Friday, October 23, 2009

Americans' belief in global warming cools -- 'Sharp decline over past year' -- Only 36% say warming man-made, down from 47% last year

A new poll out today on Americans’ attitudes about climate change presents sobering findings for those that favor aggressive action to curb U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases.

The survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds a sharp decline over the past year in the percentage of Americans who see solid evidence that global temperatures are rising. According to the survey, conducted between Sept. 30 and Oct. 4 among 1,500 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, fewer respondents also see global warming as a very serious problem; 35% say that today, down from 44% in April 2008.

The survey also points to a decline in the proportion of Americans who say global temperatures are rising as a result of human activity. Just 36% say that currently, down from 47% last year.

Not everything in the poll is bad news for those that favor capping U.S. emissions. According to the survey, a majority (56%) of Americans think the United States should join other countries in setting standards to address global climate change, while 32% say that the United States should set its own standards. And half of Americans favor setting limits on carbon emissions and making companies pay for their emissions, even if this may lead to higher energy prices.

On the other hand, more than half (55%) say they haven’t heard about so-called “cap and trade” legislation being considered in Congress. (Then again, Sen. John Kerry says he doesn’t know what “cap and trade” means, either.)

The poll’s findings come just days before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is scheduled to hold hearings on legislation that calls for cutting U.S. emissions 20 percent beneath 2005 levels by 2020.

They also coincide with the release of a new Government Accountability Office study that says most federal, state and local officials have not yet taken steps to adapt to the impacts of global warming that America can expect.

Not surprisingly, opponents and supporters of carbon caps have very different takes on the poll’s findings. “Perhaps the most interesting finding in this poll, aside from the precipitous drop in the number of Independents who believe global warming is a problem, is that the more Americans learn about cap-and-trade, the more they oppose cap-and-trade,” says Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), a longtime skeptic of climate-change warnings.

Daniel Weiss at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, says the findings point to the effectiveness of “right-wing media personalities” in “distorting science while the mainstream media remains trapped in its ‘he said, she said’ narrative” about the science.

Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, says he’s a little surprised by the decline in the percentage of respondents who see solid evidence of global warming. On the other hand, Mr. Kohut said, “we have since the onset of the recession seen people giving lower priority to environmental issues” in polls.

Overall, Mr. Kohut says the disposition of most Americans appears to be “to want to do something” about climate change, “but it’s not as sharp as it would be in a different economic climate.”


Keep the car; Ditch the dog

Dogs use up more energy resources than a car, Greenie authors claim, in yet another attack on things that most people value

THEY'RE faithful, friendly and furry - but under their harmless, fluffy exteriors, dogs and cats, the world's most popular house pets, use up more energy resources in a year than driving a car, a new book says. In their book Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living, New Zealand-based architects Robert and Brenda Vale say keeping a medium-sized dog has the same ecological impact as driving 10,000km a year in a 4.6 litre Land Cruiser.

Calculating that the modern Fido chows through about 164kg of meat and 95kg of cereals a year, the Vales estimated the ecological footprint of cats and dogs, based on the amount of land needed to grow common brands of pet food. "There are no recipes in the book," Robert Vale said, laughingly. "We're not actually saying it is time to eat the dog. We're just saying that we need to think about and know the (ecological) impact of some of the things we do and that we take for granted."

Constructing and driving the jeep for a year requires 0.41 hectares of land, while growing and manufacturing a dog's food takes about 0.84 ha - or 1.1 ha in the case of a large dog such as a German shepherd.

Meat-eating swells the eco-footprint of canines, and felines are not that much better, the Vales found. The average cat's eco-footprint, 0.15 ha, weighs in at slightly less than a Volkswagen Golf, but still 10 times a hamster's 0.014 ha - which is itself half the eco cost of running a plasma television. By comparison, the ecological footprint of an average human in the developing world is 1.8ha, while people in the developed world take 6ha.

With pets' diets under the control of owners, how can their unsustainable appetites be trimmed? Convincing carnivorous cats and dogs to go vegetarian for the sake of the planet is a non-starter, the Vales say. Instead they recommend keeping "greener", smaller, and more sustainable pets, such as goldfish, hamsters, chickens or rabbits.

The book's playful title, and serious suggestion that pet animals may be usefully "recycled", by being eaten by their owners or turned into petfood when they die, may not appeal to animal fans. Offputting as the idea may be, the question is valid given the planet's growing population and finite resources, Robert Vale said. "Issues about sustainability are increasingly becoming things that are going to require us to make choices which are as difficult as eating your dog. It's not just about changing your lightbulbs or taking a cloth bag to the supermarket," he said. "It's about much more challenging and difficult issues," he added. "Once you see where (cats and dogs) fit in your overall balance of things - you might decide to have the cat but not also to have the two cars and the three bathrooms and be a meat eater yourself."



