Saturday, February 26, 2011

An introduction to environmental issues

Gordon J. Fulks, PhD Physics

The story of environmentalism is generally portrayed as one of citizens triumphing over evil corporate polluters, of public awareness, science, and affluence working together to solve pressing problems. There is no problem so huge or so abstract that we cannot solve it if we put our minds to it And solving these problems yields all sorts of positive side-effects and no drawbacks.

While that may be the perception, it is far from the fact. Public awareness is easily swayed by media campaigns that are little more than propaganda and supported by a press that would rather take sides than present balanced reports. Science is largely bought and paid for by politicians who control the agenda and the outcome.

And our affluence, or what is left of it, is viewed as an inexhaustible source of revenue for whatever fantastic ideas the political class can dream up. Negative consequences of such folly are viewed as so impossible as to be unworthy of discussion.

Consider the plight of the Orangutan, a creature in such dire peril that biologists place its chance of survival beyond a few years to be near zero in the wild. Do we hear much about Orangutans? No, we are constantly treated to pictures of a lone polar bear floating away on a shrinking piece of sea ice.

But polar bear populations are rising so much that they are becoming an increasing threat to arctic villages as these huge white grisly bears roam ever further in search of food. When I lived in Fort Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay, we had to be on the lookout for bears that would come into town after raiding the city garbage dump. Their preferred meals in town were sled dogs tied up outside the barracks buildings. We made sure that we did not also become part of their diet.

There was an amusing story a couple of years ago about an Irishman who was determined to be the first to sail across an ice-free arctic ocean. When he got stuck in the supposedly non-existent pack ice, he was last reported pleading with the Russians to come to his rescue with one of their icebreakers. Part of his pleading involved a description of polar bears closing in on him! I do not know how the story turned out, but the Russians were themselves preoccupied ferrying tourists across the Arctic Ocean and having to deal with one of their icebreakers trapped in the pack ice!

Bears as a species are very adaptable, just as we are. That is why they have survived for manythousands of years, with many natural changes of climate and of diet. I remember one black bear just ahead of me in the Olympic National Park eating huckleberries. I remember another in Sequoia National Park trying to get into my backpack. And I remember one in my yard in Corbett contemplating a battle with my bees for some honey. Bears of whatever color are a huge success story.

Orangutans, in contrast, are more like many other animals and plants, heavily dependent on a tropical rainforest habitat. They have not needed to be greatly adaptable to a changing climate because tropical regions change much less dramatically over time than polar regions. That is until man appeared on the scene.

Initially, man lived in the forest as just another creature making a home there. But now he seeks to heavily exploit the forest for valuable hardwoods like teak. Then he goes a step further by completely leveling what remains of the forest and burning the residue. That allows him to plant cash crops like palm trees for palm oil.

Why the interest in palm oil? Although it is considered an inferior cooking oil, it is the #1 choice in the manufacture of bio-diesel because it is relatively cheap compared with other vegetable oils. The former colonial rulers of Indonesia, the Dutch, got the bright idea that they could produce electricity back home from bio-diesel and found it easy to entice poor people to produce more palm oil.

The only way to do that was to clear the last remaining tropical rainforest. Orangutans, “people of the forest” in Malay, are large powerful apes, very closely related to man. Because they are gentle creatures, humans once considered them to be people hiding in the forest to avoid work. But with the destruction of their forest homes, Orangutans will resist. The net result is horrible: the natives shoot the adults and take their children as pets. Since they have no way of caring for the cute baby Orangutans, the babies quickly perish like their parents.

It is an enormously sad story that few hear, because it is politically incorrect to think ill of bio-diesel. We are assured that the large bio-diesel refinery built recently on Puget Sound will not use tropical oils. But then why was it built where it will have easy access to cheap tropical oils delivered by tanker from Indonesia?

