Thursday, March 01, 2012

Tears from a modern Malthus

His panic is as old as Malthus and just as shallowly grounded. He has learned nothing from the fact that life for all of us continues to improve. His dislike of people regulates his brain

SILICON Valley giants at the prestigious TED innovation conference here on Tuesday were warned that the worship of technology will ruin the world before it saves it.

Activist and author Paul Gilding made a case for the peril of obsession with modern technology and how lust for the latest gadgets is distracting people from acting to stop global disasters such as climate change.

"The Earth is full," argued Mr Gilding, author of The Great Disruption in which he reasons that as technology drives efficiency and economic growth it powers breakneck consumption that the planet cannot endure.

"It is full of us. It is full of our stuff, full of our waste, and full of our demands," he said. "We have created too much stuff. This is not a philosophical statement, this is just science."

The world's population has topped seven billion people and resources are being devoured faster than they can be replenished, he argued.

"Our approach is simply unsustainable," said Mr Gilding, the former director of Greenpeace International. "Thanks to those pesky laws of physics, it will stop. The system will break."

On a TED stage famous for presentations from leading entrepreneurs developing ways to make the world a better place, Mr Gilding argued that technology was making matters worse.

With China and other developing countries booming, in many cases thanks to technology, the world's resources are being rapidly devoured, the author argued.

"The Earth doesn't care what we need," Mr Gilding said. "Mother Nature doesn't negotiate; she just sets rules and administers consequences."

He cited national debt crises, the Occupy Wall Street movement and rising global temperatures as signs the breakdown of modern life is underway.

"We've had 50 years of warnings and pretty much done nothing to change course," he lamented, his eyes watering with tears.

"Those people who think technology will get us through are right; they are only missing that it takes a crisis to get us going... We really do love a good crisis and this one is a master."

The head of the nonprofit X Prize Foundation, which is devoted to technology breakthroughs for the good of mankind, was then brought on stage to provide a counter-point to Mr Gilding's dark vision.

"I'm not saying that we don't have our share of problems - climate change, species extinction, resource shortage - but ultimately we have the ability to see problems way in advance and knock them down," Peter Diamandis said.

He argued that rapidly improving sensors, robotics, digital medicine, synthetic biology and computing power in the Internet "cloud" provided hope for a better future.

He added that a Slingshot device about the size of a college dorm room refrigerator and capable of cheaply making drinking water from even the most tainted of sources was being tested with the backing of a beverage company.

Mr Diamandis also heads Singularity University in Silicon Valley, which serves as a training ground and academic boot camp for entrepreneurs, inventors and technology industry executives.

The strongest defense against overpopulation is making people educated and healthy, he said, adding: "I have extraordinary confidence in the innovators who are out there."


The death of peak oil

Here's another structural transformation to add to all the others that you have to get your head around: it's the transformation of global energy markets as a result of shale oil and gas.

We've already got the digital revolution and the switch from consumption to savings after the GFC, not to mention the rise of China and India. Now we have the death of peak oil.

For years we have assumed that fossil fuel reserves were running out, that peak oil production had occurred some time ago and that it was only a matter of time before the oil price rose to such heights that energy-dependent economies would be crushed, starting with the United States.

In a way these assumptions have helped underpin the movement against global warming (that is, we'll have to give up oil anyway since it's running out, so we might as well make the best of a bad lot and embrace electric cars and wind farms and save the planet from climate change while we're at it).

In fact the existence of vast reserves of oil and gas in shale formations, mainly in the United States, combined with the return of the oil price to $US100 a barrel without, so far, causing a global recession, is producing a profound transformation of energy markets.

Forget declining oil, there is a new global oil rush. The US has an estimated 2 trillion barrels of shale oil reserves - about 70 per cent of the world's total and eight times the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia. The gas reserves, in the US, Australia and elsewhere, are vast.

The cost of extracting shale oil ranges from $US95 per barrel down to $US12, although the process of fracking, where water is pumped in to break up the shale and release the oil, is very controversial - as highlighted on the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program last night.

But where there's oil there's a way. BHP Billiton has paid $15 billion for shale oil and gas acreage, through its acquisition of Petrohawk, and now owns four large areas in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. The company is spending billions developing the project; its Haynesville project in Arkansas is already the largest shale play in the US, producing 6.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

There was an earlier shale energy rush in the 1980s, following the second oil shock, but it quickly collapsed with the oil price.

However, now the price is back to where it was in real terms, making it economic, and extraction technology has advanced enormously as well. It wasn't until the late 1980s and early 1990s that the first commercial horizontal wells were successfully drilled and modern 'multi-stage' hydraulic fracturing (fracking) techniques did not emerge until ten years ago.

Production of shale gas in the US began to increase rapidly in 2010 thanks to advances in fracking technology. It has now been used in more than 1 million wells, and operators are currently fracturing about 35,000 wells a year.

It's a remarkable process: the reserves are usually about five kilometres below the surface (much deeper than coal seam gas); wells are drilled down to them and then horizontally through them for another five or six kilometres; the horizontal part of the well is perforated by explosives and then fluid and sand are pumped down at high pressure to fracture the shale. The hydrocarbons then flow to the surface.

The opposition to this in the US is similar to the growing opposition to coal seam gas developments in Australia; whether any of the opponents get anywhere is a different matter, especially in the US.

The drive for self-sufficiency in oil and gas is very powerful indeed, and in pursuit of that there is a massive boom in shale energy development, leading to big fortunes being made in infrastructure and servicing, not to mention the energy itself.

Australia has relatively small shale oil reserves - here it's more about coal seam methane. China has more shale energy reserves in total than the US but they're deeper and the geology is more difficult. There are big reserves in Poland and France, as well as Russia and the Congo in Africa.

But so far it's all about the United States, which has the reserves and the largest market close by.

The importance of this for the world is hard to exaggerate. The distribution of energy on the planet is shifting: the stranglehold that Middle Eastern dictatorships have over the world's energy supply is loosening and just as the rise of manufacturing in China shifted the world's economic axis, so will the rise of shale energy in North America.

There will be a rapid substitution of coal by cleaner gas, especially as (or perhaps if) emissions trading schemes and carbon taxes spread.

It means renewable energy and nuclear will become less and less economic as the supply of gas increases, whether it's from coal seams or shale. Gas is less carbon intensive than coal, but it still produces greenhouse gases, so it may be that the policy response to reduce global warming will actually have to increase if the world moves too far towards gas and away from renewables and nuclear.

If the United States could become self-sufficient in energy, its current account deficit would disappear and the US dollar would start rising again.

In fact, shale energy could be responsible for the resurgence of the United States as an economic superpower, with cheap local energy underpinning the second coming of its manufacturing industry as well as helping to balance its twin deficits - the current account and federal budget.

One thing is for sure: the world isn't running out of oil and gas any more.


BOOK REVIEW of The Delinquent Teenager who was mistaken for the world's top climate expert by Donna Laframboise

Donna Laframboise comes with a first-rate track record in human rights, non-conformism and feminism (she supports father's rights). The book contains 36 short chapters plus extensive documentation to ensure that her claims can be checked.

Chapter 1 is "A closer look at the world's leading climate body". It is essential to realise that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a political body, created by that most political organization, the United Nations to do the work of two of their subsidiary bodies, one concerned with weather and the other with the environment.

Every country in the world sends delegates to its occasional meetings: these are political representatives, not scientists. It is a little over 20 years old, strictly speaking not a teenager any more, but you could say it suffers from arrested development because it is driven by a particular political agenda, which has nothing to do with science and it is not restrained by democratic accountability.

Chapter 2 "Showered with Praise" runs through some of the glowing accolades that the IPCC has received from its political boosters and the mainstream media.

Chapter 3 "The Top Scientists & Best Experts?" takes up the claim by the longserving Chairman Rajendra Pachauri that the authors of the IPCC "Climate Bible" are "people who have been chosen on the basis of their track record, on their record of publications, on the research that they have done...They are people who are at the top of their profession".

How many times have we been told that all the thousands of legitimate climate scientists have reached a consensus and the only dissenters are unqualified outsiders, ideologues, cranks, or doing it for money from Big Oil?

So what do we find when we examine the processes which convert data and the raw material of science into IPCC papers? Who are the key people who control the process? What the the checks on the quality of the input to the reports? How are the thousands of legitimate climate scientists used in this process, especially if they have concerns about the quality of the data or the processes involved in writing and reviewing the papers?

And what do we find about the background and qualifications of the insiders who turn out to have far more influence on the final reports than the most eminent and experienced scientists in the relevant fields if they are not key figures on the report-writing teams?

Cutting to the chase, the insider circles are dominated by bureaucrats and ideologues. Science and the scientists are used and abused to fit the agenda of the insiders. You can get a hint of the way this works from the experience of some scientists during the campaign against uranium mining years ago.

The UN has been penetrated by people dedicated to the anti-nuclear doctrine, as demonstrated by the sabotage of papers that scientists submitted to the UN Environmental Programme conference on nuclear energy at Geneva in November 1978. Over 20 consultants submitted papers in advance and when they arrived in town they found that the conference report had been printed and the conclusions could be read in the local press. The report did not represent the material that was submitted. It was heavily edited with anti-nuclear bias. A running battle ensued with letters from the Chairman of the panel of scientists demanding a re-write.

This effort was stonewalled by the Secretariat, led by a Mr El Hinawai, who gave out press releases which continued to misrepresent the situation, prompting more letters from the Chair of the panel, to no avail. The message of the scientists did not get officially accepted but Grover reported that an article by Mr Hinawai on the dangers of nuclear waste appeared in the official journal of the International Atomic Energy Agency and was quoted by an anti-nuclear letter writer in an Australian newspaper in not long after. Bad news travels fast and far!

The chapters "Twenty-something Graduate Students", and "Activists" describe the number of senior authors who are not at the top of their professions, are young, and experienced mostly in political roles as environmental activists. Later chapters detail many cases of genuine "top of the tree professionals" who have been snubbed and marginalized by the IPCC.

If you have key people inside the organization you can run rings around scientists outside who have other things to do apart from dealing with obstructive ideologues. Laframboise found that this kind of thing happens all the time in the IPCC. Nothing is easy to find out due to the lack of transparency but with persistence some patterns emerge, of which the most significant include the selection of key people in report-writing, the handling of material which is not peer-reviewed (given the emphasis on peer review), the experience and qualifications of many key people (given the emphasis on the role of the very best and brightest climate scientists), the way that rules on quality control and deadlines are manipulated and the way that efforts to improve quality control are blocked.

Lack of transparency

On page 26 there are quotes about the superb transparence of the IPCC processes including a statement by over 250 US scientists but the evidence is clear from other sources that lack of transparency (and the failure of journalists and science writers) is a major problem.

The Climate Bible authors are chosen by a secretive process for starters (p 27). The IPCC receives nominations from governments (that should be a warning!). The names are not made public (another warning!). Finally the only information given out about the selected authors is their country of origin (never mind about qualifications and experience, that is assumed in such a reputable scientific organization). Resumes are submitted as part of the nomination process, why not put them on the website?

The key people producing the reports

There are three classes of writers (p 10). Coordinating lead authors (usually 2) are in charge of each chapter. Lead authors, ranging in number from a handful to dozens, do the bulk of the writing. Contributing authors provide material, usually on very specific topics, to be incorporated, cited or re-worked. Depending on the chapter there may be no contributing authors or as many as 20. Typically they do not attend the meetings of the other authors.

Obviously the coordinating lead authors are overwhelmingly the really key figures, followed by the lead authors. Some of these are incredibly unlikely figures, in terms of experience, qualifications and background. Like Richard Kline who achieved the status of a top world expert and coordinating lead author long before completing his doctorate. And Lisa Alexander, who in 2008 was still completing her PhD at Monash after she had been a contributing author to the 2001 Bible and a lead author in 2007.

Climate modelers are under the microscope in chapter 7. All of the scary scenarios come from models and so the modelers represent a very specialised, very influential and very closed shop. For some balance on models check out Garth Paltridge in The Climate Caper, especially the story about the "worst case" selection of the model for the Garnaut report which was used to craft our tax on carbon dioxide. Of course the details of the Australian modeling are yet to be revealed.

We are told that the science has been settled on the basis of "an immense edifice of painstaking studies published in the world's leading peer-reviewed journals...vetted and documented in excruciating detail..." And a climate modeler claims that the input to the reports "has been scrutinized to the highest level possible" (p 33). And "A core principle of the IPCC is that only peer-reviewed literature is cited" (p 41).

The Chairman himself made that claim in a speech to the legislators of North Carolina.

Leaving aside what we have learned about the corruption of the peer-review process, claims about the exclusive use of peer-reviewed literature are bogus. In a chapter on "the peer review fairy tale" Laframboise described a collaborative project involving a worldwide team of helpers who checked all the cited references in the 44 chapters of the 2007 report, counting how many were peer-reviewed and how many came from the "grey" literature.

Her suspicions were aroused by reports from IPCC expert reviewers (not insiders to the writing) that some items were being submitted which did not have scientific status. These even included some press releases, however their concerns were dismissed and the reports were listed as input to the final report (p46).

The final score for 18,531 references in the 2007 report was 5,587 (one third) not peer reviewed. In 21 of the 44 chapters the score for peer reviewed references did not reach 60%. This would not be so bad if it was admitted up front and in public, also if there were clearly defined and properly policed rules for vetting the grey matter (not peer-reviewed) for use by the inner circle of authors.

Among the sources used to support IPCC recommendations were newspapers and magazine articles, unpublished theses, Greenpeace and World Wildlife Fund documents, and yes, press releases.

More here

Bird-lovers killing birds?

The unfortunate owl that is in Obama's gunsights

To save the imperiled spotted owl, the Obama administration is moving forward with a controversial plan to shoot barred owls, a rival bird that has shoved its smaller cousin aside.

The plan is the latest federal attempt to protect the northern spotted owl, the passive, one-pound bird that sparked an epic battle over logging in the Pacific Northwest two decades ago.

The government set aside millions of acres of forest to protect the owl, but the bird's population continues to decline - a 40 percent slide in 25 years.

A plan announced Tuesday would designate habitat considered critical for the bird's survival, while allowing logging to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and to create jobs. Habitat loss and competition from barred owls are the biggest threats to the spotted owl.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the draft plan "a science-based approach to forestry that restores the health of our lands and wildlife and supports jobs and revenue for local communities."

By removing selected barred owls and better managing forests, officials can give communities, foresters and land managers in three states important tools to promote healthier and more productive forests, Salazar said.

The new plan, which replaces a 2008 Bush administration plan that was tossed out in federal court, affects millions of acres of national, state and private forest land in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

The plan to kill barred owls would not be the first time the federal government has authorized killing of one species to help another. California sea lions that feast on threatened salmon in the Columbia River have been killed in recent years after efforts to chase them away or scare them failed.

The U.S. Agriculture Department kills thousands of wild animals each year - mostly predators such as coyotes - to protect livestock. Other animals, including bears, wolves and raccoons also are killed through the program.

The latest plan for spotted owls was accompanied by a presidential memorandum directing Interior to take a number of steps before the plan is finalized, including providing clear direction for how logging can be conducted within areas designated as critical habitat and conducting an economic analysis at the same time critical habitat areas are proposed.

Officials acknowledge that the plan to kill barred owls creates an ethical dilemma, but say an experiment on private land in northern California has shown promising results. Spotted owls have returned to historic territories after barred owls were removed.


Australian Labor Party governmnent attacked over 'solar vandalism' after ending hot water subsidy

Warmism slowly dying

THE Government's decision to abruptly end a solar hot water subsidy is being called "solar vandalism" in attacks by the Opposition and Greens.

Late yesterday the Government announced that the Renewable Energy Bonus Scheme would end from today, except for installations already underway.

The reason was the need for savings to meet the promise of a Budget surplus in 2012-13. The Government will save about $70 million from a program which so far has cost $320 million.

More than 250,000 households have used the scheme which had been a boost to the solar installation industry which expected many more families to take up the rebate.

The scheme will officially end on June 30 but effectively stopped today. "To be eligible for the rebate before the scheme closes, systems must be installed, ordered (and a deposit paid) or purchased on or before 28 February 2012," said Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Mark Dreyfus in a release issued just after 5pm yesterday.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt called the shut-down "solar vandalism". "Businesses who are on the ground building the clean energy economy have invested in stock, parts and production schedules and are now being thrown on the scrap heap by the Government," said Mr Hunt.

"My office has taken calls from several businesses shocked that they would be treated in this way when car manufacturers, smelters and others in the old economy get handouts of hundreds of millions of dollars."

The Greens said Mr Hunt said just $24.5 million was allocated for the scheme in 2012-13 and the closure of the program would not do much for the Budget.

Deputy Greens leader Christine Milne said the Government was sending the wrong signal on the move to a clean energy economy and demanded the scheme be reinstated. "Solar hot water is a great Australian clean, green manufacturing industry, exporting to the world and helping householders to cut their power bills and their greenhouse footprint," said Senator Milne.

"Cutting this scheme with no notice at all is a short-sighted sacrifice of a great industry to meet a political target of a Budget surplus next year."


Australian Warmist criticized over false prophecies

METEOROLOGISTS suggested Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery leave weather forecasting to them as the big wet defies his prediction rain would become scarce.

In 2007 Professor Flannery said Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane were in urgent need of desalination plants.

Four years on, Warragamba Dam is on the verge of overflowing and Brisbane last year endured the worst flooding in almost four decades.

After yesterday discovering Professor Flannery is not a meteorologist, the Weather Channel's meteorologists said it was probably best he left the forecasting to them. "People ideally suited to that are meteorologists. From what I can see on Tim Flannery, meteorology wasn't one of his specialties," Weather Channel's Dick Whitaker said.

A commission spokeswoman yesterday said Professor Flannery was in Germany, but said droughts were expected to become more frequent and "just because it is raining does not mean we should not think ahead and prepare for a drier future."

Professor Flannery's statements in 2007 came "in the midst of a record-breaking drought with dam levels perilously low," she said.



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


No comments: