Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fearmongers go into their own meltdown

It is testament to the ascendancy of apocalyptic thinking that many are now looking at Japan and thinking: "Will it get even worse?" It is not enough, apparently, that there has been a monumental tragedy, with thousands of people killed by the tsunami that was unleashed by Friday's earthquake.

No, many observers are now fantasising about a possible meltdown at a nuclear energy station that was badly shaken by the quake, which apparently could give rise to a radioactive holocaust that would make nature's fury look like a tea party in comparison.

It is worth putting the instability at the Fukushima plant into some perspective. Yes, it is profoundly worrying when a nuclear reactor experiences serious problems. Despite the fact that the tremor on Friday triggered an automatic shutdown of Fukushima, along with 11 of Japan's other nuclear reactors, still workers struggled to get things under control.

Once Fukushima was automatically disconnected from Japan's national energy grid, it became reliant on its diesel-powered emergency generators for the purposes of keeping cool and safe.

However, these generators failed, and so workers at Fukushima used mobile generators, trucked-in seawater and the trick of releasing some radioactive vapour (which is not harmful to the environment or humans) to try to keep the plant as normal as possible.

Yet while they managed to get one of Fukushima's working reactors under control, two others proved more problematic. And on Saturday, there was a huge explosion at the power station, which injured four workers and gave rise to headlines around the world about a possible "nuclear apocalypse".

Yes, the situation at Fukushima is serious and still unpredictable. But the things that we do know for certain suggest that the Western media's obsession with what is happening there is seriously overblown and reveals more about us and our fears than it does about the reality on the ground in Japan.

For instance, Japanese officials have confirmed that while the explosion caused the partial collapse of the concrete building around one of the nuclear reactors, still the steel container that houses the reactor has not been damaged. Yes, there was an increase in the radioactive elements caesium-137 and iodine-131 in the vicinity of the troublesome reactors, but these elements have "since been observed to lessen".

We also know that, in the words of the World Health Organisation, the risk to the public from a radiation leak at Fukushima is "probably quite low". However, to be on the safe side, the Japanese authorities swiftly evacuated nearly 200,000 people from a 20km radius around the nuclear plant, which should ensure that, in the event of a leak, no civilians will come to any serious harm.

We also know that, despite the hysterical headlines claiming that there could be "another Chernobyl", in fact the Fukushima plant is very different from the one in the Ukraine which experienced a serious accident in 1986. A Russian nuclear expert said this week that a "Chernobyl-like disaster in Japan is impossible", since there is no graphite at Fukushima, as there was at Chernobyl, and therefore "there is nothing to burn there".

Moreover, if the explosion at Fukushima already makes this the "third-worst nuclear accident in history" - as we're told - then it's worth noting the two other accidents were not as terrible as we're often led to believe.

Following the accident at Chernobyl, anti-nuclear campaigners claimed that up to 25,000 people would die as a result of radiation poisoning. In truth, as of 2005, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to the radiation released by the accident, most of them among highly exposed rescue workers.

The other worst accident was the partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in 1979. Yet this caused no direct deaths, though some experts believe that "one or two" cancer-related deaths in the vicinity may have been linked to meltdown.

So if nuclear accidents have never proved as terrible as Hollywood movies promise, and if it is true that, so far, the problems in Japan's nuclear reactors have been brought under some kind of control, why has there been such an outpouring of media-led panic about a possible radioactive fallout that could spread through Asia and even as far as Europe?

Because this coverage is being driven more by the politics of fear than by rigorous analysis. And because the post-tsunami problems are being disgracefully exploited by environmentalist groups opposed to nuclear power, including Greenpeace, which published an article on Fukushima called "The myth of nuclear containment".

The result is that the Western focus is mostly on one nuclear power plant in a country in which entire towns have been destroyed and thousands of people killed. The politics of fear has made us so irrational and self-obsessed that we risk becoming deaf to the already occurring horrors in Japan.


Boris Johnson on the tsunami reaction

Boris is the Mayor of London and a classics graduate. He also seems to know a bit of German

A caller rang a London radio station to discuss the lessons of the Japanese earthquake, and said something both death-defyingly stupid and brilliantly illuminating. He knew why there had been a seismic event measuring 8.9. It was because man was forever drilling for oil, and our planet was angry at the intrusion. The Earth, in the view of this caller, was like some vast animal shrugging its pelt at an irritating flea-bite - and mankind was that irritating flea.

That analysis is of course stupid, because there is no evidence of a connection between the colossal movements of the Pacific tectonic plates and our feeble scrapings and probings for oil or any other minerals.

The events of recent days have certainly been appalling. I have never seen anything like that great black tide of sludge as it rolled with bobbing houses and boats over northern Japan. But then geology is a story of mind-boggling violence, and this earthquake is nothing compared to events in the fairly recent history of the planet. Why did India crash up into the rest of Asia to form the Himalayas? Why did Latin America split off from Africa and the rest of Gondwana?

Whatever happens in the world, whatever the catastrophe, we approach it like some vast BBC reporter with an addiction to the first person singular. We just have to put ourselves at the centre of the story. Back in the second millennium BC there was a huge earthquake and tsunami in the Mediterranean, an event which has been associated with the destruction of Santorini. It was obvious to the ancients that this must have been to do with mankind - and specifically the misbehaviour of the people of Atlantis, who got uppity and dissed Poseidon. So Poseidon struck back. Of course he did.

I am afraid to say that our manic post hoc ergo propter hoc-ery survives to this day. When Phuket in Thailand was hit by the 2004 tsunami, there really were a large number of religious nut-jobs - and not only in America - who were convinced that this was some kind of divine vengeance on that town for the alleged immorality of its residents and its reputation for sex tourism. It is always us, us, us. Many are the terrors of the Earth, says the chorus in Sophocles, and nothing is more terrible than mankind. Well, the only good thing about an earthquake and tsunami on this scale is that they remind us that even Sophocles was capable of talking bilge. There are plenty of things more terrifying than man, and they include asteroids, earthquakes, tsunamis and anything else that reminds us that we are tiny blobs of flesh and blood crawling on the thin integument of a sphere of boiling rock and metal, and that there are events in the life of that planet that are simply nothing to do with human action.

The most important lesson here is that there are no lessons for human behaviour, and over coming days it is vital that we watch out for the preachers and the moralisers who will try to use it to further their campaigns. First off the blocks, I see, is the anti-nuke lobby.

These are the ''Atomkraft? Nein, Danke!'' brigade, who have always believed that any kind of nuclear fission - tampering with the building blocks of the universe - was an invitation to cosmic retribution. They will now do everything they can to exploit the Fukushima explosion and the difficulties being experienced in bringing a couple of plants under control.

I don't want in any way to minimise these problems, and we must hope they are sorted out as soon as possible with the barest leaks of radiation. I just doubt that there is any real read-across between the difficulties of nuclear reactors in a well-known earthquake zone, and proposed nuclear programs in Britain and elsewhere, which are becoming more essential with every day that passes.

Whatever happens in Libya, whether we intervene or not (and I wouldn't hold your breath), it is clear that instability will continue in the Middle East. It would be madness, in the current crisis, with oil capable of climbing up to $200 a barrel - with catastrophic consequences for the world economy - for us to abandon one of the few available long-term alternatives to fossil fuels. What would the oil price do then?

The response to the Japan earthquake is to send all the aid and the support that we can. But we don't have to treat this as any kind of verdict on mankind's activities. We don't have to make amends by sacrificing a hecatomb to Poseidon. We don't have to lead 100 garlanded men and maidens to the top of the pyramid and then cut out their beating hearts. We don't have to stop drilling for oil, and we don't have to sacrifice our efforts to provide safe, clean and green nuclear power.

There is no rhyme or reason to an earthquake, and we should for once abandon our infantile delusion that we are the cause and maker of everything.


"Hide the decline" explained

How tree ring data is used only when it gives the "right" answer

Peer into the Heart of the IPCC, Find Greenpeace

Many environmental organizations employ people whose sole purpose is to raise awareness about global warming. The more effective they are at convincing the public there’s an urgent problem, the more money these organizations receive in donations.

Activists are therefore the furthest thing from neutral parties. They have a right to participate in discussions about climate change, but we all need to understand that when they do so they are advancing an agenda.

Since agendas and science don’t mix, environmentalists should keep their distance from activities that are supposed to be scientific. Their mere presence undermines the integrity of the research. It casts a shadow over the data and calls into question the conclusions.

But activists have not kept their distance from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) even though this body claims to be a scientific organization. Nor has the IPCC taken steps to safeguard its reputation by keeping a strict separation between itself and green groups.

This is perhaps best illustrated by a Greenpeace climate change publication that appeared in early 2007. The foreword to this document, which focused on New Zealand, was written by none other than Rajendra Pachauri. At the end of his remarks, beside his photograph, he is identified not as a private individual expressing private opinions but as the chairman of the IPCC.

I’ve mentioned previously that the fact that Richard Klein worked as a Greenpeace campaigner at age 23 was no impediment to the IPCC appointing him a lead author at age 25. I’ve also drawn attention to the fact that some of those who’ve served as IPCC expert reviewers are actually Greenpeace employees.

But the cozy relationship doesn’t end there. Bill Hare has been a Greenpeace spokesperson since 1992. By 2000 he was climate policy director for Greenpeace International. According to various Greenpeace blog posts he is “a legend” in that organization, served as its chief climate negotiator in 2007, and remains a chief policy advisor. Yet none of this has prevented him from being nominated – and chosen – to fill senior IPCC roles.

In 2000 policy director Hare served as an expert reviewer for an influential IPCC emissions scenarios document. When the 2007 edition of the climate bible was released, we learned that he’d served as a lead author, that he’d been an expert reviewer for 2 out of 3 sections of the report (see here and here), and that he was one of a select group of only 40 people who comprised the “core writing team” for the important Synthesis Report.

Hare has once again been appointed a lead author for the upcoming version of the climate bible, expected to be released in 2013 (see p. 8 of this 27-page PDF).

It’s worth noting that the IPCC is less-than-candid about his Greenpeace ties. The 2007 climate bible says he’s affiliated with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. When the IPCC announced, last June, the list of authors for the version of the climate bible currently in progress the Potsdam Institute was once again used as cover. Since Hare is, in fact, a visiting researcher at the institute the IPCC hasn’t lied.

But imagine you’re an accident victim on the side of the road. You’re told not to worry, that the person who’s going to remain with you until the ambulance arrives is trained in first aid. What you aren’t told is that they’re also a vampire and that the blood seeping from your leg will be difficult for them to resist.

In 2009 EcoEquity, an activist think tank, observed that both Hare and a person named Malte have both “long been key members of the Greenpeace International climate team.” Indeed, Malte Meinshausen‘s Greenpeace ties stretch back to June 2001 when he and Hare co-authored a Greenpeace analysis related to the Kyoto Protocol. Throughout 2002 and 2003 Meinshausen’s name, often accompanied by a Greenpeace e-mail address, appeared on a number of Greenpeace statements and press releases (see here, here, and here).

But these facts did not prevent him from being recruited as a contributing author to not one, not two, but three chapters of the 2007 climate bible. Like Klein, above, Meinshausen’s participation is yet more proof that some IPCC authors are anything but world-class experts at the height of their careers. Meinshausen only received his doctorate in 2005.

A number of passages in the 2007 climate bible blandly cite research papers authored by Hare and Meinshausen as though it’s immaterial that they are Greenpeace personnel (see here and here, for example). Indeed, the IPCC goes so far as to reprint a graph that first appeared in a paper for which these two men are the sole authors.

And people wonder why the IPCC’s reputation has sunk so low.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

Big discovery: Electric cars are a dumb idea

Nissan's electric car, the Leaf, has reportedly been unexpectedly running out of charge

The electric cars revolution has hit its first bump in the road. According to reports from the United States several owners of Nissan's electric hatchback, the Leaf, have reported the car unexpectedly running out of charge and stopping.

Range-anxiety - the fear of an electric car running out of charge - is one of the biggest challenges facing the car industry as it attempts to convert motorists from fossil fuel to electricity.

The owners are reporting the remaining range indicated on the car's dashboard is rapidly dropping before putting the car into a "limp home mode" that slows the car to a crawl to conserve the remaining charge in the battery. One owner reported the car went from showing 27km of range to coming to a halt in only eight kilometres of driving.

"Part of me is amused that I may go down in history as the first dumbass to drive the car into submission," the owner wrote. "But I am slightly shaky and upset as I thought there should have been no problem getting home."

Another reported the a similar situation with the car again dropping into the "limp home mode" before grinding to a halt.

A spokeswoman for Nissan USA said the company was investigating the reports but claimed they were "isolated" incidents.

The Leaf has been making headlines in the United States as one of the first all-electric cars on sale. It is also one of three finalists in the 2011 World Car of the Year awards along with the Audi A8 and BMW 5-Series.


Australian conservative leader unfazed by carbon scare

THE Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has again questioned the scientific evidence for climate change, saying he does not accept that carbon dioxide is a proven "environmental villain" or that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is the most important environmental challenge.

The Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, seized on the comments by Mr Abbott yesterday as "proof" the Liberal Party's climate policy is based on "the extreme view that climate change doesn't exist".

Speaking at a community forum in Perth, Mr Abbott said: "I don't think we can say that the science is settled here.

"There is no doubt that we should do our best to rest lightly on the planet and there is no doubt that we should do our best to emit as few waste products as possible, but, having said that, whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.

"We should take precautions against risks and threats, potential ones as well as actual ones, but I don't think we should assume that the highest environmental challenge, let alone the great moral social and political challenge of our time, is to reduce our emissions," Mr Abbott said in response to a question.

Despite once famously saying the settled science of climate change was "absolute crap", Mr Abbott has more recently repeatedly stated that he accepts the science and has told his MPs their debate with the government should be about the Prime Minister's broken promise, the impact of the carbon price and the relative merit of the Coalition's "direct action" climate policy, and not about climate science.

Mr Combet said the comments showed "Mr Abbott is a climate change denier, which explains why his climate policy is nonsense".



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


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