Thursday, June 04, 2009

Tacking non-science on to the end of good science

Below are the last 3 paragraphs of a perfectly good BBC scientific report on the topography of part of the Antarctic continent.

"There's been a lot of climate change over the last 14 million years," Dr Siegert said. "And what we can say about this place in the middle of the Antarctic is that nothing has changed."

But, he warned, if levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide continued to rise, in around 1,000 years they will approach the same levels that existed "before there was persistent ice sheet in Antarctica".

"This puts the ice sheet into the context of global climate and what conditions are needed to grow an ice sheet," explained Dr Siegert. "The worrying thing is that we seem to be going back to carbon dioxide concentrations consistent with there being a lot less ice around."


The author must have known that he was speaking nonsense but no doubt felt obliged to toe the official line or lose his funding. He simply assumes a linear relationship between CO2 and temperature, quite ignoring at least two facts: 1) CO2 levels have been rising sharply in the last 10 years when temperatures have in fact been trending downwards; 2). On some occasions in the geological past, CO2 levels have been 10 times higher than now, and those times were ICE ages! It is sad to see scientists compelled into dishonesty by politics. We condemn how that happened under socialists like Stalin and Hitler but it happens under modern-day Leftist pressure too. We are not far off a Fascist State -- JR

A fine example of Warmist methodology

An email from DuPree Moore [] regarding Warmist enthusiast Andrew Glikson.

Glikson takes a brief intermediate warming trend which occurred at the end of the 20th century, and extrapolates it indefinitely into the future. He claims that the rate of warming is unprecedented. Tipping points and catastrophes are everywhere.

In fact it was an entirely unremarkable intermediate trend, very similar to one which occurred earlier in the 20th century. Those two trends were separated by an intermediate cooling trend of similar magnitude and duration, but opposite sign. So Mr. Glikson's trend merely brought temperature back up to where it was before. It is a statistical tossup whether the hottest temperature of the 20th century occurred during the 1990's or the 1930's.

Glikson ignores the climate record for the period when we have the most reliable data, namely the past 3000 years, including the earlier decades of the 20th century. That record shows several periods when temperature and warming rate were significantly higher than the late 20th century. There were no tipping points, no climate catastrophes of any sort.

Glikson finds that record inconvenient, so he goes back over a million years to find what he alleges to be a similar set of conditions, which of course resulted in catastrophe. During which decades of that ancient time, precisely, does he find this brief correlation? One is reminded of a comment by novelist James Fenimore Cooper that the safest place to set the action of a novel is on the moon, because there is no danger of anyone finding any contrary evidence about conditions there.

Glikson seems not to notice that the intermediate warming trend upon which he stakes his professional reputation as a climate forecaster came to an end about ten years ago. He ignores the data before and after his chosen period. That is not unusual for this debate. Partial data sets are the stock in trade of global warming advocates.

Energy price deceit

Congress tries to hide its cap-and-trade energy price increases

Last month, leading Congressional climateer, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, pushed out a sweeping 1000-page bill that aims to dramatically reshape how Americans will use energy in the 21st century. At the heart of the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act is a cap-and-trade proposal for limiting the emissions of carbon dioxide by American industry and consumers. Carbon dioxide, produced by burning fossil fuels and chopping down forests, is building up in the atmosphere where it is thought be the chief cause of man-made global warming.
The ACES Act would establish an artificial carbon market by setting a limit on the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted each year. Beginning in 2012, a national cap—or total maximum CO2 emissions—would be set and then ratcheted downward annually. Under ACES, the U.S. would emit 17 percent less carbon dioxide in 2020 than it did in 2005, eventually falling to 83 percent less than emitted in 2005 by 2050.

Electric and gas utilities, cement plants, steel foundries, and other companies would be required to have one emissions permit for every ton of CO2 discharged from their smoke stacks. Under a cap-and-trade scheme, emissions permits can be allocated and/or auctioned up to the set cap. Once allocated, the market allows companies emitting less than their quota to sell their excess permits to emitters needing to buy extra to meet their cap. This process sets a price on each ton of carbon dioxide.

The central fact of the cap-and-trade proposal is that it will increase the price of energy. If energy prices don't go up, the goal of getting energy producers, manufacturers, and consumers to shift away from carbon generating fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) toward low-carbon sources of energy (nuclear, solar, wind, conservation) will not be achieved.

