Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Prius a paler shade of green

Hybrid car buyers aren't as concerned about the environment as they would like us to believe, according to the maker of the world's most popular brand. At the launch of the new-generation Toyota Prius in Sydney yesterday, chief engineer Akihiko Otsuka admitted the company had opted for a bigger, more powerful engine because customers had demanded it.

He said the new car, which remains the most fuel-efficient in the country, could have been designed to use less fuel than the 3.9 litres per 100 kilometres it achieves. "With a different approach, we could have done even better. However, customers told us they wanted more performance. In response, we selected a larger engine." The car also has an eco-unfriendly power button that allows drivers to sacrifice economy for better acceleration.

The new Prius is 20 per cent more powerful than its predecessor, but only 10 per cent more fuel efficient. It is almost 40 per cent more powerful than the first-generation Prius launched in 1997. As a result, the Prius is no longer a standout leader in fuel efficiency. The diesel version of BMW's new Mini uses the same amount of fuel while Ford's new Fiesta Econetic model, due out towards the end of the year, will use less. European car makers argue that diesel engines are just as efficient as hybrids.

But Toyota yesterday hit back, claiming diesels were dirtier and produced more carbon dioxide. The new Prius produces just 89 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre compared with the Mini's 104 g/km.

The new Prius has several other tricks up its sleeve, with solar roof panels and plastics made from plants rather than petroleum-based chemicals.



The boys in green are coming as the Environment Agency sets up a squad to police companies generating excessive CO2 emissions.

The agency is creating a unit of about 50 auditors and inspectors, complete with warrant cards and the power to search company premises to enforce the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), which comes into effect next year.

Decked out in green jackets, the enforcers will be able to demand access to company property, view power meters, call up electricity and gas bills and examine carbon-trading records for an estimated 6,000 British businesses. Ed Mitchell, head of business performance and regulation at the Environment Agency, said the squad would help to bring emissions under control. “Climate change and CO2 are the world’s biggest issues right now. The Carbon Reduction Commitment is one of the ways in which Britain is responding.”

The formation of the green police overcomes a psychological hurdle in the battle against climate change. Ministers have long recognised the need to have new categories of taxes and criminal offences for CO2 emissions, but fear a repetition of the fuel tax protests in 2000 when lorry drivers blockaded refineries.

The central unit, based in Warrington, Cheshire, can call on the agency’s national network of hundreds of pollution inspectors, many of whom will soon be trained in CO2 monitoring.

It will also be able to demand energy bills from utilities without the companies under investigation knowing they are being watched.

Perhaps most worrying for managers will be the publication of an annual league table ranking companies by performance in cutting emissions. The government hopes the potential shame of a lowly placing will drive organisations to greater energy efficiency.

Mitchell predicted the unit would audit about 1,200 businesses a year. The first stage would be a desk study of their energy bills and activities, followed by a visit when numbers do not add up. “The inspectors will carry warrant cards giving them powers of entry to collect evidence. We will also have access to company accounts with suppliers,” he said.



Researchers in the U.S. have proposed a new way of allocating responsibility for carbon emissions they say could solve the impasse between developed and developing countries. The Princeton researchers estimated that in 2008 half of the world's emissions came from just 700 million people. The method sets national targets for reducing carbon emissions based on the number of high-income earners in each country, following the theory that people who earn more generate more CO2.

"It's fairer than some other ideas out there in the sense that we attribute responsibility for emission reductions based only on the number of high-emitting people in the country -- if the country has large number of people who are high-emitters then it has more work to do," said Shoibal Chakravarty, a research scholar at Princeton Environmental Institute.

When researchers at Princeton started working on the project two years ago, one of their first aims was to find a reliable way to estimate the average emissions of high-income earners. "There's actually a very strong relationship in every country between emissions and income," Chakravarty told CNN. "By and large for every 10 percent increase in income, the emissions from a certain person go up about six to 10 percent. This is true pretty much everywhere in the world."

Researchers based their estimates on decades of data from national statistics offices and the World Bank.

"What happens is that initially people spend their money mostly on direct use like transportation, air conditioning, heating and cooling and so on," Chakravarty said. "But they also spend a lot of their money on buying goods, and buying stuff. And to make stuff you use energy and you produce emissions."



