Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Protean precautionary principle

Ben Pile is a throughly admirable climate skeptic but he usually writes in such an intellectual way that he gives even me a bit of a headache -- and with 200+ published academic journal articles and an interest in non-English poetry I have some claims as an intellectual myself. The following excerpt from one of his articles is pretty clear however -- with a bit of judicious re-paragraphing.

I myself always answer advocates of the precautionary principle by agreeing with it -- and pointing out how near we are to the end of a warm interglacial -- which leads to the imperative that we should be preparing urgently for global cooling

Shrill environmental rhetoric has been the growing thorn in its own side. The angrier and louder environmentalists have got, the more they have done to beset their own progress. The Joe Romms, 10:10 campaigns and George Monbiots of the world have done more to expose the real character of environmentalism than anything the sceptics have been able to throw at them. Greens are left fighting a rear-guard action… against themselves. It would be a comedy, if it wasn’t the case that the world was so invested in environmental policy-making. It is instead tragedy.

While we might welcome moves by some environmentalists to counsel their fellow greens about the incautious application of the… erm… precautionary principle, their attempts to remove themselves from the mess they have made do not show any evidence that they understand it, or can ever really escape it. Continuing his own attempts to reconcile the pro and anti-GM greens, Sunny Hundal betrays his irreconcilably contradicted perspective on today’s Liberal Conspiracy blog:
Why do most politically active right-wingers Conservatives and UKIPers deny climate change? It seems to me the science is irrelevant; they deny it because they hate the political implications of global warming and the cost of mitigation. They’ve convinced themselves that AGW is a far-left conspiracy to raise their taxes and change their lifestyle.....

Should people concerned about the growth of nuclear weapon technology, or (hypothetically) human mutation, ignore the potential consequences? Not really. It’s the job of elected representatives to voice those concerns and ask (possibly ignorant) questions. They may even campaign to stop funding. The court of public opinion drives democracy – to ignore that opinion is dangerous. The Monsanto problem should not be dismissed away, at least not for elected representatives of the left.

So democracy is good, when its about the things Sunny Hundal wants it to be about: Monsanto, nuclear proliferation, and so on. But democracy is not so good when it asks questions about the ‘political implications of global warming’. Nobody who challenges climate change orthodoxy could be, as Sunny is, concerned about the implications for democracy.

In other words, he rightly points out that political arguments are promiscuous with ‘scientific evidence’, but doesn’t notice himself hiding his own prejudices behind ‘science’, which allows him to determine that only some concerns are legitimate.

Environmentalists have always hidden their political project behind science, and speculated about to what motivates other people to see things differently… The only answer they can produce is that everyone else — even their own pals — is ‘scientifically illiterate’.

Environmentalists, between them, claim to have the monopoly on science and democracy, but are promiscuous with both. ‘Democracy’ has weight when environmentalists are hiding behind ‘public opinion’, and science is invoked in spite of it. Fundamentally, it is the precautionary principle which has allowed environmentalists to vacillate. It has been used to circumvent democracy, or to say that people are not capable of understanding the issues (i.e. risk), and then used to amplify risk, no matter what ‘science says’.

The precautionary principle applies to any technology, no matter how long it has been around, and presumes in favour of regulating it, notwithstanding that ‘scientific evidence’ may not be able to substantiate any claim that it is dangerous. Under the precautionary principle, a weak, theoretical risk is magnified by its potential impact. A nuclear accident can be widespread. Thus, nuclear power is regarded as certainly more ‘risky’ than conventional means. Similarly, under the precautionary approach, and under climate agreements, controls on the emissions of CO2 from industry are sought, not because any substantial evidence exists that they are harmful, but because we cannot say how harmful they will be.

Look carefully at the arguments for things such as containing global temperatures beneath 2 degrees, for instance, and it turns out that 2 degrees is not a limit detected by science, but is instead a arbitrary horizon of uncertainty. Before 2 degrees, we can be more sure of our assumptions. Beyond it, things become less certain, and theoretical risks are magnified. There may well exist very reasonable scientific measurements which show how a rising proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere will produce an increase in temperature. But then there is the difficult matter of how this relatively modest increase will be exacerbated by feedback mechanisms. And then there is another question about how much that warming will turn into effects throughout the climate, and in turn how much that will effect other natural processes before it is experienced by human society.

In each leap, what counts in the policy-makers perspective is not what has been shown, but what the putative risks are. Causal chains, beginning with CO2 emissions scenarios turn into story lines, each with a measure of probability attached to them. Under the precautionary principle, policy makers are obliged to take the worst case.

