Monday, September 07, 2009

Science and the Left

Some excerpts below from a long and leisurely 2008 article by Yuval Levin. He makes good points but he could be more cynical. I would summarize his whole article in one sentence: The Left champion science the way they champion everything: When it suits them -- JR

A casual observer of American politics in recent years could be forgiven for imagining that the legitimacy of scientific inquiry and empirical knowledge are under assault by the right, and that the left has mounted a heroic defense. Science is constantly on the lips of Democratic politicians and liberal activists, and is generally treated by them as a vulnerable and precious inheritance being pillaged by Neanderthals.

"For six and a half years under President Bush," Senator Hillary Clinton told an audience in October 2007, "it has been open season on open inquiry." Senator Edward Kennedy, in an April 2007 speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, bemoaned the many ways in which "the truth is taking a beating" under conservative influence in Washington. One popular recent book on the subject is entitled The Republican War on Science; another, by former vice president and Nobel laureate Al Gore, is called The Assault on Reason.

But beneath these grave accusations, it turns out, are some remarkably flimsy grievances, most of which seem to amount to political disputes about policy questions in which science plays a role. Ethical disagreements over the destruction of embryos for research are described instead as a conflict between science and ignorant theology. Differing judgments about the proper role of government in sex education in schools are painted as a quarrel between objective public health and medieval prudishness. A dispute about the prudential wisdom of a variety of energy policy alternatives is depicted as a clash of simple scientific facts against willful ignorance and greed.

The American right has no desire to declare a war on science, and nothing it has done in recent years could reasonably suggest otherwise. The left's quixotic defensive campaign against an imaginary enemy therefore has little to tell us about American conservatives-who, of course, do have a complex relationship with science, though it is not the one the left seeks to describe. But if this notion of a "war on science" tells us little about the right, it does tell us something important about the American left and its self-understanding. That liberals take attacks against their own political preferences to be attacks against science helps us see the degree to which they identify themselves-their ideals, their means, their ends, their cause, and their culture-with the modern scientific enterprise.

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson seemed to speak for many when, in a speech in the course of his ill-fated campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, he called upon Democrats to make theirs "the party of science and technology." This is a more positive (not to say less paranoid) way of expressing the deep connection between science-understood both as a way of knowing and a means to doing-and the agenda of liberalism and progressivism.

Power and Progress

The great original appeal of the scientific enterprise was its potential to empower man over nature. Francis Bacon set out the conquest of nature as his aim. Rene Descartes sought to make human beings "masters and possessors of nature." And the scientific community they helped to found has since continued to pursue these twin objectives: expanding human power and conquering nature.

But for the modern left, each of these key aims of modern science has grown deeply problematic. To begin with, over the past century the left has come to take a rather complicated view of power. It has become highly suspicious of certain kinds of power: the power of nations, of corporations, of the rich over the poor, of man over nature (or as it has been renamed, to make it passive, "the environment").

Much of this change took place in course of the twentieth century-a time of previously unimaginable inhumanity and villainy. Shaken by examples of power run amok, and by exposure to and interaction with postmodernism (with its excessive and blinding obsession with power), many on the left became opponents of power as such, in ways that earlier progressives had decidedly not been. This is evident in the ethic of the environmental movement, in progressive views of foreign policy and economics, and in the general tenor of the left.

But this suspicion of power seems not to have made much headway in the left's views about the two most powerful institutions of the age: the state and science. This is easier to explain when it comes to the state, which American liberals and progressives have taken to be the essential institution of social solidarity, political expression, material improvement, and justice. The ideology of the left is centered upon a proper employment of the power of the state, and so the left is naturally disinclined to turn against the use of such power.

But blindness to the power of science is a more perplexing quandary, and one not yet seriously faced by the left. Science (as the true postmodernists know) is the foremost font of modern power, and the underlying source of almost all the expressions and incarnations of power the left does find troubling: industrial power, corporate power, military power, imperial power, and especially human power over the natural world.

Indeed, it is in the arena of environmentalism, more than anywhere else, that this blind spot of the party of science is most pronounced. There, the left's problem with power and the left's problem with conquering nature become one -- yet the role science plays in making both possible has never come front and center.

The Conquest of Nature

In the past three decades, environmentalism has become a fully integrated component of the worldview of the American left, the party of science. But the perspective of environmentalism could hardly be more different than that of modern science on the questions of nature, power, progress, and man.

