Kyoto Protocol and the proposed "cap-and-trade" legislation of the U.S. Congress.

My response to the RS is based on the work of some two dozen independent climate scientists from 16 nations who contributed to the report of the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change, or NIPCC, titled "Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate." NIPCC corrects many of the errors and misstatements made in the IPCC report, discusses evidence ignored by the IPCC, and cites evidence available since May 2006, the cut-off date for the latest IPCC Report of May 2007.

The science-based arguments for a more rational approach to global warming and climate change can be summarized as follows:

* The Earth's climate always has changed, with cycles of both warming and cooling, long before humans were a factor. The cycle lengths range from decades, to the 1,500-year cycle discovered in Greenland ice cores, to the 17 ice ages that dominated the past 2 million years.

* The NIPCC report presents solid evidence that any man-made global warming to date has been insignificant in comparison with these natural climate cycles. By contrast, the IPCC has no real evidence to support their claim of anthropogenic global warming.

* While recent man-made increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide may, in principle, make some contribution to temperature rise, the linkages assumed in order to predict significant future global warming are not proven.

* Contrary to the computer simulations of climate models, temperatures have not risen over the last decade - despite a continuing rise in CO2 levels.

* Other factors, such as variable solar activity, solar wind, and cosmic rays, all seem to have a more significant impact on the earth's climate.

* Panicky reactions to exaggerated scenarios of global warming are bound to be costly and do great damage to world economic development.

* Adaptation, not mitigation, is a more appropriate response to climate change - particularly for poorer countries.

Fear of global warming is distorting energy policy. Urgent action is needed to secure future energy supplies: the closure of existing coal-powered stations and old nuclear stations over the next 10 to 20 years risks causing a serious energy shortage until new nuclear power can be brought on stream. Yet resistance by anti-fossil fuel protesters already is retarding the development of much needed conventional generating capacity.

The choices that are being made now about the use of resources and the costs imposed on global development will have a huge impact on both current and future prosperity. It is imperative, for the sake of rational policy development worldwide, that the debate on the true nature of global warming and its causes move from being a matter of assertion and exaggerated scaremongering to a more reasoned debate based on the scientific facts.

It is a pity that the Royal Society, rather than facilitate debate, has tried to misrepresent the honest views of those who are skeptical of what has become climate change orthodoxy.


Ethanol Vehicles for Post Office Burn More Gas, Get Fewer Miles

The U.S. Postal Service purchased more than 30,000 ethanol-capable trucks and minivans from 1999 to 2005, making it the biggest American buyer of alternative-fuel vehicles. Gasoline consumption jumped by more than 1.5 million gallons as a result.

The trucks, derived from Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer sport- utility vehicle, had bigger engines than Jeeps from the former Chrysler Corp. they replaced. A Postal Service study found the new vehicles got as much as 29 percent fewer miles to the gallon. Mail carriers used the corn-based fuel in just 1,000 of them because there weren't enough places to buy it. ``You're getting fewer miles per gallon, and it's costing us more,'' Walt O'Tormey, the Postal Service's Washington-based vice president of engineering, said in an interview. The agency may buy electric vehicles instead, he said.

The experience shows how the U.S. push for crop-based fuels, already contributing to the highest rate of food inflation in 17 years, may not be achieving its goal of reducing gasoline consumption. Lawmakers are seeking caps on the use of biofuels after last year's 40 percent jump in world food prices, calling the U.S. policy flawed. ``Using food for fuel has created some unintended consequences: food shortages, the high price of livestock feed,'' said Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. ``I think it's leading a lot of people to wonder whether our corn-based ethanol goals need to be adjusted.''

Lost in the debate over the fuel's contribution to food scarcity is the possibility that the ethanol policy itself isn't working, said David Just, an associate professor of economics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. It may stimulate demand by making gas cheaper, he said, an argument supported by at least two U.S. government studies.

The Postal Service bought the ethanol vehicles to meet alternative-fuel requirements. The vehicles' size and ethanol's lower energy content lowered mileage, the agency said. It takes 1.33 gallons of E85 (85 percent ethanol) and 1.03 gallons of E10 (10 percent ethanol) to travel the same distance as with one gallon of pure gasoline, the Department of Energy says. The Energy Independence and Security Act, passed in December, called for ethanol production to more than double to 15 billion gallons in 2015 from 6.5 billion last year. The U.S. pays oil refiners like Exxon Mobil Corp. 51 cents in tax refunds for each gallon of ethanol they blend into regular gasoline. Automakers get extra credit toward federal fuel-efficiency standards for models that can run on ethanol.

No federal law requires that oil companies make the fuel widely available or that vehicles actually burn it. About 1,560 of 180,000 U.S. gas stations, or fewer than one in 100, sell E85, according to Ford and the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition in Jefferson City, Missouri. E85 accounted for 1 percent of ethanol sold in 2006. The rest was blended into regular gasoline at lower concentrations, the Energy Information Administrationsays. ``Whether it was intended this way or not, the U.S. policy helps gasoline companies,'' said Cornell's Just. He and colleague Harry de Gorter estimated in a February paper that the credit may increase gasoline consumption by 628 million gallons to 156.6 billion gallons by 2015, compared with 155.9 billion without it.

``The findings of these professors are questionable,'' said Matt Hartwig, a spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association, a nonprofit group in Washington representing ethanol producers including Archer Daniels Midland Co. of Decatur, Illinois. The Energy Department's estimates show that ethanol will contribute to a reduction in U.S. petroleum demand in 2008, he said.

A limited number of stations selling ethanol and the scarcity of vehicles burning it diminish the fuel's appeal, according to a June 2007 report by the Government Accountability Office, the research arm of Congress. Three of the 26 ethanol- capable vehicles offered in 2007 were compact or mid-size cars, and the rest were large autos, pickups, SUVs or vans. The big vehicles help automakers meet fuel-economy standards. General Motors Corp.'s ``dual-fuel'' 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe SUV was rated at 33.8 miles per gallon for city-highway driving, while a gasoline-burning model was at 20.5 mpg. A study by three government agencies in March 2002 found that the U.S. would consume 17 million gallons of additional gasoline through 2008 if the flex-fuel vehicles ran on E85 1 percent of the time.

``Not only does this credit do nothing to improve fuel efficiency,'' said Daniel Becker, an environmental lawyer and former head of Sierra Club's global-warming program. ``It's also ensuring that we're going to use more gasoline.''

Federal credits over time will spur more stations to sell ethanol, said Greg Martin, a spokesman for Detroit-based GM. The three largest U.S. carmakers pledged to make half their vehicles capable of using alternative fuels by 2012. ``There is a caveat: providing that the infrastructure and the proper incentives are in place,'' said Jennifer Moore, a spokeswoman for Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford.

As for the Postal Service, the agency delayed a $4 billion investment in as many as 150,000 delivery vehicles until around 2015, O'Tormey said. Until then, it will experiment with Ford Escape hybrid-electric SUVs, an Azure Dynamics Corp. electric vehicle and a GM hydrogen fuel-cell model, to be introduced in Los Angeles in July, he said.



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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