Monday, November 01, 2010

The Week That Was (To October 30, 2010)

Excerpts from Ken Haapala, Executive Vice President Science and Environmental Policy Project

On Thursday, The French Academy of Sciences released a report declaring the global warming exists and is unquestionably due to human activity. The academy president declared the debate is over. Former education minister Claude Allegre, who questioned the orthodoxy, signed off on what he considered a compromise report stating: "I have not evolved, I still say the same thing, that the exact role of carbon dioxide in the environment has not been shown."

The report recognized uncertainties in solar influence, clouds, oceans and atmosphere. Those who believe that human carbon dioxide emissions may have some warming effect, but are not the dominant driver of climate change, may find the report acceptable except that it gives carbon dioxide a principal role in climate change. We await the translation of the full report, but apparently there is no precision in the report. A vague statement, no matter how forcefully made, remains vague.


In an article published on October 12, Bjorn Lomborg discusses the change in the vocabulary of the global warming alarmists. No longer is global warming, or climate change, the major theme. Instead, it has been replaced by clean energy, clean jobs - a green economy. Lomborg also discusses how much a green economy is costing his native country, Denmark. He believes that drastic carbon cuts are a poor response to global warming.


The Department of Interior has approved the building of what is called the world's largest solar-thermal power plant on 7,000 acres of Federal land in the desert of Southern California. The project is a venture by two German companies. The first half of the project could be eligible for a cash subsidy of $900,000,000 from the stimulus bill. The cash subsidy program ends on December 31, 2010. Also, the companies are seeking Federal loan guarantees and, no doubt, an array of benefits from the state.

To put the cash subsidy perspective, it is useful to calculate the employment benefits. The administration claims this project will provide up to 300 new permanent jobs. This calculates out to $3,000,000 per permanent job. At that rate it would cost about $20.27 Trillion to reduce the current unemployment rate (9.2% est. by US Bureau of Labor Statistics) to the rough average over the past 15 years of 5%. $20.27 Trillion is about 1.4 times the entire gross domestic product of the US in 2009 (estimated to be $14.26 Trillion by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis). The expenditure is enormous, but does it benefit the citizens of California by providing affordable electricity?

As seen in other reports there are additional solar projects in California which promoters are trying to start before December 31. These stories indicate that even after subsidies, the cost of the electricity generated will be 30 to 70 percent more expensive than electricity generated by natural gas, the dominant electricity generating fuel in California. The promoters of the projects consider a 30 to 70 percent increase in cost to be competitive - a clear consequence of the state's renewable energy mandates. Only in California!


Why the Confusion about Global Warming?

S. Fred Singer

No one denies that the Earth has warmed in the past century. So of course, the past decade must be the warmest - even though there has been no upward trend since the 1998 temperature peak. [Note the important distinction between temperature level (measured in deg C or deg F) and trend (expressed in deg C per year).] The dispute is (and always has been) about the cause of the warming.

In fact, the major warming during the first 50 years of the 20th century and the latter part of the 19th century is generally accepted to be natural - a recovery from the Little Ice Age. But there's no credible evidence that identifies the most recent warming as human-caused. On the contrary, while the UN's IPCC claims to be quite certain that it is anthropogenic, the independent NIPCC (Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change) concludes that "Nature - Not Human Activity - Rules the Climate." See here

In this connection note the obfuscatory language used by the EPA in turning down all of the 'Petitions for Reconsideration' of its Endangerment finding on CO2: "The scientific evidence supporting EPA's finding is robust, voluminous, and compelling. Climate change is happening now, and humans are contributing to it. Multiple lines of evidence show a global warming trend over the past 100 years. Beyond this, melting ice in the Arctic, melting glaciers around the world, increasing ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, altered precipitation patterns, and shifting patterns of ecosystems and wildlife habitats all confirm that our climate is changing."

Yet there is no evidence at all that humans are indeed contributing to warming in a significant way. We'll see you in court, dear EPA, and gladly examine your "compelling" evidence!

SEPP SCIENCE EDITORIAL #32-2010 (Oct. 30, 2010)

EU derails the biodiversity bandwagon -- on behalf of windmills

Silly EU politicians are still on that windmill kick. That is now old hat among Greenies. Windmills kill "diverse" creatures, apparently

On October 29th in Japan, EU countries committed themselves with other members of the international convention to give protection status to 17% of the land on the planet. The purpose of this Nagoya summit was to protect biodiversity in a context of rapid human expansion, unsustainable exploitation of natural habitats, and the resulting regression of plant and wildlife leading to the extinction of a great many species.

The success of the summit has been applauded, as it should be, but in a less publicized document released practically at the same time* the EU reaffirms that its own protected areas will not be off limits to industrial development, and in particular to windfarms.

* EU guidance document on Windfarms in Natura 2000 areas – October 2010

Conservationists worldwide are disappointed, to say the least, by this double talk from the European Union.

Save The Eagles International (STEI) have warned the European Commission about the deleterious effects of wind turbines on bird and bat populations. In a recent release, the conservation organization provided evidence that a biased environmental assessment had condemned the endangered Tasmanian Wedge-Tailed Eagle to extinction through mortality by collision with wind turbines. STEI president, Mark Duchamp, stressed the fact that, depending on wind speed, the turbine blades travel at 150-300 kph at the tip, and that raptors, like bats, are attracted to windfarms. This has been demonstrated time and again, he said, by Dr Shawn Smallwood in his extensive studies on the matter.

Duchamp regrets that the EU has turned a deaf ear to their whistle blowing, ignoring scientific documents and bird kill statistics submitted as evidence. Likewise, he notes that bird societies have failed to publish this crucial information on their websites, conflicting as it does with their policy of advocacy and activism in favor of the wind industry.

Building windfarms in the EU’s “Natura 2000” network of nature reserves is not much different from Tanzania´s current plan to build a highway across the Serengeti National Park, he adds, and can only regret that the European Commission doesn’t know better.

STEI predict that, with such a gaping hole under the flotation line, the conservation of European biodiversity will be short-lived. As for the credibility of the EU’s green leadership, they regret to see it sink to new lows.

It is hardly responsible, says Duchamp, to sacrifice biodiversity to the impossible promise of running the EU´s economy on unreliable energy, costing (including backup and new transmission lines) three to five times more than conventional methods.

He concludes: absurdity is creating nature reserves and opening their gates to industrial development.


High Priests Of (Climate) Science

By W. Briggs, statistician

There exists a strain of criticism that suggests science is just “another way of knowing”, and that “science” is no different than any other religious belief system. It has its dogmas, myths, rituals. This criticism is misguided and ultimately wrong, but it’s not hard to see how it arises.

Many people are like the terrified villager in the movie Young Frankenstein who, upon learning that scientist and grandson of Baron von Frankenstein Gene Wilder moved to town, said “All those scientists are the same. They say they’re working for us. But what they really want is to rule the world!.” In my case this is, of course, literally true. But it isn’t so for most scientists, whose biggest ambition is to have all their grants funded and to get out of teaching Freshman Science 101.

Another reason people don’t trust scientists is they are perpetually patting themselves on the back. I was reminded of this when reading a rambling and often self-contradictory editorial by Richard C. J. Somerville “How much should the public know about climate science?” in the journal Climatic Change (DOI 10.1007/s10584-010-9938-y). Somerville displays a typical scientific ego:
Science has its own high standards. It does not work by unqualified people making claims on television or the Internet. It works by expert scientists doing research and publishing it in carefully reviewed research journals. Other scientists examine the research and repeat it and extend it. Valid results are confirmed, and wrong ones are exposed and abandoned. Science is self-correcting. People who are not experts, who are not trained and experienced in this field, who do not do research and publish it following standard scientific practice, are not doing science. When they claim that they are the real experts, they are just plain wrong.

In reality there are only beliefs that are true, those that are false, those that are uncertain, and those that are nonsensical. There do not exist scientific truths, scientific falsities, scientific uncertainties. Saying that a truth has been proved scientifically is no different than saying that a truth has been proved—period. The only usefulness in the word “science” lies in its categorizing certain branches of investigation. “Scientist” is a job description, not an imprimatur.

It matters not one bit how one reveals a truth, whether the person who discovers it wears a white coat, or whether the discoverer discusses his truth on television or on the pages of a journal. This is obvious: what’s true is true, what’s false is false. A person with a credential does not make a truth truer, nor a falsehood falser. Just as a person without a credential does not make a truth falser, nor a falsehood truer.

Somerville, like many before him, often tout that “Science is self-correcting.” To which we can say, “Oh yeah? How do you know?” Many scientists made false statements before Somerville, so what makes him sure that what he believes now won’t be proven wrong by the scientists that come after him? It is human nature —a commonplace in science— to believe that wherever you stand is the pinnacle. After all, whenever we look up we are blinded by the light of our own knowledge. All we can see clearly is that who came before us were not as high on the mountain as they thought they were.

It is true that, through history, knowledge has increased, but it is not necessary that it always should. This is because is also true that falsehood has, at times, increased. If Somerville believes he has a truth that bears emphasis, it would be better for him to lay out the evidence which he believes prove his truth (he only provides guesses of the future). He should not rely on the fallacy that what he believes is true because he is a scientist.


GOP plans attacks on the EPA and climate scientists

If the GOP wins control of the House next week, senior congressional Republicans plan to launch a blistering attack on the Obama administration's environmental policies, as well as on scientists who link air pollution to climate change.

The GOP's fire will be concentrated especially on the administration's efforts to use the Environmental Protection Agency's authority over air pollution to tighten emissions controls on coal, oil and other carbon fuels that scientists say contribute to global warming.

The attack, according to senior Republicans, will seek to portray the EPA as abusing its authority and damaging the economy with needless government regulations.

In addition, GOP leaders say, they will focus on what they see as distortions of scientific evidence regarding climate change and on Obama administration efforts to achieve by executive rule-making what it failed to win from Congress.

Even if Republicans should win majorities in both the House and Senate, they would face difficulties putting their views into legislative form, since Senate Democrats could use the threat of filibuster to block bills just as the GOP did on climate and other issues during the past year. Also, Obama could use his veto power.

But the GOP's plans for wide-ranging and sustained investigations by congressional committees could put the EPA and administration environmental policymakers on the defensive and create political pressures that could cause Obama to pull back on environmental issues as the 2012 presidential election draws closer.

In comments last week, White House officials said they are considering hiring more lawyers to the Office of Legal Counsel to gird for the possible battles ahead. Yet even with the White House running interference for the EPA and other agencies, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson conceded that a Republican anti-regulatory campaign could end up effectively hamstringing her agency's work.

The new rules EPA has issued over the last year on vehicle emissions and those expected soon for industry, Jackson said, "would be endangered by many, if not all, of the efforts we've seen to take away the agency's greenhouse gas authority."

Over the last two years, the Obama administration and the EPA have stepped up pressure on industry, utilities and states to curtail pollution. A 2007 Supreme Court ruling opened the door for the EPA to use its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in new rules for vehicle emissions and, starting early next year, regulations for emissions from utilities.

In contrast to the previous administration, the Obama White House has also embraced the broad consensus within the scientific community that human activity, mainly through the emitting of carbon dioxide, has led to global warming.

All that will be up for scrutiny in the event of a Republican takeover of the House, which political analysts are predicting. The Republican Party has hammered at the administration's environmental agenda during the campaign. And rejecting the work of climate scientists has become increasingly common among conservatives.

Several key Republican Congressmen — most notably Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who could take over the chairmanship of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — have said they plan to investigate climate scientists they contend manipulated data to prove the case that human activity is contributing to global warming.

Using control of congressional committees — and their investigative powers — to attack the opposition is not a new idea. After Democrats gained control of Congress in 2006, they held critical hearings on everything from an energy task force run by Vice President Dick Cheney to the Bush administration's support of abstinence-only sex education.

Similarly, during the Clinton administration, when Republicans took over they appointed independent counsels to investigate various aspects of the administration, leading to the Whitewater probe and the impeachment proceedings, among others.

In a recent op-ed article, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, declared that the GOP is preparing to "declare war on the regulatory state."

A steady flow of letters, subpoenas and congressional hearings would prove "incredibly disruptive" to an agency's ability to work and promulgate rules, said Kate Gordon, of the energy policy project at the Center for American Progress, a liberal research and advocacy group in Washington.

Congressional inquiries also offer a platform for energizing the GOP's conservative base in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

The investigations are expected to target questions about EPA's preparedness for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Already, House Republicans have written letters to the Interior Department questioning the moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling that the administration invoked after the explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers and spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil.

But the primary focus will be on the EPA's determination last year that carbon dioxide and other emissions endanger public welfare by contributing to climate change. Armed with this finding, the EPA has moved to reduce greenhouse gases by mandating emissions reductions in vehicles and will soon move to regulate stationary sources like power plants and factories.

House Republicans like Issa and James F. Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming have criticized the EPA for basing its endangerment finding on what they consider flawed research. Republicans assert that the science on climate change is not yet "settled," despite the vast global scientific consensus about its human causes.

Specifically, Issa has said he wants to investigate the "Climategate" scandal that broke late last year, when hackers illegally obtained and released thousands of emails of climate scientists working with a leading British laboratory.

Climate skeptics, among them House Republicans like Issa, contend that the sniping and harshness in some emails prove that climate scientists suppressed dissenting studies and that science showing the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is biased and tainted.

