Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Half-witted British doctor says climate change is the cholera of our era

See below. He of all people should know that cold (as in winter) kills a lot more people than warmth (as in summer). He should be celebrating warming if it were public health that concerned him. But Professor Sir Muir Gray is obviously an establishment figure who is just doing his best to uphold establishment beliefs. He didn't get a knighthood for rocking the boat

In the 19th century, cholera outbreaks that escaped from the slums to kill rich and poor alike caused the great Victorian revolution in public health. Fear of cholera ensured that vast sums were spent on building sewers and ensuring that everyone had clean water. Climate change is the cholera of our era — fear of the havoc that climate change will wreak should stimulate a new public health revolution. And just as doctors led the Victorian campaign, so the medical profession should be in the vanguard of this new revolution in public health.

The front page of The Lancet of May 16 says it all: “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” This prestigious journal, which usually gives no more than ten pages to vitally important clinical research, made space for a 39-page report.

Climate change will hit the poorest nations hardest, but it will affect us too. In the summer of 2003, la canicule, an unexpected heatwave, killed 14,000 elderly people in France. Rising temperatures will bring that type of problem to our shores. Our health services will be put under pressure by severe weather and floods. But it is the global effects that will hit us, and especially our children and grandchildren, because of the effect that climate change will have on world food and water supplies; millions of climate refugees will disrupt the borders of even an island nation.

Smoking, Aids, swine flu? They all pale into insignificance compared to climate change’s threat to health. That proposition will instantly provoke a hostile reaction from the diminishing band of climate-change sceptics. But as a doctor of 40 years’ standing who has been involved in running public health services for 30 years, I know that the evidence is good enough to make action, not inaction, the sensible choice. An empirical view of the data shows that delay will not just increase the amount of preventable harm, it may take us past a point of no return.

So the medical profession must accept responsibility in the campaign for change. However, with a few notable exceptions, doctors are effectively silent on the health threat that will come to define our age. My fellow doctors cannot just leave this issue to their leaders, to the presidents of the Royal Colleges and to the members of the Climate and Health Council. They should be active in their local communities, where they are known and respected, using their influence to press for national and international action.

Leaders, no matter how great, must have courage and a mandate to act. What is needed, for instance, is for 20 or 30 MPs to collar Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, as he rushes across the lobby and say: “Three [or more] doctors have been to my surgery in the last month warning me about the concern that they and their patients have about climate change — that’s more doctors than have ever come to see me about the NHS or even their pay. They tell me the medical profession is clear what needs to be done.”

“Why do I never get letters from doctors about smoking?” an MP asked me when I was the secretary of Action on Smoking and Health. “Why do I get more letters on animal welfare than human health?” Why indeed. The medical profession is too silent, and sometimes too apathetic. Fortunately, many of today’s medical students and young doctors have fire in their bellies and are taking to the streets demanding action. Their older colleagues should join them and use their influence. Perhaps, they could try some “collar-and-tie” direct action — those doctors who own shares should be at AGMs demanding that companies clean up their environmental acts.

But the medical profession needs to put its own house in order too. I was in a hospital last month that is doubling its electricity supply “to meet demand”, with no thought about the future. Sometimes the NHS is not unlike Dickens’s Mrs Jellyby, keen to reform others while her own children were scalded through neglect.

The NHS is gigantic and has a carbon footprint that is nearly one twentieth of the whole UK’s footprint — 1.3 million staff each with their own footprint, the drugs bought, the buildings, the transport, the water and the food, too much of it thrown away. Now is the time for the profession to mobilise and show the passion that took them into medical school but is then so often extinguished.

In December in Copenhagen, the vital United Nations Climate Change Conference meets. Unfortunately, British MPs are distracted, so the medical profession has a duty to act to make the politicians focus on it.

A recent summit meeting of leading doctors at the British Medical Association unanimously agreed that the need for action is essential. However, battles are not won in headquarters but by the troops on the front line. So I would like to see 90 per cent of doctors making environmentally friendly personal changes; half of doctors signing the Climate and Health Council pledge; and at least one in 20 doctors lobbying their MPs face-to-face. What more appropriate place than a constituency surgery could there be for a doctor to tell his or her MP that the medical profession thinks that urgent treatment is needed?


