Sunday, August 24, 2008


By New Zealander Nicholas Sault []. Received via email

Dr George Wilson of the Australian Wildlife Services has told thousands of his Australian farmers they should ditch farming cattle and sheep and start farming kangaroo in a big way (see here). The reason? - yes, you got it, kangaroos don't fart and belch methane like cattle and sheep.

That may be the case, but does this boffin really think that overnight you can ditch 12,000 years of domestication, and replace hundreds of millions of relatively easy-to-manage, relatively docile animals with wild animals? Even though he is a scientist, he is obviously one of those people I encounter often, who really have no comprehension of the scale of things. The reason cattle and sheep farming is so big is because these animals can be mass farmed - farmers have the feed, the fencing and the handling down to a tee. Introduce a new animal out of the bush, and you have to start learning and domesticating from scratch.

A case in point from my own country is deer farming. Deer have been farmed for decades in New Zealand, but venison is still little more than a curiosity, a meal you might have in a posh restaurant on your anniversary. Deer are the most skittish of the cloven hoofed brigade. They are extremely difficult to handle, difficult to keep confined and difficult to move. In most cases, when he wants to move cattle or sheep from one field to another, the farmer simply opens the gate and the animals, tired of their current location, just go walkabouts into their fresh new field.

I have seen deer farmers on their farm bikes chasing their deer around for hours, trying to round them up into a bunch to move them. They don't respond to dogs, and it can be quite laughable to see the lengths farmers go to move them around. Also, I have my own experience with farming exotic animals. Emu became a fad in the 1990s in New Zealand, and I still shudder at the memory of nights when I could hear the tall fences screaming, and the fixings working loose from the fence posts, as the highly excitable birds decided as a mass that they wanted to go walkabouts (or runabouts, actually). Worse than that was going out next morning and finding one of giant birds didn't make it and got tangled in the fence, almost totally de-feathering itself in the process.

Like deer and the equally exotic ostrich, emu never caught on with a people in love with roasts and barbecues. All of these exotic meats are low-fat. That was our marketing strategy - get people to eat red meat that is low in fat. But that low-fat content of the meat means that you need some skill in cooking, and time to stand over it to make sure it is not over-cooked. You can't shove a joint of ostrich in the oven and go watch the Olympics 10,000 meters track race; you have to watch it. Same with the barbecue. Take your eyes off this meat for a minute and you might as well be eating beef jerky for lunch.

In reality, deer farming has only survived in New Zealand because millions of Asian men imagine they can get their sex drives going by consuming ground-up deer antler. Hundreds of emu and ostrich farmers went bust in New Zealand simply because the meat just didn't catch on. It was expensive and difficult to cook correctly. Added to that was the sheer difficulty in farming the critters.

From an economic viewpoint, emu, ostrich and deer are browsers and cannot obtain most of their nutrients from the field, as is the case with cattle and sheep in this part of the world. The supplementary feed is very expensive, requiring a premium on the shelf price of the meat. So when the supermarkets come back to you and say "hey, we put it on the shelves for a month, but it's not selling", you tend to get very dismayed (and poor).

Then there's the slaughter (gosh the list goes on). When you spook skittish animals, they fill their blood streams with adrenaline, which is pumped into the muscle making it extremely hard. The resulting meat is as tough as old boots, literally.

When I farmed cattle, the happy chappies used to waltz onto the truck as if going to pastures new rather than to slaughter. To lessen the stress on emu, we planned to have mobile slaughter trucks, so the birds did not have to travel. The industry failed long before that ever eventuated, but lets get real. If you are going to replace the mass market of cattle and sheep with a relatively wild, unpredictable animal like a kangaroo, you'd need slaughter trucks the size of the Queen Mary to go around to the each of the farms. Well, I think I proved the point here. Boffins, please do not get into the habit of expounding outside your field of expertise.

UK Scientist: Recent weather is 'stark reminder' global warming 'has now stalled'

By UK atmospheric scientist John Kettley, formerly of the Met Office and the Fluid Dynamics Department at the Bracknell headquarters

Atrocious weather has seriously delayed the harvest this year - by now oil seed rape, barley and oats should already have been gathered. The delay could mean either a loss in yield or drop in quality, with a subsequent fall in income for farmers for the second year running.

But this is not a symptom of so-called `global warming'. These conditions are not unique and are more like the poor August weather Britain saw during the Twenties and Sixties. It is more likely a stark reminder that the warming trend we recorded in the last part of the 20th Century has now stalled. Globally, 1998 remains the warmest of the last 150 years.

Of course, we have seen very hot months in the UK recently, but we should be under no illusion about global warming. We are not suddenly about to be catapulted towards a Mediterranean climate. We are surrounded by water, with the vast Atlantic Ocean to our west, while the jet stream and gulf stream will forever influence our daily weather and long-term climate.

So, this year's Sixties-style August has seen bad weather in many places. Northern Ireland suffered particularly from serious flooding last weekend, but it has been the cumulative affect of cool, wet and dull conditions which has really hampered farmers' progress.

For every loser there are always winners. Lerwick in Shetland has largely stayed north of the rain-bearing jet stream and in the past week alone saw almost 40 hours of sunshine. Further south, mainland Scotland was not so blessed, as storms brought 2in (50mm) of heavy rain to many places, including Edinburgh, on Wednesday and Thursday. There will be more rain for the west of Scotland in the next few days, but at long last much of the country can look forward to a change in fortune. Late August should see warm picnic weather - which I think will last through September, in line with recent years.


Forecasting based on climate change is delusional

More realism in the Irish press

THE IDEA seems to be taking hold that climate change will render the Irish weather more predictable and that we'll never see a dry August day again. Anyone who has lived more than a week or two in this country knows that this is delusional.

The Minister for the Environment has been going about the place, a Jeremiah in Wellingtons, shaking his head at the rising flood waters and implying that all this could have been avoided if people had listened to him before. Various meteorologists have been trotted out in the media to explain that this year's August rain is due to precipitation over Newfoundland, itself the consequence of greenhouse gases.

I am momentarily struck by the idea that Newfoundland will in the future acquire a significance in Irish life equivalent to the shadow cast in the past by our nearest neighbour. But experience tells me that, in a month or two, everyone will have stopped talking about Newfoundland, the media having found an expert with an even scarier theory about something else.

The main role of media nowadays is to market scares which cause us to worry for a while and then move on to a different problem. If society is not consumed with fear about being wiped out by some new disease, it is fretting about nuclear Armageddon, a meltdown in house prices or, as in recent weeks, the climate apocalypse.

This process has little about it that one could call rational. Very often, the scare rapidly evaporates without trace, leaving behind a total information vacuum and no sense of closure.

Remember, for instance, Sars, an exotic disease with flu-like symptoms that a few years ago claimed a number of lives, mainly in Hong Kong, and which for several weeks gripped the Irish media and consequently Irish society with a profound morbidity? At one point, reports of a single case in D£n Laoghaire caused people to avoid the town for weeks. And yet, for five years now, there has been no talk of Sars at all. The subject rapidly disappeared from the news pages and bulletins, and most of us have since hardly given it a thought.

Bird flu. It's just a year or two since we went around all a-flutter because the "experts" were telling us to be very afraid. But for many months now there has been no talk at all about bird flu or its dire consequences for western civilisation. The newest references to be found on the internet are more than a year old and there is no sense that the saga has either ended or was understood. Bird flu just sort of went away, but nobody has been fingered for creating a spurious scare.

I'm not suggesting that climate change is a similarly phantom phenomenon. Undoubtedly the trend is real and, for the moment, advancing. But it is noticeable in much media discussion of the subject that, most of the time, only the ideologically committed claim to know what is happening. Green politicians, for example, are enjoying the opportunity for head-shaking and tut-tutting, implying that everything they've ever said must now be re-examined.

The scientists, however, are noticeably more circumspect. An excellent article in the current edition of New Scientist says that the science of forecasting on the basis of climate change is still in its infancy. The equations are so complex and the variables so numerous that the sensible scientists say they just don't know. Yes, the earth is warming. Yes, this will have an effect on future weather patterns. But many aspects of the matter are poorly understood and nobody can say with certainty how things will play out. Natural variability remains a far more powerful factor than anything to do with global changes.

And variability is the middle-name of Irish weather. The Spanish, by and large, can predict tomorrow's weather; we in Ireland can predict that tomorrow's weather will take us by surprise. John Gormley seems to be on safe ground when he predicts that we will have more rainfall in the future, but if I were him I wouldn't put my shirt on it.

Contrary to the current mood, therefore, I confidently predict that, one August, sometime in the next few years, we will be complaining about the heat and praying for rain. This is our fate and our nature. Our weather is so unpredictable that we never seem even to claim ownership of any particular element, in the way the Spanish lay claim to sun or the Eskimos to snow.

Without the variability of our weather patterns, God knows what we would talk about. My 12-year-old daughter often remarks on the way we go about when it is raining, all scrunched up against the drops as though we have never encountered a shower before. Despite what outsiders might conclude about the dampness of our climate, we greet every new rain cloud with shudders of outrage and dismay, as though this is the last thing we expected to happen.

The forecast, therefore, is for the Irish weather to remain predictably unpredictable. It will rain and occasionally stop. Everything else is speculation.


Wind Jammers

Once again, there's no such thing as a happy Greemie. They are just enemies of anything that is rational

In this year's great energy debate, Democrats describe a future when the U.S. finally embraces the anything-but-carbon avant-garde. It turns out, however, that when wind and solar power do start to come on line, they face a familiar obstacle: environmentalists and many Democrats.

To wit, the greens are blocking the very transmission network needed for renewable electricity to move throughout the economy. The best sites for wind and solar energy happen to be in the sticks -- in the desert Southwest where sunlight is most intense for longest, or the plains where the wind blows most often. To exploit this energy, utilities need to build transmission lines to connect their electricity to the places where consumers actually live. In addition to other technical problems, the transmission gap is a big reason wind only provides two-thirds of 1% of electricity generated in the U.S., and solar one-tenth of 1%.

Only last week, Duke Energy and American Electric Power announced a $1 billion joint venture to build a mere 240 miles of transmission line in Indiana necessary to accommodate new wind farms. Yet the utilities don't expect to be able to complete the lines for six long years -- until 2014, at the earliest, because of the time necessary to obtain regulatory approval and rights-of-way, plus the obligatory lawsuits.

In California, hundreds turned out at the end of July to protest a connection between the solar and geothermal fields of the Imperial Valley to Los Angeles and Orange County. The environmental class is likewise lobbying state commissioners to kill a 150-mile link between San Diego and solar panels because it would entail a 20-mile jaunt through Anza-Borrego state park. "It's kind of schizophrenic behavior," Arnold Schwarzenegger said recently. "They say that we want renewable energy, but we don't want you to put it anywhere."

California has a law mandating that utilities generate 20% of their electricity from "clean-tech" by 2010. Some 24 states have adopted a "renewable portfolio standard," while Barack Obama wants to impose a national renewable mandate. But the states, with the exception of Texas, didn't make transmission lines easier to build, though it won't prevent them from penalizing the power companies that fail to meet an impossible goal.

Texas is now the wind capital of America (though wind still generates only 3% of state electricity) because it streamlined the regulatory and legal snarls that block transmission in other states. By contrast, though Pennsylvania's Democratic Governor Ed Rendell adopted wind power as a main political plank, he and Senator Bob Casey are leading a charge to repeal a 2005 law that makes transmission lines slightly easier to build.

Wind power has also become contentious in oh-so-green Oregon, once people realized that transmission lines would cut through forests. Transmissions lines from a wind project on the Nevada-Idaho border are clogged because of possible effects on the greater sage grouse. Similar melodramas are playing out in Arizona, the Dakotas, the Carolinas, Tennessee, West Virginia, northern Maine, upstate New York, and elsewhere.

In other words, the liberal push for alternatives has the look of a huge bait-and-switch. Washington responds to the climate change panic with multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies for supposedly clean tech. But then when those incentives start to have an effect in the real world, the same greens who favor the subsidies say build the turbines or towers somewhere else. The only energy sources they seem to like are the ones we don't have.


'This is going to be catastrophic' - Farmers' Almanac says cold winter ahead

Households worried about the high cost of keeping warm this winter will draw little comfort from the Farmers' Almanac, which predicts below-average temperatures for most of the U.S. "Numb's the word," says the 192-year-old publication, which claims an accuracy rate of 80 to 85 percent for its forecasts that are prepared two years in advance.

The almanac's 2009 edition, which goes on sale Tuesday, says at least two-thirds of the country can expect colder than average temperatures, with only the Far West and Southeast in line for near-normal readings.

"This is going to be catastrophic for millions of people," said almanac editor Peter Geiger, noting that the frigid forecast combined with high prices for heating fuel is sure to compound problems households will face in keeping warm.

The almanac predicts above-normal snowfall for the Great Lakes and Midwest, especially during January and February, and above-normal precipitation for the Southwest in December and for the Southeast in January and February. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions should be getting an unusually wet or snowy February, the almanac said.

The forecasts, which are spelled out in three- and four-day periods for each region, are prepared by the almanac's reclusive prognosticator Caleb Weatherbee, who uses a secret formula based on sunspots, the position of the planets and the tidal action of the moon.

Weatherbee's outlook is borne out by e-mail comments that the almanac has received in recent days from readers who have spotted signs of nature that point to a rough winter, Geiger said. The signs range from an abundance of acorns already on the ground to the frequency of fog in August.