Whatever else they are, the folks in Congress are not stupid when comes to protecting their electoral viability. They are painfully aware of the fact that, while Americans express support for regulations to reduce greenhouse gases, 77 percent in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll declared themselves either "very concerned" or "concerned" that "federal regulation of greenhouse gases could substantially raise the price of things you have to pay for."

So in an attempt to ward off voter displeasure over higher energy prices brought about by Congressionally-mandated carbon rationing, the denizens on Capitol Hill have tacked on a number of Rube Goldbergesque policy obfuscations designed the mask the price increases. These include subsidies and tax breaks for retrofitting buildings to use less energy, setting energy conservation appliance standards, subsidies for higher mileage automobiles, and imposing a renewable fuel standard on utility companies, among many other things.

The chief technique that Congress is using to hide the mandated price increase in electricity and natural gas from voters is giving away free emissions permits to local electricity and gas distribution companies. In the ACES bill, some 30 percent of emissions permits are allocated free to local distribution companies who are supposed to sell the permits and then pass along the money to consumers as a lump sum rebate to offset their higher utility bills. Why a lump sum?

As Harvard University environmental economist Robert Stavins explains in his article on "The Wonderful Politics of Cap-and-Trade," the hope is that such rebates will compensate "consumers for increases in electricity prices, but without reducing incentives for energy conservation." Even if they are getting a rebate, higher monthly electric bills will still likely annoy voters. But let's assume that this scheme actually works as intended and blunts household displeasure about paying more for electricity and natural gas.

There's one big problem: The proposal merely shifts the price paid by consumers for energy from local utilities to other products and services. For example, Resources for the Future economists Rich Sweeney and Dallas Burtraw calculate that auctioning all of the carbon emissions permits would result in a price of $20.91 per metric ton. However, allocating 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions permits free to local utilities as proposed under the ACES bill would mean lower electricity prices, and lower prices would mean more consumption. The result is that there would 24 percent fewer emissions reductions in the electricity sector than would have been the case had all permits been auctioned.

The higher emissions in the electricity sector make it harder for other sectors of the economy—automobiles, construction, steel, cement, food processing, retail, agriculture—to stay below the national cap on carbon dioxide emissions. And this pushes up the demand for the remaining permits, which boosts their prices. Sweeney and Burtraw calculate that the requirement for increased emissions reductions in other sectors under a national cap would raise the allowance price to $26.90 per metric ton. The result, according to Sweeney and Burtraw, is that "this raises the costs of goods and services from these sectors."

So this plan to allocate "free" permits could well end up costing consumers even more than they "save" on their household electricity and natural gas bills. Fearing the electoral consequences of honesty, Congress is trying to hide the fact that they are increasing energy prices by distracting the American people with a torrent of rebates, subsidies, and tax incentives, along with plenty of happy talk about renewable energy and creating "green jobs." The result is that Congress has devised a complicated and inefficient scheme where distributing a "free" commodity actually makes products and services more expensive than it would otherwise have to be. That's truly "wonderful politics"!


Reading environmental propaganda to kids...

Comment from a British mother

Oh dear. Both my children have been fans of the Topsy and Tim books - as I was many years before (and yes, Miss Terry is still teaching them, and they are still at school with Andy Anderson and Josie Miller). When we were lucky enough to recently win a book token in a raffle, I said they could both choose a book of their choice. My son chose a brand new Topsy and Tim called Topsy and Tim Go Green. As I said, oh dear.....

"Miss Terry says the world is all messed up with rubbish and fumes and stuff," Tim tells Mummy at the opening of the book, and she suggests recycling as a solution. So far, so-so. But it's the rest of the book which made me groan. Perhaps it's the bit when Dad chooses organic carrots, telling Tim "no nasty chemicals on these" or when Tim points out how cars make the air "all smelly and yucky." Dad of course suggests biking to work from now on. It's strange how he didn't realise the benefits until Tim told him so.

I usually enjoy reading books to my son, but I found this one hard work. To me it was was pure children's propaganda, and while I'm all for recycling and doing our bit, I'm not convinced that children (and their parents) should be so blatantly preached at through the books they read. And this Topsy and Tim book, although one of the worst offenders, is nowhere near the only one.

Publishers have clearly realised that "green" books work. We also have "Peppa Pig Recycling Fun" on our bookshelf, and Dr Seuss's The Lorax (written way back in 1971, and which is in a different class). On a larger level, Simon and Schuster have set up their own Little Green Books imprint. Their aim is to "teach kids to be eco-friendly".