A Closer Look at Climate Change and the IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is widely regarded in the media as the ultimate authority on climate change. Created by two divisions of the United Nations, and recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, its pronouncements are received as if they come down from Mount Olympus or Mount Sinai. The common presumption is that the IPCC has assembled the best scientific knowledge. Let’s take a closer look at this organization to see whether it merits such uncritical deference.

The IPCC’s Feb. 2007 report stated: It is “very likely” that human activity is causing global warming. Why then, just two months later, did the Vice Chair of the IPCC, Yuri Izrael, write, “the panic over global warming is totally unjustified;” “there is no serious threat to the climate;” and humanity is “hypothetically … more threatened by cold than by global warming?”

IPCC press releases have warned about increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, yet Dr. Vincent Gray, a member of the IPCC’s expert reviewers’ panel asserts, “There is no relationship between warming and [the] level of gases in the atmosphere.”

A 2001 IPCC report presented 245 potential scenarios. The media publicity that followed focused on the most extreme scenario, prompting the report’s lead author, atmospheric scientist Dr. John Christy, to rebuke media sensationalism and affirm, “The world is in much better shape than this doomsday scenario paints … the worst-case scenario [is] not going to happen.”

Clearly, the IPCC does not speak as one voice when leading scientists on its panel contradict its official position. The solution to this apparent riddle lies in the structure of the IPCC itself. What the media report are the policymakers’ summaries, not the far lengthier reports prepared by scientists. The policymakers’ summaries are produced by a committee of 51 government appointees, many of whom are not scientists.

The policymakers’ summaries are presented as the “consensus” of 2,500 scientists who have contributed input to the IPCC’s scientific reports. “Consensus” does NOT mean that all of the scientists endorse the policymakers’ summaries. In fact, some of the 2,500 scientists have resigned in protest against those summaries. Other contributing scientists, such as the individuals quoted above, publicly contradict the assertions of the policymakers’ summaries.

To better understand the “consensus” presented in the policymakers’ summaries, it is helpful to be aware of the structure of the IPCC. Those who compose the summaries are given considerable latitude to modify the scientific reports. Page four of Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work states: “Changes (other than grammatical or minor editorial changes) made after acceptance by the Working Group of the Panel shall be those necessary to ensure consistency with the Summary for Policymakers or the Overview Chapter.” In other words, when there is a discrepancy between what the scientists say and what the authors of the policymakers’ summaries want to say, the latter prevails.

Here is a specific example: One policymakers’ summary omitted several important unequivocal conclusions contained in the scientists’ report, including, “No study to date has positively attributed all or part [of observed climate change] to anthropogenic [i.e., man-made] causes,” and “None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed changes to the specific cause of increases in greenhouse gases.” These significant revisions were made, according to IPCC officials quoted in Nature magazine, “to ensure that it [the report] conformed to a policymakers’ summary.”

Elsewhere, Rule 3 of IPCC procedures states: “Documents should involve both peer review by experts and review by governments.” In practice, IPCC sometimes bypasses scientific peer review, and the policymakers’ summaries reflect only governmental (political) review. This shouldn’t be surprising. After all, the IPCC is a political, not a scientific, entity. It is the “Inter-GOVERNMENTAL Panel on Climate Change,” not a “global SCIENTISTS’ panel.”

Also, “consensus” is a political phenomenon, a compromise, whereas scientific truth is not subject to obtaining a political majority. (Actually, 31,000 scientists have signed a petition protesting the “consensus” that human activity is dangerously altering the Earth’s climate. Consider that against the 2,500 scientists cited by IPCC—many of whom publicly refute IPCC’s press releases.)

To its credit, the IPCC debunks many of the alarmist exaggerations of radical greens. However, its scientific authority remains irreparably compromised by political tampering. When a U.S. State Department official writes to the co-chair of the IPCC that “it is essential that … chapter authors be prevailed upon to modify their text in an appropriate manner,” the political character of IPCC is plain.

The sponsors of the IPCC, the United Nations, and liberal American politicians all share the goal of reducing Americans’ wealth by capping our consumption of energy with a binding international climate change treaty. They are willing to resort to scientific fraud to further their goal. In the words of Al Gore’s ally, former Under-Secretary of State Tim Wirth, “Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing” by reducing Americans’ consumption of fossil fuels. Keep that in mind whenever the IPCC is cited in support of a climate treaty


Windfarms a security threat

The body that monitors UK airspace is seeking a solution to the potentially disastrous problem of commercial and military aircraft disappearing in radar blackout zones caused by wind farms. National Air Traffic Services (Nats) has asked Raytheon, the American defence company, to design the world's first system for allowing radar to see through wind farm interference. The cost of the £5 million project is expected to be picked up by the wind energy industry.

Wind farm turbines create a Doppler effect as they turn, which shows up on radar screens. As the area and number of these wind farms has increased, the number of radar blackout zones has also risen. Aircraft passing through the area can disappear in the blackout and air traffic controllers can lose their exact position. The Royal Air Force is concerned that enemy bombers or other aircraft could hide behind interference from offshore wind farms and approach Britain undetected.

A Nats spokesman said: “We have a duty to safeguard our operations, so in the past we have objected to the development of a number of wind farms that threaten aircraft safety. We need a system that can eliminate this problem.”

Raytheon has been asked to create a software system that will filter out the wind farm noise from other radar signals. This will effectively allow air traffic controllers to see through the wind farms. The company, which is the largest manufacturer of radar systems in the world, hopes to complete the project by the end of next year. Once completed, it will also be deployed in the Netherlands.

Andy Zogg, vice-president of command and control systems at Raytheon, said: “As the number of wind farms grows, there are more and more of these radar black holes. They show up as clutter on the radar screen and the concern is that aircraft approaching from behind the turbines or flying over them cannot be seen.”

Brian Smith, general manager of Raytheon Canada, said: “Our work will be to develop the algorithms that allow us to discriminate between turbines and aircraft. It is called clutter erasure.”

The Government has identified wind power as a key to reducing reliance on carbon dioxide producing energy sources. Europe's largest onshore wind farm opened last week at Whitelee in Scotland. The 140 turbines cover an area of 55 square kilometres and are each 110 metres high. The wind farm will generate enough electricity to power 250,000 homes.


Britain wastes huge sums on windmills while the need for reliable electicity supplies becomes ever more urgent and costly

On a barren hillside outside Glasgow, dozens of wind turbines are spinning in the breeze as Britain's largest onshore wind park starts to generate electricity. With 140 turbines producing enough power to supply tens of thousands of homes, it is among the largest and most vivid symbols of the Government's drive to replace Britain's collection of ageing coal, gas and oil-fired power stations with a cleaner, greener alternative.

But this effort to transform Britain's energy industry, which is being propelled by tough new emissions rules and by the sheer decrepitude of much of the network, does not come cheap and has profound implications for consumers.

The site, at Whitelee on Eaglesham Moor, has cost ScottishPower, its developer, £300 million, but this is a tiny fraction of what will be required to upgrade Britain's power network. According to Ernst & Young, the total cost of doing so and meeting tough targets to cut carbon emissions by 34 per cent by 2020 will be no less than £233.5 billion. Although some of that burden is likely to be shared with power companies, the figure, divided among the UK's 26million households, implies a total bill of up to £8,977 each — or £598 a year for the next 15 years.

Tony Ward, power and utilities partner at Ernst & Young, said that about half of the total, or £112 billion, will need to be spent building new supplies of renewable energy, including vast new offshore wind parks - each many times the size of Whitelee — as well as biomass-fired power stations, tidal and wave-energy projects.

Britain must also renew almost all of its ageing nuclear power plants, which account for about 20 per cent of the country's electricity supply, a project that is expected to add £38.4 billion to the cost. A further £28 billion or so will have to be poured into the grid to build a transmission network capable of supporting new reactors and remote wind parks sited as far north as the Shetlands and in the North Sea. This excludes the cost of building new coal-fired stations equipped with carbon capture and storage technology (CCS), bolstering the UK's gas storage facilities, new gas-fired power plants and a rollout of “smart meters” in every home and business in the country.

Steve Holliday, chief executive of National Grid, whose company will be at the centre of this effort, said: “It's very clear from the renewables and new nuclear stations being planned that there is going to be a need for a substantial increase in investment to build a modern, 21st-century grid.”

He expects National Grid alone to spend up to £5 billion a year from 2012 and he is already drawing up plans for a network of seabed cables feeding renewable electricity from Scotland to consumers in the South, as well as sweeping reinforcements to conventional high-voltage lines that criss-cross the country.

Craig Lowrey, director of markets for EIC, the energy consultancy, said: “These are massive investments — we are talking about potentially the biggest investment programme in Britain's history. But if the Government is serious about meeting its emissions targets, it needs to make people understand the true scale of these costs.”

Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish & Southern Energy, Britain's second-largest utility, takes a similar view: “In the long term, the unit price of energy is going to have to go up significantly. We are going to have to produce energy in a greener and more secure way and that will cost money.”

Ernst & Young's figures might underestimate the total expense because they do not include regular maintenance costs, Mr Marchant said, suggesting that a figure of £300 billion could be closer to the mark. However, he is optimistic that dramatic improvements in energy efficiency could mean that consumer bills will remain stable or even fall in the long term.

The fear is that in Britain's liberalised energy market this tidal wave of required investment simply will not materialise.

Dr Lowrey believes that, under its current structure — which relies on market forces plus consumer-funded incentives designed to boost investment in renewable energy — the scale of investment needed is unlikely either to meet expectations or to be allocated in the way that the Government or society wants. It is a concern that has been compounded in recent months by a collapse in funding that has accompanied the credit crunch and the plunging value of the pound, forcing up the cost of imported power-generating equipment.

The falling prices of oil, coal and gas have also undermined the economic rationale of many investments in more costly, alternative forms of energy. “There is a need for greater intervention to make this investment a reality,” Dr Lowrey said. “We need a guiding hand from government.”


Climate Change Act: Now the world faces its biggest ever bill

One of the mysteries of our time is how impossible it is to interest people in the mind-boggling sums cited by governments all over the world as the cost of the measures they wish to see taken to "stop climate change", observes Christopher Booker.

One measure of the fantasy world now inhabited by our sad MPs was the mindless way that they nodded through, last October, by 463 votes to three, by far the most expensive piece of legislation ever to go through Parliament. This was the Climate Change Act, obliging the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to reduce Britain's "carbon emissions" by 2050 to 20 per cent of what they were in 1990 – a target achievable only by shutting down most of the economy.

Such is the zombie state of our MPs that they agreed to this lunatic measure without the Government giving any idea of what this might cost. Only one, Peter Lilley, raised this question, and it was he who, last month, alerted me to the fact that the minister, Ed Miliband, had at last slipped out a figure on his website (without bothering to tell Parliament). The Government's estimate was £404 billion, or £18 billion a year, or £760 per household every year for four decades.

Such figures, produced by a computer model, are, of course, meaningless. But one of the mysteries of our time is how impossible it is to interest people in the mind-boggling sums cited by governments all over the world as the cost of the measures they wish to see taken to "stop climate change".

Last week I dined with Professor Bob Carter, a distinguished Australian paleoclimatologist, who has been trying to alert politicians in Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand to the scarcely believable cost of these proposals. He gave me a paper he presented to a committee of New Zealand MPs. China and India, as the price of their participating in the UN's planned "Kyoto Two" deal to be agreed in Copenhagen next December, are demanding that developed countries, including Britain, should pay them 1 per cent of their GDP, totalling up to more than $300 billion every year.

Africa is putting in for a further $267 billion a year. South American countries are demanding hundreds of billions more. In the US, the latest costing of President Obama's "cap and trade" Bill is $1.9 trillion, a yearly cost to each US family of $4,500.

Meanwhile, as Mr Obama's Nobel Prize-winning Energy Secretary, Stephen Chu, babbles on the BBC's Today programme about how the world's energy needs can be met by wind and solar power (for which, he assured us, we would need to cover only 5 per cent of the planet's deserts with solar panels), a study shows that for every job created in Spain's "alternative energy industry" since 2000, 2.2 others have been lost. (Mr Obama talks about creating "five million green jobs" in the US.)

