Friday, June 08, 2012

A new level of Greenie waffle: "boundaries"

And only Greenies can identify them of course. They are just grabbed out of the air

The United Nations has a warning: thresholds ahead.

Not only are the world's citizens failing to halt the increasing environmental strain felt across the globe, but some of the Earth's systems are nearing points of drastic, nonlinear change that could threaten both ecosystems and human development.

That's the warning advanced today by a major U.N. environmental report -- the fifth Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5) -- prepared in advance of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development this month in Rio de Janeiro, known as Rio+20, which will bring a host of world leaders together to discuss the balance between growth and environmental degradation.

"If current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and 'decoupled,' then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, in launching the report.

With the report, the United Nations has reaffirmed its use of a controversial new metric for assessing the world's sustainable path: "planetary boundaries." Proposed three years ago in the journal Nature, the boundaries are roughly based on the limits estimated during the past 10,000 years of human activity, and they have been seized upon by policymakers seeking a guide to the future of life on Earth.

The endorsement of world leaders for such boundaries -- say, for example, a limit for atmospheric carbon dioxide, land-use change or biodiversity loss -- is expected to be a major rhetorical highlight of the Rio+20 summit. And unlike its predecessor two decades ago, which resulted in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity, Rio+20 is unlikely to score any international binding agreements, making the battle over its message especially important.

While planetary boundaries have been seen as a successor to global warming, climate change or biodiversity as a top-level message, some scientists have questioned the United Nations' rapid embrace of the concept. For example, instead of boundaries, the scientific focus should rest on "planetary opportunities," a high-profile group of scientists argues in the journal BioScience this month.

Indeed, there is a consensus, which includes many of authors of the original Nature paper, that the boundaries concept remains scientifically weak, is not grounded in physical limits -- except perhaps with climate change -- and has received far too much attention from the media, said Erle Ellis, a geographer at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and co-author of the BioScience paper.

"Moreover, many [scientists] are convinced that focusing on the [boundaries] approach will weaken, rather than strengthen, the role of science in informing society in environmental decisionmaking," Ellis added.

This is not to say that scientists are not concerned about the world's passing certain irreversible thresholds, like the melting of ice sheets. Indeed, a review paper published today in Nature warns that the world could be approaching a "state shift" in its biosphere (see related story). But whether these thresholds, which contain so much uncertainty, should become a policy locus is another question, and one likely to run throughout the Rio+20 meeting.


Oil galore

Hubbert's peak turned out to be a pimple

Everyone has heard about the Bakken shale, the huge expanse of oil-bearing rock underneath North Dakota and Montana that billionaire Harold Hamm thinks could yield 24 billion barrels of oil in the decades to come. The Bakken is a huge boon, both to the economic health of the northern Plains states, but also to the petroleum balance of the United States. From just 60,000 barrels per day five years ago, the Bakken is now giving up 500,000 bpd, with 210,000 bpd of that coming on in just the past year. Given the availability of enough rigs to drill it and crews to frack it, there’s no reason why the Bakken couldn’t be producing more than 1 million bpd by the end of the decade, a level that could be maintained for halfway through the century.

But as great as the Bakken is, I learned last week about another oil shale play that dwarfs it. It’s called The Bazhenov. It’s in Western Siberia, in Russia. And while the Bakken is big, the Bazhenov — according to a report last week by Sanford Bernstein’s lead international oil analyst Oswald Clint — “covers 2.3 million square kilometers or 570 million acres, which is the size of Texas and the Gulf of Mexico combined.” This is 80 times bigger than the

Getting access to the Bazhenov appears to be a key element in both ExxonMobil and Statoil‘s big new joint ventures with Kremlin-controlled Rosneft. Exxon’s recent statement says the two companies have agreed “to jointly develop tight oil production technologies in Western Siberia.”

No wonder. The geology of the Bazhenov looks just as good if not better. Its pay zone averages about 100 feet thick, and as Clint points out, the Bazhenov has lots of cracks and fractures that could make its oil flow more readily. The couple of test wells that he cites flowed at an average of 400 barrels per day. That’s in line with the Bakken average.

This Siberian bonanza might be news to most of us, but it’s old news to Big Oil. The conventional oil fields of Siberia have been producing millions of barrels a day for decades — oil that originated in the Bazhenov “source rock” then slowly oozed up over the millenia. From the looks of it, geologists have been looking at the Bazhenov for more than 20 years.

It’s only in the last five years that the technology and expertise has been developed that will enable drillers to harvest it. Lukoil‘s president Vagit Alekperov said a year ago that his company was also experimenting with the shale.

Analyst Clint figures that it won’t be hard for Big Oil to export their shale-cracking techniques to Siberia. They will be challenged, however by summer weather in Siberia, which softens the ground enough to prevent drilling for much of the season. If Russia can get its act together to deploy 300 drilling rigs to the play, Clint figures Bazhenov could be producing 1 million bpd by 2020.

This would, of course, have huge geopolitical implications. Russia, though it doesn’t have as many proved reserves as Saudi Arabia, had been outproducing the Saudis for years, averaging about 10 million bpd to Saudi’s 9 million bpd. This year, the Saudis are said to have surpassed Russia, leading some pundits to speculate that Russian oil supply had peaked and was set to begin spiralling down.

Developing the Bazhenov could reverse that decline. Unlike the Kremlin’s much ballyhooed plan to drill for oil in ice-packed Arctic waters, the beauty of the Bazhenov is that it is onshore and it underlies an area that is already criss-crossed with pipelines serving mature, conventional fields. No need for expensive icebreakers, cold-weather drillships and subsea pipelines.

If Harold Hamm is convinced the Bakken will give up 24 billion barrels, a play 80 times bigger like the Bazhenov would imply 1,920 billion barrels. That’s a preposterous figure, enough oil to satisfy all of current global demand for 64 years, or to do 5 million bpd for more than 1,000 years. Rosneft, says Clint, has already estimated 18 billion barrels on its Bazhenov acreage. Either way, it looks like they’ll still be working the Bazhenov long after Vladimir Putin has finally retired and the Peak Oil crowd realizes there’s more oil out there than we’ve ever imagined.


The dirty side of "Green"

Solar cells do not offset greenhouse gases or curb fossil fuel use in the United States according to a new environmental book, Green Illusions (June 2012, University of Nebraska Press), written by University of California - Berkeley visiting scholar Ozzie Zehner. Green Illusions explains how the solar industry has grown to become one of the leading emitters of hexafluoroethane (C2F6), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). These three potent greenhouse gases, used by solar cell fabricators, make carbon dioxide (CO2) seem harmless.

Hexafluoroethane has a global warming potential that is 12,000 times higher than CO2, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is 100 percent manufactured by humans, and survives 10,000 years once released into the atmosphere. Nitrogen trifluoride is 17,000 times more virulent than CO2, and SF6, the most treacherous greenhouse gas, is over 23,000 times more threatening.

The solar photovoltaic industry is one of the fastest-growing emitters of these gases, which are now measurably accumulating within the earth's atmosphere according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A NOAA study shows that atmospheric concentrations of SF6 have been rising exponentially. A paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters documents that atmospheric NF3 levels have been rising 11 percent per year.

"If photovoltaic production grows, so will the associated side effects," claims Zehner. "Even worse, there's no evidence that solar cells offset fossil fuel use in the American context." Zehner explains that alternative energy subsidies keep retail electricity costs incrementally lower, which then spurs demand. "It's a boomerang effect," remarks Zehner. "The harder we throw alternative energy into the electrical grid, the harder demand comes back to hit us on the head. Historically, we've filled that demand by building more fossil fuel plants, not fewer."

Instead, Zehner advocates shifting to energy taxes and other conservation measures. He claims that even some of the most expensive options for dealing with CO2 would become cost competitive long before today's solar cell technologies.

"If limiting CO2 is our goal, we might be better off directing our time and resources to those options first; solar cells seem a wasteful and pricey strategy," says Zehner. "It is hard to conceive of a justification for extracting taxes from the working class to fund installations of Stone Age photovoltaic technologies high in the gold-rimmed suburbs of Arizona and California."

Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism forms "a bold look at the downside of green technologies and a host of refreshingly simple substitute solutions," according to Kirkus Reviews.


Obama Administration Over-Regulating Farms Out of Business

The Obama administration is no friend of farmers, and the recent stunt involving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sending spy planes over the state of Nebraska to keep an eye on where cows drop their patties is the latest example of overreach by an administration that is bent on controlling every aspect of our lives, but farming in particular.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has been overseeing the health of Nebraska's waters for more than 30 years, and its director, Mike Linder, says he's not sure why the flyovers are taking place. Why let the states do for themselves what our all-knowing, all-seeing government can do for them?

At an agricultural conference in November 2011 keynote speaker and environmental attorney, Harriet Hageman, warned "The EPA is one of the most insidious organizations in the US." and is "a prime example of regulation without representation."

Farmers and ranchers have similar concerns about Obama's U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). During a bus tour across rural America last summer, Obama was confronted time and again by ranchers and farmers concerned that unsubstantiated regulation was regulating them out of business. According to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, proposed USDA regulations "would cost 114,000 jobs nationwide and increase retail meat prices more than three percent." A statistic likely lost on a president whose discriminating palate includes $100 steaks.

Certainly no one can forget the USDA's attempt to impose a Christmas tree "tax" (fee) to "improve the image and marketing of Christmas trees." Bah humbug.

Last fall, the Department of Labor (DOL) attempted to regulate the relationship shared between parents and their kids on family farms. According to Politico, the proposed rule would have prohibited those under age 16 from manual labor like stall cleaning using a shovel and using a battery-operated screwdriver. When I was a kid, this type of manual labor was called Saturday morning chores. The bill also limited exposure to sunlight based upon wind speed and humidity as well as participation in 4-H clubs. And Mrs. Obama wonders why our kids are so fat.

Last but not least, the Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed a rule that would reclassify all farm vehicles as commercial motor vehicles meaning anyone driving a tractor or operating certain farm equipment would require a commercial driver's license. Never mind the fact that many farm workers are migrant workers who do not qualify for drivers' licenses, let alone commercial drivers' licenses.

Admittedly, farmers have their hands dirty in this corner they find themselves backed into. Farming subsidies almost invite the government to meddle in an industry it plays such a big role in propping up. But farms are not just part of the fabric of this country; American farms provide much needed food aid to the third world. When you apply bureaucratic pressure to any industry, you run the risk of driving those same workers out of the industry, which becomes self-defeating.

Government control of the farming industry is illustrative of the Obama Administration which operates more like a dictatorship than a representative democracy. Whether it's farming, healthcare, the auto industry or energy production, there is no amount of government intervention and overreach that can replace good, old-fashioned American ingenuity and hard work.


The predictions of doom never stop (and never eventuate): "Earth Is Headed for Disaster, Interdisciplinary Scientific Review Concludes"

More modelling and a recycled false prophet

An interdisciplinary group of 22 scientists, combining paleontological evidence with ecological modeling, has concluded that the earth appears headed toward catastrophic and irreversible environmental changes.

Their report, in the June 7 issue of the journal Nature, describes an exponentially increasing rate of species extinctions, extreme climate fluctuations, and other threats that together risk a level of upheaval not seen since the large-scale extinctions 65 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs.

The lead author of the report is Anthony D. Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley, which coordinated the work in an 18-month project that inaugurated the university’s Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology.

The report’s conclusions center on a measure of the amount of the earth’s land surface that has been transformed by people, from forests and prairies to uses such as cornfields and parking lots. The percentage of transformed land now stands at 43 percent, with the world’s population at seven billion.

The scientists contributing to the report have calculated the various forms of damage that will be seen when the usage level exceeds 50 percent, as is expected around 2025, when the population reaches eight billion, Mr. Barnosky said. The scientists making those estimates include biologists, ecologists, geologists, paleontologists, and complex-systems theoreticians in the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe.

Their conclusion is that the damaging effects, when combined, appear even worse than each of the experts has seen in his or her own field, Mr. Barnosky said. “These are all driving forces that in fact are greater than what we saw in the past,” he said.

The size of the problems demands a global response, Mr. Barnosky said. “The only way out of them is cooperation between nations, between individuals on a global basis,” he said.

Yet he acknowledged that in a nation with sharp political divisions, including over environmental issues, the report may not garner much attention. “I don’t know how much it will sway the people who are just not inclined to believe any of this stuff anyway, who just basically will put their heads in the sand and say, Let’s go on with business as usual,” he said.

The authors of the report, in fact, make clear that they cannot be totally sure when the earth’s environment will reach a “tipping point” beyond which recovery to anything resembling current conditions will be impossible, or even if that will happen. “That’s the usual scientific covering-all-your-bases” statement, Mr. Barnosky said.

But for others, the warning contained in the Berkeley-led report may not be strong enough. “I suspect it’s a little too optimistic,” said Paul R. Ehrlich, a professor of population studies at Stanford University known for his 1968 book The Population Bomb.

Mr. Ehrlich said he foresees a series of dire threats to humanity, many virtually untouched by political leaders, including climate change, water shortages, and the widespread use of man-made toxins. Even a single repercussion of one of those, such as water scarcity leading to nuclear war between India and Pakistan, could devastate populations worldwide, he said.

“Generally the scientific community has spoken many times,” Mr. Ehrlich said, “but nobody’s paying any attention.”

(For good reason. Ehrlich said much the same thing in 1972: "Everybody All Disappear In A Cloud Of Blue Steam" By 1992. You'd think the Warmists would have the brains to include out such a notorious fool as Ehrlich. That they include him in shows what fools they are -- JR)


Exotic diseases from warmer climates gain foothold in the U.S.

And its due to global warming, not illegal immigration. Pity there's been no warming in the USA for many years -- but there's been LOTS of illegal immigratiuon

Diseases once thought to be rare or exotic in the United States are gaining a presence and getting new attention from medical researchers who are probing how immigration, limited access to care and the impacts of climate change are influencing their spread.

Illnesses like schistosomiasis, Chagas disease and dengue are endemic in warmer, wetter and poorer areas of the world, often closer to the equator. According to the World Health Organization, almost 1 billion people are afflicted with more than one tropical disease.

Caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses, these diseases are spread through bites, excrement and dirty water stemming from substandard housing and sanitation. Consequently, the United States has been largely isolated from them.

But Americans are traveling more, and as tropical vacationers return home, they may unwittingly bring back dangerous souvenirs. Immigrants from endemic regions are also bringing in these diseases, some of which can lie dormant for years. All the while, the flies, ticks and mosquitoes that spread these illnesses are moving north as rising temperatures make new areas more welcoming.



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