Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Democrats consider big gamble on global warming plan
On the heels of their improbable passage of a massive health care bill, Democrats are weighing an ambitious global warming bill that few lawmakers were even willing to consider just months ago.
"After seeing health care reform pass, it seems to me they can pass any bill they want if they set their minds to it," said Marc Morano, a global warming skeptic and former top aide to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.,
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., are expected to unveil their bill the week of April 19 in order to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has suggested he'll try to tackle it this year.
"The leader has been wonderfully committed to making this congress the one that finally passes comprehensive energy and climate legislation," Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith told the Washington Examiner.
But Reid stopped short of promising to bring the bill to the Senate floor. Whether he does so will depend on how much support he can get from within his own caucus, where he will likely meet opposition from lawmakers representing oil and coal producing states as well as tax-averse moderates.
The bill calls for reducing carbon emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The bill aims to draw in moderate Democrats and Republicans by expanding off-shore drilling, nuclear energy and clean-coal initiatives, though on a limited scale.
"What they are doing is really delivering on all the things both sides of the aisle have promised to do and have campaigned to get done," said Tony Kreindler, spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund. "The chances of us getting a sensible energy bill out of this Congress are as good as they have ever been."
But other believe the bill's passage in the Senate is improbable, if not impossible, this year as 36 Senate seats are up for grabs and polls show the public wants Congress to focus on legislation aimed at creating jobs and economic growth, not global warming. The Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill would impose some kind of gasoline tax as well as a cap-and-trade system on electric utilities, which could lead to higher rates.
"The biggest problem is overcoming polling data that show the American public is leery of anything that could be called an energy tax," said Jerry Taylor, an energy policy scholar at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.
But health care reform was also unpopular in polls, yet Democrats cobbled together enough support to pass it last month. Morano, who now runs the Web site Climate Depot, said Democrats may decide it is "now or never" for a climate bill.
"If they fail this year to get any kind of cap and trade system in place, they are looking at years into the political wilderness when it comes to addressing global warming," Morano said. "We are talking about at least four to eight years before they have another real shot at passing this."
High Sticking: The Flaws of the IPCC and the Hockey Stick Model
Rajendra Pachauri , chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), responded to the errors exposed in the IPCC report saying that “Scientists are demonised because of one error in 3000 pages of evidence.” Truth be told, there were several errors uncovered in the report including questionable sources in the assessment of mountain ice reduction in the Andes, Alps and Africa as well as acknowledged overstating crop loss in Africa, Amazon rain forest depletion, sea level increases in the Netherlands. But Pachauri only acknowledges that the Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035 or sooner was speculative at best. The reality is the IPCC reports have significant flaws; they simply aren’t picked up by the mainstream media.
Take the hockey stick theory, for instance. The theory is best explained by a graph that shows a time-series of global temperatures with current and future temperatures increasing at such rapid rates that it resembles the blade of a hockey stick. The graph appeared six times in the IPCC’s 2001 report. Andrew Montford’s new book, The Hockey Stick Illusion, reveals that the problems with the hockey stick theory go back much further than Climategate. In a review of the book, the Prospect Magazine’s Matt Ridley writes:
“The emails that were leaked from the University of East Anglia late last year are not proof of this; they are merely the icing on the lake, proof that some of the scientists closest to the hockey stick knew all along that it was problematic. Andrew Montford’s book, despite its subtitle, is not about the emails, which are tagged on as a last chapter. It is instead built around the long, lonely struggle of one man— Stephen McIntyre—to understand how the hockey stick was made, with what data and what programs. A retired mining entrepreneur with a mathematical bent, McIntyre asked the senior author of the hockey stick graph, Michael Mann, for the data and the programs in 2003, so he could check it himself. This was five years after the graph had been published, but Mann had never been asked for them before. McIntyre quickly found errors: mislocated series, infilled gaps, truncated records, old data extrapolated forwards where new was available, and so on.
Not all the data showed a 20th century uptick either. In fact just 20 series out of 159 did, and these were nearly all based on tree rings. In some cases, the same tree ring sets had been used in different series. In the end the entire graph got its shape from a few bristlecone and foxtail pines in the western United States; a messy tree-ring data set from the Gaspé Peninsula in Canada; another Canadian set that had been truncated 17 years too early called, splendidly, Twisted Tree Heartrot Hill; and a superseded series from Siberian larch trees. There were problems with all these series: for example, the bristlecone pines were probably growing faster in the 20th century because of more carbon dioxide in the air, or recovery after “strip bark” damage, not because of temperature change.
This was bad enough; worse was to come. Mann soon stopped cooperating, yet, after a long struggle, McIntyre found out enough about Mann’s programs to work out what he had done. The result was shocking. He had standardised the data by “short-centering” them—essentially subtracting them from a 20th century average rather than an average of the whole period. This meant that the principal component analysis “mined” the data for anything with a 20th century uptick, and gave it vastly more weight than data indicating, say, a medieval warm spell.”
Ridley’s book isn’t the only evidence. Fred Singer recently published an 800 page report entitled, “Climate Change Reconsidered” that questions and debunks many of the conclusions found by the IPCC report. An article written last year by Kesten C. Green, J. Scott Armstrong and scientist Willie Soon write that scientists in many respects are being paid to make, at best, guesses or projections of how climate change actually works and what temperatures will be like in the future. They say, “The models employed by James Hansen and the IPCC are not based on scientific forecasting principles. There is no empirical evidence that they provide long-term forecasts that are as accurate as forecasting that global average temperatures won’t change. Hansen’s, and the IPCC’s, forecasts, and the recommendations based on them, should be ignored.”
This especially includes costly regulations on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases our government is willing to impose because the IPCC recommends CO2 is a threat to our health and environment.
Global warming: 'Proof' there is no central funding or organisation of skeptics
If Exxon or Koch was funding opposition to climate change, right about now they'd be asking for their money back. The last few months have seen the establishment consensus take body blow after body blow without appearing even bruised.
The reason the establishment is emerging unscathed from Climategate and the Copenhagen disaster is precisely because the opposition is not organised. Oh, I don't doubt that Exxon and Koch give money to conservative thinktanks, and that those thinktanks occasionally write articles opposing the establishment view. But that's a bit different.
The reason I'm sure there is no central direction of opposition is that there are no central directives.
This battle may be about science, it may be about politics--hey, it might even be about policy! But the battle is being fought in and through the media.
Anyone who understands how the media works knows immediately that there is no centrally funded, centrally organised campaign against global warming.
First, there is no calendar. Editors assign reporters to cover events and produce x amount of words or airtime to fill a hole in the product--newspaper, magazine, news show, whatever. The most valuable tool an editor has is a calendar. So every centrally funded, centrally organised campaign in the world that wants to get media coverage supplies calendar items for editors to use. There is no such calendar for skeptics or other opponents of global warming consensus. Ergo, there is no centrally funded or centrally organised campaign.
Second, there are no (or extremely few) phony pseudo-events that exist only to generate media coverage. There are no bikini-clad polar pears handing out Eskimo Pies at travelling skeptic circuses, and media campaigns for the events that do exist (such as the recent film, Not Evil, Just Wrong) are so obviously home-grown as to be evidence in themselves that there is no central direction.
Third, there is no central story-holder. Real Climate has on its website pretty much the whole book on global warming from its point of view, from basics to esoterics. There is no skeptic equivalent--no ready resource to send a reporter to for handy references.
Fourth, there is no co-ordination between the various actors opposing the consensus. No round-robins, no tag teams, no hierarchy such as exists on the other side, where there is a distinct division between first and second tier sources.
Finally, other than the websites that contain skeptic or lukewarmer 'product,' there is no outbound communications program at all. The closest thing I've seen in my inbox is Marc Morano's email for his site Climate Depot--but it only provides links to stories that have already been published. (Now, if he was taking orders from Koch or Exxon, you can be sure there would be a part of the email that hinted at what was coming that week.)
In other words, there is pretty convincing evidence that there is no co-ordinated media strategy used on behalf of skeptics or lukewarmers. They've stayed ahead of the game so far because they have a handful of useful aggregators and their own unruly sense of independence (and stubbornness) to keep them going.
But because they have none of the above-mentioned tools, they haven't had much of an impact, either. Which is why Phil Jones and Rajendra Pachauri may keep their jobs, and why the shoddy standards of climate science may take a long time to improve.
It's all job security for me, of course. As was mentioned during the recent inquiry by the UK House of Commons, Steve Mosher and I have written a book about the leaked emails that have caused so much controversy. The title is Climategate: The CRUtape Letters.
New mileage restrictions, but under what justification?
The Obama administration announced on Thursday it will require vehicles to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, requiring an estimated price hike of roughly $1,000 per car. Aside from pricing people out of cars and into bicycles – which seems to be the favored transportation of the left, as popularized out of necessity in poverty-stricken Third World countries such as North Korea and Bangladesh – what is the justification for such vehicle mileage restrictions?
Proponents of the restrictions focus on two asserted reasons: (1) the restrictions will actually save consumers money over the long run because they will be purchasing less gasoline and (2) the restrictions fight global warming because carbon dioxide emissions will fall as less gasoline is used. Both of these assertions are flawed and ignore more significant negative consequences of the new restrictions.
The asserted cost savings are quite deceptive. After all, who doesn’t want to save money? The answer, in the real world, is provided by the millions of people who forego purchasing a Kia Rio or a Smart car each year and instead choose to purchase a Chevy Malibu or a Dodge 300. People already have the option to purchase small, high-mileage vehicles that will save them money over the long term, but they choose not to. There are many reasons for this. Larger, heavier cars protect people better in automobile accidents. Parents with teenagers prefer not to permanently disfigure their children’s legs and spines by forcing them to sit in contorted positions to actually fit in the backseat of a glorified clownmobile. Some families have several children and need a larger vehicle, such as a minvan or SUV, to travel together as a family.
Much of the expected gains in fuel economy will be accomplished by jacking up the price of larger vehicles in order to nudge consumers into vehicles they don’t really want. When consumers purchase these smaller, higher-mileage vehicles, the fact that they save a little money in the long run is little consolation. If saving money was their highest priority, Kia Rios and Smart cars would dominate the automobile market.
And when you think about it, why not ban designer clothes, too? That would save consumers quite a bit of many, also. If everyone had to buy their clothes from Target or Wal-Mart, wouldn’t we all save money in the long run? What’s the sacrifice of a little freedom and style when government can force us to save money?
The global warming issue makes even less sense. Global temperatures show no sign of rapid acceleration, and have not risen at all for more than a decade. A single country getting a few more miles per gallon per vehicle wouldn’t make a significant difference even if global warming were a problem. Moreover, if cars attain more miles per gallon, consumers will drive their cars more frequently, negating much of the projected savings in gasoline use. Do we really want to restrict individual freedom to purchase desired goods and services to achieve negligible “gains” regarding such a speculative and fraud-ridden issue as global warming?
While the asserted benefits of the new vehicle restrictions are speculative and insignificant, proponents of the new restrictions have been remarkably silent about vehicle safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projects the new restrictions will kill 400 people per year due to lighter, less crashworthy vehicles. If any private sector product or activity killed this many people per year, Keith Olbermann would call it the Worst Product in the World, people would be marching in the streets, and government would surely ban such a wicked manifestation of free market excess. But if the government is involved, and the restrictions can be connected to environmental dream weavers, then surely several hundred Americans can be sacrificed for such a noble purpose.
Ethanol Subsidies Drive Up Cost
The Environmental Protection Agency wants to dump more corn into your fuel tank this summer, and it's going to cost more than you think.
The agency is expected to approve a request from 52 ethanol producers known collectively as "Growth Energy" to boost existing requirements that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol to 15 percent. The change means billions more in government subsidies for companies in the business of growing corn and converting it into ethanol. For the rest of us, it means significantly higher gasoline and food prices.
It's time that this shameless corporate welfare gets plowed under.
In 2007, members of Congress joined with the Bush administration in mandating by government fiat the annual sale of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022. To meet the ambitious sales targets, the EPA has little choice but to approve the 15 percent ethanol fuel blend. Big Corn's advocates claim that forcing Americans to use this renewable fuel would reduce dependency on Mideast oil and lead to cleaner air. It's just as likely, however, that they want to get their hands on the $16 billion a year from the 45-cent-per-gallon "blender's tax credit" - in addition to the various state and federal mandates giving us no choice but to pump their pricey product into our fuel tanks.
The benefits are overstated. According to the EPA, reduction in foreign imports will result in $3.7 billion in "energy security benefits" at the expense of $18 billion in increased fuel costs by 2022. Environmental testing has proved inconclusive, as certain types of pollutants increase when ethanol content increases. It should be noted that the EPA's track record on "environmental" gasoline additives includes Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE), a possible carcinogen whose once-mandated use has contaminated groundwater across the country.
Ethanol's environmental credentials are further weakened by its inefficiency as a fuel. Higher ethanol concentration will reduce the gas mileage of America's cars across the board by 5.3 percent. In addition to the pain that adds at the pump, repair bills will mount when engines not designed to handle 15 percent ethanol run lean and suffer increased wear and misfires. Because vehicle warranties specifically exclude damage from the use of unapproved fuels, the additional price for this boondoggle will fall on drivers.
The same problem hits gas stations where pumps and underground storage tanks are not certified for use with elevated ethanol levels. The cost of replacing perfectly good equipment will, once again, be passed on to the consumer.
Even those who do not own automobiles will begin to feel the pinch as more and more farm land is shifted towards taking advantage of government-subsidized ethanol production instead of food. Groups as diverse as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the National Chicken Council and the American Meat Institute realize that this policy is distorting the market for food prices.
According to the University of Missouri's Farm and Policy Research Institute, the ethanol tax credit increases corn prices by 18 cents a barrel, wheat by 15 cents and soybeans by 28 cents. That means higher prices for most food items at the grocery store and restaurants.
There simply is no justification - environmental or otherwise - for this interventionist scheme. With the economy reeling, consumers can no longer afford to bankroll the politically connected agricultural lobby. The EPA should reject the 15 percent ethanol requirement and Congress should send Big Corn's rent seekers elsewhere with the repeal of all ethanol subsidies.
Close enough for government work
The EPA and Energy Department are caught fudging efficiency ratings
Part of President Obama's health care bill depends on the government telling doctors and hospitals what are purportedly the most efficient medical procedures they should use. Americans are supposed to trust Mr. Obama's bureaucrats over their own doctors. Meanwhile, a new report from the Government Accountability Office shows that the Obama administration has been an utter failure at identifying the efficiency of a wide range of products. As government encroaches on more aspects of American life, the federal bureaucracy is increasingly incompetent.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are charged with identifying how energy-efficient different products are. They claim that 98 percent of the products they test meet or exceed Energy Star requirements, which are government benchmarks used to regulate greater efficiency. Yet a sting by GAO investigators showed that the government agencies incorrectly identified as "efficient" 15 of 20 bogus products submitted by GAO for testing. No action was taken on two of the 20 products. Overall, the government made the correct decision on 11 percent of the test products.
As the Washington saying forewarns, the difference between 98 percent and 11 percent is close enough for government work.
Most disturbingly, the absurd products in question shouldn't have been close calls. Take the so-called "room air cleaner." The product was a space heater with a duster sticking out of the top and several fly strips attached. The picture submitted to the government of the bogus product is pretty hilarious - but the bureaucracy gave the contraption the federal stamp of approval.
Among the other ridiculous items the government certified as energy-efficient was a petroleum-powered timepiece that was described as a "generator-sized clock run on gasoline." Such a machine obviously would be energy-inefficient. Moving the heavy beast alone would keep greens awake at night worrying about wasted energy, making the alarm on the clock superfluous.
News of these phony approvals has bureaucrats running for high ground. While defensively insisting that they take the tests "seriously," the EPA and Energy Department immediately issued a statement defending their testing and telling the public it should not lose confidence in the government program to monitor efficiency ratings. Incorrigibly, the feds again pointed to their own discredited 98 percent accuracy rate and implausibly claimed the Energy Star program has so far saved Americans $17 billion on their electricity bills.
However much the EPA and Energy Department protest, government agencies will never be as careful as private companies in getting consumers what they want. Shareholders lose their own money if they deceive consumers. If a business had an accuracy rate that was 87 percent lower than what it claimed, few customers would line up to buy its products. Just consider how quickly people stopped buying Toyotas amid charges of dangerous brake failure and electrical problems in a small percentage of the millions of cars sold by the Japanese automaker whose main selling point is reliability.
Given Mr. Obama's massive expansion of the federal leviathan, the defeatist quip "close enough for government work" could become the refrain for a new national anthem.
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Posted by JR at 2:37 PM