Thursday, January 21, 2010

Have the voters of a small and rather gullible American State just knocked global warming on the head?

The most far-reaching effect of Scott Brown’s upset victory in the Massachusetts senatorial election is likely to be on the world’s attempts to combat global warming. It will make it very much harder for a climate and energy bill – primarly promoted, as it happens, by the other senator from the hitherto famously liberal state, John Kerry – to pass the Senate, and that, in turn, would bedevil attempts to revive the prospects for a new international treaty after the fiasco in Copenhagen.

In truth the prospects for the Senate bill have been looking rocky for weeks, despite Kerry’s determined attempts to talk it up. Just two months ago it looked as if it might have a reasonable chance, despite the fact that several Democratic senators from coal and oil states were expected to vote against it, depriving the party of its filibuster-proof 60-strong supermajority. One Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, had joined Kerry in putting forward the bill and some ten others – who had expressed support for climate legislation in the past – were thought to be persuadable, especially if it made provision for massive support for nuclear power.

But the Republican leadership then made the issue one of party loyalty identifying it as a key issue for this autumn’s mid-term elections. Nasty attack ads were launched against Graham in his state, and it was made clear to other potential supporters of the bill that they could not expect any backing at the polls. Today’s result will add one more Republican vote against the bill, and make some Democrats more nervous about supporting it.

Obama does have a fallback strategy if the bill goes down – if he chooses to take it. As the Copenhagen conference opened, his administration took powers to regulate to cut carbon dioxide emissions through its Environment Protection Agency, and some environmentalists believe this would be more effective than relying on the “cap and trade” measures in the bill. Moreover, if the Administration did take this course, it might even revive support for the legislation, since industry would far prefer its proposals to the regulations.

It would take courage from Obama, and aggression, but that might be his political salvation. He has, in fairness, not been short of courage: taking up such contentious issues as healthcare and climate change during a recession shows that. But he has lacked political aggression. His disastrous rebuff in Massachusetts came partly because he had not taken the battle to his opposition over healthcare, stressing the benefits of reform, and so allowing his opponents to define it as an issue of cost and taxation.The Republicans have benefited by fighting for their convictions. If Obama fails to do the same, on today’s showing, he is likely to be done for anyway.


Global warming? Don’t blame the car

Senior General Motors executive Bob Lutz has slammed scientists and environmentalists, saying global warming has little to do with humans and more to do with solar flares and sunspots. The self-confessed petrolhead and man who proudly claims to be a progenitor of the Chevrolet Volt electric car still scoffs at global warming.

Lutz, who in 2008 memorably described global warming as a “crock of shit”, once again aired his views while meeting with a group of Australian journalists at the Detroit motor show last week. "I am not going to give a speech on this because everytime I do I get in trouble,” Lutz said, then immediately began explaining his views. "All I ever say is look at the data, look at the empirical evidence. Look at what they said 10 years ago what would happen with rising ocean levels, it hasn’t happened.

"Those of you who have watched the Al Gore ‘Inconvenient Truth’ movie saw his hands over the Gulf of Mexico and all this boiling hot water. ‘You think Hurricane Katrina is bad you haven’t seen anything yet, we are going to have all these horrible hurricanes every year’. We haven’t had one, Katrina was six years ago and we have yet to have the next hurricane.”

Instead of CO2-driven global warming, Lutz embraces the theory that the planet is actually cooling because of lower solar flare and sun-spot activity. "It has got nothing to do with CO2, it’s got everything to do with solar activity, and when the solar flares stopped and the sun has been unusually quiet almost to the point of worrying people, then global temperatures go down.”

So why is Lutz such a strong proponent of the Volt and the electrification of the automobile? Peak oil is the answer. Lutz argues that continued dependence on oil as demand inevitably increases will simply exacerbate boom and bust economic cycles. That’s especially the case as Chinese car sales grow. In 20 years he estimates the China market will equal the rest of the world combined. "At that point we have to have alternative drive systems, which to me have to be electric,” Lutz said.


Wind turbines on homes are just ‘eco-bling’

Home turbines and solar panels have little effect

Roof-mounted wind turbines and solar panels are “eco-bling” that allow their owners to flaunt their green credentials but contribute very little towards meeting Britain’s carbon reduction targets, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering. Developers will waste millions of pounds installing such micro-generation devices unless the Government revises its building regulations on carbon-neutral homes and offices.

Doug King, Professor of Building Engineering at the University of Bath and the author of a report on low carbon buildings published today, said that far greater savings could be made by installing better insulation and methods of trapping the Sun’s rays. He proposed that the government target for all new homes to be carbon-neutral by 2016 should be relaxed in return for developers making equivalent contributions to wind farms and other large-scale renewable energy projects. “Wind turbines and solar cells on the roof achieve little or nothing and are what I describe as eco-bling. It’s just about trying to say to the general public, ‘I’m being good, I’m helping the environment’. “The things that save the money are not done, because they are not sexy.”

Dr King said that wind turbines on urban homes often consumed more energy than they generated. Field trials carried out last year by the government-funded Energy Saving Trust found that the most productive building-mounted wind turbines in urban or suburban areas generated only £26 of electricity a year. Many of these turbines, which cost about £1,500, were net consumers of electricity because their controls drew power from the grid when the wind was low.

David Cameron installed a wind turbine on the roof of his home in West London but was forced to remove it because he had not obtained planning permission. His spokeswoman said yesterday that the turbine had been returned to the architect. “The technology has moved on so there was no point in putting it back up,” she said.

Professor King said that for wind turbines on urban homes to be effective, they would have to be so big that their vibration would damage the building. He said that installing microgeneration devices could cost £10,000 to £12,000 per home and reduce its emissions by only a few per cent. He proposed an alternative policy under which developers would offset the entire emissions of new homes by contributing £3,000 per dwelling towards a wind farm on a hilltop.

Professor King said that offices would need to be redesigned to reduce energy use and cope with regular power cuts caused by the failure to replace ageing power stations. He accused the Government of failing to practise what it preached on emissions. A recent National Audit Office report found that 80 per cent of government buildings opened since 2002 fell below minimum environmental performance standards.



God, how embarrassing. The Met Office is on the verge of being dumped by the BBC, because it keeps getting forecasts – especially long-term ones – wrong. Worse, its place as the supplier of TV forecasts to the nation may be usurped by Metra, a New Zealand operation.

For a quasi-governmental organisation (it's part of the Ministry of Defence) that was founded 150 years as a service to seamen and which has supplied BBC with forecasts since 1920, this is a matter of head-hanging shame. If the UK's national weather service is disowned by the UK's national public broadcaster, where on earth can it go? Who's going to trust it, after its own family has rejected it? And does this mean that the BBC may dispense with all Met Office productions and dump the – gulp – Shipping Forecast as well?

I can't say I'm surprised by this turn of events, though. Last year the Met Office forecast a "barbecue summer", and we spent July and August huddling in the rain, trying to coax some fire out of the sodden charcoal. In autumn, there wasn't nearly enough shouting from the Met Office about the Arctic ice and biblical snowfalls that were heading our way, so we wound up sleeping in freezing cars, stranded on the A3, and cursing the birdbrains who predicted a 66 per cent likelihood that winter would be warmer than average (cheers, guys). Then you take a closer look and find that the Met failed to predict wet summers for the past three years; and that its annual global forecast predictions were wrong for nine of the last 10 years. It's been running a "warm bias" for a decade.

You could forgive it some errors of computation in what is, of course, an imperfect science, where words like "probability" and "projections" sometimes seem to mean "guesswork". But medicine is an imperfect science too (my father, a GP, used to refer to his stethoscope as "the guessing tubes") and you suspect that, if the Met Office was a doctor, his surgery would be littered with dead bodies. Its actual head office is in Exeter, Devon, a purpose-built £80m glass-and-steel beauty (opened in 2004) that dazzles in the sunlight but fails to shine when it comes to supplying useful medium-term information. Fifty years ago last summer, the success of the D-Day landings and the lives of millions depended crucially on weather forecasters accurately predicting the weather on the day of the invasion. If they could get it right weeks in advance, why can't the Met, half a century later?

Some climatologists hint that the Office's problem is political – its computer model of future weather behaviour habitually feeds in government-backed assumptions about climate change that aren't borne out by the facts. To the Met Office, the weather's always warmer than it really is, because it's expecting it to be, because it expects climate change to wreak its stealthy havoc. If it really has had its thumb on the scales for the last decade, I'm afraid it deserves to be shown the door.


The latest Greenie wail: We must eat oddly-shaped and damaged-looking fruit!

This wail comes from Australia but the "problem" is greater in other countries, notably Japan. I personally am rather glad that the Japanese are so fussy. It means that I get to eat delicious but slightly misshapen Japanese-bred Nashi pears for only a fraction of what the Japanese pay

When it comes to the critical problems facing humanity, there is one issue that does not command our attention the way it should, but in its own quiet way is every bit as compelling and troublesome as climate change or the global financial crisis. It's our flagrant abuse of fruit and vegetables. Sounds like a bit of a parody, doesn't it? But the fate of the banana, the tomato and the carrot have a lot more to do with our environmental and economic woes than many would at first suspect. How we grow, depict and treat produce in the West is a stark representation of the pernickety, self-destructive consumer society we have become.

For some years, the major supermarkets have behaved like a phalanx of door-bitches fronting exclusive nightclubs. They have decreed that the fruit and vegetables they sell must meet stringent standards of appearance, or no entry. Although this quest for perfect-looking produce is driven by what customers want, it raises some serious agricultural, not to mention ethical, problems.

The issue has been festering for some time at the Victorian Farmers Federation, which in December doled out some home truths about consumer expectations. A frustrated Andrew Broad, the federation's president, said the expectations were unrealistic and growers were going broke. The problem is simply stated: people only want to buy produce that looks attractive. Any fruit and veg with a few blemishes or a slightly unorthodox shape are shunned. In some cases, growers have had whole crops rejected by supermarket buyers.

The banana provides an instructive example. In Queensland, Australian Banana Growers Council chief executive Tony Heidrich recently admitted to a high level of wastage that he described as "disappointing". A more apposite d-word would be disgraceful. At least 100,000 tonnes of bananas are deemed not attractive enough for public consumption and are sent to the shredder and buried. Unattractive fruit won't sell. Customers will only take home the perfect specimens.

This objectification of fruit satirically echoes many debates feminists have had about society's objectification of women. In the quest for some totally artificial construct of an ideal, many people are overlooking the single most important fact - that it's what's on the inside that matters.

Where is it written that wonky looking fruit isn't good for you? It is frequently remarked upon that the flavour of those perfect-looking tomatoes in the supermarket is perfectly bland. Any home gardener will tell you that a rough-looking home-grown tomato, blemished though it may be, is utterly delicious next to an insipid, store-bought example. This is mildly amusing until you think about the implications. Fruit that fails the appearance test is rejected; thrown away or ploughed back into the ground. This happens to up to 25 per cent of all produce.

When you consider how many people on earth are starving, and that industries are looking to minimise carbon footprints, it is totally unforgivable to throw away carefully grown and tended food just because it isn't pretty enough.

But human behaviour is often perverse. It's frequently said that what the West spends on dieting could, if re-directed, end starvation in the world. Our inexorable quest for perfection - for beautiful bodies, fabulous homes, shiny cars, breathtaking holidays, perfect meals - is largely responsible for the pollution and damage we have wreaked on earth. You don't have to be Al Gore to apprehend that our lifestyle is screwing up the planet.

It's enough to make one pessimistic. What hope is there to solve complex human problems when half the planet is so hung up on appearances that it refuses to eat food that doesn't have the right look?

It's not just the fault of supermarket managers. Until last July, the European Union had set specific cosmetic standards for most produce and oddly shaped fruit and veg were effectively banned from sale. The prohibition has been lifted largely because of the global recession, which has partially recalibrated some of our commercial decisions.

But supermarkets worldwide still insist on crazy notions of perfection and, of course, they blame us, the customer. We've asked for it. No one really knows just how much food around the world is rejected and wasted in this way. It could be billions of dollars worth each year. Is Western culture even more decadent than anyone imagined?

Under the pretext of preserving the planet's finite resources, the media and government often try to whip us into a frenzy of guilt and accountability. We're implored to get roof insulation, to invest in solar power, to recycle our rubbish, to ride a bike to work, to buy drought-resistant plants and let the lawn die. Tell it to the turnips. Until society learns to value and manage food responsibly, what's the point?


Does Monckton go too far?

Writing from Australia, Janet Albrechtsen says that Lord Monckton should not call Warmists Nazis and Communists even though Warmists frequently abuse skeptics that way. She may be right

IS it too much to ask for a measured climate change debate in 2010? Looking back at 2009, it's hard to think of a more frustrating debate than the one about anthropogenic global warming.

One side says the science is settled and will not countenance dissent. Within that group sit the alarmists who preach death and destruction, those who define humanity as the problem and those who have long harboured an ideological grudge against Western progress. Those on the other side of the debate say man-made global warming is all bunkum. Though they describe themselves as sceptics, for many of them the science is equally settled: in their favour.

And in between is a far larger group of people, those who are open-minded and genuinely sceptical, who are trying to understand the debate as best they can. Yet frustration only grows at the extremism on both sides.

So what will Christopher Monckton bring to this exasperating state of affairs? The former adviser to Margaret Thatcher is in Australia next week, speaking about the flaws of the push for a global solution to global warming. Last year, Monckton blew the whistle on a draft Copenhagen treaty that political leaders seemed keen to keep away from the prying eyes of taxpayers, who will fund the grand promises.

While nothing concrete came out of Copenhagen, the push for global commitments and a foreign aid bonanza continues. And in this respect, Monckton has plenty more to say. He has written to the Prime Minister outlining legitimate concerns that billions of dollars will be wasted on a problem that does not exist.

When Monckton talks about the science he is powerful. Watch on YouTube his kerb-side interview of a well-meaning Greenpeace follower on the streets of Copenhagen last month. With detailed data behind him, he asks whether she is aware that there has been no statistically significant change in temperatures for 15 years. No, she is not. Whether she is aware that there has in fact been global cooling in the past nine years? No, she is not. Whether she is aware that there has been virtually no change to the amount of sea ice? No, she does not. Whether, given her lack of knowledge about these facts, she is driven by faith, not facts. Yes, she is driven by faith, she says.

To those with an open mind, Monckton's fact-based questions demand answers from our political leaders. To this end, he will impress his Australian audience over the next few days. Unfortunately, while Monckton has mastered the best arts of persuasion, he also succumbs to the worst of them when he engages in his made-for-the-stage histrionics. In Copenhagen, when a group of young activists interrupted a meeting, he berated them as Nazis and Hitler Youth. Elsewhere he has called on people to rise up and fight off a "bureaucratic communistic world government monster". This extremist language damages his credibility. More important, it damages the debate. You start to look like a crank when you describe your opponents as Nazis and communists. You can see how it happens. Talking to a roomful of cheering fellow travellers, the temptation is to hit the high gear of hyperbole. But if your aim is to persuade those with an open mind, this kind of talk will only turn people away. Warning people about the genuine threat to national sovereignty from a centralised global-warming bureaucracy is one thing. Talking about a new front of communists marching your way is another. It sounds like an overzealous warrior fighting an old battle.

The debate about global warming is as much a political debate as it is about the science. Writing in Macleans earlier this month, Andrew Coyne highlighted the errors made by the global warmists who deride their opponents. "If your desire is to persuade the unpersuaded among the general public, the very worst way to go about it is to advertise your bottomless contempt for your adversaries. That the IPCC scientists reacted in this way shows how unprepared they were, for all their activist enthusiasm, to enter the political arena."

The great shame is that those on the other side of the debate are making precisely the same error. And that is why Monckton's fact-based concerns are left unaddressed by our political leaders. They have sidelined him from debate. Kevin Rudd has not responded to his letter. Tony Abbott will not meet him. Neither should he. There is no political gain for the Opposition Leader in doing so.

And the reason is clear enough. Inflationary language deflates an argument. Moreover, Monckton is making the worst political error at the worst possible time, right when this debate is slipping from the control of those determined to punish countries for their carbon emissions. Even The Guardian's resident alarmist George Monbiot admitted last November, "There is no point in denying it: we're losing. Climate change denial is spreading like a contagious disease."

It's neither denial nor a disease, of course. Just healthy scepticism. And it's growing in all the right directions for all the right reasons. Scepticism about the science: the revelation that scientists massaged data to suit their case has damaged the public's trust in the scientific community. Scepticism about the costs: after Copenhagen, we now know more about the grab for a new gravy train of foreign aid from developed nations set to flow to developing countries under the cloak of climate change. Scepticism about the government: the Rudd government will come under increased pressure to explain its rush to implement an emissions trading system ahead of the rest of the world. And scepticism about the role of a campaigning media: even the BBC Trust has called for a review of the BBC's cheerleading coverage of climate change. What took it so long? Large sections of the Australian media are no less complicit in the same kind of climate change advocacy.

In 2010, healthy scepticism will continue to rise against the global warming alarmists. But only if those such as Monckton treat the public with respect by sticking to the facts and using measured language, not fanciful claims and name-calling.



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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