Thursday, April 21, 2011

One prophecy that has come true

Late last year I added to my sidebar a prophecy that nitrogen would become a Greenie boogeyman. It now has. See below

Nitrogen pollution is costing every person in Europe up to £650 a year in damage to water, climate, health and wildlife, a study warns. Scientists behind the research said nitrogen was needed as fertiliser to help feed a growing world population – but suggested that eating less meat could reduce the amount of pollution caused by agriculture.

The report for the European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) also suggests with 60% of costs of the nitrogen damage stemming from fossil fuels burned for energy generation and transport, more energy-efficient homes and less long-distance travel could help. More efficient use of fertilisers in food production is also needed, the report said. However, the researchers stopped short of calling for a fertiliser tax to reduce the use of nitrogen in agriculture.

Professor Bob Watson, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, welcomed the first assessment of the Europe-wide impact of nitrogen, but warned that higher costs as a result of a tax would be passed on to consumers.

The report by 200 experts from 21 countries in Europe, puts the annual cost of nitrogen pollution on air, soils, water, increased greenhouse gases and damage to wildlife at €70bn-€320bn (£62bn-£282bn). The cost works out at between £130 and £650 a year for everyone in Europe.

Nitrogen contributes to air pollution that causes respiratory problems, such as asthma and cancers, and reduces life expectancy by six months across much of Europe. Nitrates in water are bad for human health and damage wildlife including fish stocks. Nitrous oxide is also a greenhouse gas.

The environmental effects of nitrogen were estimated at €25bn to €145bn (£22bn-£128bn), compared with the €25bn to €130bn (£22bn-£115bn) benefits to agriculture that fertilisers deliver.

Much of the nitrogen pollution from agricultural production is linked to meat and dairy farming, as the crops needed to feed them are grown with the help of fertilisers. Dr Mark Sutton, of the UK's Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: "The amount of livestock we choose to have is critical in determining the scale of impacts. The amount of animal protein we choose to eat is critical." He said the environmental impact of livestock was not limited to greenhouse gases from cows, with nitrogen used to grow crops to feed animals also having an impact.

In Europe, he said people were currently eating 70% more meat and dairy products than they needed for a healthy diet. He added that the report was not suggesting people become vegetarian, but they could cut down on meat – a "demitarian" diet – and that the conference to launch the study this week in Edinburgh would be serving half portions of meat.

Prof Watson said of the report: "Nitrogen is absolutely essential for human well-being. The challenge is how do we capture the benefits of nitrogen and minimise the impacts." He said that in the UK nitrous oxides had been reduced by 60% since 1990 and there had been a reduction in the use of nitrogen fertilisers of nearly a fifth since 1998. "Things are going in the right direction, but we do need to move faster to avoid this environmental damage," he warned.

The researchers said that the cost of putting in measures to tackle the problems of nitrogen pollution would be outweighed by the financial benefits the solutions would reap.


Justices skeptical of states’ global warming lawsuit

The Supreme Court appeared ready to rule that federal judges cannot set limits on greenhouse gas emissions, after a majority of justices suggested Tuesday that such disputes over global warming are better left to Congress and federal regulators.

Five power companies, including American Electric Power, are appealing a lower court decision that would permit a group of six states and the city of New York to sue under federal "public nuisance" law and claim the plants' emissions intensify global warming.

During a spirited session of oral arguments, the justices voiced doubt that judges have the authority or expertise to handle the complex emissions dilemma that is international in scope and that the government says is being addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency. A ruling would determine whether states can seek remedies in court for harm caused by carbon dioxide emissions and whether utilities would be subject to new litigation and possible caps on emissions.

"Asking a court to set standards for emissions," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "sounds like the kind of thing that EPA does. Congress set up the EPA to promulgate standards for emissions."
"How does a district judge decide what is reasonable and cost-effective?" Justice Samuel Alito asked. "This is not a situation in which the emission of greenhouse gases can be totally prohibited."

Justice Elena Kagan added that pollution lawsuits usually are local affairs: "One factory emitting discharge into one stream. They don't involve these kinds of national/international policy issues of the kind that this case does."


VT: Nuke plant sues to stay open

Owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant filed a federal lawsuit yesterday to prevent state lawmakers from shutting the plant down when its 40-year license expires next year.

The Entergy Corp. lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Burlington, Vt., is expected to force a legal showdown over whether state governments can claim a role in the oversight of nuclear power plants, which are regulated by the federal government. What the courts ultimately decide is likely to have significance for some of the nation’s 103 other operating reactors, especially those in states that have similar concerns about their safety.

If the Supreme Court were to reject Entergy’s suit, other states could be empowered to pass legislation, as Vermont did in 2006, granting lawmakers the authority to approve or deny a plant’s license extension, according to legal scholars. Vermont is the only state in the country that has such veto power, and last year the Senate voted overwhelmingly to shutter the plant in Vernon near the Massachusetts line.

“Despite the fact that Vermont Yankee is important to the reliability of the New England electric transmission grid, emits virtually no greenhouse gases, and provides more than $100 million in annual economic benefits to the state of Vermont, it has been made clear that state officials are singularly focused on shutting down the plant,’’ said Richard Smith, president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities. “That has left us with no other choice but to seek relief in the court system.’’

The move comes just weeks after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted Vermont Yankee approval to operate through March 2032 and in the midst of controversy about its age and design. The plant has the same basic design as the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility in Japan that has had widespread radiation releases following a massive earthquake and tsunami there last month.

The Entergy lawsuit argues in large part that federal, not state, law governs licensing and operation of nuclear power plants, as well as radiological safety.

Vermont officials said they were legally justified in passing the 2006 law and argued that while the federal government oversees some portions of nuclear power plants, states also have a role to play. They contend the plant is too dangerous and old to continue operating and that Entergy did not object to the law that gave the Vermont House and Senate a final say in the plant’s future operation.

“Entergy’s lobbyists, executives, and lawyers all participated in that process,’’ Governor Peter Shumlin said. “Indeed, Entergy expressed its support of that law at the time. Entergy is now attempting to rewrite history, breaking its own promises and its own support of Vermont law.’’


Energy saving light bulbs "contain cancer causing chemicals"

Fears have been reignited about the safety of energy saving light bulbs after a group of scientists warned that they contain cancer causing chemicals. Their report advises that the bulbs should not be left on for extended periods, particularly near someone’s head, as they emit poisonous materials when switched on.

Peter Braun, who carried out the tests at the Berlin's Alab Laboratory, said: “For such carcinogenic substances it is important they are kept as far away as possible from the human environment.”

The bulbs are already widely used in the UK following EU direction to phase out traditional incandescent lighting by the end of this year. But the German scientists claimed that several carcinogenic chemicals and toxins were released when the environmentally-friendly compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were switched on, including phenol, naphthalene and styrene.

Andreas Kirchner, of the Federation of German Engineers, said: “Electrical smog develops around these lamps. “I, therefore, use them only very economically. They should not be used in unventilated areas and definitely not in the proximity of the head.”

British experts insisted that more research was needed and urged consumers not to panic.

Dr Michelle Bloor, senior lecturer in Environmental Science at Portsmouth University, told the Daily Express: “Further independent studies would need to be undertaken to back up the presented German research.”

The Department for the Environment insists the bulbs are safe, despite the fact that they contain small amounts of mercury which would leak out if the glass was broken.

Advice on its website states: “Energy efficient light bulbs are not a danger to the public. “Although they contain mercury, limited at 5mg per lamp, it cannot escape from a lamp that is intact. “In any case, the very small amount contained in an energy efficient bulb is unlikely to cause harm even if the lamp should be broken.”

The latest report follows claims by Abraham Haim, a professor of biology at Haifa University in Israel, that the bulbs could result in higher breast cancer rates if used late at night.

He said that the bluer light that CFLs emitted closely mimicked daylight, disrupting the body's production of the hormone melatonin more than older-style filament bulbs, which cast a yellower light.

The Migraine Action Association has warned that they could trigger migraines and skin care specialists have claimed that their intense light could exacerbate a range of existing skin problems.


Do you have 'global warming fatigue'? Just 25% of Britons think climate change is the most important environmental issue

Britons are suffering from 'global warming fatigue', according to a new poll which shows they care less about climate change than most other nationalities. The survey of 1,000 British adults found that just 25 per cent rate man-made climate change as the most pressing environmental problem.

In contrast, half say energy security is the biggest green issue - while 48 per cent are more concerned about their rubbish collections.

Out of 24 countries polled, Britain comes in at third bottom in terms of concern about climate change, the Ipsos Mori survey found. Americans, Australians, French and Japanese are all more bothered about global warming than Britons.

Edward Langley, Ipsos MORI’s Head of Environment Research, said: 'The public are cautious about climate change. They feel there is a lack of consensus on whether it is man-made and the degree to which it will impact their lives.

'In contrast, our dependency on fossil fuels is a more immediate and tangible risk that they can get their heads around, and one where they see an obvious need to take action to maintain living standards.'

Around 48 per cent of Japanese - who were surveyed after last month's earthquake and tsunami - rated climate change as the key environmental issue. Some 40 per cent of Canadians, 38 per cent of Germans, 30 per cent of Australians and 29 per cent of French feel the same.

Concern about man-made climate change fell after two cold winters and the failure of the UN global warming talks. The University of East Anglia leaked email scandal - which showed climate scientists plotting to ignore freedom of information requests about their work - has also affected public opinion.


10 big errors in Warmist speech by Australia's Federal Climate mimister

by Bob Carter, David Evans, Stewart Franks & Bill Kininmonth. (Bob Carter is a geologist, David Evans a mathematician and computer modeller, Stewart Franks a hydrologist and engineer, and Bill Kininmonth a meterologist and former Director of the National Climate Centre.)

Climate Minister Greg Combet delivered a major speech at the National Press Club on April 13th entitled "Tackling Climate change in the National Interest".

The earlier part of Minister Combet's speech traversed various scientific issues, which we analyse below, putting his statements in italics, and our commentary in ordinary type.

1. The evidence of atmospheric warming is very strong, and the potential for dangerous climate impacts is high. The scientific advice is that carbon (sic) pollution (sic) is the cause.

Atmospheric warming and cooling happen the whole time naturally, and global temperature has been level or cooling gently for the last ten years; and that despite the fact that a quarter of all human emissions of carbon dioxide, over all of history, have occurred since 1998.

No empirical evidence has been provided, and especially not by the IPCC or Professor Steffen, that a significant part of the late 20th century warming was caused by human carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, warming alarmist arguments rely upon computer modelling and assumptions about positive feedback from moist air and clouds.

Neither has any evidence been provided that the number or intensity of dangerous climatic events has in the near past fallen outside of normal natural variation.

The term "carbon pollution" is a pejorative term that displays ignorance by those who use it. In reality, the public debate is about the magnitude of the warming effect exercised by human carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide from whatever source is an environmental benefice that sustains most of the ecosystems on planet Earth.

2. Globally, 2010 was the warmest year on record, with 2001 to 2010 the warmest decade. 2010 is the 34th consecutive year with global temperatures above the 20th-century average.

Were this true, so what? The world has been in a warming trend since 1680, the depth of the Little Ice Age, so of course later years tend to be warmer. Human carbon emissions were insignificant before 1850 and tiny before WWII, so human-sourced emissions are obviously not the sole cause of warming.

But in fact it isn't true. Amongst the major records of global temperature, only one shows 2010 as the warmest year since global thermometer records began (about 1850). That record is the NASA GISS index compiled by James Hansen, and its limitations and inaccuracies are well known. The temperature record used by the IPCC is the U.K. Hadley Centre's HadCRUT thermometer plot, and the most accurate record of all is that measured from satellites (which covers nearly the whole planet, not mainly airports and carparks). These two records show that the 2010 global temperature was 0.2 and 0.1 deg. C below the warm peak attained during the 1998 El Nino year, respectively.

More generally, all versions of the 20th century thermometer temperature record on which the Minister places his reliance are of limited accuracy and also encompass a warming bias. Representing, as they do, only 3 climate data points, they are a completely inadequate basis on which to make grand statements about climate change.

Judged against climate records of adequate length, the temperature has been declining gently for the last 10,000 years (since the Holocene post-glacial climatic optimum) and increasing for about the last 330 years (since the depth of the cold Little Ice Age around 1680). So it is no surprise (i) that overall warming occurred during the 20th century; and (ii) that 2001-2010 was a relatively warm decade, for the same reason that most of the warmer days each year cluster around mid-summer's day - in both cases, the grouping of warm temperatures is because of position within a known climatic cycle.

3. In Australia, each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the preceding decade. With rising temperatures we can expect to see more extreme weather events, including more frequent and intense droughts, floods and bushfires.

In some places, each successive decade of the last 50 years may indeed have been warmer than its predecessor, for the same reasons explained under Point 2; the Earth is currently still recovering from a Little Ice Age.

But Australian temperatures, and those in other regions, do not move in perfect synchronisation with global temperatures, because of regional scale circulations and responses to multi-decadal climate oscillations. So whereas southeastern Australia (and offshore waters) started warming around 1950, after nearly a half century of flat temperatures, they have (along with global temperature) also stabilised over the last decade. But, in any case, it is global temperatures that are the point at issue, not Australian ones.

In the early 1970s, some climate scientists were full of talk about global cooling and the looming possibility of a new ice age -- they based their alarm on the fact that the global thermometer record had been falling for the previous three decades. These scientists also cited models that showed that a new ice age might indeed occur (their models, like the current ones, were loaded with too much positive feedback). Minister Combet is now apparently claiming that the 1945-1975 cooling didn't occur in Australia. Perhaps he is relying upon a temperature graph that has been revised in retrospect?

The accompanying statement that extreme weather events have increased with warmer temperatures is contradicted by the available empirical evidence - and that they will increase or become more extreme in the future should warming resume is derived from speculative, unvalidated and invalidated computer climate models.

4. The environmental consequences translate readily into economic costs - as well as potential negative impacts on water security, coastal development, infrastructure, agriculture, and health.

Natural climate events and change do indeed impose economic and social costs, as the bushfires, floods and cyclones of the last few years in Australia readily show. There is no evidence whatever that these costs have been greater in recent years because of human influences on global climate.

5. Professor Will Steffen, a leading expert in the climate science, has advised the Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change that there is 100% certainty that the earth is warming, and that there is a very high level of certainty it will continue to warm unless efforts are made to reduce the levels of carbon (sic) pollution (sic) being sent into the atmosphere.

Professor Steffen is spectacularly wrong. The earth is NOT currently warming, and hasn't been for the last 10 years, and perhaps longer. That this lack of warming has been accompanied by increasing carbon dioxide levels proves that carbon dioxide is not the predominant controlling influence on global temperature.

Neither Professor Steffen nor any other scientist can state with certainty whether global temperature in ten years time will be warmer or cooler than today. But given the currently quiet sun, and acknowledging the importance of multi-decadal climatic oscillations such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, many scientists currently hypothesize that cooling is more likely than warming over the next two decades.

6. It is in our national interest to take action on climate change. The national interest case is clear.

It is indeed, and the climate events and change that the Minister should be paying attention to are those KNOWN hazards of natural origin. Because the government instead is focused upon the entirely HYPOTHETICAL risks of dangerous warming caused by human-related carbon-dioxide emissions, it has taken its eye off the main game. The national interest case for better preparation for natural climate events and change is clear, and it is past time that the Minister focused on it.

7. Climate change is an environmental problem with an economic solution.

This is an absurd statement, which should read "Climate events and change cause environmental and social damage, and are therefore an economic cost".

For natural climate events and change are obviously hazards with attendant economic costs, and they are more costly the less prepared that we are - as the Victorian bushfires and Brisbane floods have clearly shown.

Perhaps "climate change" (as the Minister intends the term to be understood) is an invented problem to justify a desired and particular political "solution"? Be that as it may, whatever the Minister is referring to here is certainly not based upon science as we have learned to practice it over the last two centuries.

8. Just as the 1980s reforms laid down the bedrock of our current prosperity, pricing carbon (sic) will ensure that the Australian economy of the 21st century remains globally competitive.

Competitive with whom? Australia will be way out in front in leading de-industrialisation and economic decline, for no other countries are proposing to handicap themselves nearly as much on a per capita basis.

Putting a rising tax on carbon dioxide will have one, and only one, result, which is to render the Australian economy more and more uncompetitive against its overseas competitors, with a concomitant inexorable rise in the cost of living.

At the same time, a tax on carbon dioxide will do nothing to effect global temperature in a measurable way.

9. Intergenerational equity is a key determinant of long-term economic policy making. Our obligation is to leave the world a better place, not to pass on the problems we found too difficult to deal with to our grandchildren and to their grandchildren.

The government's Climate Commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery, has indicated that some computer models that he favours project that a period of 1,000 years or more will be required before any cuts in Australian carbon dioxide emissions take effect.

The intergenerational equity that the Minister speaks of is therefore like King Canute being held responsible for the living standards of present day Australians. It is astonishing that such fantasies are now being introduced into public discourse by government ministers who, King Canute-like in their turn, appear to believe that they can "stop climate change".

In any case, there never has been intergenerational equity. The gross inequities that exist across both geography and generations are caused by contrasting access and lack of access to cheap energy. It is estimated that 1.5 billion persons today lack adequate sanitation, clean drinking water and basic health care and education. Such poverty kills innumerable persons in developing countries each and every year.

There is no equity in restricting access to cheap energy, and future restrictions on cheap sources of energy such as coal will condemn millions to future poverty or death.

10. Australia is one of the world's top 20 polluters and we release more pollution per person than any other country in the developed world - more than the US. Not only is it in our national interest to act, we have a responsibility to do so.

Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, but an environmental benefit.

Even according to the IPCC's faulty models, if Australia stopped all emissions of carbon dioxide from tomorrow, the total effect on the temperature in 2050 would be to theoretically lower it by 0.0154 øC.

Regarding real air pollutants, Australia has good controls on industrial emissions through clean air legislation, and it is unlikely that our pollutant emissions are significantly higher than other western countries with similar controls.

Which is not to say that further improvements to air quality might not be effected, especially in metropolitan areas. Indeed, expenditure of public money on that (to demonstrable effect) would be a far preferable course of action to squandering money on cuts in carbon dioxide emissions that will have no effect on either pollution or future climate.

Final remarks

The later part of the Minister Combet's speech is concerned with political and policy matters which we do not analyse in detail. We note, however, that the relevance of these issues depends entirely upon whether there is a dangerous global warming problem to deal with in the first place.

Minister Combet provides no evidence whatever that there is.



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