Last week the BBC and various newspapers excitably greeted the opening by Alex Salmond of Whitelee, "Europe's largest onshore wind farm", 140 giant 2.3 megawatt turbines covering 30 square miles of moorland south-east of Glasgow. It was happily reported that these would "generate" 322MW of electricity, "enough to power every home in Glasgow". They won't, of course, do anything of the kind. Due to the vagaries of the wind, this colossal enterprise will produce only 80MW on average, a quarter of its capacity and barely enough to keep half Glasgow's lights on.

It really is time people stopped recycling the thoroughly bogus propaganda claims of the wind industry in this way. Any journalist who still falls for these lies by confusing turbines' "capacity" with their actual output is either thoroughly stupid or dishonest. The truth is that the 80MW average output of "Europe's largest wind farm" is only a fraction of that of any conventional power station, at twice the cost. For this derisory amount of power, the hidden subsidy to Whitelee over its 25-year life will, on current figures, be £1 billion, paid by all of us through our electricity bills.

Truly, our world has gone off its head, and no one seems to notice – not least those wretched MPs who allow all this to happen without having the faintest idea what is going on.

On May 15, the Guardian’s famed environmental crusader George Monbiot triumphantly posted on his blog an item headed “How to disprove Christopher Booker in 26 seconds”. This was the time, he claimed, it took him to discover how the figures that I had reported on the melting of Arctic ice were wrong.

Guardian groupies piled in to congratulate him, calling for my editor to sack me. Then one or two suggested he should look again at what I wrote. Three hours later, a disclaimer appeared at the top of his blog: “Whoops – looks like I’ve boobed. Sorry folks”. The Great Moonbat conceded that he had been looking at the wrong figures. Still, it was good of him to admit it – and at least his blog ended up with an impressive 514 comments.



Electric cars have a big role to play in reducing the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but it's going to cost a lot, according to a new report. It could even push automakers into further trouble. For electric and hybrid vehicles to achieve their environmental potential, the world's governments will need to step in with high levels of financial support for consumers and industry, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm. And the cost savings in fuel won't be nearly enough to provide the incentive without that government cash.

Electric vehicles could realistically make up a significant fraction of the world's car market in the foreseeable future, but not nearly a majority, according to BCG. "The costs of creating an automotive market dominated by electric and hybrid cars are prohibitively high," said the report. Under what BCG calls the "most likely" scenario - where oil costs about $150 a barrel and governments enforce existing CO2 regulations - about 11 million hybrid and 3 million electric vehicles will be sold globally in 2020. Even then, they will make up just 28% of those sold in the word's biggest markets.

But even that level of market penetration will require governments in Europe alone to spend about $70 billion in industry support, BCG said. In return, a relatively small amount - about $6 billion - would be saved by switching vehicles from oil-based fuel to electricity. The numbers would be similar for the United States, said Xavier Mosquet, one of the report's authors.

Most of that money would go to help the auto industry engineer and manufacturer the vehicles and to provide cash incentives to offset their high costs to consumers. These investments will require a firm commitment to reducing greenhouse gases, according to the report, regardless of cost.

If cost-effectiveness were the goal, improving the performance of today's internal combustion engines would be the best option. Using technologies like turbocharging and advanced fuel injection to boost engine output would cost between $70 and $140 per car for each percentage point of CO2 reduction, according to the report. A 20% improvement in fuel efficiency would cost about $1,200 per vehicle.

Partly or fully electric cars can achieve much greater efficiency, but at much higher costs. For every percentage point decease in C02, a hybrid or electric car would cost about $140 to $280 more to produce. BCG estimates that a hybrid car today costs about $7,000 more to produce than a similar non-hybrid, but that that cost will come down to about $4,000 by 2020. By that time, with a cost of $130 to $160 per percentage improvement in CO2 emissions, hybrid cars will become an economical solution compared to further development of non-hybrid engines.

Plug-in vehicles of various types - plug-in only, plug-in hybrids and range-extended plug-in vehicles - present greater cost challenges because of they need expensive batteries. BCG estimates that by 2020, when battery costs will have come down, a battery for an electric car with an 80 mile range will still cost about $14,000. While some consumers will pay more for electric cars even if they don't make it up in fuel savings, most won't, the report said. That means government incentives to make up the price difference.



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