Modern science is grounded in a particular view of nature, both material and moral. The natural world, thought the fathers of science, is matter in motion; it is best understood by being pulled apart into its constituent forces and pieces, and experimented upon under duress. "The nature of things betrays itself more readily under the vexations of art than in its natural freedom," Bacon argued, because nature is not a whole but a sum of parts, and is not moved by a purpose, but driven by discrete causes alone.

Nature, moreover, is the chief constraint on human power and human comfort, and the extension of the empire of man over nature is a noble and necessary goal. For too long, they thought, human beings had been subject to the whims of nature and chance, but by coming to know the workings of nature, we could master it, both removing natural obstacles and constructing artificial advantages for ourselves. "Nature, to be commanded," Bacon wrote, "must be obeyed," so the purpose of the new natural science was to learn nature's ways so as to overcome them.

This desire for knowledge of and power over nature was not power-hunger, it was humanitarianism. Nature, cold and cruel, oppresses man at every turn, and bold human action is needed in response. Science arose to meet that need.

If you had to devise a complete opposite to this scientific view of nature, a mirror image in essentially every respect, you would probably end up with roughly the notion of nature that gives shape to the modern environmentalist ethic. Nature in this view is, to begin with, a complete and ordered system, to be understood in whole and not in part. "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe," wrote John Muir, a founder of modern environmentalism.

Far from conquering and manipulating nature for his benefit, moreover, man must be careful and humble enough to tread gently upon it, and respect the integrity (and even the beauty) of its wholeness. We are to stand in awe before nature, and never to overestimate our ability to overcome it or underestimate our ability to harm it (and with it ourselves). "We have forgotten how to be good guests, how to walk lightly on the earth as its other creatures do," wrote the great British environmentalist Barbara Ward in her 1972 book Only One Earth.

Taken to the extreme, this approach turns the scientific view of nature on its head, and looks at man as an oppressor of the natural world instead of the other way around. The title of one popular recent book, for instance, imagines the peace and beauty of The World Without Us. "How would the rest of nature respond if it were suddenly relieved of the relentless pressures we heap on it and our fellow organisms?" the author asks. How soon would, or could, the climate return to where it was before we fired up all our engines? How long would it take to recover lost ground and restore Eden to the way it must have gleamed and smelled the day before Adam, or Homo habilis, appeared? Could nature ever obliterate all our traces?

Not all environmentalism indulges in such anti-humanism, to be sure. But in all of its forms, the environmentalist ethic calls for a science of beholding nature, not of mastering it. Far from viewing nature as the oppressor, this new vision sees nature as a precious, vulnerable, and almost benevolent passive environment, held in careful balance, and under siege by human action and human power. This view of nature calls for human restraint and humility-and for diminished expectations of human power and potential.

The environmental movement is, in this sense, not a natural fit for the progressive and forward-looking mentality of the left. Indeed, in many important respects environmentalism is deeply conservative. It takes no great feat of logic to show that conservation is conservative, of course, but the conservatism of the environmental movement runs far deeper than that. The movement seeks to preserve a given balance which we did not create, are not capable of fully understanding, and should not delude ourselves into imagining we can much improve -- in other words, its attitude toward nature is much like the attitude of conservatism toward society.

Moreover, contemporary environmentalism is deeply moralistic. It speaks of duties and responsibilities, of curbing arrogance and vice. As Charles T. Rubin puts it in his insightful 1994 book The Green Crusade, "environmentalism is the temperance movement of our time," albeit largely devoid of the religious convictions that moved those prior progressives. Think "addicted to oil."

It is a movement stirred by moralism to reform a prominent human excess, and driven by the hope that this reform will improve almost everything about life. As Al Gore put it before a Senate committee not long ago, "the climate crisis is not a political issue; it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."

Indeed, writ large, the environmental movement aims to repeal the modern way of life. At its most ambitious, it seeks to curb industrialism and consumerism, to make the human experience less artificial and more "authentic" (or, to employ the favored buzzword of the day, "organic"), to emphasize the simple and the local, to reduce the scale of human ambition. This describes a brand of conservatism too conservative even for the American right, and one that is deeply at odds with the ethic of rationalization and scientific improvement and progress.