The phrase "publishing sensation" is standard hyperbole from marketing men anxious to push book sales. Sometimes, however, a book comes along which justifies the term. One such is Freakonomics, which since its publication in 2005 has sold well over 3 million copies. This would be a remarkable figure for a popular fiction writer; but the author of this non-fiction work was a university economist called Steven Levitt, aided and abetted by the New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner.

Essentially their book applied basic economic theories of utility-maximisation to social issues which hitherto had been discussed purely in political terms. The essay which caused the most sensation was Levitt's analysis linking falling crime figures to the federal legalisation of abortion via the Roe v Wade constitutional amendment. Levitt claimed that these apparently unconnected statistics in fact represented a significant correlation: unwanted children tended to be neglected and thus turn to crime, so the great increase in abortions from the early 1970s was the main, but unheralded, reason for the drop in US crime rates in the 1990s.

It's fair to say that Levitt's analysis, while rapidly attaining the status of conventional wisdom, remains highly controversial: a number of his fellow economists argue that his "abortion-cut-crime" theory doesn't come close to meeting the burden of proof. It was, however, marvellously mischievous, causing consternation and fury in equal measure among the American religious right, first in downplaying the role of tough penal policies and second in portraying abortion as a socially valuable law-enforcement tool.

Now Levitt and Dubner are launching the follow up to Freakonomics - but this time it is conventional left-liberal thought which will be outraged by their assertions. A clue is given in the work's full title, Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. Yes, the authors have this time addressed their dispassionate intellectual blowtorch to the conventional wisdom about climate change, its causes and remedies.

In this investigation they have called upon a number of experts with relevant expertise, including Nathan Myhrvold, a former colleague of Professor Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, who went on to become Bill Gates' futurist-in-chief at Microsoft; and Ken Caldeira, an ecologist from Stanford University and contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Caldeira points out that if our concern is for the planet, and if we choose to measure that concern by biodiversity, then increases in carbon dioxide can be a positive benefit. A rise in atmospheric CO2 means that plants need less by way of water for their growth; Caldera's study demonstrated that doubling the amount of carbon dioxide, while holding steady all other inputs, such as water and nutrients, yielded a 70 per cent increase in plant growth. This would not come remotely as a surprise to people of my generation, who were taught at school that carbon dioxide was the lifeblood of plants, but will perhaps be a shock to the present generation of schoolchildren who are being lectured that man-made CO2 is tantamount to poison.

Myhrvold goes on to tell the freakonomists that while the IPCC is fretting fearfully about the CO2 in the atmosphere increasing from about 280 parts per million to 380, our mammalian ancestors successfully evolved at a time when the atmospheric concentration of CO2 was over 1,000 parts per million. Myhrvold then commits true apostasy by pointing out that "nor does atmospheric carbon dioxide necessarily warm the earth: ice-cap evidence shows that over the past several hundred thousand years, carbon dioxide levels have risen after a rise in temperature, rather than before it."

This might help to explain why the recorded temperature of the planet has not increased at all over the past 11 years. As the BBC's climate correspondent, Paul Hudson, reported with thinly disguised amazement three days ago, "Our climate models did not forecast this." Hudson then spoke to Professor Don Easterbrook of Western Washington University, who explained that global temperatures were correlated much more with cyclical oceanic oscillations of warming and cooling than anything man does. Easterbrook argued that the global cooling from 1945 to 1977 was linked to one of these cold Pacific cycles, and that "the Pacific decadal oscillation cool mode has replaced the warm mode [of 1978 to 1998], virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling."

Hold the front page! Global warming postponed for 30 years! Or possibly much longer! Or, if you prefer to remain terrified by environmental prognostications: hold the front page! New Ice Age approaches! Countless millions set to freeze!

Let's suppose, however, that our political leaders are not mistaken in taking the view that the threat to mankind does come from the greenhouse effect and its consequences. Here is where Levitt's friend Nathan Myhrvold (described by Bill Gates as "the smartest person I know") comes up with a plan almost appalling in its simplicity.

Myrhvold begins with the uncontroversial observation that the biggest sudden natural cooling events are eruptions from "big ass" volcanoes, which shoot vast quantities of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, which in turn leads to a decrease in ozone and a diffusing of sunlight, followed by a sustained drop in global temperatures. Why not bring about the same effect through engineering, asks Myhrvold. Thus he has designed a system of pumps, attached to gigantic hoses, which would be taken up into the atmosphere in helium balloons; they would then spray colourless liquid sulphur dioxide which would wrap around the North and South poles in less than a fortnight. Myhrvold estimates that this "save the poles" programme would cost roughly $20m, with an annual operating cost of $10m. Job done.

Alternatively, there is the British Government's suggestion that we spend $1.2 trillion a year globally on a decarbonisation programme. The trouble with this is that even if the British are happy to pay massively more for their electricity by foregoing coal - the world's most plentiful and cheap form of stored energy - the vastly bigger and growing economies of China and India have no intention of denying their people the life-changing benefits of cheap electrification.

You would think that the sort of innovative plan outlined in Superfreakonomics would be welcomed by leaders across the globe, with Nobel prizes in the offing for Myhrvold and his colleagues. You would be wrong. For the modern generation of politicians like to talk grandiloquently about the "war" against climate change (just as they do about the "war against terror" and the "war against drugs"): but there's no glory to be had in spending $10m a year on giant nozzles squirting sulphur dioxide around the poles. For that you need very little by way of international summits, or press conferences to the world's media.

Worse still from their point of view, such a solution would mean that they would be doing absolutely nothing to change the way we lead our lives. We would carry on going about our lives just as we are; and if politicians are doing nothing to change our behaviour they will feel bereft, devoid of mission, even (perish the thought) redundant.

Their fury at such redundancy would be shared by the conventional environmental movement, which regards any solution involving geo-engineering as an "offence against nature" and therefore axiomatically wicked - as if "nature" had the capacity to give a damn one way or the other. The authors of Freakonomics had better put on their hard hats; the ideological ordnance will soon be heading their way.



Poor old Paul Hudson. The inoffensive cheeky chappy, who presents the weather on the BBC in Yorkshire, has found himself a hate object among the fringes of the environmental movement. Hudson's crime? Well, to borrow a phrase, he told "an inconvenient truth" – that global warming has stopped. In an article headlined "Whatever happened to global warming?" on the BBC website, Hudson noted that the warmest year of recent times wasn't 2007 or 2008, but 1998, and global temperatures have not increased at all in the intervening 11 years, despite increasing carbon emissions.

Ignore the provocative headline, for Hudson's piece was, in fact, scrupulously fair. In measured terms, he explored the theories of what could be behind the present period of global cooling, including the ideas of so-called "sceptics", who believe the sun's energy or the oceans' currents, and not man's activities, are primarily responsible for periods of cooling and warming. But he also quoted scientists who reckon the dip in temperatures is just a temporary blip and that man-made global warming will return with a vengeance in the near future.

No one really knows. In climatic terms, a 10-year trend proves nothing –it, as many scientists argue, could be a mere variation on the graph showing an inexorable rise in average temperatures. But interestingly, Hudson pointed out that none of the climate models beloved by meteorologists forecast the present temperature trend. It is sobering to note that environmentalists are demanding that we damage our economy and make the poor poorer on the back of climate models that have been proved, in the short term at least, to be wrong.

But even an ace forecaster like Hudson couldn't have predicted the reaction his article would provoke. It was picked up in the US by the influential Drudge Report website and from there to numerous climate sceptical blogs who gleefully reported on the BBC's U-turn on global warming. This, in turn, caused a hysterical counterblast from those who see global warming as a matter of religious faith, rather than scientific debate. Hudson was denounced as a denier and a heretic. The Guardian demanded to know why the BBC had allowed his article to be published, and the journal Nature was apoplectic with rage.

Hudson's mistake was to concede there were differing views on the climate, for we live in a society where, for the first time in modern history, we are told "the science is settled" and "there is no room for debate". "Sceptic" has become a dirty word – yet the whole basis of modern science is built precisely on scepticism and inquiry by people brave enough to challenge entrenched views. In contrast today, anyone who questions the quasi-religious scientific orthodoxy on global warming will be denounced as not just wrong, but positively evil.

Paul, keep your head down until this storm blows over.


Emissions blame game has started

Bjorn Lomborg accepts global warming but says current policies are foolish

A SENSE of panic is setting in among many campaigners for drastic cuts in global carbon emissions. It is becoming obvious that the highly trumpeted meeting set for Copenhagen this December will not deliver a binding international treaty that will make a significant difference to global warming.

After lofty rhetoric and big promises, politicians are starting to play the blame game. Developing countries blame rich countries for the lack of progress. Many blame the US, which will not have cap-and-trade legislation in place before Copenhagen.

The UN Secretary General says, "it may be difficult for President Obama to come with strong authority" to reach agreement in Copenhagen. Others blame developing countries - particularly Brazil, China and India - for a reluctance to sign up to binding carbon cuts. Wherever you turn, somebody is being blamed for Copenhagen's apparent looming failure.

Yet, it has been clear for a considerable time that there is a more fundamental problem: immediate promises of carbon cuts do not work. Seventeen years ago, industrialised nations promised with great fanfare in Rio de Janeiro to cut emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. Emissions overshot the target by 12 per cent. In Kyoto, leaders committed to a cut of 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010. The failure to meet that target will most likely be even more spectacular, with emissions overshooting by about 25 per cent.

The plan was to convene world leaders in Copenhagen and renew vows to cut carbon while committing to even more ambitious targets. But it is obvious that even a last-minute scramble to salvage some form of agreement will fare no better in actually helping the planet. With such a poor track record, there is a need for soul-searching and openness to other approaches.

A realistic "Plan B" does not mean plotting a second meeting after Copenhagen, as some have suggested. It means rethinking our strategy. This year, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre commissioned research from top climate economists examining feasible ways to respond to global warming. Their research looked at how much we could help the planet by setting different levels of carbon taxes, planting more trees, cutting methane, reducing black-soot emissions, adapting to global warming, or focusing on a technological solution to climate change.

The centre convened an expert panel of five of the world's leading economists, including three Nobel Prize winners, to consider all of the new research and identify the best - and worst - options.

The panel found that expensive, global carbon taxes would be the worst option. This finding was based on a groundbreaking research paper that showed that even a highly efficient global CO2 tax aimed at fulfilling the ambitious goal of keeping temperature increases below 2C would reduce annual world GDP by a staggering 12.9per cent, or $US40 trillion ($43.7trillion), in 2100. The total cost would be 50 times that of the avoided climate damage. And if politicians choose less-efficient, less-co-ordinated cap-and-trade policies, the costs could escalate a further 10 to 100 times.

Instead, the panel recommended focusing investment on research into climate engineering as a short-term response, and on non-carbon-based energy as a longer-term response.

Some suggested climate engineering technologies - in particular, marine cloud-whitening technology - could be cheap, fast, and effective. (Boats would spray seawater droplets into clouds above the oceans to make them reflect more sunlight back into space, reducing warming). Remarkably, the research says that a total of about $US9 billion spent implementing marine cloud-whitening technology might be able to offset this entire century's global warming. Even if one approaches this technology with concerns - as many of us do - we should aim to identify its limitations and risks sooner rather than later.

It appears that climate engineering could buy us some time, and it is time that we need to make a sustainable and smooth shift away from reliance on fossil fuels. Research shows that non-fossil-fuel energy sources will - based on today's availability - get us less than halfway towards a path of stable carbon emissions by 2050, and only a tiny fraction of the way towards stabilisation by 2100.

If politicians change course and agree this December to invest significantly more in research and development, we would have a much greater chance of getting this technology to the level where it needs to be. And, because it would be cheaper and easier than carbon cuts, there would be a much greater chance of reaching a genuine, broad-based - and thus successful - international agreement.

Carbon pricing could be used to finance research and development, and to send a price signal to promote the deployment of effective, affordable technology alternatives. Investing about $US100 billion annually would mean that we could essentially resolve the climate change problem by the end of this century.

While the blame game will not solve global warming, the mounting panic could lead to a positive outcome if it meant we reconsider our current approach. If we want real action, we need to pick smarter solutions that will cost less and do more. That would be a result for which every politician would be happy to accept responsibility.


Lindsey Graham's Climate Dance with the Democrats

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has turned his back on the latest science, economics, the Republican Party, and American national security, by announcing his new partnership with Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) to find “the winning formula” to pass global warming cap-and-trade legislation. Graham is now touting his view that man-made global warming fears are real and can be “solved” by passing Congressional cap-and-trade legislation. Graham teamed up with Sen. Kerry to write an October 11 New York Times op-ed explaining that the GOP and Democrats should “work together to address an urgent crisis facing the world.”

Graham has latched on to perhaps the silliest of all arguments and the most insulting to voters’ intelligence: that somehow passing a congressional climate bill will lead to fewer wars in the future. Graham and Kerry wrote, “[W]e agree that climate change is real and threatens our economy and national security.”