Several independent panels abroad and in the U.S. that reviewed the emails cleared the scientists of wrongdoing and found their research to be reliable. The EPA has also said that "nothing in the emails undermines the science upon which" the endangerment findings are based.

Like officials within the administration, scientists around the country who expect to be investigated by Issa and others are getting legal advice on how to best protect themselves. Among them is Michael E. Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University and one of the researchers who developed the "hockey stick" graph that shows a recent spike in global temperatures. Issa named Mann in a letter to the EPA as a scientist whose work was not "unbiased, accurate or reliable."

"I don't think we can cower under the politically motivated attacks by the forces of anti-science, which includes prominent politicians who are in the pay of the fossil fuel industry," Mann said in a telephone interview about his approach to possible congressional investigations. "One prepares for this by doing one's best to get the truth out because we have nothing to hide as climate scientists: We can stand proudly on our research," he said. [Standing on it might squash it!]


Australia: Water bills in Victoria 'to double again' -- due to desalination costs

This is the State that lets dam water flow out to sea as "environmental flows"

THE true costs of Australia's largest desalination plant are becoming clearer, with Melburnians said to be facing another doubling of water bills to pay for the Brumby government's $5.7 billion plant.

Consumers, who have already been slugged with a doubling of bills from 2009 to 2013, face further hikes as Melbourne Water's costs soar, an analysis of Auditor-General figures shows.

In the face of the government's repeated refusals to reveal the bill increases for desalinated water, the opposition has analysed figures in the Auditor-General's October finance report and found that Melbourne Water's costs per kilolitre, or 1000 litres, could increase by up to 130 per cent.

These costs are passed on to the retail water companies - City West Water, South East Water and Yarra Valley Water - which then pass them on to customers.

On average, the retailers pay Melbourne Water 70¢ a kilolitre. But the opposition's figures show that once the desalination plant is operating, it will cost Melbourne Water $1.60 to buy a kilolitre of water.

"These figures show there will be a dramatic rise in Melbourne Water's wholesale costs," Coalition scrutiny of government spokesman David Davis said, warning that the rise could mean a quadrupling of water prices.

"Victorian households should prepare to pay up to $2000 a year in water bills … for the exorbitant mismanaged costs of the desalination plant."

The government yesterday rejected the opposition's claim as "back of the envelope" calculations aimed at scaring Victorians.

"We emphatically reject these grossly exaggerated figures, which do not in any way represent what household water bills will look like in the coming years," said a spokesman for Water Minister Tim Holding.

But the government refused, again, to provide an estimate of water bills after 2013 and would not say if the impact on bills had been modelled.

The new water figures come as the Brumby government faces an election backlash on cost-of-living increases, with power bills also set to rise.

On Friday, the Australian Energy Regulator approved an increase of up to $82 on a $1600 bill from next year. This follows the government's mandatory $1.6 billion smart-meter rollout, which added $68 to bills this year and will add $72 next year.

To calculate the water figures, the opposition has taken the cost of the desalination plant in today's dollars and assumed that the maximum 150 billion litres will be taken from the plant each year.

According to the Auditor-General's figures, the plant will cost, in today's dollars, $5.4 billion for its construction and operation, and a further $1.2 billion if the state buys all the available water, taking the overall cost to $6.6 billion.

But a government spokesman said the opposition's figures were wrong because Melbourne Water's costs only made up half the costs on household water bills. The figures were also based on the state ordering a maximum of 150 billion litres a year from the plant, but the opposition had already said this amount would not be required.

The spokesman added that the opposition's figures were inflated because it ignored the fixed component in bills. The costs would be shared between both the fixed and kilolitre, or volume, charges, which would make the volume charge much lower than the opposition claimed.

Also, households would not bear the costs alone: industry, local councils and businesses, as well as water users in Geelong, South Gippsland and Western Port would also contribute.

In 2009, the government signed a public-private partnership with Aquasure, a consortium of three companies. The government has repeatedly cited commercial-in-confidence as a reason not to release information about payments to the consortium. It has also refused to talk about the impact of water bills after 2013, which are regulated by the Essential Services Commission.

To pay for the desalination plant, north-south pipeline and other works to boost Melbourne's water supply, the commission has approved price rises that will push a typical household bill for South East Water from $566 in 2008-2009 to $894 in 2013. The desalination plant is due to come online at the end of next year.



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1 comment:

Mats said...

Oh man, don't they ever give up?!! Now it's "biodiversity" !!