Sunday, January 18, 2009

Greenies caused the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River

A flock of Canada Geese (called "large birds" in the media) appears to have brought down the plane by being sucked into its engines. The plague of Canada geese in much of the United States exists because of evironmental protection laws. They would soon make lovely roasts on lots of dining-room tables otherwise. But, obnoxious as the geese are, the power of the Greenie lobby prevents any culling. And Congress has done its best to back up the Greenies by funding "non-lethal" measures to remove the geese. Clearly, those methods did not work

Geese overpopulation is a major health hazard to local residents and the environment. Federal funds will go towards "Geesepeace" program for New York that uses humane methods to stop Canadian geese from ruining parks and fields

US Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that Congress has passed $200,000 in federal funds for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to implement a Geesepeace program that works to alleviate the Canada geese overpopulation problem that threatens the health of local residents and the environment. Geesepeace is a national non-profit organization that uses non-lethal methods to reduce the number of geese and redirect them to areas where they pose less of a threat to people. The funds come as part of the agricultural appropriations component of the Omnibus bill passed today by the Senate and have been earmarked to be used specifically for New York. The bill, previously passed by the House, now awaits the President's signature.

"Canada geese are overrunning our parks and open spaces and their droppings are polluting our water and our land," Schumer said. "When you talk to anyone who uses local parks, playgrounds, open spaces, athletic fields and golf courses, you hear the same complaint, time and time again. That's why we need a solution to this problem and that's what we have with the Geesepeace program. It will control the goose population and keep our parks and open spaces clean, green and beautiful."

This issue came up in 2004 when Geesepeace was trying to save a flock of geese from Riker's Island (in the flight path of Laguardia) rather than have the geese killed:
In this time of trouble in faraway places, the man-versus-fowl struggle brewing on Rikers Island may seem trivial. But its implications are dire for a certain flock. On one side are geese, slender-necked and given to relieving themselves liberally, who like where they are living, a stone's throw away from La Guardia Airport. On the other is a worried band of federal officials who believe the geese are too close to planes carrying millions of passengers in and out of one of the nation's busiest airports.

History teaches that these things hardly ever end well - for the birds at least. Indeed, by the end of the day today, barring a last minute reprieve, 495 Canada geese will be on their way to an upstate slaughterhouse, Port Authority and federal wildlife officials said yesterday.

There's nothing in the New York Times archives between the 2004 slaughter and the crash yesterday, but I think an investigation into what was or wasn't done over the years to control the geese is in order. If environmental concerns overrode passenger safety then that's something that needs to be debated in light of yesterday's miracle.



Well, that's that, then. Has she changed her name to Hillary Bush?

The US Secretary of State-designate, Hillary Clinton, has said countries including India must be made part of any agreement on climate change and announced that the Obama Administration would appoint a Climate Change Envoy for the purpose. "As we move toward Copenhagen and attempt to craft a climate change agreement, all the major nations must be part of it. You know, China, India, Russia, and others, they have to be part of whatever agreement we put forth," Clinton said during the course of her nomination hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. "I think, as I say, this can be both included in but also independently given attention to by emphasizing energy security which I intend to do," she said.

In response to a question from Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton said: "We will have a climate change envoy negotiator, because we want to elevate it and we want to have one person who will lead our international efforts." At the same time, she said that America's credibility leading internationally will depend, in large measure, on what the US is able to accomplish here at home.



Big Coal is on a roll in the nation's capital, winning early rounds this week in what promises to be a long fight over fossil fuels and climate change. Despite a well-funded ad campaign by environmentalists attacking the industry, and a huge coal-ash spill in Tennessee that has led to calls for more regulation, the industry has received positive assurances this week from President-elect Barack Obama's nominees that the new administration is committed to keeping coal a big part of the nation's energy source.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama's choice to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, described coal to a Senate panel as "a vital resource" for the country. A day earlier, Mr. Obama's nominee to run the Energy Department, physicist Steven Chu, referred to coal as a "great natural resource." Two years ago, he called the expansion of coal-fired power plants his "worst nightmare." The comments indicated the new administration is trying to steer toward the center in the debate over the costs associated with curbing fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases they produce.

Environmental groups are ratcheting up attacks on the industry. Last month, a group led by former Vice President Al Gore ran a national TV and print ad campaign lampooning the promise of so-called clean-coal technology and suggesting it would be risky for the U.S. to hold off on regulation of carbon-dioxide emissions until such technology becomes commercially available. Coal-fired power plants account for half of the U.S. electricity supply, and are one of the leading sources of U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said Wednesday he wasn't surprised by the nominees' comments and noted that a 2007 Supreme Court ruling obligated the Obama administration to eventually determine whether greenhouse-gas emissions endanger health or welfare, the legal trigger for regulating them under the federal Clean Air Act.

Addressing the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, Ms. Jackson didn't say Wednesday how quickly her agency would reach that decision, but promised to "immediately revisit" the December 2007 order by current EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson to deny California and other states permission to implement their own controls on automobile greenhouse-gas emissions.

Separately, an influential group of corporations and environmental groups is scheduled Thursday to ask that any federal limit on greenhouse-gas emissions not hit coal-burning power producers too hard. The U.S. Climate Action Partnership plans to ask Congress for mandates that would seek to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions 42% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 80% below 2005 levels by 2050, according to a copy of the group's recommendations reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.



It looks a lot like someone hit the snooze button on North American action to address climate change. The Harper government made an early and enthusiastic pitch for a market-based carbon cap-and-trade scheme -- one day after Barack Obama's presidential win in November. Protection for Alberta's oilsands exports to the U.S. would be a key part of the plan, advanced by Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon and Environment Minister Jim Prentice. We have been speaking about a cap-and-trade system on a North American basis, so (there are) some exciting opportunities," Prentice declared. But there has been no official reaction since then from the Obama administration.

And the Conference Board of Canada warned in a recent briefing paper that the economic crisis is crowding out the environmental one. While the threat of climate change has not disappeared, "potential action has been pushed to the back burner," the Ottawa-based policy group said.

It's hard to argue with that analysis. Obama has been clear about his first order of business. "The economy is badly damaged, it is very sick," he told TV cameras as he carried out discussions on Capitol Hill aimed at getting an economic stimulus package signed into law as a first priority after his Jan. 20 inauguration. The package, which has preoccupied Obama since November, calls for spending $775 billion over two years. It includes $300 billion in tax cuts for individuals and small businesses.

The financial mess in the U.S. is also likely to impede international climate-change talks scheduled for November in Copenhagen. At that meeting, the international community will be charged with developing a post-Kyoto accord, to take effect in January 2013. "It will take a sea change," the conference board said, "to persuade governments to impose serious carbon restrictions or to invest heavily in new technology in the midst of the looming downturn and the clamour for bailouts."

Obama made pledges during his campaign for the presidency to champion tough action on climate change. He has followed through by creating a new post of special assistant on energy and climate change, and naming several climate-change advocates to his cabinet. But the Democratic president-elect derived a lot of his support from labour, and job protection is bound to be his overriding concern during a time of financial uncertainty. Fears about imposing additional costs on U.S. industries that would harm their competitiveness doubtlessly will influence what Obama is able to achieve on the environmental front. The U.S. government may opt to delay legislative action on climate change until 2010, the paper said.

When U.S. politicians do proceed, the Congress -- believed to favour a cap-and-trade program over a carbon tax -- will probably insist on parallel environmental commitments from developing countries such as India and China, to ensure U.S. business is not put at a disadvantage. This would be a welcome development for the Harper government, which at past climate-change conferences has argued that India and China must join the greenhouse-gas reduction effort.

If a North American scheme is to be established, it will be up to Ottawa to take the initiative. The best strategy, the conference board asserted, is for the Canadian government to convince Washington that: - Canada is essential to its energy security needs. Indeed, Canada currently is the largest supplier of oil and gas to the U.S. Carbon emissions from oilsands oil -- when calculated in terms of transportation from the well head to the gas pump -- are as low as Venezuelan and Middle East oil. Canada is committed to investing in clean technologies such as carbon capture and storage.

The conference board suggested a Montreal-based agency that was created as part of NAFTA -- the North American Commission for Environmental Co-operation -- be deployed as a co-ordinating body for a Canada-U.S. climate-change plan. The agency could build on two initiatives already launched by an assortment of states and provinces, the Western Climate Initiative and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. To date, 17 states and five provinces --British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick -- have signed on.



This is a restrained comment but the fact that it comes from the Leftist "Salon" is interesting

While 99 out of 100 economists, it seems, are calling for a big fiscal stimulus, "big fiscal stimulus" makes me nervous. Basic Keynesian macroeconomic theory states that deficit spending can be used to help an economy recover from a downturn. We've been applying deficit spending for the past eight years or so and we are staring at an ugly recession. Deficit spending did not prevent the recession, so it may be that further deficit spending is not the answer.

The Wall Street Journal's economic forecast survey concludes that a big fiscal stimulus will lead to positive economic growth by the third quarter of 2009. But without the fiscal stimulus positive economic growth will be restored by the beginning of 2010. Speeding up the recovery is important in the short run, but there are also long-run risks associated with excessive government spending. At some large debt to gross domestic product ratio, lenders may no longer buy our government bonds and interest rates could spike.

Having said all this, the answer to the "what sort of fiscal stimulus is needed question" seems clear. If government is going to spend a bunch of money, the money should be well spent. Government should pursue spending that leads to the largest difference between benefits and costs (i.e., largest net benefit), where benefits and costs are broadly defined.

If the government projects are ranked in terms of net benefits, whether the ranking is done with explicit monetary values does not really matter at this point, and those projects with the highest net benefits are pursued, then the efficiency of the U.S. economy will be enhanced and we will be in a better long-term economic situation. Creating make-work jobs, digging holes and filling them back in, does little to enhance the long-run prospects of the U.S. economy.

Which brings us to green jobs. The first thing to understand from a microeconomic perspective is that new jobs represent costs to society. Green jobs, therefore, are a metric for the costs of improving the environment. The benefits are the improved health, recreational opportunities, visibility and other metrics that arise from environmental policy. Green jobs are simply the wrong metric for the positive impacts of environmental policy.

Another concern with green jobs is that many of these jobs created by environmental policy will simply replace jobs in other sectors of the economy, leading to little net change in the overall number of jobs. Some sectors of the economy might overcome this inherent trade-off, for example, idle workers hired to weatherize 1 million homes, but these aren't the sort of job sectors that lead to big macroeconomic improvements.

Further, the cost differential between clean renewable energy and dirty nonrenewable energy is large enough that government mandates are necessary to jump-start the demand for renewable energy. Government mandates are the sort of policies that are most expensive and inefficient. The opportunity cost of these green jobs might be high.

There is one place where environmental policy can lead to a net increase in jobs, but this is a long-run proposition and not the sort of right-now-jobs that we would demand from a fiscal stimulus. A cleaner environment improves the health of workers and ecosystems, which increases labor productivity. Increasing labor productivity leads to an increase in the productive capacity of the economy. A healthier economy will, therefore, support more jobs, albeit in the long run.

Mixing the notion of fiscal stimulus with the pursuit of environmental quality is misguided. Both outcomes are likely to fall short of goals. It makes much more sense to pursue fiscal policy without a green jobs constraint and pursue environmental policy without a macroeconomic constraint.


Inclusive science

Because their specialized knowledge confers authority, climate scientists should make every effort to be accurate and complete when communicating to the public about the politically divisive issue of climate change. Unfortunately, there are several points where Alexander Bedritsky's thought-provoking article "Meteorology and the War on Climate Change" (Summer 2008) fails to do this. Bedritsky states that "human activities are altering the climate at an increasingly alarming rate." However, according to data from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the rate of planetary warming that was established in the mid-1970s has been remarkably constant, varying only slightly from 0.17øC per decade.

The 21 computer models used by the IPCC share a common ensemble characteristic: for the midrange emissions scenario they, too, predict a constant rate of warming, not an "increasing" rate. The models simply produce different rates. As a meteorologist, Bedritsky knows that the way to adjudicate between differing forecast models is to literally "look out the window" to see which is performing the best. In the case of climate models, looking at the warming trend that has been established accomplishes the same, and yields a 21st century warming of 1.7øC, which is within, but near the low end, of the entire range of projections made by the IPCC.

Even this may be an overestimation. It is very clear, from both the IPCC data and from satellite measurements, that there has been no net warming since 1998 (which was a record year because of a very strong El Ni¤o warming in the tropical Pacific). Further, as noted by Keenlyside et al. in Nature earlier this year, Atlantic and Pacific temperature patterns indicate that little warming can be expected for several more years. Many of the IPCC's climate models are indeed capable of reproducing El Ni¤o-like temperature excursions, but none-not one-of the models illustrated in the IPCC's 2007 report projects a period of 15 years with no net warming.

Bedritsky's statement about a "marked decline" of global ice cover is also contextually incomplete. Sea-ice in the Northern Hemisphere, mainly in the Arctic Ocean, has declined significantly since systematic measurements began in 1979, but 1979 was at the end of the coldest period in the Arctic since the mid-1920s. While the recent decline is clearly related to warming temperatures, paleoclimatic evidence from northern Eurasia indicates that late summer sea-ice in the Arctic was likely to have been very spotty or non-existent for millennia after the end of the last ice age. Obviously the polar bear and the Inuit survived. Ice extent measured by satellite in the Southern Hemisphere has increased and was at record high levels, adjusted for season, earlier this year.

I think Bedritsky's article would have been more complete, if less alarming, if he had noted these observations about climate history, climate models, and ice. Their omission reminds me of President Eisenhower's fears that a technological elite could acquire inordinate power. In his farewell address,famous for its introduction of the notion of a "military-industrial" complex, Eisenhower went on to say something equally prescient and disturbing, "Holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must always be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become a captive of a scientific-technological elite." This is precisely the danger that accrues when authoritative scientists do not communicate complete information to the public.



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