Now let's step back for a moment to consider the concept of risk. We are perpetually told that we are poisoning the planet with everything from pesticides to carbon dioxide such that our world is rapidly becoming unlivable. This feeds our enormous egos that tell us we are far more important to this planet than we really are. This is not to say that we have done no damage to our host, mother earth, but that we are more of an irritant than a serious threat. Perhaps we are to the earth what fleas are to a dog, irritating for sure, but not threatening the planet as a whole.

And if anything the overall trend in the affluent developed world is toward greatly reduced environmental risks. Take for instance, the beautiful country between Hood River and Mt. Hood. If you buy a piece of property there, your real estate agent will quietly inform you that the soils are “leaded.” That is a euphemism for the prevalent insecticide used on apples in the early 20th century; acutely toxic lead arsenate.

If you had a liking for strawberries in that same time frame, it was a good idea to wash them thoroughly because they were treated with Paris Green, a popular name for the extremely poisonous copper acetoarsenite. It gained its name from its use in the sewers of Paris to kill rats. For killing pests on cotton, workers used to fill burlap bags with a mixture of arsenic compounds and shake them over their crops. During 1944 and 1945, vast amounts of Paris Green were sprayed by airplane in Italy and Sicily to control malaria.

But then a scientific miracle came along in the form of synthetic pesticides that were far less toxic topeople but highly effective against insects. Among the best were malathion and DDT. Malathion was developed in Nazi Germany as a part of their research into organophosphate nerve gasses that inhibit a particular neurotransmitter. It is probably the most common insecticide used in the United States today.

DDT was developed much earlier, but its value as an insecticide was not discovered until 1939. It proved vastly beneficial against the mosquito that carries malaria.

With the end of World War Two another environmental scare became a topic of endless concern: nuclear radiation. Prior to the dropping of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, few people were aware of the dangers of such radiation. Madame Currie had been badly burned by the glowing bottle of radium that she kept on her laboratory table and eventually died of cancer likely the result of radiation poisoning.

After the atomic bombs were dropped, people who were nearby started dying of mysterious causes clearly attributable to the radiation. But as time went along, the predicted excess of deaths from leukemia did not materialize. In other words, nuclear radiation in small doses is not to be feared. Because of cosmic radiation and naturally occurring radio-isotopes, we get a certain background dose of radiation anyway, whether we like it or not. As long as the excess dose we receive from man-made sources does not add appreciably to the background dose, it cannot have a significant impact on us.

This is the fundamental logic underlying the concept of acceptable risk for virtually all hazards. We never argue that risks can be reduced to zero, only that they can be greatly minimized to naturally occurring levels.

When I lived in Chicago during the 1950's, 60's and 70's, environmental problems abounded. Cars belched large amounts of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and lead. Steel mills in Gary, Indiana spewed vast clouds of smoke over South Chicago that left metal flecks on everyone's cars overnight. Oil refineries were big polluters Coal-fired power plants spread fly-ash and sulfur dioxide across the city. The city's trash incinerator on the South Side was a large polluter situated next to the SherwinWilliams paint factory that exuded such a foul odor that it was difficult to drive by without gagging. Radioactive fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing was easy to detect on your car in the morning. And cancer rates were clearly a function of where you got your drinking water. The more sewage systems and factories upstream from you, the worse off you were.

Today those problems have largely been addressed in a triumph of sensible environmentalism that utilized best available mitigation technologies.

But as these triumphs were occurring, a new and dangerous form of environmentalism began to take hold, involving theoretical problems, far less rigorous science, and a political component that suppressed dissenting views. It began with Rachael Carson and her famous book 'Silent Spring' published in 1962 that railed against the evils of DDT and caused it to be banned in the United States and much of the rest of the world. This resulted in the recovery of predatory bird species said to be especially sensitive to DDT but badly damaged vector control programs around the world for malaria. Malaria subsequently surged back to epidemic proportions. The number of excess death attributed to this fiasco total today about forty million people. That is comparable to the number of deaths in Russia or in Germany during the Second World War. With malaria substantially confined to Black Africa, the devastating impact is largely ignored in the developed world.

The success of Rachel Carson's brand of environmentalism was not lost on the political class, who saw great possibilities for the techniques she pioneered for stampeding public policy changes past skeptical citizens. Ironically, Carson is said to have never advocated the complete banning of DDT, perhaps realizing that such a ban could cause great harm.

Scaring people into irrational action had dangerous consequences, not only for the resurgence of malaria but for the environmental issues that were to arise later.

Little noticed in the 1960's was the commencement of measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide on a volcano in Hawaii. Twenty years later the steadily increasing levels were to spark concern, not only amongst scientists, but amongst politicians who saw great possibilities for advancing their own agendas.

The first politician to raise the alarm was not Al Gore but someone at the opposite end of the political spectrum: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She was in a desperate battle with British coal unions and wanted an excuse to move Great Britain toward nuclear power. Unfortunately, her advisers suggested the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming.

A short while later with the fall of the Soviet Union, the far left was cast adrift and began searching for a new cause. Then Vice-President Gore suggested that they join his environmental crusade to save the world from Global Warming, and they accepted.

In the 1970's, another theoretical environmental scare was attracting attention: ozone depletion. It was to become a dry run for action on Global Warming. Based on the calculations of three chemists who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their efforts, it appeared that we were headed for catastrophic consequences from our use of the chlorofluorocarbons commonly known by their DuPont trade name, Freon.

Following a now familiar pattern, the National Academy of Sciences supported the credibility of the ozone theory, leading to a ban on CFC's in aerosol cans, a “Vienna Convention on the Protection of the Ozone Layer,” and in 1987 the Montreal Protocol phasing out Freon.

But what was the bottom line that is never discussed in official circles? Other researchers later discovered that those who had done the original work had made a big mistake with one chemical reaction rate such that the problem that had been touted as “critical” was really minor. The ozone hole was likely a natural phenomenon, devoid of human contributions.

What about “Acid Rain” that was allegedly turning lakes in the NE United States to a dangerously acidic state? Power plants burning high sulfur coal were said to be responsible. Indeed some lakes were becoming more acidic, but only those close to and downwind from power plants could be gaining acidity from the power plants. Lakes in other areas far removed from power plants were also substantially acidic. The obvious conclusion: natural causes.

What about “Ocean Acidification,” the latest scare intended to succeed Global Warming hysteria when it becomes less of a research funding vehicle. The 2005 report from the British Royal Society paints a scary scenario and argues that massive new research funding is necessary to head off yet another disaster.

But at the very end of that report, far beyond the Executive Summary intended for politicians, they point out the essential truth. Our oceans are so heavily buffered with calcium carbonate that they can NEVER become acidic. The slight variations in pH about the nominal alkaline value of 8.0 are caused by natural variations such as temperature. Colder water more readily dissolves atmospheric carbon dioxide and is therefore a little less alkaline. Corals said to at imminent risk if we do not take action have survived on earth for hundreds of millions of years, through many natural climate and carbon dioxide variations

Much more HERE

Teleconference will attempt to explain huge snowstorms are due to global warming

The fact that there has in fact been no global warming is a mere bagatelle!

In an apparent bid to counter skepticism of the specious claim that global warming caused the string of heavy snowfalls in the US and Europe this winter, a media teleconference with "two leading climate and weather experts" has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 1, 2011. Mark "death spiral" Serreze and Jeff Masters will "discuss how a rise in the number of snowfalls of 6 inches or more may be related to an increase in moisture in the atmosphere," allegedly due to global warming.

Major problems with this argument include weather balloon and satellite data showing that 1) tropospheric relative and specific humidity has significantly declined since the 'safe CO2 levels' of 1948, 2) atmospheric water vapor has declined since satellite measurements began in 1983, 3) there has been no statistically significant global warming since 1995, and 4) the IPCC predicted milder winters and that the "milder winter temperatures will decrease heavy snowstorms."

