Sunday, June 17, 2012


The writer below is undoubtedly an expert at agronomy, botany, rural sociology and various related disciplines but, like so many "Experts" has not got a blind clue about the big picture. What he proposes below is well-intentioned and probably beneficial and I think we should all wish him luck with it but his underlying premise is plain wrong, Malthusian wrong.

He thinks that it is the capacity of the land which dictates how much food can be grown and sees an urgent need to devise new methods which will squeeze out more food per acre. What he fails to take on board is that existing, even primitive, methods can and will produce all the food we need. The constraints on food availability are political and economic, not agronomic.

Proof? China. Under Communism, China was a big food importer. Australian wheatgrowers were very grateful for their large orders from China. And given the large Chinese population that seemed merely sensible and quite inevitable. It was not. Under capitalism, China is now a huge food exporter. It feeds most of the word with some food product or other -- from garlic to truffles. And even Chinese wine is beginning to look good.

And China still is in some ways a primitive country. Human feces are still their major fertilizer. Just think what those clever Chinese farmers could do under Western conditions!

And the nearly unmanageable agricultural surpluses produced by Europe's Common Agricultural Policy are of course well known. It's only political stupidity and corruption that keeps people poor and hungry, nothing else.

The world stands at a critical juncture in the second decade of the 21st century. International policymakers have begun to face the unspeakable possibility that we might be running out of food and the land to grow it. Staggeringly, we need to grow as much food in the next 40 years as we have done in the past 8,000 years.

The recently published United Nations Africa Human Development Report estimates that one third of all Africans do not get enough food to eat. Two thirds of agricultural lands in Africa face degradation or collapse by 2030. Meanwhile, the global population continues to grow, and people in expanding economies are demanding more food.

A new way of doing business is essential if we are going to meet the demands for food tomorrow, let alone in 2030, when urban populations become the majority in developing countries or by 2050, when we expect nine billion mouths to feed.

About 140 million hectares of forest and woodland have been lost worldwide since 1990 to plant huge swathes of food crops. But trees play a fundamental role in almost all the Earth's ecosystems and provide a range of benefits to rural and urban people. Landscapes without trees can quickly erode.

As natural vegetation is cleared for agriculture and other types of development, however, trees need to be integrated into agriculturally productive landscapes - a practice known as agroforestry. These trees yield more than environmental benefits. Adding trees to cropland can be highly profitable, producing valuable fruit, rubber, coffee, oil, cocoa, medicinal and energy products.

Agroforestry is an integrated land use that subsistence farmers throughout most of the world have developed. Almost half of the world's farmland already has more than 10 percent tree cover. But that is not enough to supply the goods and ecological services needed today.

With growing recognition that agriculture needs to drastically shift to incorporate more sustainable farming systems, agroforestry is gaining more and more prominence. It is increasingly promoted by land use managers and international development organizations for its ability to bring both livelihood and environmental benefits, especially in some of the poorest and most degraded areas of the world.

Natural forests are increasingly threatened as populations grow. This pressure can be lifted by growing trees outside forests that provide the same goods and services. For example, thousands of smallholder farmers in Africa, Latin America, and Asia are benefitting from growing superior varieties of indigenous fruit trees to earn extra income. In addition they are increasing on-farm biodiversity.

Trees outside forests also have a role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Trees store carbon both above and below ground. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "transformation of degraded agricultural lands to agroforestry has far greater potential to sequester carbon than any other managed land use change." Trees help to buffer against the impacts of climate change by reducing erosion and runoff, improving water retention, and providing shade.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification sees agroforestry as a key to rehabilitating land while generating production and income for land users. And the success of African countries has started to build momentum. Following reforms to the forest code in Niger, for example, farmers have again been cultivating trees and the country has seen a tremendous increase in tree cover on over five million hectares in the past 20 years.

In Senegal, planting strips of Casuarina spp. in the Niayes coastal stretch north of Dakar has stopped the movement of sand dunes and allowed market gardening to thrive. Fertilizer trees that capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and transfer it to the soil provide a low cost way for farmers to improve soil fertility and boost crop yields. In Malawi, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Niger, Burkina Faso, and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, fertilizer trees are doubling and tripling average maize yields. Yet the need to overcome policy constraints in other countries is still holding farmers back from taking full advantage of growing trees on their farms.

Clearly, a new and entirely different agricultural revolution is needed, where farm production is intensified and sustained by maintaining and enhancing the productive capacity of land rather than destroying it in search of short-term gain. In this light, trees have to be part of the future landscape. All branches of governments, development agencies and businesses need to work together in this endeavor, otherwise we cannot remodel our existing, defective agricultural system to meet the pressing needs of the future.


Money corrupts the peer-review process

And it's not only money. I personally place considerable value on peer review as a quality filter -- but only where politics or iconoclastic theories are not involved.

I personally had problems on both fronts, since my work usually led to conclusions uncongenial to the Leftist consensus in the social sciences and was hence both iconoclastic and objectionable. By dint of observing high quality standards I did however get some papers published in peer-reviewed journals.

Most of my papers were however published in journals where the editor was secure enough in his own breadth of relevant knowledge to need little assistance from reviewers -- principally Leonard Doob, Hans Eysenck and Stanley Renshon. Since they all edited widely circulated journals, it is clear that they did not underestimate their editorial expertise. Nonetheless such editors are rare and peer review deserves little respect as an evaluation of politically relevant or iconoclastic papers -- JR

The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has referred to its work as the gold standard, based on its oft-made claim that it only surveys work published in peer-reviewed professional research papers.

Interestingly, Albert Einstein's famous 1905 paper on relativity was not peer-reviewed. It is therefore quite clear that peer-review is not a precondition for excellent, indeed epoch-making, scientific research.

So what is a peer-reviewed (also termed refereed) research paper?

Peer-review is a technique of quality control for scientific papers that emerged slowly through the 20th century, only achieving a dominant influence in science after the Second World War. The process works like this. A potential scientific author conducts research, writes a paper on his or her results and submits the paper to a professional journal that represents the specialist field of science in question.

The editor of the journal then scan-reads the paper. Based upon his knowledge of the contents of the paper, and of the activities of other scientists in the same research field, the editor selects (usually) two persons, termed referees, to whom he sends the draft manuscript of the paper for review.

Referees, who are unpaid, differ in the amount of time and effort that they devote to their task of review. At one extreme a referee will criticize and correct the writing of a paper in detail, including making comments on the scientific content; at the other extreme, a referee may merely skim-read a paper, ignoring obvious mistakes in writing style or grammar, and make some general comments to the editor about the scientific accuracy, or otherwise, of the draft paper.

Neither type of referee, nor those who lie between, pretend to check either the original data or the detailed statistical calculations (or, today, complex computer modelling) that often form the kernel of a piece of modern scientific research.

Each referee makes a recommendation to the editor as to whether the paper should be published (usually with corrections) or rejected, the editor making the final decision regarding publication based on this advice.

In essence, then, peer-review is a technique of editorial quality control. That a scientific paper has been peer-reviewed is absolutely no guarantee that the science it portrays is correct. Indeed, it is the very nature of scientific research that nearly all scientific papers require later emendation, or reinterpretation, in the light of new discoveries or understanding.

Scientific knowledge, then, is always in a state of flux. Much though bureaucrats and politicians may dislike the thought, there is simply no such thing as "settled science," peer-reviewed or otherwise.

During the latter part of the 20th century, Western governments started channelling large amounts of research money into favoured scientific fields, prime among them global-warming research. This money has a corrupting influence, not least on the peer-review process.

Many scientific journals, including prestigious internationally acclaimed ones, have now become captured by insider groups of leading researchers in particular fields. Researchers who act as editors of journals then select referees from within a closed circle of scientists who work in the same field and share similar views.

The Climategate email leak in 2009 revealed for all to see that this cancerous process is at an advanced stage of development in climate science. A worldwide network of leading climate researchers were revealed to be actively influencing editors and referees to approve for publication only research that supported the IPCC's alarmist view of global warming, and to prevent the publication of alternative or opposing views.

Backed by this malfeasant system, leading researchers who support the IPCC's red-hot view of climate change endlessly promulgate their alarmist recommendations as "based only upon peer-reviewed research papers," as if this were some guarantee of quality or accuracy.

Peer-review, of course, guarantees neither. What matters is not whether a scientific idea or article has been peer-reviewed but whether the science described is right, i.e. accords with empirical evidence.

So what about the much-trumpeted, claimed "gold standard" of strict use of peer review papers by the IPCC? Well, this has been completely exposed by Canadian investigative journalist Donna Laframboise, who showed that an amazing 30% of the articles cited in the definitive [external] Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC were from non-peer-reviewed sources, including such writings as student theses and environmental lobbyist reports.