Some elements of this approach are not entirely new to the left, at home or abroad. The yearning for authenticity and simplicity, the revulsion at power, and the skepticism of technology and systematic knowledge have been elements of what came to be known as the "new left" in the late 1960s, and to some extent had characterized progressive politics for far longer, too. They have had a lot to do with shaping the ideology of left-wing parties throughout the West. But the manifestation of this approach in the modern environmentalist movement is far more prominent, more powerful, and, for the left, more complicated than any other.

It is prominent and powerful because environmentalism, and particularly concern with global climate change over the past decade or so, has come to play an astonishingly central role in the politics of the West. In a time when Iran is reportedly pursuing nuclear weapons, North Korea is violating international agreements, the future of Iraq remains uncertain, genocide persists in Sudan, and countless other crises threaten the peace of the world, Ban Ki-Moon, upon taking his post as Secretary General of the United Nations in 2007, listed climate change as his top priority. "The danger posed by war to all of humanity and to our planet," he said, "is at least matched by the climate crisis and global warming." European Commission President Jose Barroso has argued that climate change must be the European Union's top priority as well. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called it "humanity's greatest challenge."

Even stipulating the basic facts regarding global climate change, this kind of attitude is surely absurd. There is no question that for some, especially in Europe, the obsession with climate change is a way to avoid thinking about serious geopolitical problems, particularly the threat of radical Islam. Rather than marshalling modernity to defend itself, this obsession allows Western elites to persist in a silly and feckless pseudo-moralism. Instead of looking to America for leadership and protection, it allows them to blame America for its strength and its confidence.

And for some on the left, too, the obsession is a way to stir up the kind of crisis atmosphere necessary for some pet causes and ideas to become politically plausible. But whatever the reason, environmentalism, and with it a worldview deeply at odds with that behind the scientific enterprise, has come to play a pivotal role in the thinking of the left.

So far, the American left has managed mostly to ignore this difficulty, and to treat environmentalism as a cause of the party of science. An ongoing dispute about the basic facts and figures of global warming has made this easier by putting science and environmentalism on the same side for a time. But as that argument subsides, and attention turns to the causes of environmental degradation and to possible solutions, the fissure between science and environmentalism will be harder to ignore.

An American environmentalism newly empowered by a decades-long debate that put it front and center on the agenda of the cultural and political left may come to resemble the European Green movement, which shares many of the attitudes of American progressives, but which does not view itself by any means as a party of science. Indeed, the Greens in Europe have been at the leading edge of nearly every contemporary effort to curb the power and the reach of science, most notably biotechnology -- from bans on human cloning to prohibitions against genetically modified foods.

But in America, the left has yet to confront this glaring complication in its claim to the mantle of the party of science. Science, it turns out, is behind much of what troubles and worries the left.....

The Uneasy Alliance

Mastery of chance and of the given world is the deepest progressive longing, and so it is not surprising to find progressives on the side of science. But that same desire for mastery, and especially the rejection of the given, is also a denial of respect for equality and ecology, which progressives continue to claim among their highest ideals. Both ideals rely upon the presence of some unmastered mystery-some order beyond our grasping reach. A turning away from that humbling mystery, and toward unbounded will, is the inevitable (and indeed intentional) consequence of the progress of the modern scientific enterprise.

That progress brings with it immense benefits, but if left to itself it threatens a great deal as well, including much that is of importance to the left. Meanwhile, the left has also adopted an easygoing relativism about moral and cultural questions, so that science has come to be seen as the only source of objective knowledge --of knowledge equally true everywhere and all the time. Science thus cannot help but be elevated to an almost spiritual level, and to exercise an even more powerful pull on the thought and the politics and the imagination of the left, exacerbating the tensions inherent in the worldview of the party of science.

Recent political enthusiasms have aggravated these tensions all the more. The desire to win the stem cell debate (which proceeded under the shadow of the even more heated abortion debate) has driven the left closer to a rejection of equality than it might otherwise have been inclined to move. And the dispute regarding global warming has tied the left to an environmentalism that is in many respects a very strange bedfellow for liberalism. In the throes of political combat, however, these tensions have been obscured, and an imaginary larger fight for science-the enthusiastic counter-attack against a nonexistent "assault on reason"-has further helped to keep them hidden. But they will not remain hidden for long. In defense of science, the left has turned on itself, and forced to the surface some serious questions about its principles and priorities.


Global Solar Wind Plasma Output At 50-Year Low, Ulysses Spacecraft Reveals

Bad news for the Greenies but bad news for us all as it presages a cooling earth

ScienceDaily (Sep. 25, 2008) — Data from the Ulysses spacecraft, a joint NASA-European Space Agency mission, show the sun has reduced its output of solar wind to the lowest levels since accurate readings became available. The sun's current state could reduce the natural shielding that envelops our solar system.

"The sun's million mile-per-hour solar wind inflates a protective bubble, or heliosphere, around the solar system. It influences how things work here on Earth and even out at the boundary of our solar system where it meets the galaxy," said Dave McComas, Ulysses' solar wind instrument principal investigator and senior executive director at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. "Ulysses data indicate the solar wind's global pressure is the lowest we have seen since the beginning of the space age."

The sun's solar wind plasma is a stream of charged particles ejected from the sun's upper atmosphere. The solar wind interacts with every planet in our solar system. It also defines the border between our solar system and interstellar space.

This border, called the heliopause, is a bubble-shaped boundary surrounding our solar system where the solar wind's strength is no longer great enough to push back the wind of other stars. The region around the heliopause also acts as a shield for our solar system, warding off a significant portion of the cosmic rays outside the galaxy.

"Galactic cosmic rays carry with them radiation from other parts of our galaxy," said Ed Smith, NASA's Ulysses project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "With the solar wind at an all-time low, there is an excellent chance the heliosphere will diminish in size and strength. If that occurs, more galactic cosmic rays will make it into the inner part of our solar system."

Galactic cosmic rays are of great interest to NASA. Cosmic rays are linked to engineering decisions for unmanned interplanetary spacecraft and exposure limits for astronauts traveling beyond low-Earth orbit.

In 2007, Ulysses made its third rapid scan of the solar wind and magnetic field from the sun's south to north pole. When the results were compared with observations from the previous solar cycle, the strength of the solar wind pressure and the magnetic field embedded in the solar wind were found to have decreased by 20 percent. The field strength near the spacecraft has decreased by 36 percent.

"The sun cycles between periods of great activity and lesser activity," Smith said. "Right now, we are in a period of minimal activity that has stretched on longer than anyone anticipated."

Ulysses was the first mission to survey the space environment over the sun's poles. Data Ulysses has returned have forever changed the way scientists view our star and its effects. The venerable spacecraft has lasted more than 17 years, or almost four times its expected mission lifetime. The Ulysses solar wind findings were published in a recent edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

The Ulysses spacecraft was carried into Earth orbit aboard space shuttle Discovery on Oct. 6, 1990. From Earth orbit it was propelled toward Jupiter, passing the planet on Feb. 8, 1992. Jupiter's immense gravity bent the spacecraft's flight path downward and away from the plane of the planets' orbits. This placed Ulysses into a final orbit around the sun that would take it over its north and south poles.

The Ulysses spacecraft was provided by ESA, having been built by Astrium GmbH (formerly Dornier Systems) of Friedrichshafen, Germany. NASA provided the launch vehicle and the upper stage boosters. The U.S. Department of Energy supplied a radioisotope thermoelectric generator to power the spacecraft. Science instruments were provided by U.S. and European investigators. The spacecraft is operated from JPL by a joint NASA-ESA team.


Leader of very few

“Few challenges facing America – and the world – are more urgent than combating climate change,” President Obama has asserted. “We will make it clear that America is ready to lead.” The President and Al Gore are certainly ready to lead. But how many will follow?

Even in America, and certainly on the world stage, the two increasingly look like Don Quixote and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza. As they tilt for windmills, and against a “monstrous giant of infamous repute” – climate disasters conjured up by computer models and Hollywood special effects masters – their erstwhile followers are making politically correct noises, but running for the hills.

The House of Representatives passed a 1400-page energy and climate bill – by a razor-thin margin, and only after Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman packed it with enough last-minute deals to protect favored congressional districts, buy votes, and curry favor with assorted special interests. Not one legislator actually read the bill – which would create a trillion-dollar cap-trade-and-tax industry, ensure that energy and food costs “necessarily skyrocket,” kill jobs, and impose an all-intrusive Green Nanny State.

Republicans want to control what people do in their bedrooms, insists the old canard. Democrats, it appears, want to dictate what we do everywhere outside of our bedrooms. And Pancho Gore wants to become the world’s first global warming billionaire, by selling climate indulgences, aka carbon offsets.

The reaction has been predictable – by anyone except House and White House czars and czarinas. Citizens are livid over yet another attempt to use a purported crisis to justify expanding the government and spending billions of tax dollars for alarmist research, activism and propaganda, just ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference. Global warming continues to rank dead-last in Pew Research and other polls that actually list it as an issue. Rasmussen puts the President’s approval ratings at 46% and falling. Zogby reports that 57% of Americans oppose cap-and-trade bills.

Manufacturing states, which get 60-98% of their electricity from coal, worry that the only thing they’ll export in ten years will be jobs. Democrat senators from those states worry that the energy and climate issue will be “toxic for them during midterm elections,” says Politico magazine.

Even companies that had eagerly sought seats at the negotiating table are now gagging. ConocoPhillips, Caterpillar and others finally realize that cap-and-tax will severely penalize them and their customers.

Not even the climate is cooperating. Outside of Dallas, 2009 has brought some of coldest summer days on record across the US. Near freezing temperatures nipped at crops, and gas heaters were sine qua non at an August 29 outdoor wedding in Wisconsin. The Farmers Almanac predicts a brutal winter.

In Europe, every latitude has a platitude about saving the planet. But EU countries that agreed to slash greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels are well above their Kyoto Protocol targets – Austria by 30% and Spain by 37% as of 2008. And despite new commitments to cut emissions 40 years from now, you don’t need tarot cards or entrails to predict the more probable EU emissions future.

Germany plans to build 27 coal-fired electrical generating plants by 2020. Italy plans to double its reliance on coal in just five years. Europe as a whole will have 40 new coal-fired power plants by 2015, columnist Alan Caruba reports. The Polish Academy of Sciences has publicly challenged manmade global warming disaster hypotheses. And only 11% of Czech citizens believe rising carbon dioxide emissions caused global temperatures to climb 1975-1998 – and caused them to fall between 1940 and 1975, then to stabilize and finally decline again 1998-2009.

Australia just voted down punitive global warming legislation. New Zealand has put its emissions-bashing program in a deep freeze.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s top economic aid bluntly dismissed any talk of following President Obama’s quixotic lead. “We won’t sacrifice economic growth for the sake of emission reduction,” he told reporters at the July 2009 G8 meeting.

Chinese and Indian leaders are equally adamant. China is playing a smart hand in this high-stakes climate poker game, drawing up plans to combat global warming sometime in the future, and gradually improve its energy efficiency and pollution control. However, it is building a new coal-fired power plant every week and putting millions of new cars on its growing network of highways.

So is India, which will double its coal-based electricity generation and produce millions of Tata and other affordable cars by 2020. “India will not accept any binding emission-reduction target, period,” Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has stated. “This is a non-negotiable stand.”

India and China have a “complete convergence” of views on these matters, Ramesh added. No wonder: 400 million Indians still do not have electricity; 500 million Chinese still do not.

No electricity means no refrigeration, to keep food and medicines from spoiling. It means no water purification, to reduce baby-killing intestinal diseases. No modern heating and air conditioning, to reduce hypothermia in winter, heat stroke in summer, and lung disease year-round. It means no lights or computers, no modern offices, factories, schools, shops, clinics or hospitals.

Fossil fuels are “gradually eliminating poverty in the Third world,” observes UCLA economist Deepak Lal. Any call to curb carbon emissions would “condemn billions to continued poverty. While numerous Western do-gooders shed crocodile tears about the Third World’s poor, they are willing to prevent them from taking the only feasible current route out from this abject state” – oil, gas, coal, nuclear and hydroelectric energy development. The situation is intolerable, unsustainable, lethal and immoral.

The only way India and China would agree to cut their emissions is if the United States cut its emissions 40% by 2020, says Ramesh – back to 1959 levels and pre-JFK living standards, when the US population was 179 million (versus 306 million today). No way will that happen. So Asian energy and economic development will continue apace. And rightly so, to ensure human rights and environmental justice.

All is not bleak, however, for Canute Obama’s impossible dream of controlling global temperatures.

British politicians remain committed to slashing CO2 emissions and replacing hydrocarbons with wind power. Unfortunately, the biggest UK wind projects have been abandoned or put on indefinite hold – and a growing demand/supply imbalance portends still higher energy prices, widespread power cuts, rolling blackouts and energy rationing, the Daily Telegraph reported on August 31. Brits may soon trade their stiff upper lips for contentious town hall meetings and ballot-box revolution.

The Democratic Party of Japan’s landslide victory in the August 30 election will likely create a new coalition government tilted strongly to the left. The DJP has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 – though this will likely strangle economic growth and job creation, especially if one coalition partner’s opposition to nuclear power becomes DJP policy.

Then there is Africa, where leaders appear ready to support curbs on energy use – in exchange for up to $300 billion per year in additional foreign aid, “to cushion the impact of global warming.” That will be nice for their private bank accounts, but less so for Africa’s 750 million people who still don’t have electricity.

Of course, the real goal was never to control the climate. It was always to control energy use, lives, jobs, economies, transportation and housing – and usher in a new era of global governance. The American people are increasingly saying they’re not ready to grant that power to Obama & Company.


Climate scientists should talk about what "may" happen, rather than what "will" happen

Cautious doubt creeping in below

I'm the science reporter for the Houston Chronicle, the daily newspaper in the petrochemical capital of the United States, if not the world. I've been called a global warming skeptic by environmentalists, and I've been called an environmentalist toady by the skeptics. I'm neither of these things. Rather, I'm just trying to grasp what is happening to the planet's climate, and how humans are impacting it.

For a long time now, science reporters have been confidently told the science is settled. That the planet is warming and humans are unquestionably the primary cause. We've been told to trust the computer models -- the models which show a markedly upward trend in temperatures as carbon dioxide concentrations increase. And I've trusted the scientists telling me this. Below you'll find the computer model forecasts for the 21st century temperatures from the most recent IPCC summary for policymakers, which call for a 1.8°C to 3.8°C rise in global temperatures by 2100:

It seems pretty clear that the models forecast a steady upward trend in global temperatures as long as carbon dioxide levels rise. (Which they have). Yet according to satellite and surface temperature measurements the global average temperature has essentially remained flat for the last 12 years. This strikes me as somewhat curious.

When An Inconvenient Truth came out I believed the movie to be scientifically accurate. Carbon dioxide levels were rising and so were temperatures. And hurricane activity, especially after the disastrous 2005 season, was out of control. But a funny thing happened on the way to the end of the world: hurricane activity on the global scale is near historical lows. And the Earth seems to have, at least temporarily, stopped warming.

This, despite the fact that some of the country's leading climate scientists say there is unequivocally a link between major hurricanes and climate change. And despite the fact that other leading climate scientists predicted 2009 or 2010 will go down as the warmest year in recorded history. Either prediction, if true, would be alarming. Yet both of these predictions seem, at the present moment, to be off.

Then there's this: a revealing story from an international meeting of climate scientists where a German climate scientist says the world may cool for the next decade or two. New Scientist reports:
One of the world's top climate modelers said Thursday we could be about to enter "one or even two decades during which temperatures cool.

"People will say this is global warming disappearing," he told more than 1500 of the world's top climate scientists gathering in Geneva at the UN's World Climate Conference. "I am not one of the skeptics," insisted Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University, Germany. "However, we have to ask the nasty questions ourselves or other people will do it."

Few climate scientists go as far as Latif, an author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But more and more agree that the short-term prognosis for climate change is much less certain than once thought.

If we can't have confidence in the short-term prognosis for climate change, how can we have full confidence in the long-term prognosis?

The article is significant for a couple of reasons. First of all it's written by Fred Pearce, who has a history of forceful journalism outlining climate change's perils, and it's published by New Scientist, which has long advocated vigorous action to curb climate change. I respect both the author and the publication.

Secondly, the key point here is that scientists are acknowledging that natural variations are playing a very important role in our present and future climate, perhaps cooling it. Therefore it stands to reason that natural variations might also have played a role in the temperature run-up of the 20th century.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not a climate change skeptic. I do not deny that the planet warmed 0.6°C in the 20th century. I do not deny that humans played some part in that significant warming.

But I am confused. Four years ago this all seemed like a fait accompli. Humans were unquestionably warming the climate and changing the planet forever through their emissions of carbon dioxide.

The problem is that some climate scientists and environmentalists have been so determined to see something done about carbon dioxide emissions -- now -- that they have glossed over the uncertainties. Uncertainties like: maybe there isn't a linear relationship between carbon dioxide and temperature, and maybe the planet will cool for a couple of decades even as carbon dioxide emissions accelerate.

For the last few years some scientists and environmentalists have been telling us a lot about what "will" happen in the future if carbon dioxide emissions continue unabated. It perhaps would have been a lot better if they talked about what "may" happen.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

“Nudging” America to Give Up Meat

The number of animals and plants protected by the federal Endangered Species Act is about to increase dramatically. For Cass Sunstein, radical animal-rights activist and nominee for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) Administrator job, that means he will be better positioned than ever to make livestock farming a thing of the past.

How are the two things connected? Our director of research appeared on the Fox News Channel yesterday to explain to Glenn Beck’s audience how much influence Sunstein may soon have over what we eat:

"Cattlemen in this country own and manage most of the lands that are covered by the Endangered Species Act, that are subject to control. So you ask: Why is Cass Sunstein’s hatred and animus toward meat eating such a big deal? It’s because he’ll be in a position to be able to use the Endangered Species Act to put cattlemen out of business. And then the price of your steak goes up. And then the price of your cheeseburger goes up."

It’s not only cattlemen who could be at the business end of Sunstein’s ridiculous anti-meat philosophy. Environmental activists groups sued over the Endangered Species Act in 2006 to divert water to a habitat for a three-inch bait fish in California – taking the water away from drought-stricken farmers and costing the California economy more than 60,000 farming jobs. Imagine what would happen if activists didn’t have to sue to get what they wanted, but could just pick up the phone instead.

The future “regulatory czar” has made no secret of his coercive tactics to get Americans to eat less meat. His grand plan is to make meat more expensive to produce, which will in turn make it harder for American families to afford. Similarly unpopular tactics have been attempted in the drive to get people to drink less soda. While Sunstein couches his plans as a “nudge,” we’d say it’s more like a shove.

Hug your cheeseburgers tonight, because they too are about to become an endangered species


Australia's Federal environmental protection laws have increased costs but delivered little benefit

Environmental regulation should be left to the States

THE centrepiece of Australia's environmental law largely duplicates existing regulations, provides little extra protection and has added more than $820 million in additional costs to business since it came into force nine years ago, an Australian National University survey shows. The ANU Centre for Environmental Law surveyed 155 individuals and companies that had been subject to the approvals processes of the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. It found that rather than leading to improved outcomes, the EPBC regime had left project proponents saddled with up to $2.2m in costs.

The government has made much of its decision to cut business red tape and encourage major projects, yet the survey found the EPBC regime has hit "major infrastructure, mining and urban development activities, the environmental impacts of which are already regulated under other regimes".

The EPBC legislation was designed to create a national scheme of environment, heritage and threatened species protection. It gives the states responsibility for matters of state and local significance, but allows the commonwealth to intervene in matters of national significance. The survey found that "where actions have been regulated, there is evidence the regime is not adding significant environmental value. "The concentration of the environmental impact assessment regime on large infrastructure, oil, gas, mining and urban development projects has stunted its capacity to generate significant environmental gains. "These types of activity are already subject to other federal, state and territory regulatory processes."

The survey said the average cost of the environmental impact process to project proponents varied between $660,000 and $2.2m. "The inability to identify clear environmental benefits from the environmental impact assessment regime has led to questions being raised about its cost effectiveness." Industry groups have already claimed the commonwealth role had added little to the environmental protection achieved through existing processes, but instead burdened business and taxpayers with significant compliance costs.

Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry director Greg Evans said the survey showed more needed to be done to reduce state and federal overlap. He called on the commonwealth government to restrict its role to "strategic national significance issues", making sure Australia conformed with its international obligations: "There's an issue of whether the commonwealth needs to get involved in a project by project basis."

Environment Minister Peter Garrett referred to the complexities of the act on several occasions while finalising his decision to approve the giant Gorgon gas project off Western Australia last month. A review of the legislation headed by former Department of Defence chief Allan Hawke is due by the end of next month.

A spokesman for Mr Garrett said yesterday most of the study related to how the environmental impact assessment process had been implemented in the Howard years. He pointed to the signing of bilateral agreements with the states for environmental assessments. "Assessments conducted under bilateral agreements cut out unnecessary duplication and are a more efficient way of ensuring we uphold important state and commonwealth environmental protection," he said.

Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the Coalition strongly supported further simplification. "Many of the states duplicate the federal process," he said. "We will be working towards a single national approvals process covering matters under the federal jurisdiction."



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.


No comments: