Tuesday, June 09, 2009


On March 3, The New York Times Magazine created a major flap in the climate-change community by running a cover story on the theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson that focused largely on his views of human-induced global warming.

Basically, he doesn't buy it. The climate models used to forecast what will happen as we continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere are unreliable, Dyson claims, and so, therefore, are the projections. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, his first since the Times article appeared, Dyson contends that since carbon dioxide is good for plants, a warmer planet could be a very good thing. And if CO2 does get to be a problem, Dyson believes we can just do some genetic engineering to create a new species of super-tree that can suck up the excess.

These sorts of arguments are advanced routinely by climate-change skeptics, and dismissed just as routinely by those who work in the field as clueless at best and deliberately misleading at worst. Dyson is harder to dismiss, though, in part because of his brilliance. He's on the faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study, where as a young physicist he hobnobbed with Albert Einstein. When Julian Schwinger, Sin-Itiro Tomonaga and Richard Feynman shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics for quantum electrodynamics, Dyson was widely acknowledged to be almost equally deserving - but the Nobel Committee only gives out three prizes for a given discovery.

Nevertheless, large numbers of climate modelers and others who actually work on climate change - as Dyson does not - rolled their collective eyes at assertions they consider appallingly ill-informed. In his interview with Yale Environment 360, Dyson also makes numerous assertions of fact - from his claim that warming today is largely confined to the Arctic to his contention that human activities are not primarily responsible for rising global temperatures - that climate scientists say are flat-out wrong.

Many climate scientists were especially distressed that the Times gave his views such prominence. Even worse, when the profile's author, Nicholas Dawidoff, was asked on NPR's "On The Media" whether it mattered if Dyson was right or wrong in his views, Dawidoff answered, "Oh, absolutely not. I don't care what he thinks. I have no investment in what he thinks. I'm just interested in how he thinks and the depth and the singularity of his point of view."

This is, to put it bluntly, bizarre. It matters a great deal whether he's right or wrong, given that his views have been trumpeted in such a prominent forum with essentially no challenge. So I visited Dyson in his Princeton office in May to probe a little deeper into his views on climate change. [...]

e360: Do you mind being thrust in the limelight of talking about this when it is not your main interest. You've suddenly become the poster child for global warming skepticism.

Dyson: Yes, it is definitely a tactical mistake to use somebody like me for that job, because I am so easily shot down. I'd much rather the job would be done by somebody who is young and a real expert. But unfortunately, those people don't come forward.

e360: Are there people who are knowledgeable about this topic who could do the job of pointing out what you see as the flaws?

Dyson: I am sure there are. But I don't know who they are.

I have a lot of friends who think the same way I do. But I am sorry to say that most of them are old, and most of them are not experts. My views are very widely shared.

Anyway, the ideal protagonist I am still looking for. So the answer to your question is, I will do the job if nobody else shows up, but I regard it as a duty rather than as a pleasure.

e360: Because it is important for you that people not take drastic actions about a problem that you are not convinced exists?

Dyson: Yes. And I feel very strongly that China and India getting rich is the most important thing that's going on in the world at present. That's a real revolution, that the center of gravity of the whole population of the world would be middle class, and that's a wonderful thing to happen. It would be a shame if we persuade them to stop that just for the sake of a problem that's not that serious.

And I'm happy every time I see that the Chinese and Indians make a strong statement about going ahead with burning coal. Because that's what it really depends on, is coal. They can't do without coal. We could, but they certainly can't.

So I think it is very important that they should not be under pressure. Luckily they are, in fact, pretty self-confident; (neither) of those countries pays too much attention to us.


UK: Government launches “kitchen bin war”

A Government campaign will see the end of confusing 'best before' labels, reduced packaging, and five new plants to convert waste into energy

An ambitious "War on Waste" campaign to tackle Britain's mountains of food-based rubbish with a range of radical new measures is to be launched tomorrow. The programme will scrap "best before" labels on food [Thus creating a health risk], create new food packaging sizes, build more "on-the-go" recycling points and unveil five flagship anaerobic digestion plants, to harness the power of leftover food and pump energy back into the national grid. The government hopes that its plans will reduce the 100 million tons of waste the country produced last year, which included 20 million tons of food waste and 10.7 million tons of packaging waste.

On Tuesday, Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Environment, will announce plans to dispense with "best before" labels, in an attempt to reduce the estimated 370,000 tons of food that is thrown away despite being perfectly edible. The latest government research into food labelling showed that the British are very cautious when it comes to eating anything that has passed its "best before" date: 53 per cent of consumers never eat fruit or vegetables that has exceeded the date; 56 per cent would not eat bread or cake; and 21 per cent never even "take a risk" with food close to its date.

"One of the things we found in our research is that confusion over date labelling is one of the major reasons for throwing food away. Often people don't realise the difference between 'best before' and 'use by'," said Richard Swannell, director of retail and organics at Wrap, the Government waste watchdog. It is working with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and leading retailers to get rid of the "sell until", "display until" and "best before" tags, which confuse customers, causing them to throw away edible food.

"It is an issue that we want to address, but there has to be a balance, as we have to protect consumer safety," said an FSA spokesman. "Not eating out-of-date food is one of the simplest ways of preventing food poisoning."

Ahead of the launch, Mr Benn said: "It's time for a new war on waste. It's not just about recycling more – and we are making progress there – it's about rethinking the way we use resources in the first place. "We need to make better use of everything we produce, from food to packaging, and the plans I'm setting out over the next few days will help us to achieve that. We all have a part to play, from businesses and retailers to consumers."

The minister added: "Too many of us are putting things in the bin simply because we're not sure, we're confused by the label, or we're just playing safe. This means we're throwing away thousands of tons of food every year completely unnecessarily. I want to improve labels so that when we buy a loaf of bread or a packet of cold meat, we know exactly how long it's safe to eat."

On Tuesday, the Government will also unveil plans for dealing with packaging, including increased glass collection from pubs, clubs and restaurants, a huge expansion of "on-the-go" recycling points for aluminium cans, and new packaging sizes for supermarkets.

In addition to tackling food waste and packaging, the Government will reveal plans to use the waste we do produce as fuel. Tomorrow Mr Benn will announce the location of five new anaerobic digestion plants, built with the help of £10m in state funding. The facilities compost waste in the absence of oxygen, producing a biogas that can be used to generate electricity and heat. Mr Benn said: "We need to rethink the way we deal with waste – to see it as a resource, not a problem."

The UK produces 100 tons of organic waste a year. If processed anaerobically this would produce enough energy to power two million homes, or Birmingham five times over. Anaerobic digestion plants are widely used across Europe, and are already being used by high street retailers such as Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer to tackle their food waste.

Michael Warhurst, senior waste and resources campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "This should be happening across the country, instead of councils still putting money into building incinerators. They are the technology of the past – this is the future."


Svensmark theory to get more testing

The team from the CLOUD experiment - the world's first experiment using a high-energy particle accelerator to study the climate - were on cloud nine after the arrival of their new three-metre diameter cloud chamber. This marks the end of three years' R&D; and design, and the start of preparations for data taking later this year.

The CLOUD team will be able to recreate the conditions of any part of the atmosphere inside the new chamber, from the polar stratosphere to the low level tropics.

The link between cosmic rays and climate change is one that has been hotly debated over the past decade, grabbing the attention of the media. The idea revolves around the possibility that particles entering the atmosphere from space can affect cloud formation, which in turn affects the climate. But despite the controversy surrounding the theory, the central question - 'do cosmic rays help create clouds?' - has barely been tested in a laboratory before.

The CLOUD (Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets) experiment here at CERN will be one of the first experiments in the world directly to test the effect of cosmic rays on cloud formation under controllable laboratory conditions. The experiment's three-metre diameter aerosol/cloud chamber arrived on Wednesday 20 May. This crucial piece of the experiment will be used to recreate carefully various conditions in the atmosphere.



Does the `Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai' slogan still hold value at the climate negotiations? Or could the Sino-India leadership of the G77+China grouping come undone in the lead up to the crucial climate talks at Copenhagen by the end of 2009?

This concern has been nagging a powerful section of the Indian establishment ever since the ball began to roll towards a possible international deal in Copenhagen. But the doubts seem to have been put to rest with China taking a strong and unequivocal stance at the ongoing discussions at Bonn.

At the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations, G77+China makes up a formidable group and the India-China team is seen as the bulwark that holds the disparate team together in the face of diplomatic and economic onslaught from EU and other industrialized nations. Sticking together, the powerful block has been able to neutralize the economic influence of the rich countries with its moral position (`the rich were to blame for climate change not this collective of nations') and some of their own economic muscle flexing.

But in the past year, some senior Indian officials (though not directly involved in climate change negotiations) have been voicing concern and some news in the media from industrialized nations has been indicating that China may be ready to strike out on its own breaking the block. A fear had been expressed in the Indian quarters that a US-China deal on the side could break the G77, and as a consequence leave India to fend for itself.

But China's strong statements at the ongoing Bonn negotiations and its formal submissions just before have left no room for doubt that it is sticking to the demands that G77 nations have collectively made.

The collective has asked that rich nations make commitments to take deep cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions in the short run, that they transfer technology and funds to other countries under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) to help them reduce their emissions in the long run and adapt to inevitable changes that existing levels of emissions will cause.

At Bonn, China has admonished the clutch of industrialized nations for making unreasonable demands at the last moment. Indian officials attending the Bonn meet TOI that China had been more aggressive than usual in pillorying the rich nations for their stance. China has made several interventions during the negotiations demanding that the draft text for the new agreement adhere to the original convention -- which favours the G77 stance. It has demanded the industrialized country's block to "remedy the injustice" of eating more than their fair share of the atmospheric shape by taking a high level of targets for emission reductions in the short run.

While it is anyone's guess how the Copenhagen deal may shape out in the months to come, there is a belief in the opposition camp too that if G77 sticks together it would put immense pressure on US as well as EU to not only take notional emission cuts but also shell out funds that they are loath to do.

Indian delegates talking to TOI said that there was a strong sense at Bonn that with China in particular and G77 in general holding on to their guns, it could bargain for a more balanced agreement in Copenhagen.


Brrrrr. Too cold for ice cream!

The long winter of 2009 continues with unseasonable cold and snow continuing in many parts of the world. Below is a small sampling of articles on the June chill.

Record-low temp recorded in International Falls

Cool has pushed growth of Western Canada's wheat and barley crop at least 10 days behind schedule

Unseasonably-cool weather slows ice cream sales

Frost may force Brazil to cut this year's corn output forecast

It's June...so it must be snowing: Great British summer goes from sweltering to shivering in just a week

'Unusually cold spring continues' -- two more cold records set in N. Dakota

Isn't this June? Snow sticking around on Pikes Peak...'7 foot snowdrifts'

North Dakota city sees first June snowfall in 60 years

'Devastating freeze': Spring frost in Texas killed '99% of our peach crop this year'

Schoolchildren rescued from hiking trip as June snow and cold hits California

Freezes were noted this morning in parts of Montana

Prediction: Northwest Passage won't clear this year

Wyoming: Unseasonably cool temperatures brought a late spring snowstorm and freeze warnings

New record lows were again established in southern Alberta

Below normal temps bring frost damage to Michigan hayfields

Erie, PA: Temperature dips to record low of 40

Winnipeg likely 'to see a record low maximum temperature'

Parts of Canada forecast to get 4 to 8 inches...'set new record lows'

SOURCE (See the original for links)

China cracks the electric car problem

A Chinese firm says its four-seater battery car can cover 250 miles - a claim that appears to be almost feasible. It won't do much for the carbon-phobes though, as the electicity still has to be generated somewhere and battery-construction is very polluting

In the week that General Motors filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, ending a century of global dominance, the centre of gravity of the world’s car industry shifted perceptibly towards China. Here, some of the biggest strides in motor engineering are being made, including one shown to The Sunday Times on an industrial estate in Hangzhou, 90 miles southwest of Shanghai. This is where engineers for New Power have beaten western rivals to achieve what they claim is the first production-ready, all-electric car to offer a range comparable to petrol-powered vehicles.

For years, engineers in Europe, America and Japan have struggled to achieve the perfect balance: a battery that is small and light enough to fit in a family car, yet capable of storing enough energy to keep it going for a practical range between top-ups. The Reva G-Wiz, Britain’s bestselling electric vehicle, has a range of no more than 48 miles between charges; the Smart ED, on trial in the UK, beats it by only 14 miles; and although the electric Mini claims a range of 150 miles, it is only a two-seater (the huge battery taking up the back seat), and BMW has no plans to put it into production.

New Power, by contrast, claims to have developed an electric four-seater with a range of 250 miles and plans to bring it to the UK “within the next couple of years”. Known as the Zhong Tai (the name translates roughly as “peace and safety for the people”), it has lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged in 6-8 hours from a conventional socket, or in two hours from a high-power recharging point. With a top speed of 75mph and an estimated price tag of between £16,300 and £20,500 in Britain, the Zhong Tai could be both practical and affordable enough to make drivers part with their internal combustion engines for good.

The Sunday Times was the first western publication to put New Power’s claims to the test. On first impressions the Zhong Tai looked anything but remarkable. The car’s basic bodywork and chassis are based on a 2006 Daihatsu Terios, a compact 4x4, the licence for which was bought and adapted for Chinese production, originally as a petrol car. The electric version looks identical to a conventional Terios from the outside, with the recharging point where the petrol cap should be and only the absence of an exhaust pipe giving the game away.

The interior feels a little dated but that reflects how much standards of comfort have advanced in the past three years. The dashboard display flashed up speed, distance travelled and the percentage charge left in the batteries — 75% when we first stepped into the car.

At New Power’s spartan headquarters, Mao Zhong, the company’s general manager, outlined how his car could “solve the emissions problems” plaguing both China — where the number of cars is predicted to hit 150m by 2020 — and the rest of the world. On paper, it seems astonishing that such a small operation, with a staff of just 30, should have produced China’s first production-ready all-electric car. But the Zhong Tai has been in development for six years, backed by Zotye, a mainstream car maker, of which New Power is a “green” subsidiary.

Chinese industry has put huge efforts into battery development, a fact that was reinforced last month when Volkswagen said it would be collaborating with BYD, a Chinese manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, to develop its first hybrid vehicles.

Still, New Power’s claims of a 250-mile range were remarkable so we were intrigued to find out how the vehicle would perform. Tipping the scales at 1.2 tons, the Zhong Tai sounds like a cumbersome beast. Its battery alone weighs about 660lb. It is housed under the car, although in the model I tried, a further auxiliary battery took up a good proportion of the boot space.

The claimed acceleration rate is 0-60mph in 12sec and the car is, indeed, quite spritely. When I pressed hard on the accelerator, the car leapt from 18mph-54mph in just 5sec, but then alarms started screeching and the engine had to be restarted. There was another worry. Accidentally touching the battery in the boot resulted in a mighty electric shock, although the company insisted this was a minor fault and rectified it within minutes.

And what of that all-important 250-mile range? Unfortunately, we couldn’t cover that distance in the time available for the test but by keeping an eye on the charge monitor it was possible to get an idea as to the veracity of New Power’s claims. At the start of the test the car had a three-quarters charge; 120 miles of reasonably hard driving later, it was showing a 42% charge. Assuming the power meter was accurate and proportional, the company’s claim is not unfeasible.

On an open road, at an average speed of 60mph, the car’s range drops to about 170 miles, according to New Power. Reduce average speed to 48mph and the company claims an average range of 218 miles. In “city driving with stops and starts”, the company reckons it can reach its maximum range of about 250 miles.

The Chinese government has announced plans to set up a 10 billion yuan (£890m) fund to promote alternative energy and is offering generous grants towards the production of electric vehicles, stating that all car companies should be producing one green vehicle by 2011.

The Zhong Tai is set to go into production next year, eventually building towards annual production of 20,000 vehicles. Wu Aibing, public relations director for New Power, claims the company is “in conversations about co-operation for overseas distribution” in the UK and US.

The company has been in touch with Electric Village, a London-based marketing company specialising in electric vehicles, about promoting the car in Britain. “The new vehicle is game-changing in the rapidly emerging electric car sector,” says Stewart McKee, the chief executive of Electric Village. “Hence we are looking at a distribution and sales strategy for the UK market.”

Even if New Power’s reliability and range claims hold up under further testing, there are still question marks about the car’s potential success, particularly in foreign markets.

Chinese exports, such as the Jiang-ling Landwind, a large petrol-powered SUV, have failed European safety tests. Aside from safety, the Zhong Tai’s retro looks may not appeal to image-conscious westerners.

However, with most mainstream European car manufacturers putting off electric car production until 2011 or later, and current options offering a range of no more than about 50 miles, this car could lead the way to a practical all-electric automotive future.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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