As I said, it's not that I don't want to save the world (would anyone admit that they want to destroy it?). I just don't like being patronised by children's books. I don't mind them having messages, although subtle is better. It was the blatant nature of the Topsy and Tim books which got me (and funnily enough, especially the organic carrots, as many families can't afford to go organic and I found this particularly unhelpful).

I'm convinced there are ways to pop messages into books, even for young children, in a more subtle way. Look at the themes of "being different is okay" in Kevin Henkes Chrysanthemum or to "be happy with what you've got" in A Squash and a Squeeze. Or how about "not to run away from your parents just because you think you're big enough" (!) in Little Rabbit Lost (one of my favourites).

And you know what? I don't think children like to be preached to either. My son hasn't asked for his new Topsy and Tim to be read to him again (now that is a waste of paper) because the story isn't good and nothing really happens. To be honest, he also knows all about recycling - we have a box, he learns about it at nursery etc - so there was nothing new there either. If you're going to write a book with a message, I'd suggest making it clear, but not forgetting about the characters and the story.

Even books which do have an obvious message or point to make can be okay. I was recently sent two stories of Monkey Lou, a new kind of "green" superhero (you can see him above). Although they are picture books, these are probably for slightly older readers, as they are quite wordy, and I have to admit that I first opened them with dread. Well, I was expecting a lot more propaganda.

However, I was pleasantly surprised. The stories do, obviously have an environmental theme, but they aren't too "in your face". They build up the characters first, add in some tension and impart information at the same time - pretty impressive. Even the list of "interesting facts" at the end are, well, interesting. And my son has requested them numerous times already.

So, while I'm not saying these books are perfect, they have realised that it is the story which engages a child - not just issues to beat their parents with! Topsy and Tim, take note.


Australian "Green" bureaucrats victimizing blacks

A $15 MILLION Howard government project to enable Aboriginal people on Cape York to build their own homes has been stalled for more than two years because the Queensland Government is insisting that trees in the vast unpopulated region cannot be cleared. The delay has become so serious that Hopevale's Mayor, Greg McLean, will be without a home in six months because he has to give back the one he is renting to his sister, who is returning to the community from Cairns where she has had to live to receive thrice-weekly dialysis treatment for kidney failure. But with a dialysis machine now being installed at nearby Cooktown hospital, she can return to her home and get her treatment there.

Mr McLean and his wife, Joan, expected the freehold home development project in Hopevale would have proceeded and they would have purchased their own home, but not a blade of grass has been cut on the 200ha block. Howard government indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough gained approval for the development in March 2007 and $15million was provided to cover the infrastructure costs - surveying, roads, sewage, water and electricity, with Indigenous Business Australia as the lead agency handling the proposal and managing the funding.

The Queensland Government ordered an environmental study of the block owned in freehold title by the Hopevale Council, which bought it several decades ago from a cattle grazier whose family had owned it for more than a century. The state Government has told Hopevale that because the block is forest country, it cannot be cleared unless the council provides a similar area of cleared country for revegetation. However, so little of the 110,000ha of land owned under native title by Hopevale people has ever been cleared that there is no such block available - so a bureaucratic green tape deadlock has been reached and no work done.

Hopevale has a severe housing shortage with 1700 residents crammed into 224 homes. No new homes have been built for three years, and because of land tenure disputes with the Government, all the homes must be rented and nobody can buy one and own it.

Mr McLean yesterday said that home ownership by indigenous people should be more than just a dream. "I have this week had to complete a tenancy agreement to try to get a rental home here, but there are none available," Mr McLean said. "My wife and I had the reasonable expectation that this housing estate known as Miller's Block would be developed with the money that Mal Brough got for Hopevale, but that has not happened."

Mr Brough, who is no longer in parliament, yesterday said it was appalling that the project had been allowed to stall through government ineptitude and bureaucratic bungling. "Enabling Aboriginal and Islander people to own their own homes and provide for their families is something that is pivotal to getting rid of welfare dependency and giving them pride and dignity," he said.

"This was a farm for more than 100 years - it is not pristine rainforest. It is unbelievable that government bungling has stalled this project and the money that the Howard government provided is sitting in a bank account somewhere. We have the temerity to demand that indigenous people get their act together, but the fact is, as is shown in this case, it is the Government that cannot get its act together.