The almanac's winter forecast is at odds with that of the National Weather Service, whose trends-based outlook calls for warmer than normal temperatures over much of the country, including Alaska, said Ed O'Lenic, chief of the operations branch at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

While he wouldn't comment specifically on the almanac's ability to forecast the weather two years from now, O'Lenic said it's generally impossible to come up with accurate forecasts more than a week in advance. "Of course it's possible to prepare a forecast with any lead time you like. Whether or nor that forecast has any accuracy or usable skill is another question," he said.


Climate response must protect jobs: Getting too far ahead on an ETS is bad economic policy

An editorial from "The Australian" about the Australian government's Warmist obsessions:

(Kevin Rudd does look a bit like Tintin)

It is neither desirable nor remotely feasible, Ross Garnaut wrote in his interim report in June, "to seek to lower the climate change risk by substantially slowing the rise in living standards anywhere, least of all in developing countries." As Professor Garnaut noted, Australians would not accept such an approach. This is why the Business Council of Australia's "real world" analysis of the economic consequences of the Rudd Government's proposed emissions trading scheme is so effective and devastating.

It reveals that even with the Government's proposed compensation, three firms of the 14 companies that opened their books to Port Jackson Partners for the analysis would face a carbon cost so high they would close. Four others would be forced to review operations to remain viable after losing between 32 per cent and 63 per cent of pre-tax earnings. Many potential investments would be canned.

The companies, with annual revenues ranging from $90 million to more than $3 billion, are in cement manufacturing, petroleum refining, steel making, sugar milling and zinc and nickel refining. On average, the ETS would reduce their pre-tax earnings by 22 per cent, with the worst-affected suffering a 136 per cent reduction. The ETS will apply to 1000 Australian companies, each producing more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon pollution a year.

The ramifications of the BCA analysis are clear. Giving more compensation to trade-exposed high-emitters to stop them going broke or taking their businesses and jobs off shore would reduce the amount of compensation available to others. But without it, new investment and business growth would be decimated and unless remedied, growth in living standards would be substantially slowed - precisely the scenario Professor Garnaut acknowledged was unacceptable.

The analysis for the electricity generating sector, too, is sobering, warning that a 10 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020 involves a "major risk" to power supply and a lift in retail prices of 25 to 40 per cent.

It is hardly surprising, overall, that the report canvasses the notion that a less ambitious 2020 emissions target may be required. The Australian has argued consistently that a small nation such as Australia, emitting just 1 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases, is powerless alone to change global warming. This is why it would be foolish to jump ahead of the world in cutting emissions and compromising living standards.

At the same time, we need to assure the world of our willingness to co-operate in international efforts. The 2010 start-up of the ETS is one way of doing so. Another would be a broad-based carbon tax levied on fuel producers, sooner rather than later, at a realistic level, while concurrently gearing up for an eventual ETS to start at the same time that the world's largest industrial nations - including the US, China and India - introduce similar schemes.

Former Labor leader Mark Latham, writing in The Australian Financial Review this week, canvassed the benefits of the Government levying a carbon tax on fuel producers. The advantages, Mr Latham said, would be: "It is comprehensive in coverage and immediate in impact, as companies pass on the new costs to consumers." In its paper, the BCA canvassed a fixed carbon price of $10 to $20 a tonne. Some senior figures in the Government agree, at least in private, that this would be a more prudent approach than a more extravagent plan that would be rich in green symbolism but poor for the economy.

Opinions polls, including Newspoll, have showed consistently that a majority of Australians is prepared to pay more for energy, including petrol and electricity, to help curb global warming. Given this sentiment, a carbon tax with as few exemptions as possible would spread the economic impact of cutting emissions as broadly as possible, standing the best chance of protecting jobs and growth.

The BCA report acknowledged as much. A fixed carbon price of $10 to $20 a tonne, it argued, until an effective global agreement was finalised, would avoid the problem of trade exposed intensive industries investment needing to be outside a cap until there is a world scheme. It would also addresses the issue of potentially volatile emission prices.

There is also merit in the BCA's call for a more modest target for reducing emissions by 2020. A goal of a 10 per cent reduction from the 2000 level instead of the 2010 level might be more realistic, or even a target of holding them steady at 2000 levels.

While the ACTU and environmental groups dismissed the BCA concerns, the Rudd Government cannot afford such irresponsibility. The Government cannot go it alone on climate change without business, and it knows it. Wayne Swan has promised close scrutiny of the BCA's case. The Treasurer must also take on board the concerns of the Minerals Council of Australia and the warnings from the natural gas, cement and petrol refining sectors about the potential impact of the ETS. The ETS was the preferred option in the Government's green paper, but it does not preclude alternatives, including a simple, low-level carbon tax and waiting until our major trading partners adopt an ETS. Achieving a sound balance between climate and economic protection has emerged as the Government's big test.



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