Most climate models assume that as an increasing amount of atmospheric CO2 induces slightly increasing atmospheric temperatures, the overall evaporation will increase from the planet surface, and thereby the specific humidity of the lower part of the atmosphere (the Troposphere) will increase as well. As water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas, additional warming will come about, resulting in a much larger temperature increase than that induced from CO2 alone. Climate models therefore, in general, assume the relative Tropospheric humidity to remain more or less stable, as increasing air temperatures are compensated by increasing specific humidity.

The above diagrams indicate that none of this has been the case since 1948. Only near the planet surface, the relative humidity has remained roughly constant (although with variations), but in the remaining part of the Troposphere below the Tropopause the relative humidity has been decreasing. Even for the specific humidity, this appears to be the case.

SOURCE (See the original for graphics)

Grist: You Don't Care About Globull Warming Because Your Brain Is Wired Wrong

William Teach mocks some evidence-free speculation below

The headline at Grist is an attention grabber: Maybe no one cares about climate change because we’re wired for extinction. Yet, the article doesn't really support that, as George Black goes on a tear that our brains are wired wrong
In my unending (and thus far, I have to confess, largely fruitless) attempts to figure out why Americans aren't more alarmed about climate change, one of the more intriguing ideas I've heard recently was put to me by a psychologist named Andrew Shatté.

Well, it's easy to understand: you're hypothesis is a bunch of mule fritters, ripe with lies, distortions, hysterical crystal ball pronouncements, idiotic talking points, little actual scientific method, scare tactics, and you say everything is called by Mankind's release of greenhouse gases, from drought to flood to hot to cold to snow to no snow name it. Most people aren't that stupid. They catch on to reality. At one point Pet Rocks were the hot thing, then people realized they were paying $3.95 for a ...... rock, which they could find outside for free.

Anyhow, after a discussion of some extinct Irish Elk, we get
So why are we like the Irish elk? The problem is the human brain, Shatté says. Our evolutionary development has not yet caught up with the change in our circumstances. More specifically, the problem is our brain's fear triggers. Our instincts are still paleolithic; our fear reflexes respond to all the wrong things. They lie dormant in the face of climate change, no matter how ominously scientists predict its probable consequences. But we're programmed to pump adrenalin at the sight of spiders, snakes, and other mortal threats slithering into our caves. We still run a mile from snakes, although they only kill about five or six Americans a year. The most recent annual figure for fatalities from lightning strikes is 58, but would you go anywhere near a golf course in a storm?

See? It's because our brains haven't caught up enough to be scared from the climate changing into a warmer one. Or, perhaps, we have a collective remembrance of what it was like during all the cool periods back to the last glaciation period, and the hardships, pestilence, and crop failures that resulted. Nah. Your brain must be stooooopid.

Of course, American brains are even worse, because Americans believe in "climate change" even less than the rest of the world. You should read the whole hilarious thing, way too much to excerpt without creating a massive post, but, hmmmm
I don't really buy that. I spend a fair amount of time in the West, which is experiencing at least three spectacularly visible impacts of global warming: prolonged drought, raging forest fires, and the destruction of forests by the mountain pine beetle. Sit on your front porch in Wyoming or Idaho and you can almost see the trees dying in front of your eyes -- and then hold your breath to see if they will burst into flames come summer. The conundrum, though, is that these states are among the reddest in the country, the most likely to distrust the science on climate change and the most hostile to any government effort to reduce carbon emissions.

The rest is funny, especially the part about trees spontaneously combusting, but, focus on the bold part, and let's see who George is
OnEarth's executive editor has reported from five continents, chronicling civil war in Central America, the democracy movement in China, and climate change in countries from Bangladesh to Peru. His next book, Empire of Shadows, to be published by St. Martin's Press in Fall 2011, on the 19th century exploration of Yellowstone.

So, apparently, George's brain is wired wrong, because he is certainly killing Gaia by using trees to publish his next book, and taking unnecessary fossil fueled flights around the world, which apparently doesn't scare the daylights out of him.


NH: House votes to end participation in cap-and-trade

The New Hampshire House voted yesterday to end the state’s participation in a cap-and-trade program aimed at reducing carbon emissions at the end of the year. The House voted 246-104 for a bill that would repeal the law under which the state joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

New Hampshire is one of 10 Northeastern states participating in a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide. Under the program, generators must reduce pollution or bid at auction for allowances giving them the right to produce certain amounts of carbon dioxide.

Proceeds from the auction are used for energy-efficiency programs. Critics complain electric users are funding efficiency programs that don’t directly benefit them. But Governor John Lynch, who supports the initiative, says repealing the law would cost ratepayers up to $6 million a year while the state forfeits $12 million a year in funding.

New Hampshire belongs to a regional power pool and that affects the electric rates paid by pool members. If New Hampshire withdraws from RGGI, New Hampshire’s rates would still reflect cap-and-trade costs included in rates by RGGI members that belong to the pool.

Under the bill, Public Service of New Hampshire, which owns three of the five power plants covered by the law, could not recoup from ratepayers costs for buying allowances to cover future emissions.

House Science, Technology and Energy chairman James Garrity said the utility could sell the allowances on the carbon market.

Garrity, Republican of Atkinson, argued lawmakers adopted RGGI based on unproven science about greenhouse gases. “Three years ago when RGGI was approved, the rallying cry was that we must join RGGI or the planet will dry up. Here we are three years later . . . and the rallying cry is we can’t lose RGGI or the money will dry up,’’ he said. Garrity said the current law is a stealth tax on electric users.

Last year, New Hampshire raided its fund to help pay for other state spending — a move Lynch supported and defended by saying the overall goal of reducing energy demand was being met through a mix of state and federally funded programs.

State Representative Beatriz Pastor, Democrat of Lyme, rejected Garrity’s position as unwise. If one accepts the science is uncertain, the risks of doing nothing are too great, she said. By the time the question asis answered, the damage to the environment will be irreversible, she said.

“Noah got intelligence a natural disaster was about to occur. He could have looked out the window and said, ‘It doesn’t look like it is going to rain,’ ’’ she said.

The House Finance Committee next reviews the bill, but the 2-to-1 vote margin reflects November’s Republican takeover of the House since Democrats were in charge and adopted New Hampshire’s RGGI law in 2008.

The bill calls for any money left in the fund when New Hampshire withdraws from RGGI to be used for energy efficiency.


The EPA's Latest Unscientific Power Grab

Why would the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) overturn its own scientists and decide to regulate trace levels of perchlorate in drinking water after it recently decided it didn't need to be regulated? Earlier this month, the EPA announced it will develop a standard for how much perchlorate would be allowed in tap water.

When the EPA reviewed the chemical's safety profile in 2008, it found that the low level of perchlorate in water supplies did not present a health concern that could be reduced by regulation. And there haven't been groundbreaking studies to change that. Nor does it cite any major change in our exposure to the chemical.

What has changed is an increasing adherence to the unscientific precautionary principle, which requires that unless we can prove something absolutely safe, we should assume it is not.

In this case, because the chemical presents risks to animals at high doses, advocates argue it must be regulated, reduced, or perhaps banned, without consideration of cost or whether the regulatory action shows any health benefit. As EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson awkwardly put it at a recent Senate hearing on water regulation, "I don't know how you price the ability to forestall a child who may not get autism if they are not exposed to contaminated water." In other words, we don't know, but we have to protect children from industrial chemicals regardless of the cost or our lack of knowledge. (Her example about autism and water is completely out of left-field.)

Perchlorate, which occurs naturally in the environment and is also man made, has even been used as a medication. At appropriate doses, the chemical blocks iodine uptake in the thyroid, which is useful in an overactive thyroid. So activists have been claiming that it has the same effect at very low level environmental levels. But the environmental exposure is many thousands of times smaller than the pharmaceutical dose of 400 milligrams daily and has not been shown to affect the thyroid.

In fact, human studies of workers exposed to perchlorate showed no increased thyroid function.