“Even climate change skeptics should recognize that reducing our dependence on foreign oil and increasing our energy efficiency strengthens our national security,” Graham and Kerry asserted. On this point, Graham and Kerry are correct. But their claim that a top heavy cap-and-trade bill would accomplish those goals is contrary to all available evidence.

First off, even if we faced the man-made global warming catastrophe that Graham and Kerry seem so confident about, we would all be doomed if we relied on Congressional cap-and-trade to save us. The climate bill was declared “scientifically meaningless” by an analysis earlier this year. Most importantly, President Obama’s own EPA is now on record admitting that U.S. cap-and-trade bill “would not impact world CO2 levels.”

A Bloomberg News article on the Waxman-Markey bill’s impact on June 26, 2009 revealed U.S. oil companies may cope with the climate legislation by "closing fuel plants, cutting capital spending and increasing imports." Bloomberg also reported that "one in six U.S. refineries probably would close by 2020" and this could "add 77 cents a gallon to the price of gasoline." Far from providing “energy security,” cap-and-trade would make us more dependent on foreign sources of energy, according to the Bloomberg report. Obama advisor Warren Buffet told CNBC that cap-and-trade would also be a "huge" and "regressive" tax on Americans .

Global warming cap-and-trade would have a huge impact on congressional coffers. To understand all you need to know about the “science” of man-made global warming and the motivations of politicians to pass it, you need to look no further than Democrat Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. In 2009, Cardin called cap-and-trade “the most significant revenue-generating proposal of our time.”

In simple terms, what Graham is hailing as some sort of “solution” to the alleged climate “crisis” is nothing more than pure Washington fluff with a huge price tag and expansion of government controls on our lifestyles. In short, it is all economic pain for no climate gain.

All of this while the science behind man-made climate fears continues in a freefall. In the past few months, we have witnessed U.N. scientists warning at U.N. meetings that global cooling is a now possible. Even the mainstream media -- led by the BBC and the New York Times -- is finally having their moment of clarity on man-made global warming. But Graham continues to binge on old scientific claims and empty economic promises. Global warming cap-and-trade has lost so much support that even Democrat Sen. Al Franken is bailing on the bill! In an August 6 letter with 9 other Democrats, Franken wrote a letter to Obama declaring that the U.S. “must not engage in a self-defeating effort.”

Enter Lindsey Graham to offer political cover for Democrats on cap-and-trade. Graham hopes to be able to add provision for expanded nuclear energy and drilling into the cap-and-trade bill and thus bring all sides together. Sadly, Graham knows that any promises about expanding drilling or nuclear energy can be rescinded in future years or road blocked in any number of ways. But once a cap-and-trade system is in place, it will be the nearest thing to eternal life here on Earth.

Graham tries to convince unenlightened Republicans that “killing a Senate [climate] bill is not success…given the threat of [EPA] regulation” of CO2 under the Clean Air Act. But Graham knows this is a straw man argument. The last thing the Obama administration or Congressional Democrats want to do is have EPA in charge of CO2 emissions. Former President Clinton’s Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, admitted this was a false threat on October 12, when he wrote: The EPA regulatory threat is “no real threat” because lawsuits would “keep the EPA tied up in litigation for years.” Graham is also touting a new U.N. climate treaty, urging the U.S. to be “in the lead again” and “produce a new international agreement on global warming.”

Graham is hopelessly naive about climate science realities, cap-and-trade economics and environmental politics. Sadly, he has morphed into a media sycophant who pines for every opportunity to get noticed by the mainstream media -- to hell with his home state voters’ wishes.

Graham's Senate website claims he “is known as a leader who never abandons his independence or strays from the conservative reform agenda." Though Graham does have a conservative voting record overall, he has broken ranks with his home state voters and the GOP on key policy decisions (votes on immigration, the bank bailout and Justice Sotomayor’s confirmation) that differ from his political base.

Graham’s embrace of the man-made global warming fear movement could literally snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it comes to congressional cap-and-trade bills. Never underestimate the ability of rudderless Republicans like Graham to be the key difference in passing costly non-solutions to problems that do not even exist.

There exists in Washington pretenders who go along with the majority of beliefs of a political ideology or party platform just so they can bide their time -- waiting to really have the most impact (or do the most damage) on the key issues that matter most to their internal ideology.

Ladies and gentleman, meet Sen. Lindsey Graham: The most crystal clear example of everything that is wrong with politics (and the Republican Party) in Washington today.



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 are mirrors of this site here and here


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