Therefore, the repetition of the "we-only-use-peer-reviewed-information" mantra that is so favoured by lobbying and government-captive scientific organizations signals not just scientific immaturity but also a lack of confidence, or ability, to assess the scientific arguments about global warming on their own merits and against the empirical evidence.


Former Hot Era fails to confirm conclusions of current climate models

They're being wise after the event but anybody can do that

The Eemian interglacial period that began some 125,000 years ago is often used as a model for contemporary climate change. In the international journal "Geophysical Research Letters" scientists from Mainz, Kiel and Potsdam (Germany) now present evidence that the Eemian differed in essential details from modern climatic conditions.

To address the question about how climate may develop in the future, earth scientists direct their attention to the past. They look for epochs with similar conditions to today. The major identified climatic processes are then simulated with numerical models to further test possible reactions of the Earths' system.

An epoch which is often regarded suitable for such an undertaking is the Eemian warm period, which began around 125,000 years ago following the Saalian ice age. For about 10,000 years, average temperatures on Earth in the Eemian were rather enhanced -- probably several degrees above today's level. This seems to be well documented in both ice cores as well as terrestrial records from land vegetation. Substantial parts of the Greenland ice had melted, and global sea level was higher than today. "Therefore, the Eemian time is suited apparently so well as a basis for the topical issue of climate change," says Dr Henning Bauch, who works for the Academy of the Sciences and the Literature Mainz (AdW Mainz) at GEOMAR | Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel.

However, in a study which appears in the recent issue of the international journal "Geophysical Research Letters" Dr Bauch, Dr Evgeniya Kandiano of GEOMAR as well as Dr Jan Helmke of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam now show that the Eemian warm period differed from the present day situation in one critical aspect -- the development in the Arctic Ocean.

In our current warm period, also called Holocene, oceanic and atmospheric circulation delivers large amounts of heat northward into the high latitudes. The most well known heat conveyer is the Gulf Stream and its northern prolongation called the North Atlantic Drift. The currents provide not only the pleasant temperatures in Northern Europe, they also reach as far as the Arctic. Studies in the last years have shown that the oceanic heat transport to the Arctic has even increased, while the summer sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean seems to be decreasing continuously. It has long been assumed that such conditions also prevailed 125,000 years ago. Accordingly, the Arctic should have been by and large ice-free in the Eemian summers.

Dr Bauch's group examined sediment cores from the seabed in which information about the climate history of the past 500,000 years is stored. These come from the Atlantic to the west of Ireland and from the central Nordic Seas to the east of the island of Jan Mayen. The sediments contain minute calcite tests of dead microorganisms (foraminifers). "The type of species assemblage in the respective layers as well as the isotopic composition of the calcitic tests give us information about temperature and other properties of the water in which they lived at that time," explains Dr Bauch.

The samples from the Atlantic delivered the higher-than-Holocene temperature signals so typical for the Eemian. The tests from the Nordic Seas, however, tell quite another story. "The found foraminifers of Eemian time indicate comparatively cold conditions." The isotope investigations of the tests, in combination with previous studies of the group, "indicate major contrasts between the ocean surfaces of these two regions ," according to Dr Bauch. "Obviously, the warm Atlantic surface current was weaker in the high latitude during the Eemian than today." His explanation: "The Saalian glaciation which preceded the Eemian was of much bigger extent in Northern Europe than during the Weichselian, the ice age period before our present warm interval. Therefore, more fresh water from the melting Saalian ice sheets poured into the Nordic Seas, and for a longer period of time. This situation had three consequences: The oceanic circulation in the north was reduced, and winter sea ice was more likely to form because of lower salinity. At the same time, this situation led to a kind of 'overheating' in the North Atlantic due to a continuing transfer of ocean heat from the south."

On the one hand, the study introduces new views on the Eemian climate. On the other hand, the new results have consequences for climatology in general: "Obviously, some decisive processes in the Eemian ran off differently, like the transfer of ocean warmth towards the Arctic. Models should take this into consideration if they want to forecast the future climate development on the basis of past analogues like the Eemian ," says Dr Bauch.


Hickman on Lovelock

A little while ago I was rather reproving towards Ben Pile over his "intellectual" style of writing -- a style which to an extent obscured an excellent skeptical mind. In a brief resultant correspondence with him he mentioned that his own father had once asked him: "Why use 8 words when 80 would do?". He assured me however that he can write in an easily understandable way when he tries and I think his article below is proof of that

Leo Hickman has an interesting interview with James Lovelock here, and a fuller transcript of their discussion here.

Given that Lovelock predicted in 2006 that by this century’s end “billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable”, this new laissez-faire attitude to our environmental fate smells and sounds like of a screeching handbrake turn.

Indeed, earlier this year he admitted to MSNBC in an interview reported around the world with somewhat mocking headlines along the lines of “Doom-monger recants”, that he had been “extrapolating too far” in reaching such a conclusion and had made a “mistake” in claiming to know with such certainty what will happen to the climate.

But Lovelock is relaxed about how this reversal might be perceived. He says being allowed to change your mind and follow the evidence is one of the liberating marvels of being an independent scientist, something he has revelled in since leaving Nasa, his last full-time employer, in the late 1960s.

This raises some points of discussion that Hickman has in the past shrunk away from, and no doubt, given his green leanings, is made uncomfortable by. Kudos to him for that. But as I pointed out in my review of Mark Lynas’ attempt to reformulate environmentalism, these uncomfortable issues might well have been confronted years ago.

Environmentalism, ignorant to criticism, has thus developed inside an insular, self-regarding bubble. Perhaps only someone from within it could prick that bubble, revealing to its members what those outside it have been telling them for decades.

Lovelock observes, for instance, that environmentalism has developed into something resembling a religion, which is mirrored by a religiosity amongst some sceptics. On the first point, Lovelock is hardly the first to point it out. And though as a description it seems to explain the excesses of environmentalism, it isn’t enough to explain how green thinking developed in this way. And the second point seems to present environmentalists as equal and opposite forces, which is inaccurate, as we know, because ‘scepticism’ simply isn’t a political force — it has very little institutional muscle through which it can assert itself . Similarly, the substance of many arguments on Hickman’s own articles seems to have been that a handful of tiny and barely-funded organisations have been able to thwart the progress of huge NGOs and governments seeking to establish global political institutions to ‘tackle climate change’.

The interview concludes, after Lovelock’s entirely correct pointing out that ‘sustainability’ is a meaningless concept:

Lovelock says he’s doubtful that internationalist efforts of this sort achieve much: “Whenever the UN puts its finger in, it seems to become a mess. The burden of my thoughts are very much that the climate situation is more complex than we at present are capable of handling, or possibly even in the future. You can’t treat it as a scientific problem alone. You have to involve the whole world, and then there’s the time constant of human activity. Look at how long ago the Kyoto treaty was - 15 years ago - and damn all has been done. The human time constant is very slow. You don’t get major changes in under 50-100 years, and climate doesn’t wait for that.”

But the UN’s efforts were never ‘science alone’ and were from the outset a political project, which recruited scientific authority precisely as the political authority of domestic governments waned. This ought to gives us clues, both as to environmentalism’s ascendency, and its religious character. It’s no use pretending now that environmentalism was, from its beginning, a response to science which merely lost its way. The clues are there: Lovelock’s freedom to admit his mistakes are, as he explains, made possible by his freedom from institutional science. The transformation of science — its increasing specialisation, and its shift of focus, away from the material world, onto the organisation of society and formulating the basis of policy — is something which Lovelock seems to recognise as a problem, but is unable to distance himself from:

Lovelock is influenced at present by US biologist EO Wilson and his study of social insects. “He’s come up with an extraordinary theory that the nest is the unit of selection, not the individual insects. That has enormous consequences. Now consider that applied to humans. If we all move into cities, they become the equivalent of a nest. Then another thought comes immediately from that: if that’s the way the flow is going, don’t stop it, let’s encourage it. Instead of trying to save the planet by geo-engineering or whatever, you merely have to air-condition the cities.”

This Logan’s Run vision of the future - where we all live in megacities to better manage dwindling resources - might not appeal to all, he admits. “But you don’t even have to do the experiment. You only have to go to Singapore. You could not have chosen a worse climate in which to build a city. It’s a swamp with temperatures in the 90s every day, and very humid. But it is one of the most successful cities in the world. It seems to me that they are treading the path that we are all going to go. It’s so much cheaper to air-condition the cities and let Gaia take care of the world. It’s a much better route to go than so-called ‘sustainable development’, which is meaningless drivel.”

The idea of cities as ‘nests’, which better enable us to survive nature’s (now mediated, or at lest, deferred) revenge is not a real escape from the ‘Spaceship Earth’ idea of social organisation. Cities were attractive once because they offered many things than amount to a preferable way of life (for most), not simply an escape from nature — whatever her plans. The idea of limited resources still seems to forces us into megacities, whereas a proper break with environmentalism’s precepts would conceive of a future in which we are <i>less</i> bound by material constraints — natural resources and hostile environments — than more so. Cities should develop according to our wishes, not organised around the (myth of the) necessity of survival.There is little reflection, also, in Lovelock’s distancing from his alarmist past. It’s one thing to recognise the excesses of environmental orthodoxy, and its weakening foundation in science. But surely the most interesting thing is how one moves from a perspective in which ‘Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades‘ and ‘became the Earth’s infection a long and uncertain time ago‘ into one in which environmentalism is seen in as an irrational, inflexible and religious ideology. After all, Lovelock’s comments were related by Hickman just two years ago. Maybe… Just maybe… it was this view of humans — their capacities and moral value — which helps to explain environmentalism. It follows that if you think humans are stupid, and simply a virus, you might not have too much time for nuclear power.


Japan moves closer to restarting nuclear reactors

Germany is now going to look foolish if it persists with its nuclear shutdown. The only tsunami in Germany was a tsunami of hysteria

Japan moved closer to restarting nuclear reactors for the first time since last year's earthquake and tsunami led to a nationwide shutdown after a mayor gave his support Thursday to bringing two of them back online.

All 50 of Japan's workable reactors are offline because of safety concerns or for maintenance since the March 11, 2011, disaster caused radiation leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Public opposition to nuclear power remains high, even though the government has been pressing for the restart of reactors because it says nuclear energy is crucial to Japan's economy.

Power companies have warned of looming shortages, as demand reaches its summer peak.

Work to restart two reactors in the western town of Ohi, which are the first ready to resume generating power, could begin as soon as this weekend now that the mayor signed off on the plan. Once the work begins, it takes about three weeks to get a reactor operating at full capacity.

The governor of Fukui, the prefecture (state) in which Ohi is located, now has to meet with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to inform him that the local governments are willing to accept the restart plan. The prime minister has to give final approval, which Japanese media reports said will likely happen Saturday.

With the high-demand summer months looming, Noda announced last week that he wants to restart Ohi's reactors as soon as possible. He also said he wants to move forward with the restart of other plants as soon as their safety is confirmed.

Before last year's crisis, Japan depended on nuclear for about one-third of its electricity and was planning to expand that further. The government is now carrying out a sweeping review of that plan.

Noda said the government has taken ample measures to ensure the two reactors in Fukui prefecture would not leak radiation if an earthquake or tsunami as severe as last year's should strike them.


Horrors! Grass grows in some parts of Antarctica

The Greenies sure have a lot to worry about

ANTARCTIC scientists are making plans to defend the continent against green alien pests. Believe it or not, green grass does grow on the Antarctic continent and scientists are calling it an alien invasion.

Paddock grasses such as poa annua, or bluegrass, are encroaching on areas that do not have permanent ice and snow cover. And alien flies have been spotted buzzing around.

Australian Antarctic Division Terrestrial biologist Aleks Terauds said such infestations had only been there a few years. Dr Terauds, speaking yesterday at a Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research forum in Hobart, said they along with unwanted micro organisms had been ferried in on the boots and equipment of scientists and tourists.

A team led by Dr Terauds yesterday announced that they had divided the vulnerable areas those with no permanent snow cover, adding up to about two thirds of the size of Tasmania into 15 distinct regions based on location, climate, flora and fauna and geology.

"While quarantine procedures are already in place for intercontinental travel, such as cleaning clothing and equipment before arriving in Antarctica, there are less biosecurity measures for intra-continental movement," Dr Terauds said.

He added that scientists had not ruled out bids to eradicate existing alien populations that could run rampant with global warming.


Australian radio commentator Alan Jones officially censured over perfectly reasonable global warming comments

Since the % of CO2 in the air is in any case tiny and there have always been large natural causes of it, what Jones said was a perfectly reasonable ballpark estimate. ALL estimates involve a large element of guesswork and assumption anyway

In a separate investigation, ACMA also looked into remarks made by Jones on March 15 last year when he told listeners on his breakfast show that "Human beings produce .001 per cent of carbon dioxide in the air."

ACMA found Jones had breached the code of practice when he made no effort to check his claims and 2GB needed to improve its processes for fact-checking or face a licence condition.



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