Four articles below:

Great Barrier Reef will be gone in 20 years, says prophet

This B.S. about disappearing coral has been going on for decades but the reef is still there. The galoot below "forgets" that "coral reefs were exposed throughout their geological history to higher temperatures and CO2 levels than at present and yet have persisted". See here

The Great Barrier Reef will be so degraded by warming waters that it will be unrecognisable within 20 years, an eminent marine scientist has said. Charlie Veron, former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told The Times: “There is no way out, no loopholes. The Great Barrier Reef will be over within 20 years or so.”

Once carbon dioxide had hit the levels predicted for between 2030 and 2060, all coral reefs were doomed to extinction, he said. “They would be the world’s first global ecosystem to collapse. I have the backing of every coral reef scientist, every research organisation. I’ve spoken to them all. This is critical. This is reality.”

Dr Veron’s comments came as the Institute of Zoology, the Royal Society and the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) held a crucial meeting on the future of coral reefs in London yesterday. In a joint statement they warned that by mid-century extinctions of coral reefs around the world would be inevitable.

Warming water causes coral polyps to eject the symbiotic algae that provide them with nutrients. These “bleaching events” were widespread during the El Niño of 1997-98, and localised occurrences are becoming more frequent. (During an El Niño, much of the tropical Pacific becomes unusually warm.) Reefs take decades to recover but by 2030 to 2050, depending on emissions and feedback effects, bleaching will be occurring annually or biannually.

Although surface sea temperatures are rising fastest in tropical regions the other big threat to coral reefs comes from the higher latitudes. The cold water there absorbs atmospheric carbon dioxide more readily than warm water and acidifies more easily. When carbon dioxide concentrations reach between 480 and 500 parts per million warm water is no barrier to acidification, and the pH in equatorial regions will have dropped so far, meaning higher acidity, that coral reef growth becomes impossible anywhere in the ocean. [In fact, ocean acidification is a scientific impossibility. Henry's Law mandates that warming oceans will outgas CO2 to the atmosphere (as the UN's own documents predict it will), making the oceans less acid. Also, more CO2 would increase calcification rates]

“Coral reefs are the most sensitive of marine ecosystems,” said Alex Rogers, scientific director of IPSO. “Increased temperature and decreased pH will have a double-whammy effect. Reefs were safe at CO2 levels of 350 parts per million. We are at 387ppm today. Beyond 450 the fate of corals is sealed.”

In the five mass extinction events in geological history, key was the carbon cycle, in which carbon dioxide is the primary currency. Its concentration in the atmosphere is higher than it has been for 20 million years. In the Permian extinction, as in all the big extinctions, tropical marine life was the hardest hit. Reef-building corals took more than ten million years to return.

The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest and most diverse marine ecosystem, is worth $4.5 billion (£2.8 billion) a year to Australia. Worldwide, reefs are worth $300 billion. “But that is trivial compared with the costs if coral reefs fail,” Dr Veron said. “Then it won’t be a matter of no income, it will be a matter of damage to livelihoods, economies and ecosystems.”

Yesterday’s meeting renewed calls for networks of marine conservation zones to boost the resilience of reefs.


It's getting chilly but still not cool to be a sceptic

Andrew Bolt

NOW that it's so chilly, I can understand why Climate Change Minister Penny Wong wants us to stare at the sea, instead. Better that than have us stare at the latest satellite data showing the world has now cooled down to the average temperature of the past 30 years.

Last month Family First senator Steve Fielding asked Wong a question she could no longer ignore: what proof did she really have that man's gases were heating the world to hell? And what got her attention was Fielding's threat: if she didn't give a good answer, the Rudd Government would not get his crucial vote in the Senate for its plan to slash our emissions with huge new taxes.

Specifically, asked Fielding: "Is it the case that carbon dioxide increased by 5 per cent since 1998 while global temperature cooled over the same period? If so, why did the temperature not increase; and how can human emissions be to blame for dangerous levels of warming?" An excellent question, even if it's more accurate to say the world has cooled since 2001, despite a big increase in the gases we're told will make us fry.

So I thought the media might be interested in Wong's remarkable response a week later, given that she now said we'd all been wrong to fret about the air temperature. You see, "at time-scales of around a decade, natural variability can mask the atmospheric warming trend caused by the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases". Translated, that means, sure, it might be cooling now, which we still refuse to actually confirm, but one day it will warm again, just like we said. Just wait.

And then there was this appeal to start checking the seas instead: "(I)n terms of a single indicator of global warming, change in ocean heat content is most appropriate." So all that ominous talk about hotter temperatures at this city or that town? Just kidding. Meaningless.

Last weekend we could understand better why Wong is no longer keen on data on surface and atmospheric warming. NASA's Aqua satellite - one of the four main measurements of world temperature - found June had dropped back to just .001 degrees above the average for the past 30 years. That means we're back to "normal", even if "normal" now is slightly warmer than the average for last century, during which the planet came out of the Little Ice Age that ended 150 years ago.

Other land and satellite records agree the planet has cooled for most of the past decade, and while it's still too early to say global warming has stopped, rather than just paused, it's not too early to ask why there's less warming than most climate models predicted.

But what of Wong's claim that the true measure of global warming is the sea? Well, even Fielding's scientific advisers agree that's true, even if Wong never mentioned that before. But as world-ranked climate scientist Professor Roger Pielke Sr noted this week, three recent papers confirm that even the oceans seem to have stopped rising and warming since about 2004, or at least have slowed in doing so. "All of these analyses are consistent with no significant heating in the upper ocean and a flattening of sea level rise, and even more clearly, that these climate metrics are not 'progressing faster than was expected a few years ago'," he said.

I know the panic is on. I know almost no politician, other than Fielding, dares publicly confess that the science of global warming is not at all settled. But know this: the data shows less warming than the alarmists claimed, and no warming for several years. It may start warming again soon, but until then a sane person will keep his head -- and his doubts.


Climate change laws to "de-energize" poor Australians

POLITICALLY correct zealots penning new national energy laws have pulled the plug on the word "disconnection". The word is being replaced with the bizarre term "de-energisation". Angry consumer groups have accused the boffins behind the draft of making it easier for power companies to hide harsh treatment of customers struggling to pay their bills.

Consumer Action Law Centre policy director Nicole Rich said the bureaucrats were out of touch and should go back to the drawing board. "This is more than political correctness gone mad," she said. "It's worse, because it could have the effect of keeping the community in the dark about hardship problems by lumping in records of these disconnections with power being cut for maintenance and safety reasons."

The warning comes as households and businesses brace for higher electricity bills because of policies to combat climate change.

A team of state and territory bureaucrats wrote the draft of the National Energy Customer Framework, which notes: "De-energisation of premises means the deactivating or closing of a connection in order to prevent the flow of energy from a distribution system at the supply point".

Ms Rich said there was a distinct difference between power shutdowns for maintenance, or when customers moved house, and supply cuts to those battling with bills. Critics fear the national laws will also strip Victorians of protections such as bans on late payment fees, security deposit restrictions and compensation of $250 a day for wrongful disconnections. But the Herald Sun believes Victoria will not sign the laws unless key consumer protections are retained.

Ms Rich said the number of Victorians disconnected for not paying had dropped to the nation's lowest rate, about 6500 a year, since a renewed focus on repayment plans and hardship policies from 2004. Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson's office said the document was an early draft, and more consultations would be held.


Urban planners are the biggest culprits in keeping grocery prices higher than they need to be

Greenie anti-development and anti-"sprawl" thinking is the major influence on urban planners these days

By Michael Costa

THE decision by Kevin Rudd and Consumer Affairs Minister Craig Emerson to scrap the federal government's ill-conceived Grocery Choice website has to be applauded. Grocery Choice was a political stunt that was inevitably bound to backfire on the government. The real problem with retail price increases is to be found in the archaic anti-market planning laws that deliver significant economic rents to those with the resources to establish monopolies over the limited key retail sites.

While it is appropriate to criticise the government for making its announcement on the day Michael Jackson died, so that it could minimise the political fallout from this significant political backflip, it should not be the main concern with the decision.

Emerson, having worked as an adviser to Bob Hawke, saw first-hand the importance of sensible market reform. Having inherited the portfolio from Chris Bowen, who with no doubt an eye to promotion, appears to have become enamoured with Rudd's anti-market rhetoric, Emerson would have realised the potential political disaster Grocery Choice was. The failure of Grocery Choice will, for political purposes, no doubt be blamed on the major supermarket chains. The reality is that with or without the co-operation of these supermarket chains, this was a ham-fisted way to address retail competition.

Despite the claims of Choice, the self-appointed friend of consumers, there was no chance of the website working properly or gaining broad community participation. The problem for consumers has never been information; it has been a real lack of competitive alternatives at the point of the actual retail spends. If Choice wants to bat on with Grocery Choice it should do it at its own expense, not with taxpayers' funds. A subscription-based service will prove whether there is a real public demand for this sort of information.

The July 2008 Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report into the competitiveness of retail prices for standard groceries concluded that while there was "little doubt that food prices have increased significantly in recent times in Australia", this was due to a number of domestic and international factors. Domestic factors such as the drought and international factors such as an increased global demand for food production resources have led to rising farm input costs such as fuel and fertiliser. On the basis of an examination of these factors and the gross margins of the major retail chains, the ACCC concluded that only "one-twentieth of the increase in food prices over the past five years could be directly attributable to the increase in gross margins" by the dominant duopoly.

This conclusion sits uncomfortably with other observations within the report that seemed to highlight the clear dominance of the majors in key retail sub-categories, such as dry groceries. The ACCC observed "that gross margins have experienced larger increases in categories where Coles and Woolworths have a relatively larger share of national sales". The report further observed that the more efficient of the two majors, Woolworths, has earning margins among the highest of all international grocery retailers. Whatever the degree of economic rent flowing to the majors because of the structure of the industry, it is clearly difficult to determine. Nevertheless there is a problem and a public perception that this is leading to higher grocery prices.

The real danger in the government's decision to walk away from its election commitment is not lack of consumer information but rather that the major underlying problem in retail competition, planning barriers to entry, will not be addressed effectively. Problems here are in jurisdictions normally outside the control of the federal government: state government planning departments and local councils. The ACCC correctly identified that state planning laws which contributed to a lack of suitable sites for new grocery retailers were a significant barrier to entry for competitors to the majors. Its recommendation that competition issues be taken into account when approvals are assessed for new supermarkets is laudatory but politically naive. State planning departments and local councils are structurally incapable of implementing this recommendation.

The issue is both ideological and political. Most state and local government planning agencies have been captured by planning zealots who are hostile to market-driven economic development. These planners believe the market is the fundamental problem in urban land use allocation. Rather than harnessing the power of the market to produce economically sensible land allocation outcomes they try to fit these decisions within the current cookie-cutter ideological fashion. The present fashion in urban planning focuses on what are called centres policies and urban villages. This fashion is dressed up in different language in different areas for local consumption but is essentially the same approach to urban planning and is not unique to Australia.

The policy results in the concentration of major retail activity in central locations and satellite local centres with much more limited retail opportunities. Urban planners don't seem to understand that by mandating that major retailers be concentrated in a limited urban footprint they are creating artificial scarcity, higher prices and monopoly opportunities. Retailers in the urban villages can't compete against the price advantages the large volume retailers have and they are limited in their consumer offerings. Eventually the areas become economically unviable and potentially urban crime zones.

This urban planning ideology creates an uncompetitive environment as new entrants cannot locate in the centres because these prime monopoly positions have already been secured by the major retail operators. The consequence of this type of planning approach as the ACCC noted is that it "significantly impedes the ability of competing supermarkets to access prime locations". This of course leads to higher retail prices for consumers.

There are many examples, as the ACCC acknowledges, where major retail operators, shopping centre providers and major supermarkets have used the planning laws to try to frustrate direct competition. In states such as NSW where local government areas haven't been properly reformed the problem is even greater for retail consumers, due to the greater influence of small community interest groups, who don't even support the restrictive centres policy and seek to eliminate all retail expansion, even within the designated centres.

Until there is a properly functioning competitive market for retail space it is impossible to gauge whether existing retail competition and retail margins are reflective of sound economic factors, or monopolistic rent seeking behaviour. The federal government needs to deal with urban planning and land use as part of its national competition reform agenda. The argument that this is a state and local government issue does not have credibility given the federal government intrusion through its environmental legislation into what were traditionally state and local government issues.

Surely the economy is still as important as the environment.



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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