Sunday, June 13, 2010

The United Nations pisses into the wind

Lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change, UN report says. To show my respect for their wisdom, I am having roast lamb for my dinner today

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.

As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

It says: "Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."

Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: "Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels."

The recommendation follows advice last year that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet from Lord Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the Labour government on the economics of climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has also urged people to observe one meat-free day a week to curb carbon emissions.

The panel of experts ranked products, resources, economic activities and transport according to their environmental impacts. Agriculture was on a par with fossil fuel consumption because both rise rapidly with increased economic growth, they said.

Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who co-chaired the panel, said: "Rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and dairy products - livestock now consumes much of the world's crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides."....


Ten Myths of Addressing Global Warming and the Green Economy

The debate on policy responses to climate change is fueled by an array of myths, ranging from assumptions that high carbon taxes will generate needed clean innovations to the belief the U.S. is the natural leader in the clean energy sector. If we are to effectively address climate change while at the same time become globally competitive in the clean energy industry, policies need to be guided by careful and reasoned analysis.

In the report ITIF dismantles the top ten myths in the debate, which are:

1. Higher prices on greenhouse gases are enough to drive the transition to a clean economy

2. The U.S. can make major contributions to solving climate change on its own

3. Cap-and-trade is a sustainable global solution

4. We don’t need innovation; we have all the technology we need

5. “Insulation is enough” (e.g. energy efficiency will save us)

6. Low growth is the answer…just live simply

7. Information technology (IT) is a significant contributor to climate change

8. Going green is green (e.g., it makes economic sense to go green)

9. We are world leaders on the green economy, and it’s ours for the taking

10. Foreign green mercantilism is good for solving climate change (and good for the U.S.)

SOURCE. (Link to full report at source)

An unusually sober debate about global warming

It's rare for a climate debate not to descend into acrimony, but I attended one last week that didn't.

This one pitted against each other the sociologist and New Labour philosopher king Anthony 'Third Way' Giddens, former director of the London School of Economics, and former Chancellor Lord Nigel Lawson. Giddens was speaking at the invitation of Lawson's new climate policy think tank. This doesn't have a collective view and won't challenge the "science" and so won't be boxed in by the "skeptic" label, which it rejects - but wants to provide a focus for some analysis of the policy.

And it was very well timed, because the public debate is in a kind of paralysis. During the election, the issue was almost completely absent, while in the debates, it merited one question, prompting identical pledges of self-sacrifice from the three party leaders.

Although the political elite is almost entirely signed up to mitigation policies, the reality is that they can't introduce them, because it means electoral suicide. Mitigation entails a world of pain - with jobs lost, higher energy costs and a lower standard of living. This appeals to a few puritans - the kind of people who mourned the end of rationing, perhaps - but not the general public. So we've seen Australia drop its emissions trading scheme, and in the US, the only Republican backer of a climate bill change sides.

Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, suggests another reason for the lack of momentum. Up until about two years ago, he points out, environment ministers would regularly meet at global conferences, and make grand proclamations. They set the policy. But since then, finance ministers and prime ministers and presidents have taken control of the policy, and they've done the maths. So what pledges politicians continue to make, are ever more meaningless.

A recent poll here failed to show an increase in the number of self-described "skeptics", but agnosticism and indifference rule. Which, when you think about it, is a very pragmatic and typically English response to religious or political ideologues.

The debate

First their positions, in a nutshell, then their responses to an interesting set of challenges from the audience.

Giddens said "the science" showed humans were wreaking terrible havoc on natural systems, that this science was robust, and the science also had a clear policy message: we must change our ways. "We're interfering in the climate in a radical and irreversible way ... We must take action now," he said. But Giddens had a Plan B. He added that even if all this was mistaken, oil prices would rise in the future, and energy conservation and "energy security" were key policy areas. These provided alternative justifications for his desired policies, which were pretty much the same either way.

Lawson said the science was anything but robust ("It's more uncertain the more you look"), but that didn't matter so much as choosing the right policy responses. For Lawson, efforts to reduce CO2 emissions were all futile gestures - they wouldn't work, and they'd only end up costing us dearly. That's because China and India will not halt economic development, which for now, is largely dependent on abundant and cheap fossil fuels. He described the UK Climate Change Act, which commits the UK to tough reduction targets, as a piece of "post-Imperial arrogance." "CND [Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament] was a more intelligent form of unilateralism than carbon unilateralism," said Lawson.

You can see the weaknesses. For Giddens, the scientific elite makes the policy: and the One True Policy is to stop emitting carbon now! But the science doesn't really favour any policy - that will be for us to decide democratically, presumably after we've weighed up the costs and risks of all the policies.

Believers in radical and irreversible anthropogenic climate change like Giddens view Lawson's adaptation-first argument as reckless and insane, and probably morally negligent, too - although if Giddens holds this view, he was too polite to express it here. But the adaptationists' argument is based on the premise that future generations will be wealthier than we are, so the costs of adapting will be lower as each year passes.

Adaptation is winning, and it's gained some surprising support recently - even from some academics who raised the climate alarm in the first place, in the Hartwell Paper.

So I could sense some hedging of bets. Giddens said the value of adaptation policies had been underestimated, and he was surprisingly wary of many of the environmentalists' emblems - particularly wind power. At the same time, he had a hunch that things would be far worse than predicted, based on the idea that the IPCC was a bureaucratic process that needed to compromise, and tended to play down the scariest scenarios.

Lawson chuckled and disagreed, pointing out that the IPCC had ceased being an independent body and become a political one: its goal was causing governments to change policies. He recommended that after the next climate jamboree in Cancun in December the coalition government take a completely fresh look and rethink its policies.

Both found the energy choices being made today unrealistic. "Wind power would only ever be marginal," agreed Giddens.

Lawson was typically dismissive of the LibDems' position - that nuclear power must receive no subsidy, but that wind power would be allowed "massive and exorbitant subsidies … it's a curious prejudice that leads to this doctrine". Wind power is really as carbon intensive as anything conventional, because it needs fossil fuels as a backup for when the wind doesn't blow - a point Giddens acknowledged. Lawson pointed out the pioneers of wind power had all stopped: Denmark, Spain and now Germany - as all had to admit it didn't make sense. Giddens sort of agreed:

"The knock-on effects were complicated, but wind had not paid back the investment. There was a net cost to the German economy". Giddens thought money would be better spent researching other areas - such as energy storage. Lawson agreed - it had been almost thirty years since he'd been energy minister, and there had been no progress in energy storage since then.

In response to the concerns raised by retired engineer Bill McAuley, editor of Imperial Engineer, Lawson regretted that the carbon obsession was crowding out other research, even environmental research. Lawson told the story of a researcher who wanted to look into the issue of toxic waste, but was told he wouldn't get funding unless he could find a connection to climate change. Of course, there was no connection, and he didn't get his funding. Additional concerns were raised about the costs for industry and business. These rarely get a look-in on mainstream environmental coverage.

An environmental lawyer rose to his feet and attempted a grand summing up. Couldn't we all conclude, he claimed, that everyone agreed on one thing: that we all had to lower carbon consumption, and without pausing for punctuation, he continued that we would then need global legislation to enforce this, and "international courts" too.

Imagine - a lawyer calling for international eco-courts. Think of the air miles for environmental lawyers! That's what you call chutzpah, and you don't really pull one like this over on Nigel Lawson. He thanked the lawyer for his creative interpretation, but said it didn't reflect his position at all.

And all too soon, the debate had to end.


One thought that occurred to me, listening to the mitigation vs adaptation argument, was much how the label "denier" betrays an almost existentialist fear. The adaptationists' argument is powerful precisely because it illuminates a fatal weakness in the approach that environmentalists had adopted throughout the past 15 years, and which until recently. had been so successful. The Achilles heel is the presumption that "the science" dictates "the policy", and we must all accept their (mitigation) policies without question.

Adaptation is a very well-aimed bullet indeed: if you shoot the "scientific" case, or merely question the logic, then the whole cut-carbon mitigation strategy loses its justification. And it isn't just the specific policies but perhaps an entire belief system and world view that dies with it.


IPCC: This Time Will be Different (Not)

By eminent young (41) Dutch economist, Richard Tol

Much has been said about the procedures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But at the end of the day, everything comes down to people. The average IPCC author is smart enough to violate the spirit of any rule while complying with its every letter. The right group of people would produce a sound and honest report even if there were no rules at all.

That is why my submission to the review panel of the Inter Academy Council focuses on the selection of lead authors. The panel will announce its findings at the end of summer – and the IPCC will announce the authors for the Fifth Assessment Report next week.

This is very unfortunate. I think that the IPCC should suspend the AR5 process, fix the procedures for nominating and selecting authors, and postpone the report to 2015. I’d rather bet on New Zealand winning the world cup.

That said, the leaders of Working Group 2 are making an effort. I have been critical of the IPCC. I think that climate change is real, really caused by humans, and a problem that should be solved – but I also think that there are bigger, more urgent environmental problems (let alone other problems) and that the policies put forward by our dear leaders are ineffective, misdirected and needlessly expensive. Nonetheless, WG2 has put me forward as a convening lead author of one of the chapters in AR5.

I tentatively accepted, knowing that this would be a lot of difficult work under immense scrutiny.

Guess what? Although the Irish government nominated me, it will not financially support my participation – not even travel costs – because of … substantive differences over environmental policy.

Political interference in the IPCC continues.


More on the UN biodiversity report

Supreme indifference to the facts

Yesterday I posted about how the UN TEEB report had an error in the very first chapter relating to forest cover. There are two more errors I'll cover now, relating to two more items on this scary list:

However, the levels of many of the benefits we derive from the environment have plunged over the past 50 years as biodiversity has fallen dramatically across the globe. Here are some examples:
• In the last 300 years, the global forest area has shrunk by approximately 40%. Forests have completely disappeared in 25 countries, and another 29 countries have lost more than 90% of their forest cover. The decline continues (FAO 2001; 2006).

• Since 1900, the world has lost about 50% of its wetlands. While much of this occurred in northern countries during the first 50 years of the 20th century, there has been increasing pressure since the 1950s for conversion of tropical and sub-tropical wetlands to alternative land use (Moser et al. 1996).

• Some 30%of coral reefs – which frequently have even higher levels of biodiversity than tropical forests – have been seriously damaged through fishing, pollution, disease and coral bleaching (Wilkinson 2004).

• In the past two decades, 35% of mangroves have disappeared. Some countries have lost up to 80% through conversion for aquaculture, overexploitation and storms (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005a).

• The human-caused (anthropogenic) rate of species extinction is estimated to be 1,000 times more rapid than the “natural” rate of extinction typical of Earth’s long-term history (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005b).

Let's take the wetlands claim first. Their reference for the 50% reduction claim is Moser et al. 1996, referenced as: Moser, M., Prentice, C. and Frazier, S. (1996) A Global Overview of Wetland Loss and Degradation. Available at (last access 6 May 2008).

That link no longer works, this is the correct link. However the report was wrong to cite this source, as this claim is only quoted in the article. Here is the excerpt where it was quoted:

In a very generalized overview, OECD (1996) states:

"Some estimates show that the world may have lost 50% of the wetlands that existed since 1900; whilst much of this occurred in the northern countries during the first 50 years of the century, increasing pressure for conversion to alternative land use has been put on tropical and sub-tropical wetlands since the 1950s.

No figures are available for the extent of wetland loss worldwide, but drainage for agricultural production is the principal cause; by 1985 it was estimated that 56-65% of the available wetland had been drained for intensive agriculture in Europe and N America; the figures for tropical and subtropical regions were 27% for Asia, 6% for S America and 2% for Africa, making a total of 26% worldwide. Future predictions show the pressure to drain land for agriculture intensifying in these regions."

OECD is the correct source. It is referenced in Moser as: OECD/IUCN. 1996. Guidelines for aid agencies for improved conservation and sustainable use of tropical and sub-tropical wetlands. OECD, Paris.

I found it here. Here is what the source says:
The drainage of wetlands has always been seen as a progressive, public-spirited endeavour which enhanced the health and welfare of society, to alleviate the dangers of flooding, improve sanitation, and reclaim land for agriculture. Some estimates show that the world may have lost 50 per cent of the wetlands that existed worldwide since 1900; whilst much of this occurred in the northern countries during the first 50 years, increasing pressure for conversion to alternative land-use has been put on tropical and sub-tropical wetlands since the 1950s. In northern countries, the consequences of this loss such as decline in fisheries productivity, greater intensity of major flooding, and loss of biological and landscape diversity, and amenity value has led to efforts to preserve and restore wetlands.

No figures are available for the extent of wetland loss worldwide, but drainage for increased agricultural production is the principal cause; by 1985 it was estimated that 56 - 65 per cent of the available wetland had been drained for intensive agriculture in Europe and North America; the figures for tropical and subtropical regions were 27 per cent for Asia, 6 per cent for South America and 2 per cent for Africa, making a total of 26 per cent worldwide. Future predictions show the pressure to drain land for agriculture intensifying in these regions.

Wetlands may be lost completely by drainage or infilling, but many of the benefits can be lost even if the wetland itself remains, but in a degraded state. Pollution or the overuse of wetland products (e.g. by deforestation) are examples of this.

They don't cite any source for their 'some estimates show' claim, but it hardly matters because they openly admit "No figures are available for the extent of wetland loss worldwide". Remember the original claim: "Since 1900, the world has lost about 50% of its wetlands"

From an estimation with no source to a verified fact, in just three sources. This is like a citation version of the telephone game.

Much more HERE

The Right to Choose - For Farmers in Haiti

The Monsanto Company is learning a valuable lesson in Haiti: no good deed goes unpunished at the hands of radical anti-corporate elements of Western society.

Like so many other concerned citizens, Monsanto responded to the tragic January 12 earthquake that further devastated this impoverished country. It worked for months with Haiti’s Agricultural Ministry to select seeds best suited to local climates, needs and practices, and to handle the donation so as to support, rather than undermine, the country’s agricultural and economic infrastructure.

From Monsanto’s extensive inventory, they jointly chose conventionally bred hybrid (not biotech / genetically modified / GM) varieties of field corn and seven vegetables: cabbage, carrots, eggplants, onions, tomatoes, spinach and melons. Instead of giving the seeds to farmers, the company worked with the USAID-funded WINNER program, to donate the seeds to stores owned and managed by Haitian farmer associations. The 475 tons of hybrid seeds will then be sold to many thousands of farmers at steep discounts, and all revenues will be reinvested in local agriculture.

Other companies and donors are providing fertilizers, insecticide and herbicides that will likewise be sold at a discount. The companies, Agricultural Ministry, farmers associations and other experts will also provide technical advice and assistance – much as the USDA’s Cooperative Extension System does – on how, when and whether to use the various hybrids, fertilizers, and weed and insect-control chemicals.

The goal is simple. Help get the country and its farmers back on their feet, improve farming practices, crop yields and nutrition levels, and increase incomes and living standards.

The reaction of anti-corporate activists was instantaneous, intense, perverse, patronizing and hypocritical. Monsanto wants to turn Haiti back into “a slave colony,” ranted Organic Consumers Association founder Ronnie Cummins. Hybrid and GM seeds will destroy our diversity, small-farmer agriculture and “what is left of our environment,” raged Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, leader of the Peasant Movement of Papaye.

Other self-anointed “peasant representatives” waded in. The seeds are genetically modified and “will exterminate our people.” Farmers won’t be able to afford the seeds or feed their children. The fertilizers are carcinogenic. Fungicides on the seeds are toxic poisons. “Seeds are the patrimony of humanity.” We support “food and seed sovereignty.” Traditional seeds and farming practices “provide stable employment” for the 70% of Haitians who are small farmers. And of course, “Down with Monsanto.”

Various U.S. churches and foundations chimbed in. “Spontaneous” protests were organized in several Haitian and American cities. At one, hundreds of marchers wore identical shirts and hats, which even at a combined value of just $5 represented two weeks’ income for average Haitian farmers: 40 cents a day. One wonders how many would have shown up without these inducements.

Indeed, this abysmal income underscores the terrible reality of life in this island nation, even before the earthquake, and the perversity of this campaign against “corporate control of the food system.” Instead of “seed sovereignty,” the activists are ensuring eco-imperialism and poverty sovereignty.

Forty years ago, Haiti was largely self-sufficient in food production and actually exported coffee, sugar and mangoes. Today, the country imports 80% of its rice and 97% of the 31 million eggs it consumes monthly. Two-thirds of Haiti’s people are farmers (roughly equivalent to the United States just after the Civil War), but their crop yields are among the lowest in the Western Hemisphere.

Few of Haiti’s rural families have running water or electricity, and women spend hours a day cooking over open fires. Many contract serious lung diseases as a result, and life expectancy is twelve years lower than for people on the Dominican Republic side of the island.

Google satellite images reveal a lush green eastern DR two-thirds of Hispaniola – in stark contrast to the deforested, rutted, brown, impoverished Haitian side, from which enormous quantities of soil are washed into the ocean every year. Roads are so rutted and awful that Peace Corps workers report traveling four hours by truck to go 60 miles. Many rural people cannot afford to feed their children, leaving hundreds of kids in poor highland areas literally starving to death.

Hybrid seeds can help Haitians climb out of this morass. They’re no silver bullet, but they are one of the cheapest, easiest and best investments a farmer can make. By simply planting different seeds and adding fertilizer, farmers can dramatically increase crop yields. A similar Monsanto donation of hybrid maize (corn) seeds and fertilizer to Malawi farmers in 2006 generated a 500% increase in yields and helped feed a million people for a year.

In the United States, organic and conventional farmers alike plant numerous hybrids. They cost more than traditional, open-pollinated seeds, but the payoff in yield, revenue, and uniformity of size, quality and ripening time makes the investment decision easy. Between 1933 and 2000, U.S. corn yields likewise expanded fivefold – thanks to hybrids, fertilizer, irrigation and innovative crop management practices – and today, hybrid or GM hybrid crops are planted on virtually every American field.

Some of the Haitian corn donation will be used to improve chicken farming and egg production. Most will likely be used in staples like sauce pois – corn mush topped with black or red beans combined with coconut milk, hot peppers, onions, garlic and oil. The thickness of the bean sauce reflects a family’s income, and “wealthy” families often accompany the sauce with rice, instead of corn mush. The veggie seeds will add variety to family diets, and provide a source of income via sales at local markets.

The hybrids will also help Haiti adopt truly sustainable farming practices: higher crop yields, greater revenues and better nutrition for more people, at lower cost, from less land, using less water and fewer pesticides, requiring less time in fields, and enabling more farmers to specialize in other trades and send their children to school. In short, greater opportunity and prosperity for millions.

And yet, activists continue to spew forth invective, preposterous claims and disinformation – primarily through the Huffington Post and several other websites. Hybrid seeds don’t regenerate, they assert; wrong – they do and can be replanted, though they will not pass all their best traits down to subsequent generations, which is one reason farmers typically buy new seeds. The seeds are poisonous, they fume; false – the seeds are treated with fungicides that are used safely all over the USA, Western Europe and Latin America, to keep seeds from being destroyed by fungus before they germinate.

(For additional information and discussions, see plant geneticist Anastasia Bodnar’s Biofortified website.)

Monsanto will not force farmers to plant hybrid seeds – or say they can’t replant what they collect from previous harvests. Indeed, hybrids were widely just 30 years ago by Haitian farmers, who know what they are looking for in a crop, how to assess what they have planted and harvested, and whether they want to invest in specific seeds. They should be allowed to make their own decisions – just as others should be permitted to plant whatever traditional, heirloom or open-pollinated seeds they wish.

“We reject Monsanto seeds,” say anti-hybrid activists. They might, and that’s fine. But thousands of other Haitian farmers want to plant Monsanto seeds. Their right to choose must also be respected – not denied by intolerant protesters, who are largely funded and guided by well-fed First World campaigners.

After years of vicious assaults by agro and eco purists, Monsanto’s corporate skin is probably thick enough to survive these lies and often highly personal attacks. Other companies, however, might lack the fortitude to provide their expertise and technology after future disasters, in the face of such attacks.

That is almost certainly an objective for many of these anti-technology, anti-corporate groups. Monsanto has no maize financial interests in Haiti and only a tiny vegetable operation, and I have no financial interest in Monsanto. But for the world’s most destitute people, it would be a tragedy of epic proportions.



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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