Sunday, September 05, 2010
Fears grow over global food supply
But NOT due to "resources" running out. The more governments meddle in agriculture, the more the food supply is compromised. Russia used to be a grain importer under Communism. It's only the retreat of government planning after the fall of the Soviets that enabled Russia to resume its historic role as a grain exporter. Russia has vast rich plains that are very good for grain production. But the meddling hand is again at work in Russia and, as usual, problems result
Two days of unrest in Maputo, Mozambique, left seven people dead and 280 injured after the government decided to raise bread prices by 30%. Wheat prices rose further on Friday in the wake of Russia's decision to extend its grain export ban by 12 months, raising fears about a return to the food shortages and riots of 2007-08. In Mozambique, where a 30 per cent rise in bread prices triggered riots on Wednesday and Thursday, the government said seven people had been killed and 288 wounded.
Vladimir Putin's announcement on Thursday extended an export ban first introduced last month until late December 2011, sending wheat and other cereals prices to a near two-year high. It came as the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation called an emergency meeting to discuss the wheat shortage.
In Maputo, trade and industry minister Antonio Fernandes told a national radio station on Friday that the riots had caused 122m meticais ($3.3m) of damage. Police opened fire on demonstrators after thousands turned out to protest against the price hikes, burning tyres and looting food warehouses.
Although agricultural officials and traders insist that wheat and other crop supplies are more abundant than in 2007-08, officials fear the food riots could spread.
Wheat prices remained high on Friday morning. Futures in Chicago were up 1.5 per cent at $6.91 a bushel, while European wheat futures remained at historically high levels above _230 a tonne, just shy of last month's two-year high of _236. Wheat prices have surged nearly 70 per cent since January, and analysts forecast further rises after Russia's decision and concerns about weather damage to Australia's crop.
The crop problems in Russia, which suffered its worst drought on record this summer, and elsewhere, have heaped pressure on US farmers to supply the world's wheat. The US Department of Agriculture has increased its estimates for US wheat exports to $8bn for the current crop year.
The 2007-08 food shortages, the most severe in 30 years, set off riots in countries from Bangladesh to Mexico, and helped to trigger the collapse of governments in Haiti and Madagascar.
The FAO said that "the concern about a possible repeat of the 2007-08 food crisis" had resulted in "an enormous number" of inquiries from member countries. "The purpose of holding this meeting is for exporting and importing countries to engage."
Russia is traditionally the world's fourth-largest wheat exporter, and the export ban has already forced importers in the Middle East and North Africa, the biggest buyers, to seek supplies in Europe and the US.
Mr Putin said Moscow could "only consider lifting the export ban after next year's crop has been harvested and we have clarity on the grain balances". He added that the decision to extend the ban was intended to "end unnecessary anxiety and to ensure a stable and predictable business environment for market participants".
"This is quite serious," said Abdolreza Abbassian, of the FAO in Rome. "Two years in a row without Russian exports creates quite a disturbance." Dan Manternach, chief wheat economist at Doane Agricultural Services in St Louis, added: "This is a wake-up call for importing nations about the reliability of Russia."
Jakkie Cilliers, director of South Africa's Institute of Security Studies, said there was concern over a repeat of the protests of 2008: "That certainly strengthened a return of the military in politics in Africa."
Top Russian scientist denies that there ever was an IPCC consensus
By Yuri Izrael (Yuri Izrael is director of the Global Climate and Ecology Institute and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences)
There has never been a consensus that man is to blame for global warming among the experts at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
I was among the fiercest opponents and have challenged that document because it is not scientifically valid. The UN Framework Climate Change Convention says the concentration of greenhouse gases must be such as to rule out the danger of anthropogenic impact on the climate. But where is that level? Nobody knows, so it can be fixed arbitrarily.
World leaders agreed in Copenhagen to use as a reference point the 1900 temperature, the pre-industrial era, and to do everything not to exceed this level by more than two degrees. This amounts to an admission, even if implicit, that man is the cause of warming. But there were periods in Earth’s history when man did not exist and the temperature exceeded current temperatures by 10-12C and the greenhouse concentration was 10 to 15 times higher.
Over the centuries, our temperature has waxed and waned for reasons that are not fully understood. Let us take the last 100 years. The average temperature decreased between 1900 and 1910, but increased by nearly 1C by the 1940s despite the wars when industry was in low gear and greenhouse emissions were comparatively low. How does one account for such a rise in temperature? Those who insist that there is global warming have no answer. Then the temperature began to decline even as industry recovered. The drop in temperature continued until 1975 before sharp growth set in, which continues to this day.
In this situation of uncertainty, it appears the Kyoto Protocol is costing trillions of dollars. That is what has to be spent to stop the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet even if such astronomical sums are spent, success is not assured.
On future cooling
Many scientists say that the climate will become colder and not warmer and that the planet is entering another cycle of cold. This is based on geological data collected over thousands of years. There is no direct proof that cooling will happen, but there is indirect evidence.
For example, 10,000 years ago the icing cycle ended and the warming phase set in. Maximum average temperatures were reached 5,500 years ago, and since then it has fallen. There have been temperature leaps, but the overall trend has been downward. On that basis, scientists predict a cold age and dismiss the current warming as another temperature spike.
The data on greenhouse concentrations are interesting. If their concentration reaches about 180-200 molecules per million molecules of air, the ice age on the earth will set in. In 1900, the figure was 280 molecules, today it is 380. For the sake of comparison, when the temperature on the planet was 10-12C higher than today, that figure was 4,000-6,000 molecules.
In other words, we are closer to an ice age but we are drifting away from that boundary. True, cycles last thousands of years and if the geologists are right, an ice age will occur in the distant future while a sharp temperature rise is already happening.
On the whole, I can say that science has no clear idea of how and why climate changes, there are many imponderables, which preclude any hard and fast conclusions. The chances to be wrong are too great.
More HERE. (He goes on to point out that the recent heatwave conditions in Russia have happened many times before)
Pesky plants not behaving themselves
The amount of CO2 they absorb and emit is not much affected by temperature -- so goodbye to one of the big "feedbacks" that Warmist models rely on
It is well known that carbon dioxide cannot directly account for the observed increase in global temperature over the past century. This has led climate scientists to theorize that many feedback relationships exists within the climate system, serving to amplify the impact of rising CO2 levels. One of these is the impact of rising temperature on the ability of the ecosystem to absorb CO2.
The temperature sensitivity of ecosystem respiratory processes (referred to as Q10) is a key determinant of the interaction between climate and the carbon cycle. New research, recently published in the journal Science, shows that the Q10 of ecosystem respiration is invariant with respect to mean annual temperature, and independent of the analyzed ecosystem type. This newly discovered temperature insensitivity suggests that climate sensitivity to CO2 is much smaller than assumed by climate models.
Climate sensitivity is generally given as how much temperature rise would result from a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels. Using IPCC figures for radiative forcing, a doubling of CO2 would lead to a temperature rise of about half a degree (see “Another Look at Climate Sensitivity”). Yet the UN IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) gives a much higher value for climate sensitivity. It claims a 2°C to 4.5°C rise for a CO2 doubling, or from four to nine times higher than what is see in the real climate system. Why? Climate models assume that there are large positive feedbacks as Earth warms. Among these feedbacks is the impact of rising temperature on emission and absorption of CO2 by Earth's biota.
Accurately predicting future levels of atmospheric CO2 requires a clear understanding of how land and atmosphere exchange CO2. Each year, photosynthesizing land plants remove (fix) one in eight molecules of atmospheric CO2. Land plants and soil organisms return a similar amount of the dreaded greenhouse gas. The balance between removal and respiration determines whether terrestrial ecosystems are a net carbon sink or source. Two papers in the August 13, 2010, issue of Science bring a new understanding of land-atmosphere CO2 exchange.
In “Terrestrial Gross Carbon Dioxide Uptake: Global Distribution and Covariation with Climate,” Christian Beer et al. estimate total annual terrestrial gross primary production (GPP) in an approach more solidly based on data than previous approximations. Terrestrial GPP is the largest source of global carbon exchange. It drives many ecosystem functions, such as respiration and growth. Food, fiber, and wood production from plants are all part of terrestrial GPP. Moreover, GPP is one of the major processes controlling land-atmosphere CO2 exchange....
The most important statement from Beer et al. is that last line: “Most likely, the association of GPP and climate in process-oriented models can be improved by including negative feedback mechanisms (e.g., adaptation) that might stabilize the systems.” Instead of a positive feedback as is widely assumed in climate models, they suggest that the feedback should be reduced and may even be negative. There are even signs that the climate system adapts and self regulates. None of these factors are used in the IPCC's models....
The combined impact of these two papers is yet another blow to the validity of current computer models. Previous assumptions about the absorption and production of CO2 by terrestrial plants under changing conditions are in error. These new results imply that rising CO2 levels will not cause the temperature increases predicted by existing computer models. In an accompanying perspective article, Peter B. Reich, an environmental biologist at the University of Minnesota, summed up the implications of these papers:
Regardless of the difficulty of interpreting the processes underlying these numbers, the findings are important. Beer et al.'s value for GPP is our best and most broad-based estimate, despite its uncertainty. Mahecha et al.'s results are important because they suggest that, at week-to-month scales, R's relationship to temperature converges at a Q10 of 1.4 across many varied ecosystems. Their work also reduces fears that respiration fluxes may increase strongly with temperature, accelerating climate change....
More plainly put, making simplifying assumptions about nature has led to an over estimation of carbon dioxide's impact on temperature. As experienced modelers will tell you, simplifying assumptions can be the death of any simulation. Here is more proof that the climate models used by the IPCC and other climate researchers don't have a chance in hell
More HERE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)
The folly of green protectionism
Here's a formula for you to study:
Green groups want less forestry in the developing world. Industry wants green protectionism to cut the volume of competitive imports. Unions want green protectionism to stop imports to ensure they can keep workers in high-paying jobs
So using the environment as an excuse, we have these three groups colluding to further their own agendas. Call it "green protectionism".
In a recent case it has been to keep toilet paper made in foreign countries out of Australia. That's right, toilet paper. Can anyone now figure, based on that formula, what the missing part of the equation might be? The part that is necessary to make such collusion pay off?
Yes, government. Certainly green groups can want less forestry in the developing world, and industry can wish for a way to cut the volume of competitive imports. And unions always hope to ensure high paying jobs.
But only one entity can actually make all those wishes, wants and hopes come true. If government becomes involved it has the power to fulfill the wishes and hopes of these three disparate special interest groups.
That's what happened in 2008 when two Australian toilet paper manufacturers, Kimberly Clark Australia and SCA Hygiene as well as the Construction Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the World Wildlife Fund essentially colluded to keep foreign manufactured toilet paper, primarily from Indonesia and China out of the country. Their ostensible complaint was those countries were "dumping" their product in Australia.
For a short time they succeeded in getting imports restricted by the Australian Customs Service, until, it seems, the ACS did a study to determine the validity of the complaint. Their findings were significant. The Australian Customs Service report calculated that the potential downward pressure of imports could be as high as 42 percent of the price.
In other words, the collusion would cost consumers in Australia 42% more because the competitive pressure that kept prices low would have been removed. In addition, a recent report commissioned by the Australian government found that "illegally logged material" - one of the prime reasons these groups claimed Australia should ban imports of foreign wood products - only comprised 0.32 percent of the materials coming into Australia. In other words, the threat was insignificant.
That's Australia, but what about here? Well, we're hearing the same sorts of rumblings concerning "green protectionism".
Sadly these campaigns appear to be part of a spreading green protectionist disease, where industry, unions and green groups work together. In the United States the disease was brought to life by the Lacey Act, which imposes extra regulation on imported wood and wood products to certify their origin and make them less competitive.
The Lacey Act is actually an update of a 1900 law that banned the import of illegally caught wildlife. It now includes wood products (2008). And that means, since extra steps and cost are incurred by foreign manufacturers, that consumers are stuck with the increased cost.
While the reasons for protectionism may sound good on the surface - save the forests, higher wages, less competition to ensure jobs - it isn't a good thing. If freedom is defined by the variety of choices, what protectionism does is limit those choices and impose an unofficial tax on consumers. They end up paying the cost of collusive action between government and special interests.
So, each time your government announces that it is doing you the favor of limiting the imports of this commodity or that, based on "green" concerns, hold on to your wallet. Whatever the government is protecting you from, you can rest assured that the price of the domestic variety is headed up, since the other product of government intrusion is limiting competition. Rule of thumb: restricting free trade is rarely a good thing. And the only entity that can do so is government. "Green" is just the newest color in an old and costly game - protectionism.
More regulations coming from the EPA
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will roll out more regulations on greenhouse gases and other pollution to help fight climate change, but they will not be as strong as action by Congress, a senior administration official said.
The agency "has a huge role to play in continuing the work to move from where we are now to lower carbon emissions", said the official, who did not want to be identified as the EPA policies are still being formed.
President Barack Obama, looking to take the lead in global talks on greenhouse gas emissions, has long warned that the EPA would take steps to regulate emissions if Congress failed to pass a climate bill.
The Senate has all but ruled out moving on greenhouse gases this year, even though the House of Representatives passed a bill last year. In late July, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stripped climate provisions out of an energy bill, saying he could not get one Republican vote for them.
The senior official stopped short of saying the EPA alone would achieve Obama's goal of about 17 percent reductions in greenhouse gases by 2020 from 2005 levels. "With legislation you almost certainly get more emissions reductions than you get with existing authorities" that the EPA can use under the Clean Air Act, the official said.
And analysts say the EPA will not be able to achieve the far deeper cuts needed to help prevent the worst effects of climate change such as floods, droughts and heatwaves.
Though Congress will not likely move in 2010, the EPA expects it will do so in coming years, the official said.
EPA plans on smokestack emissions face obstacles in Congress and in the courts. Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and other lawmakers hope to stop the EPA from regulating the emissions for two years.
Energy companies -- from wind and solar power makers to utilities -- are concerned about the regulatory uncertainties, with some analysts saying billions of dollars of investments are stymied by the lack of direction in Washington.
The official said the EPA rules would provide regulatory certainty that could help businesses get loans to build new plants. A two-year delay would only prolong the uncertainty, and hurt the chances of getting financing, the official said.
Starting next year the EPA will require large power plants, manufacturers and oil refiners to get permits for releasing greenhouse gas emissions, though details are unclear.
The EPA will also require industrial sources to submit analyses on the so-called "best available technology" they could add to their plants to cut emissions under the existing Clean Air Act.
The official said the EPA will put out guidance this month that would help companies determine which technologies -- perhaps moving to cleaner-burning natural gas and away from coal -- would make the most sense.
In addition, the EPA is working on rules to cut emissions of mercury from coal-burning power plants and cement plants and on toughening rules on coal ash. In combination, the rules could help force inefficient coal plants into early retirement.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson plans to attend a meeting in Mexico in October aimed at reducing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the official said.
The thorium solution
If Barack Obama were to marshal America’s vast scientific and strategic resources behind a new Manhattan Project, he might reasonably hope to reinvent the global energy landscape and sketch an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years.
We could then stop arguing about wind mills, deepwater drilling, IPCC hockey sticks, or strategic reliance on the Kremlin. History will move on fast.
Muddling on with the status quo is not a grown-up policy. The International Energy Agency says the world must invest $26 trillion (£16.7 trillion) over the next 20 years to avert an energy shock. The scramble for scarce fuel is already leading to friction between China, India, and the West.
There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all been hoping for, though we have barely begun to crack the potential of solar power.
Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal – named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thor’s day or Thursday - produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.
Thorium eats its own hazardous waste. It can even scavenge the plutonium left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. "It’s the Big One," said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering.
"Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels," he said.
Thorium is so common that miners treat it as a nuisance, a radioactive by-product if they try to dig up rare earth metals. The US and Australia are full of the stuff. So are the granite rocks of Cornwall. You do not need much: all is potentially usable as fuel, compared to just 0.7pc for uranium.
After the Manhattan Project, US physicists in the late 1940s were tempted by thorium for use in civil reactors. It has a higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed. It does not require isotope separation, a big cost saving. But by then America needed the plutonium residue from uranium to build bombs.
"They were really going after the weapons," said Professor Egil Lillestol, a world authority on the thorium fuel-cycle at CERN. "It is almost impossible make nuclear weapons out of thorium because it is too difficult to handle. It wouldn’t be worth trying." It emits too many high gamma rays.
You might have thought that thorium reactors were the answer to every dream but when CERN went to the European Commission for development funds in 1999-2000, they were rebuffed.
Brussels turned to its technical experts, who happened to be French because the French dominate the EU’s nuclear industry. "They didn’t want competition because they had made a huge investment in the old technology," he said.
The Norwegian group Aker Solutions has bought Dr Rubbia’s patent for the thorium fuel-cycle, and is working on his design for a proton accelerator at its UK operation.
Victoria Ashley, the project manager, said it could lead to a network of pint-sized 600MW reactors that are lodged underground, can supply small grids, and do not require a safety citadel. It will take £2bn to build the first one, and Aker needs £100mn for the next test phase.
The UK has shown little appetite for what it regards as a "huge paradigm shift to a new technology". Too much work and sunk cost has already gone into the next generation of reactors, which have another 60 years of life.
So Aker is looking for tie-ups with the US, Russia, or China. The Indians have their own projects - none yet built - dating from days when they switched to thorium because their weapons programme prompted a uranium ban.
America should have fewer inhibitions than Europe in creating a leapfrog technology. The US allowed its nuclear industry to stagnate after Three Mile Island in 1979.
Anti-nuclear neorosis is at last ebbing. The White House has approved $8bn in loan guarantees for new reactors, yet America has been strangely passive. Where is the superb confidence that put a man on the moon?
Thorium-fluoride reactors can operate at atmospheric temperature. "The plants would be much smaller and less expensive. You wouldn’t need those huge containment domes because there’s no pressurized water in the reactor. It’s close-fitting," he said.
Nuclear power could become routine and unthreatening. But first there is the barrier of establishment prejudice.
When Hungarian scientists led by Leo Szilard tried to alert Washington in late 1939 that the Nazis were working on an atomic bomb, they were brushed off with disbelief. Albert Einstein interceded through the Belgian queen mother, eventually getting a personal envoy into the Oval Office.
Roosevelt initially fobbed him off. He listened more closely at a second meeting over breakfast the next day, then made up his mind within minutes. "This needs action," he told his military aide. It was the birth of the Manhattan Project. As a result, the US had an atomic weapon early enough to deter Stalin from going too far in Europe.
The global energy crunch needs equal "action". If it works, Manhattan II could restore American optimism and strategic leadership at a stroke: if not, it is a boost for US science and surely a more fruitful way to pull the US out of perma-slump than scattershot stimulus. Even better, team up with China and do it together, for all our sakes.
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Posted by JR at 3:35 PM