Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Big backdown in British climate policy

Britain can no longer stop global warming and must instead focus on adapting to the ‘inevitable’ impacts of climate change such as floods, droughts and rising sea levels, Government ministers will warn this week.

For the past few years Government policy has concentrated on trying to make people turn off lights and grow their own vegetables in an effort to bring down carbon emissions.

But as global greenhouse gases continue to increase, with the growth of developing countries like China and India, and the public purse tightens, the focus will increasingly be on adapting to climate change.

The Government will set out plans to protect power stations from flooding and ensure hospitals can cope with water shortages during dry summers.

Since the beginning of the industrial era, the temperature has already risen by 0.8C, according to the Met Office. [A whole fraction of one degree in a couple of hunded years! How Awful!]

Temperatures are expected to rise further because of greenhouse gases that are already “locked in” but will take decades to warm the atmosphere.

In her first speech on climate change since taking office Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, will speak about the need for Britain to adapt to rising temperatures. “It is vital that we carry on working to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions to stop the problem getting any worse,” she will say. “But we are already stuck with some unavoidable climate change. Because of this, we need to prepare for the best and worst cases which a changing climate will entail for our country.”

However environmental groups are nervous about the change in direction. They fear that the move away from tackling climate change is motivated by spending cuts rather than saving the planet. They also point out that no new money is being offered to help companies or the public sector adapt to climate change, preferring to leave it to ‘the Big Society’ and forward thinking businesses to come up with the cash.

Lord Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said it was dangerous to rely on adaptation rather than trying to mitigate the effects of climate change. “If Caroline Spelman makes her first speech about adaptation and nothing about mitigation it spells out significant danger for all of us,” he said.

Mrs Spelman will be speaking in response to a hard-hitting report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), due out on Thursday. The committee, set up to advise the Government on tackling climate change, is expected to recommend specific actions to protect against global warming. For example flood defences in coastal areas at risk of rising sea levels. Emergency plans are recommended for coping with heatwaves in the summer that could kill thousands of elderly people and more floods throughout the year.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is also producing a report on the risk of climate change, which will also call for more efforts to prepare for the impact of rising remperatures.

The powerful group of businesses leaders will call for a new public information bank, easily accessible online, that explains the risks in the local area to companies and individuals. People will be able to type in a postcode and be told the likelihood of floods and droughts over the next few decades. The CBI said the current information available needs to be simplified so that businesses and home owners can protect themselves in future.

In a speech to the CBI, Lord Henley, the climate change minister, will warn that business, public bodies and each individual will have to adapt to climate change. “One way or another, climate change is going to affect every organisation and every individual in this country. If we are to thrive as a society, every organisation and every individual must adapt,” he will say.


Science in the service of big government

The fact that the fatuous former United States Vice President Albert Gore could actually be given a Nobel Prize (not to mention an Academy Award) for furthering the global warming hoax would be almost terminally repulsive and depressing—if it weren't also morbidly funny.

In my 1983 novel The Nagasaki Vector, I predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union. One way I knew the culture was doomed was that, for purposes of "security", its scientists weren't free to communicate with one another in their own country, but had to attend international conferences just in order to learn what their own colleagues were up to. The effect of political correctness on science is every bit as harmful.

It's not just global warming, and not just climate science. Over the past several decades, we've been warned, in the most hysterical of terms, about the dire threats represented by horrors like acid rain, ozone depletion, deforestation, desertification, the reduction of biodiversity, and overpopulation. If we're sane, we file these pronouncements away with other "menaces" that confront us, like smoking in bed (very big when I was in first grade), video arcades, and platform shoes. If we're not sane, we obligingly start to "run in circles, scream and shout" the way the con-men and the media want us to do. Along come the politicians to "fix" everything, and invariably we end up with less freedom, and more government control over our lives.

Yet, despite claims that practically everything we eat, drink, or breathe is toxic, we continue to live longer than our predecessors. Of course that's a dire threat, too, to demented individuals who, like the Discovery Channel gunman, hate their own species because they hate themselves.

It never fails to astonish me how many people don't understand what science is. Listening only to evolution-deniers, one would get the impression that it's some kind of cult or religion comparable with what they themselves believe, and that one accepts science on the same basis—the desire to believe it—that they have accepted what they believe.

Science is none of those things. At the same time, it is a very simple thing. Science is nothing more—or less—than a way of looking at reality that has produced vastly better results than any other way that people throughout history have tried. And it works for everyone, every day. You don't have to be an official, certified scientist.

Here's how it works: observe some aspect of the world around you. Find or think up an explanation for why that aspect is the way it is. Test your explanation. Form a new, improved explanation based on your test.

My rooster makes a lot of noise every morning. The sun comes up every morning. My explanation is that my rooster makes the sun come up. I test the explanation by gagging my rooster somehow, and then watching what the sun does. When the sun comes up anyway, I abandon my explanation and try to think of another that coincides better with reality.

Those simple steps, repeated a million times over a thousand years have taken us from the oxcart to the spaceship. They have shown us the true shape of reality from the whirling of unimaginably tiny subatomic particles to the great lacy fans formed by millions of galaxies, each of which is made up of billions of stars. They have lengthened human life expectancy from a little over 20 years to nearly 80 years. They have fed and clothed and housed the people of Western Civilization better than human beings have ever been fed or clothed or housed in history.

The opposite of science, shamanism, in any of the thousands of forms it assumes, always boils down to believing what you believe, not because it's consistent with reality, but because you want to believe it. Although it's been around for thousands of years, and may in fact predate our species, shamanism has failed to produce an inch or an ounce of progress, nor has it enabled people to live a microsecond longer, or—without the generosity of individuals who happen to be in better touch with reality—fed, housed, or clothed a single human being.

Science is often seen by government as a political weapon. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has absolutely no interest in seeing large numbers of taxpayers move away into space on a permanent basis, and for years, they have done whatever they could to prevent vital research in certain areas such as the effect of fractional gravity on human physiology. Similarly, the American Cancer Society, which might as well be a government agency, is infamous for controlling funds to prevent cancer research that they don't approve of.

And which might actually cure cancer, putting them out of a job.

In a more general sense, the substitution of statistics for actual science has had a negative effect on progress. Statistics teach us nothing new; they can be "cooked" to prove or disprove anything you like. For years, "social scientists" lied about the effect of private gun ownership on crime rates, causing countless individuals to lose their lives by being unequipped for self-defense. A so-called scholar, Michael Bellesiles, was caught falsifying data about gun ownership and was banished from academia, although he's currently trying to make a comeback.

On the other hand, Dr. Peter Deuseburg, among others, has been severely and unjustly punished, ostracized by establishment science for publicly pointing out certain questionable research practices and attitudes about Auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome, Legionnaire's, and several other diseases. His first book on the subject, Why We Will Never Win the War Against AIDS, was actually suppressed by a court of law.

While it's undoubtedly true that corporate funding is generally results-oriented (which is supposed to be a good thing in engineering, but a bad thing in science), government funding of science is no less results-driven, and almost inevitably involves the misallocation of money for purely political reasons. What institution, for example, is going to pay for research that proves there's no global warming or that AIDS is caused by lifestyle choices rather than a pathogen? We've seen this clearly with stem cell research. We are left to wonder, if all this corruption is going on in plain sight, what's going on in areas of science too esoteric for the public to be interested in or understand?

In the same way Abraham Lincoln didn't really end slavery, as his admirers claim, but only nationalized it through military conscription and the income tax, frauds like Piltdown Man, the New York Sun Moon hoax, and the Cardiff giant were not eliminated through government involvement in science, they were just taken over by the government—an excellent example is secondhand smoke—to be used for its own purposes.

Often it works the other way. The brilliant promise of thermal depolymerization, which could solve most of our energy problems while dealing effectively with landfill pollution and used tires, has been brutally suppressed. I remember misleading headlines in Science News claiming that nobody could replicate Pons and Fleischman's "cold fusion"—mostly large "prestigious" universities that changed the experimental design—when the body of the article listed many more that had stuck with the design and proven that catalytic fusion is real.

There is another danger to real science here: the transparent fraud that is "climate change" is now being used by unscrupulous religionists to cast doubt on the reality of evolution by natural selection. This particular slippery slope leads directly downward into a new Dark Age. Thanks in large measure to Albert Gore and humbugsters like him—and what their behavior has to teach us—we can no longer be confident with the results produced by what is represented today as "science". Did smoking or chewing tobacco ever cause cancer? Who can say? Will using cellular telephones give us brain tumors? We might as well consult someone who looks for the truth in chicken entrails.

Science is too important to be left in the hands of government. In 19th century England, before the development of the greedy, voracious, income-taxing state, it was possible for "amateur" scientists, "living on the interest" to make all of the important discoveries in fields ranging from bacteriology and chemistry to astronomy and what became astrophysics.

What the United States of America need most, if they wish to undo the damage done to them by political correctness, and regain their previous position as the world's leaders in scientific endeavor and the exploration of the universe is a Constitutional amendment mandating formal separation of science—especially medicine—and state.


Must we do something, anything, about global warming?

Excerpt below is another demolition of the absurd "precautionary principle". There are any number of things we could take precautions against. We need good evidence in order to decide which is important.

The writer below points out what I have been pointing out for some time: Similar reasoning would support the invasion of Iraq -- so where are the Greenies supporting that?

A friend of mine sent me a link to a video labeled "The Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See." According to YouTube, this video has been viewed over 3.5 million times. Narrator Greg Craven, a high-school science teacher, presents an application of the precautionary principle to the debate over anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Craven claims to have found an argument that does not depend on the resolution of the scientific controversy — a "silver bullet argument," an argument that leads to an "inescapable conclusion," one "that even the most hardened skeptic and the most panicked activist can agree on."

I beg to differ. Craven starts out with the premise that we can reduce the problem to one of four possible outcomes, which he places on a grid (as shown below). The rows represent the proposition that the worst outcome of AGW (the end of human life on earth) is on its way or is not. The columns represent the choice to do something or do nothing. Craven then proceeds to examine the implications of ending up in each one of his four quadrants.

According to Craven, because we cannot be totally certain about the science, we need to find another way to choose our course of action. And Craven aims to show that this is possible. He states that "we begin by acknowledging that no one can know with absolute certainty what the future will bring." This argument is a variant of Pascal's Wager, which structures the issue of belief in God the same way, with punishment for nonbelievers as the worst case.

Craven's reasoning is that the objective of our decision-making process should be to avoid the top right cell. He observes that we cannot control which row we are in because we don't know for sure the outcome of the science; but we can avoid the top right cell (total disaster) because we can control which column we are in. We should choose to "do something" to ensure that we end up in the right column rather than the left column.

There are many problems with this approach.

The first problem is that this argument proves too much. The premise — that something really, really bad might happen — is undoubtedly true: there is a virtually unlimited supply of hypotheses about things that might go wrong. The less evidence required for any particular catastrophe, the longer the list of bad things we can make. Craven's mode of argument could be used to prove that we should "do something" about any — or all — of them.

Go through the entire video and replace "global warming" with "Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction":
Saddam Hussein might have WMDs, which he could be planning to use against the United States. No one can prove that he does not because, as members of the neocon war party enjoyed pointing out, you can't prove a negative.

Even trying to use reason to figure out whether or not Saddam has WMDs is what Mr. Craven would call "row thinking," while what we need in dark times such as these is "column thinking."

As Craven would undoubtedly agree, we don't know whether Saddam has WMDs or not. In the worst case, Saddam has WMDs and he will use them against the United States. If we "take action" by invading Iraq and deposing Saddam, then we can eliminate the worst case. If we "do nothing" through "inaction" then the worst case might happen anyway.

It is true that we will incur costs by invading Iraq: dollars, some American deaths. Maybe we disrupt the lives of Iraqis a bit. But the cost of the worst case is incalculable.

The conclusion is therefore inescapable to all rational and right-minded people: we must invade Iraq.

Glenn Greenwald, in a recent piece, points out that this exact argument is being used to defend the decision to go to war in Iraq. And now the war party is using the same argument to lie the country into a war with Iran.

The second problem I will address is that Craven's argument proves nothing at all. His objective is to show that we should do something to avoid the worst case. But to prove that we must "do something" is to prove nothing. He organizes the problem around a set of abstract choices. But in life, we face only concrete choices, not abstract ones. While deciding to "do something" about an issue in your life that you have been ignoring might be an important psychological step, it is still not an actionable decision. What to do is the real decision and cannot be separated from the decision to "do something."

Another way of saying this is that the grid describing reality has more than two columns. It has infinitely many columns representing the infinite range of choices that exist in the real world. Craven's mode of argument provides no guidance as to how many resources should be expended or in what direction to address the problem.

The aim of Craven's argument is to show that we can avoid the worse case without resolving the science. But this is only true if we choose a concrete plan that has the desired result. We have an infinite range of choices that all involve doing something — and some other choices that involve watching and waiting. Because our resources are finite, we could not adopt all policy proposals. To avoid the worse case, we would have to evaluate whether each proposal might have any benefits at all and whether the benefits outweigh the costs. Should we choose one staggeringly expensive plan that might work? Or ten less expensive plans that each have a chance of working?

If we use up a vast amount of resources on one very small risk, then we will be in a worse position to deal with other problems that do materialize. Maybe the best course is to do nothing right now, relying on economic growth to increase our wealth and therefore our range of choices in the future?

The argument can be used to prove whatever conclusion you want, depending on what you posit as the worst case. For example, try using the argument on the following worst case: we implement restrictive carbon-emission legislation and that causes even worse climate change. Or this: destroy the world's economy fighting a problem that doesn't exist (AGW), and then a very real — and much bigger — crisis emerges (and, as Mr. Craven points out, science cannot prove whether this will or will not happen), but we have no more wealth left to address it. Craven's contention proves that we should do nothing now so that we can address the real worst case that has not yet shown its face.

This brings us to another gross deficiency in Craven's argument: the choice among the many concrete options that we have depends on our understanding the cause and effect of each choice. To "do something" is for us to create some causes that we believe have certain effects. We cannot evaluate the effect of any cause without relying on the science of the issue. The science applied to any concrete proposal is essentially the same controversial science that Craven claims we don't need in order to reach a conclusion about what to do.

As the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) explains in their excellent commentary on the precautionary principle,
[t]he precautionary principle is, however, a very useful one for consumer activists precisely because it prevents scientific debate. The burden of evidence and proof is taken away from those who make unjustified and often whimsical claims and placed on the scientific community which, because it proceeds logically and rationally, is often powerless to respond. This is what makes the principle so dangerous. It generates a quasi-religious bigotry which history should have has [sic] taught us to fear. Its inherent irrationality renders it unsustainable.

The deficiency is illustrated this way. If the goal is to avoid the worst possible outcome, then "do something" is not enough. We must do something effective. Some of the actions we might take would not be very costly but would also (probably) not meet Mr. Craven's criteria for effectiveness.

Suppose that we all wore Whip Global Warming Now buttons? Would that help us avoid the worst case? Some might say so, but the strongest objection to that plan would be that there is no scientific basis for the belief that wearing buttons has any impact on global climate change.

Suppose that I agreed with Craven's conclusion and suggested as the solution that we lengthen our commutes to work so we can drive more, and that we increase the use of coal-fired power plants. Oh, but that won't work, he might say, because it would increase carbon emissions. But this is only a constructive response if carbon emissions are really the cause of AGW. Without any science linking cause and effect, how do we know that reducing (not increasing) carbon emissions will help?

Though Craven doesn't present a concrete proposal, clearly he has something in mind — probably Cap and Tax or a similar scheme — because he is able to fill in the lower left quadrant of his grid with various economic costs — depression, lost jobs, lower wages, and the like. Similar legislative proposals would incur the absolutely stupefying cost of reducing carbon emissions to preindustrial levels.

So far I have been focusing on the columns. But there are also a lot more rows than Craven shows. His two rows representing AGW true/false correspond to the cases that either nothing much happens or it's the end of civilization. But there are a lot of points in between — something happens but it is benign, something bad happens but it is manageable, something really bad happens but it is not the end of human life altogether, etc.


Colorado’s great green deception

Last March, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D) signed HB 1001, a mandate requiring investor-owned utilities to generate 30 percent of their electricity sales from renewable energy sources by 2020. The policy, known as a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), is the crown jewel of the Governor’s “New Energy Economy” agenda and the renewable energy model for the rest of America.

Governor Ritter boasted in a prepared statement, “Colorado is giving every state and the entire nation a template for tomorrow. This is a game-changer. We are transforming the future of Colorado and our country.” HB 1001 author State Rep. Max Tyler (D-Golden) wrote, “[R]equiring a third of our power to come from renewable sources is a great example of doing well by doing good. We will cut our carbon footprint, stabilize or even lower our energy costs, and remove pollutants from our air.”

If all this seems too good to be true, that is because it is. Critics charge that renewable energy is expensive, and the facts seem to be on their side. According to the federal Energy Information Administration’s projection of future electricity costs, in 2016 wind power will be nearly 50 percent more expensive than coal and nearly 80 percent more expensive than natural gas. Thermal solar generation is projected to be 150 percent more expensive than coal, and 200 percent more expensive than gas.

Proponents of HB 1001, however, claim that the law ensures that costs stay low. But all that means is that Colorado’s RES sets price controls as well as production quotas. HB 1001 limits the retail impact to 2 percent annually, which led Governor Ritter to brag in The Denver Post, “The legislation (HB 1001) also provides a statutory framework that will not increase cost to consumers.”

Rep. Tyler dismissed accusations that his legislation would raise the cost utility bills. “That’s absolutely wrong,” he told The Colorado Independent, “there’s a 2 percent cap.” But Tyler went even further when he implied that wind and solar are “free” sources of energy, “The sun will always shine for free, the winds will always blow for free, and our energy production will be cleaner.”

It is not the source, but converting that source to energy that costs money. While it’s impossible to know exactly how much the RES will cost Coloradans, we do know that 2 percent will be only a fraction of Coloradans’ green energy bill.


Green Buses Driving Costs Higher in Michigan

In Flint, the city's transit authority bought a pair of $1.1 million electric buses that are zero-emission. In Lansing, the city's transit authority purchased a 60-foot $783,000 hybrid bus.

Cities across Michigan are touting their new "green fleets" as good for the environment. Lansing's Capital Area Transit Authority claims its growing hybrid buses cut emissions by 90 percent.

But some transit experts are saying it is poor public policy and that the costs far exceed any environmental gain. The "eco" buses can cost anywhere from 50 to 100 percent more than a regular diesel bus, and that doesn't include the infrastructure costs that tag along. For example, Flint's Mass Transportation Authority's web site states it has plans to spend $10 million converting 50 diesel buses to hybrid technology, at a cost of $200,000 per bus. Flint transit also wants to spend $5.2 million to modify its facilities for compressed natural gas fuel.

"This is dreadful public policy," said Wendell Cox, principal of Demographia, a public policy consulting firm in St. Louis, Mo. "On one hand, we ought to do everything we can for the environment. We need to attach a cost to that. In general, transit agencies don't do that. And neither does government."

Randal O'Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, studied hybrid buses in Minneapolis. He found that the cost to reduce carbon dioxide for the Minneapolis hybrid bus was $1,000 per metric ton. O'Toole said the going rate in the marketplace is $10 per metric ton. "I think it is a huge waste of money," O'Toole said. "Hybrid buses are not an effective way of reducing carbon emission."

O'Toole said municipalities don't take much easier and less expensive steps to reduce carbon dioxide, such as traffic signal coordination. He says a study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that 2.9 billion gallons of fuel are wasted in congested traffic each year.

So why are transit authorites gobbling up hybrid buses?

Lansing's CATA has 21 hybrid buses and is replacing the older diesel buses with the costlier green buses. CATA has gone to voters in its last two millages and asked for increases, both approved.

O'Toole said it is part of a public relations campaign by transit agencies to endear themselves to taxpayers, who fund 75 percent of their budgets. "Their real goal is to con taxpayers into giving them more money," O'Toole said. "Taxpayers will give them money for gee-whiz products that really sound good. ... Although transit likes to portray themselves as environmentally friendly, buses are extremely dirty. By switching to electric buses, they can honestly project themselves as holier-than-thou."


Foolish Greenie scare about "endangered" salmon in Canada

Canadian Greenies hate fish farms

Yesterday's closure of the Fraser River sockeye fishery -- along with accusations that it's premature and that too many salmon have been spared -- is a tad ironic, to say the least. For years, we've been led to believe by wild-eyed environmentalists and their media cheerleaders that the science is clear, that wild salmon on our coast are on the verge of extinction and that sea lice and disease from fish farms are to blame.

Last November, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced an inquiry into the apparent decline in B.C. sockeye stocks, high-profile activist Alexandra Morton was quoted as saying "our sockeye are at the moment of no return."

The sockeye, however, have returned. In full force. This year's Fraser River run, numbering a projected 34 million fish, is being hailed as the largest since 1913. Bargain-hunters have been scooping up freezers-full of fish from off the Steveston dock. And grizzled commercial fishermen have been complaining there are scads of sockeye still to be netted.

So perhaps it's time the Harper-ordered inquiry, now being conducted by Justice Bruce Cohen, changed its mandate from one of investigating the decline in B.C. salmon stocks to probing the increase in them, instead.

Myself, I think we know very little about the reasons for the puzzling yearly changes in salmon returns. In fact, I think we -- and that includes virtually every organization from the federal fisheries department to the David Suzuki Foundation -- know almost as little about them as we do about global warming.

Dr. Carl Walters of the UBC Fisheries Centre, who's spent more than 40 years studying coastal salmon populations, told me Tuesday he thinks the public has been fed a whole bunch of misinformation about the state of sockeye and pink stocks. "Actually, our best evidence is that they're very close to their historical peak levels and have been for over a decade," he said.

Certainly, Walters doesn't think those much-hated B.C. fish farms have anything to do with the ups and downs in wild salmon returns.

My view is that it's largely emotion driving the predictions of the doom-and-gloom zealots -- at least when it's not the ready availability of grants from wealthy U.S. foundations.

Former fish-farm consultant Vivian Krause noted Tuesday that this year's bumper sockeye run disproves claims that sea lice from fish farms are destroying B.C.'s wild salmon. "I think we need to hit the reset button on the salmon-farming controversy," she said. "We need to reboot."

Yes, we need to address this controversy with far less self-righteous conviction, far greater humility . . . and a far more open mind. The Cohen commission, which holds a public forum next Monday in Steveston (at 6:30 p.m. at Steveston-London Secondary School), gives us a perfect chance to do this.

For too long, we seem to have been fed a bunch of lies, or at least half-truths, about the salmon-farming issue. The science surrounding it is not settled, not by a long way. Pretending it is won't make it so.



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 blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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