But you won't hear that from the advocates seeking to regulate perchlorate. Because one major source of exposure to the chemical is from rocket fuel, activists repeatedly argue that citizens shouldn't be forced to have rocket fuel in their drinking water. This rhetoric disregards the fact that there are traces of almost everything everywhere. When you are arguing against rocket fuel in tap water, you don't need the science. Unfortunately, celebrity medical correspondents such as CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta repeat the scary claims without even questioning their validity.

Journalists ought to investigate these activist-driven scares, educate the public about basic science, and explain how science applies to such controversies. Instead, all too often, reporters drink it up and spout it out, lending credibility to the misinformation but shedding no light on the issue. Once the populace is sufficiently scared, regulators become apparent heroes by promulgating draconian, unscientific and self-justifying regulations.

But regulations have costs. We all want safer air, water, food, and products. But so long as we have finite dollars to spend, we must prioritize our regulatory agenda based on scientific evidence rather than fear, hyperbole, rhetoric, and anti-capitalist elements always out to demonize industry.

Will EPA use actual science to regulate perchlorate? Why should they? They are lauded by self-appointed environmental groups each time they come down on the side of precaution. The more they regulate, the more they are rewarded. Over-regulation may invite litigation from self-interested industry, but this only allows the regulators to further assume a mantle of the champion of the people.

In fact, the agency touts the nearly 33,000 comment letters on their earlier decision not to regulate perchlorate, as a reason for reversing course. This will make great fund-raising fodder for the activists who prompted the letters, but it isn't how we ought to go about regulating chemicals.

It is impossible to accurately calculate the cost of each unnecessary regulation, but the cost to all of us is staggering. Perhaps these costs would be worth it if they saved lives, but because the charges against perchlorate in drinking water are so unfounded it makes this particular regulatory plan particularly hard to swallow.


The Skibbereen Eagle warns the Tsar....

The [Australian] Greens have threatened a trade boycott against the world's second-largest economy in an attack on China by one of its high-profile NSW candidates. Marrickville Mayor Fiona Byrne, who is running for the state seat, has revealed her council would consider boycotting China out of sympathy for Tibetans.

Labor labelled the policy as "stupid and dangerous" and warned such a ban could threaten Chinese trade with NSW - worth more than $3.2 billion to the state's economy - and damage cultural and student ties with China. "This is one of the most destructive policies announced by any mayor in Australia's history," Labor's campaign spokesman Luke Foley said. He has called for Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown to step in and rule out suggestions of a boycott of Australia's largest trading partner.

Mr Brown, however, could not be contacted by his office yesterday to seek clarification on whether he would back Ms Byrne's proposal or not.

A spokeswoman for Mr Brown said the Greens did not have a "written" policy on Tibet. But Greens Senator Christine Milne, who this week shocked Labor MPs with her claim that the Greens' "power sharing" deal with the Federal Government had delivered the carbon tax, has previously questioned Australia's free trade agreement with China based on its human rights record in Tibet.

Ms Byrne's backing for a China ban follows her boycott of Israel last month over its treatment of Palestinians. In retaliation, Labor and Liberal councillors have already joined forces on neighbouring Randwick Council to boycott Marrickville Council.

Her latest threats against China were recorded at a candidate forum on Wednesday night in Sydney. Ms Byrne said her council had expressed solidarity with the local Tibetan community. While the Tibetan community had not asked specifically for a boycott, Ms Byrne said council would adopt one if asked.

"If the local Tibetan community came to us and asked us to look at boycotting China, I'm sure council would do that," Ms Byrne said. "So we actually have done things [for] our local community ... provide action, and support our local community around those issues and I'm quite proud of that, quite proud to do that."

Mr Foley said: "It's hard to believe that anyone could come up with such a stupid and dangerous policy. "If she had her way, it would cost hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs. Bob Brown needs to step in, disown the policy and disown the candidate."

The seat of Marrickville is held by Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt by a 3 per cent margin. The Greens have consistently raised the issue of human rights in Tibet and have called for China to recognise Tibet's autonomy. Almost 35 per cent of people living in Marrickville were born overseas, many of them Chinese.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, 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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