"You just cannot keep doing this to people - building them up and then putting artificial barriers in front of them. What does the Government really want from these people? Do they want them to live in sub-standard conditions or are we actually going to do something about it, as distinct from just continuing to talk and wring our hands?"


The Green dream

The “Green Dream” is rapidly devolving into a “Green Nightmare” of zero-results foolishness, corruption, rent-seeking, and political destabilization. Good intentions do not obviate bad results - as physics has this strange habit of always winning. And those bad results are spilling out in all sorts of directions that go far beyond the mere supplying of energy.

Another nation which is frequently held up as a model for “green energy” is Germany; this is particularly notable - since for much of North America northern, foggy Germany is a closer climatic analog than is warm, sunny Spain. So how is that one working out?
The world looks to Germany to be a leader in Green Energy. There’s been a great deal of hype surrounding Chancellor Angela Merkel’s very ambitious goals of dramatically reducing the county’s emissions by 2020. Yet the German experience should also provide some pause to President Obama and others proposing such changes in the United States. It turns out that goals are potentially unrealistic, perhaps even dangerous, for numerous reasons. One reason that makes them so unrealistic is that they are seriously hamstrung by effectively cutting off the single largest source of CO2-free energy available anywhere in the world right now: Nuclear Power.

This reflects how much Germany has been influenced by green politics. In the years of the Socialist-Green government stretching from 1998 – 2005, nuclear power was considered an anathema. The Green party has its roots in the anti-nuclear power movement of the seventies. One of the most important items on their agenda when they came into power was to completely eliminate Germany’s use of nuclear power in the now infamous Atomaustieg or Nuclear exit which mandated that Germany no longer use nuclear power by the year 2020.

Much of that should sound familiar on this side of “the pond” as well. But to clarify a key aspect, in 1998, as a condition of joining a coalition government headed by Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats, the Green Party demanded a concession that Germany would shut down all of its nuclear power plants. This was pure politics, and was simply an attempt to impose an ideology onto reality. There have been numerous consequences, such as:
Ironically Germany remains one of the leading countries when it comes to nuclear technology. Areva, France’s nuclear leviathan has a large R&D facility here in Germany…. The German engineers working here in Erlangen are regularly sent abroad to help with the building and maintenance of nuclear plants throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

I’ve actually dined with German nuclear engineers in Kyiv (Kiev), who shake their heads in amazement that they are spending most of their time these days traveling to nuclear projects in Ukraine and Russia, with nothing to do at home. (Similarly, nuclear engineering Ph.Ds I know who work at the nuclear power R&D center at Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee have long noted that by far the greatest interest in their work comes from…. China and Taiwan.)

But, ultimately, green fantasies can’t keep the lights on. So if you want to de-nuclearize, what happens?
Germany’s desire to reduce greenhouse gases and live without nuclear power has taken some almost absurd turns over the years. For one thing, Germany appears to be turning to its single cheap and abundant supply of energy, albeit a very dirty one, coal. Germany has both some cleaner anthracite and a lot of very dirty bitumen mines. These mines provide an enormous portion of Germany’s electricity….

To meet the country’s electric power needs with nuclear power off the table, Germany is being forced to build more plain old coal-fired power plants. Great, isn’t it?
In addition to wind, the German greens have been trying to believe that solar power is workable. However, as noted above, there is one very significant problem:
The single most absurd aspect of the Green’s [sic] desire to eliminate Germany’s reliance of [sic] nuclear power are massive subsidies that it has provided for both solar and wind power generation. Germany, while not the gloomiest country in Europe, is not exactly sunny. It has huge annual amounts of precipitation and dark, grey winters.

Does that sound familiar? It should to anyone in the more northerly parts of North America - where sunshine is a rather scarce commodity.

But perhaps the most frightening aspect of all goes beyond the silliness and hideous expense of “alternative energy.” The mindless drive for “green energy” is leading to even more disastrous consequences:
Germany has shunned nuclear and coal in an attempt to use wind and solar. Renewable sources are not only much more expensive but also cannot begin to provide the amount of energy at economical rates. Germans are also big fans of natural gas but the problem is Germany has very little of it. Germany has had to import its natural gas, some from fairly reliable partners like the Netherlands and the United Kingdom but mostly from an increasingly assertive and authoritarian Russia.

So rather than promote independence in energy, Germany’s green policies are making it ever more dependent on an autocracy.

This moves the mindlessness of “green energy” beyond the problem of economic waste - to one of dangerous geopolitical consequences. In Germany’s case, the unfulfillable green fantasy is forcing Germany to make up the difference with, among other things, large amounts of imported Russian natural gas. As a consequence, Germany is increasingly becoming “Finlandized” and virtually a client state of Putin’s Russia. Germany is increasingly acting as a sort of Russian interests section inside the EU and NATO (neither of which is Russia a member); as a stunning example, last year Germany used its veto power inside NATO to more-or-less single-handedly block all NATO efforts to even begin the process of opening membership paths for Ukraine and Georgia - two vulnerable post-Soviet states that are frantically trying to build bridges to “the West” as protection against yet another re-absorption into the latest rendition of the Russian empire.

In addition, Germany is planning to join Russia in building a direct (and ecologically-questionable) gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea - to bring Russian natural gas directly to Germany, bypassing Germany’s fellow EU member countries in eastern Europe.

Not surprisingly, these events are (justifiably) setting off alarm bells across eastern Europe - where episodes of Russo-German “cooperation” in the not-too-distant past (such as the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement of 1939) are still remembered. Will Germany be all too happy to bargain-away the “new Europe” eastern countries (and fellow EU members) back into a tacitly-acknowledged status of being inside the “Russian sphere of influence” in exchange for natural gas supplies? Given the German behavior inside NATO with regard to Ukraine and Georgia, that’s an entirely legitimate concern. It’s strange to see how the mindless German drive for “green energy” is leading - via a pigheaded chain of causality - to the political destabilization of central and eastern Europe.

But let’s move on. Germany is an obviously-poor setting for solar energy. In contrast, sunny Australia seems to be a good location. In Australia, there is a plan in place that should sound familiar. Householders are given a large subsidy for the installation of private solar panels - with one of the notions being that when panels are generating electricity not needed by the household, that surplus electricity can be sold back onto the grid. How is this plan working out?
Brisbane environmental lawyer Jo Bragg and her ["]partner["], Gary Kane, spent $28,000 on three roof panels to generate solar power for their home in the inner Brisbane suburb of Highgate Hill. After receiving a federal government rebate of $8000, they hoped to recover their investment in a cleaner planet within a few years by selling excess power into the mains electricity grid. In the three months to April, they used 1384 kilowatt hours and produced 388 kilowatt hours of excess power, for which they received the princely sum of $12.96 after taxes.

Looking at the exchange rate as of last Friday (29 May), the Australian dollar is trading at about $0.78 U.S. So to translate to U.S. dollars, the panels cost about $22,000, the Australian federal government provided a rebate of about $6,200, and in three months of use they received a little more than $10 for the power their system returned to the grid. At that rate, it will take nearly 400 years to recoup the investment (and that has to assume no further maintenance or upgrading costs). Naturally, the response from Ms. Bragg is that more subsidies are required - but let’s not go there.

Of course, one important aspect of solar panels is that they don’t just fall from the sky in whole form. They have to be manufactured; the manufacturing processes involved are very similar to those used in the semiconductor industry. These processes require the presence of a lot of very nasty materials, chemicals, and gases - both as inputs and as outputs; the groundwater contamination problems at the sites of many “original” (1950s/1960s) semiconductor manufacturing facilities are now well-known.

Well, for some reason, the manufacturing infrastructure for solar technology - for both input materials and for panel manufacturing - seems to be migrating (to lamentation from some other jurisdictions) to China. Hmm. Why might that be the case?
The first time Li Gengxuan saw the dump trucks from the nearby factory pull into his village, he couldn’t believe what happened. Stopping between the cornfields and the primary school playground, the workers dumped buckets of bubbling white liquid onto the ground. Then they turned around and drove right back through the gates of their compound without a word. This ritual has been going on almost every day for nine months, Li and other villagers said.

In China, a country buckling with the breakneck pace of its industrial growth, such stories of environmental pollution are not uncommon. But the Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Co., here in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River, stands out for one reason: It’s a green energy company, producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels sold around the world. But the byproduct of polysilicon production — silicon tetrachloride — is a highly toxic substance that poses environmental hazards. “The land where you dump or bury it will be infertile. No grass or trees will grow in the place. . . . It is like dynamite — it is poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it,” said Ren Bingyan, a professor at the School of Material Sciences at Hebei Industrial University.

That’s nasty stuff - with nasty consequences. But once again, we can see the consequences that flow from mindless “green” drives and the subsidies that they require - in this case, horrible environmental contamination in China is being caused by subsidies foisted onto the “problem” and artificially inflating demand. These sorts of chemical byproducts can be dealt with safely - those methods are already known. But they are rather expensive - so, not surprisingly, solar component manufacturing is naturally migrating to jurisdictions that have lax environmental laws and no open political processes for the affected citizens to stop the contamination - a sad reality of what is supposed to be a big step up in environmental care.

So while China is becoming home to the ugly realities of solar component fabrication, and is well-known for its rapid construction of more and more new coal-fired electric power plants, it is also making large efforts to expand its nuclear power capacity:
China’s nuclear power sector will triple in size over the next decade. According to the latest data from the National Energy Administration, China will activate 24 new reactors by 2020. That new capacity should allow the country to more than quadruple the quantity of electricity it generates from fission. With 11 reactors now in place, China has about 9.1 gigawatts of nuclear capacity. Within a decade, that capacity is expected to hit 40 GW, thereby doubling nuclear’s share of the Chinese electric market from 2 percent to 4 percent. The latest units being built are at the Sanmen Nuclear Power Plant in Zhejiang province. The three-phase scheme, with an investment of more than $5.9 billion earmarked for the first phase, will incorporate the application of the third-generation pressurized water reactor technology AP1000 introduced from US-based Westinghouse.

In contrast to the solar component mess described above, China is wisely choosing to import (safe and reliable) nuclear engineering technology from the United States (and, in other projects, from France and Germany). And as I noted above, friends who work in nuclear engineering R&D at Oak Ridge National Lab have long noted that most of the interest in their work comes from China and Taiwan.

But it’s not only China - a similarly-rapid ramping-up of the construction of nuclear power plants is also underway in South Africa:
Eskom appears to be kickstarting its massive nuclear energy plans again. The utility, which halted its nuclear bidding programme for Nuclear-1 in December last year, has now revised its application to the environmental authorities, asking to be allowed to combine authorisations to develop Nuclear-1, Nuclear-2 and Nuclear-3 power stations at all three coastal sites earmarked for the nuclear programme.

The wider world seems to have figured what to do to get the safest, most-reliable electricity at (this is important) the lowest cost. Meanwhile…. we haven’t picked on wind turbines in awhile (or in this essay at all), so let’s stop for a moment and rectify that shortcoming.

They “explode!”

On calm days, they burst into flames!

In that first one, it’s interesting to see one of the turbine blades fly off and scythe down the turbine tower like a blade of grass. But the second one is rather disturbing - since it’s obvious from both the other windmills and from the nearly-vertical rise of the smoke pall that this is happening on a calm day. Are wind turbines a spontaneous fire hazard? I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question to ask (and have answered) - given the “plans” kicking around to put these things all over the heavily forested ridgelines of various mountainous parts of the country.

But in equally serious matters, the “wind bubble” is showing unmistakable signs of bursting. For example:
The UK’s only wind turbine manufact­uring plant is to close, dealing a humili­ating blow to the government’s promise to support low-carbon industries. Vestas, the world’s biggest wind energy group, said today that it would close its Isle of Wight facility, which employs about 700 people and makes blades for wind farms in the US. The group had planned to convert the factory in Newport so it could make blades for the British market, but said this morning that the paralysis gripping the industry meant that orders had ground to a halt. Such low demand could not justify the investment, Ditlev Engel, the chief executive, told the Guardian.

When something requires huge subsidies to be viable, a sharp recession has a way of putting a stop to those subsidies - and wind power just isn’t viable without massive subsidies. This implies that wind power is a racket - basically, a great way of taking taxpayer monies (via subsidies) and directing them into your own pocket. Well, if that’s indeed the racket in question, what kind of “organization” might take an interest in getting in on a few pieces of the action?
Anti-Mafia magistrates in Sicily have opened a sweeping investigation into the wind power sector where local officials, entrepreneurs and crime gangs are suspected of collusion in the construction of lucrative wind farms before their eventual sale to multinational companies. Italian and EU subsidies for the building of wind farms and the world’s highest guaranteed rates, €180 ($240, £160) per kwh, for the electricity they produce have turned southern Italy into a highly attractive market exploited by organised crime.

The creation of jokes (and other related forms of humor) will be left as an exercise for the reader.

But none of this should really be a surprise - when you dump large amounts of “free money” on the floor, various devious characters will appear and find ways to game the system to channel great gobs of that free money into their own pockets.

Another good example of this kind of “gaming-of-the-system” (link is to a .pdf file) is:
…. it has now become apparent that China is creating HFCs [hydrofluorocarbons - ed.] – with 12,000 times the global warming potential of CO2 – for the purpose of being paid to destroy them under Kyoto. This is what such schemes have always created, from the British in India offering bounties for poisonous cobras – which led to mass breeding of the creatures – to the modern-day version of that ploy.

To translate that into street English, various players in China (and apparently in India as well) have looked carefully at various incarnations of payments to polluting countries - in the guise of “greenhouse gas emission reduction payments.” Seeing that the cost of manufacturing the offending substances (in this case, HFCs) is much less than the payments earned for their destruction, these players are cranking up the production of HFCs for the sole purpose of then being paid a very nice “profit” for immediately destroying them. This is probably procedurally correctable - but it tells us (once again - plus ça change and all that) that all attempts to promote inherently-uncompetitive “alternative energies” will - by their very nature - set up systems that can be gamed and exploited by fraudsters.

The games of “Mafia Wind” and HFC creation-and-destruction are obviously feeding some nice returns into certain pockets. But ultimately they are small potatoes; the real big money (and big opportunity for cheating one’s way to undue influence) is provided by various “cap-and-trade” proposals. How do we know that? Well, just from recent experience with another cap-and-trade area:

A woman who traded air pollution credits among Southern California businesses admitted in federal court today that she defrauded a New York investment firm. Anne Masters Sholtz, 40, of Bradbury, pleaded guilty this afternoon to one count of wire fraud, a charge that carries a potential penalty of five years in federal prison. By pleading guilty, Sholtz admitted her involvement in a scheme in which she used forged documents and her knowledge of trading pollution credits to defraud AG Clean Air, a New York-based company that trades in energy credits.

That was four years ago, but the lesson is clear - if you keep a dirty kitchen, you will attract roaches.

Of course, we’re also now finding out that if you hand something like cap-and-trade over to Congress, it quickly transforms itself into cap-and-pork:
On May 15th Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, the Democratic point-men on climate change in the House of Representatives, unveiled a bill that would give away 85% of carbon permits for nothing, with only 15% being auctioned.

Oops! The permits will now be handed out as pork to favored interests - and the Obama budget plans now have a $600 billion hole in them (since the “take” from auctioning permits won’t be there). Leave it to Congressional leftists to take a bad response to a completely non-existent problem - and make things even worse.

But just as important, when one boils away all the fluffy gauze of rhetoric that gets spun around cap-and-trade, one basically finds that it amounts to a crippling energy tax. Not surprisingly, this is equally crippling to economic development and job creation.

A good example is presently unfolding in Louisiana. Nucor is (surprisingly) now the nation’s largest steel producer. Nucor has always been a well-run company, and has been the most visibly-successful of the “new steel” corporations - those who, rather than using large blast furnaces and the rawest of raw materials, use electric arc furnaces and scrap steel as the input. Since they do not face the constraint of requiring easy access to iron ore, coke, and limestone, “mini-mill” operators such as Nucor have a great deal of geographic flexibility in where they choose to locate their facilities.

Early in 2008, Nucor announced that it was going to build a new steel mill - with a total direct investment of $2 billion and the direct creation of 700 jobs. Due to the economic downturn, the construction of that mill is on hold - pending a revival of the demand for steel. Nucor has boiled the site selection down to two locations - Louisiana and Brazil. While they wait, the choice may be forced by any cap-and-trade legislation coming out of Washington:
Global demand for iron/steel will be met one way or another so the Nucor facility or something like it will be built somewhere in the world (by Nucor or someone else)…. If this facility is built in the U.S. by Nucor, it will be the most efficient, most environmentally friendly facility of its kind in the world - a facility utilizing “best available control technology” (BACT) as defined by the U.S. EPA.

Nucor runs a good ship. But there are realities in the world - and not every ship is run as well as is Nucor:
If a facility like this is built in another country [by someone other than Nucor - ed.], it is very likely to have less stringent emission control equipment because environmental standards are lower in Brazil and many other countries versus the U.S. There is a significant risk that adoption of a new industrial greenhouse-gas control policy by the U.S., without similar commitments from other countries, could hurt both our economy and global climate change [sic - ed.] because it could encourage large manufacturing operations to be developed in countries that have lower environmental standards than the U.S.

There are two take-aways from this:

1) If Nucor builds the plant in Brazil rather than Louisiana, they will build it to meet high standards - the only difference is that no jobs will be created in the U.S.

2) If Nucor doesn’t build this plant, other (less-scrupulous) players will meet the demand for steel but do so in a much more environmentally-detrimental way. (This is basically what is happening with the location of polysilicon-for-solar-components manufacturing in remote parts of China.)

That’s what these sorts of “cap-and-trade” schemes boil down to for regular folk - the jobs get exported, and in many circumstances the net environmental impact is even worse. But in any case, this entire problem compresses down to a frightening reality - the constraints are all based on rationality and real constraints…. and these are things that various “green fantasies” not only choose to ignore - they must ignore them to continue in existence.

An example of the level of silly irrationality to which greenism has sunk was recently provided by (of all outfits) Domino Sugar - which recently announced that it was selling carbon-free sugar. I don’t like to put in a non-functional link, but I will on the odd chance that it comes back. That’s the link to the company’s recent announcement, and one can only assume that it was pulled in (deserved) embarrassment after receiving a good deal of (deserved) ridicule - but the vigilant Anthony Watts has preserved a visual record here.

This is, of course, great fun. The basic form of a sugar molecule is C6H12O6, and the combination molecule of “sucrose” (plain old table sugar) is C12H22O11. So “carbon-free sugar” is…. water. So we now have carbon-free sugar - and doubtless carbon-free ethanol cannot be far behind. Apparently, there’s been little progress on carbon-free charcoal - although that one should be rather easy.

Okay, I’ll stop the fun there - and note that the Tiger has a surprising number of obtuse readers who can’t handle a joke. We all know what’s really going on here, but the way it came out is unforgivably silly. I’ll just let Tony Watts provide the non-punchline:
Ok, I’m being a bit extreme, I realize the idea is to promote a carbon neutral production of sugar. But really, couldn’t the marketing people at Domino realize how stupid this claim sounds? I’ll bet the guys at the Domino company labs are having a fit. I’d love to see the emails that went flying when they learned of this one. Beakers were probably flying across the lab too. But some companies will do anything to appear green these days, because they want to keep that “other green footprint” high. Ah, the sweet smell of success.


That’s a lot of turf to cover, and it’s difficult to come up with an appropriate summary. Perhaps the best one that can be offered is to ponder the common thread that seems to run through all of these stories - and of the “green fantasy” in general. The more contact that the various “green dreams” have with reality, the more they appear to be a modern-day form of some sort of “children’s crusade.” Basic aspects of simple physics have to be willfully ignored - and that’s on top of the need to also ignore basic realities of economics, politics, and sociology.

During my travels around the world, I’m frequently invited to lecture to university engineering students. One of the general notions of engineering that I always try to convey is that good engineering - on a day-to-day basis - requires a level-headed understanding of constraints and trade-offs; in particular, it is necessary to understand the trade-offs inherent in any challenge, and to manage those trade-offs to best advantage for the situation at hand. Constraints provide the limits - and serve to demarcate the boundaries beyond which some genuinely new innovation will be required.

“Green energy” requires intentional neglect of both trade-offs and constraints. The present trade-offs are very poor, and the constraints are also a very harsh reality. The most important need would be some fundamentally-different event grounded in physics - comparable to the late-19th century determination that matter could be converted to energy. However, even with that finding, it took another half-century to achieve a viable technology. With nothing new appearing in the realm of fundamental physics, it is very unlikely that some change is actually imminent; it would be foolish to plan on such a miracle occurring at all - let alone to assume that it would also rapidly translate into a viable technology.

For the moment, the entire “green drive” has to rely on the poor use (and profligate waste) of scarce resources - whether those resources are tangible or financial. This profligate waste of resources starves other projects - those of at-least-equal (or higher) value - of needed investments. This will leave everyone poorer in general, the energy challenges unresolved, and other more valuable outcomes stillborn.

“Greenism” requires a childish failure (or unwillingness) to recognize that having a high standard of living (which includes good health) has impacts on the wider world - impacts that cannot simply be wished away, but that must be dealt with via sober handling of the inherent trade-offs.

Hopefully, some adult rationality will soon return to this landscape; we can’t afford the alternative (pun intended) much longer….



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 is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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