And under such an obligation, the likelihood of 20-30 cm of sea level rise by 2100 becomes 10 meters. Slightly warmer nights and slightly longer summers with slightly more warmer days becomes desertification and mass extinction. Slightly milder winters with slightly more precipitation becomes floods of biblical proportions. Slightly different weather patterns become the denuding of fertile grounds, and the mass migration of hundreds of millions of people looking for shelter, water and food.

To point out that this is what the precautionary principle does to ‘scientific evidence’ — even while acknowledging that climate change is a problem — is to be ‘scientifically illiterate’, or to be ‘anti-science’, or to be a ‘denier’.

So the journalists who are now rounding on anti-GM and anti-nuclear campaigners are doing so at the risk of undermining their own perspectives. I am happy to agree with them that the benefits of nuclear and GM outweigh any reasonable estimation of their risks.

But they are naive about their own arguments. The sensible estimation of risks is completely confused by the precautionary principle — risk analysis without numbers — whether the issue is GM, nuclear, or climate change.

That they are pulling the rug out from under their own feet should give us no cause for celebration yet: few of them are capable of reflecting on their own incoherence, and fewer still are reflecting on the implications for the absurd and far-reaching policies that have been created in order to ‘save the planet’. And the process of building supranational political institutions continues apace, as if there were nothing wrong with the precautionary principle — the fundamental of that institution building — at all.


Union of Concerned Scientists Cooks the Books, Media Swallow It

An environmentalist lobbying group claims corporations pay vast sums to misrepresent climate science.

The fact that at least one member of the UCS is a dog does however lend a lighter touch to their pontifications

Ronald Bailey

Last week the environmental lobbying group the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a new report entitled "A Climate of Corporate Control: How Corporations Have Influenced the U.S. Dialogue on Climate Science and Policy" [PDF]. Among other things, the report claims to trace corporate donations in 2008 and 2009 to think tanks and politicians as a way to uncover the true corporate attitudes and intentions toward climate change science and policy. According to the UCS, its analysis reveals that some corporations are climate-change science hypocrites, claiming to support the climate-change “consensus” in some venues but not in others. This climate hypocrisy allegedly produces confusion among both the public and policymakers, resulting in the defeat or delay of urgent policies needed to address climate change.

Several prominent news outlets swallowed these assertions from the UCS study. For example, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Some major U.S. corporations that support climate science in their public relations materials actively work to derail regulations and laws addressing global warming through lobbying, campaign donations and support of various advocacy groups.” In line with the findings of the UCS, the L.A. Times specifically declared, “General Electric has backed six environmental and non-partisan research groups that accept the scientific consensus on climate change, including the Brookings Institution and the Nature Conservancy. At the same time, it has funded four organizations that reject or question the consensus, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.” Based on the UCS report, The Guardian (U.K.) stated, “Some of America's top companies are spending heavily to block action on climate change or discredit climate science, despite public commitments to sustainable and green values.” The Guardian specifically mentioned that UCS had identified General Electric as being two-faced about climate change. According to the UCS report, among the four GE-supported organizations that "misrepresent" climate-change science is the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website.

So what vast sums of money did the duplicitous executives at General Electric lavish on the Reason Foundation in 2008 and 2009 to support an implied campaign to traduce climate science? Exactly $325. How much did GE spend on matching and direct grants on the six think tanks identified by the UCS as being pro-climate consensus? That would be $497,744. At least with regard to General Electric’s contributions, it appears that the Union of Concerned Scientists has salted a follow-the-money trail with pieces of fool’s gold, which certain unwary news outlets obligingly picked up and reported as real bullion.

Let’s take a deeper look at just how much “support” General Electric has funneled into the Reason Foundation’s coffers. The UCS report notes it identified this “support” by mining General Electric’s two most recent IRS 990 forms, which report charitable giving by the GE Foundation. I asked Reason's development people how much GE has contributed to the Reason Foundation during those two years. The grand total in our files and confirmed by the 990 forms investigated by the UCS researchers: $100 in 2009, and $225 in 2008.

Puzzled, I called up Dr. Francesca Grifo, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and director of its Scientific Integrity Program. She put me on speakerphone with her and the author of the report, Gretchen Goldman. I asked them if these minuscule donations were why GE was listed as a corporate supporter of the Reason Foundation. They answered yes. Seriously? Yes. They added that GE’s 990 forms did not disclose what the funds would be used for, darkly implying that the money might be directed to what the UCS might regard as climate disinformation campaigns.

In a memo (pdf) sent to me the next day (at my request), Grifo explained that the UCS did not have a threshold dollar amount for funds in their analysis. She added that GE's 990 forms do not provide further information on the nature of these payments. But that is simply not true. The 990 forms clearly indicate to even the casual investigator that the payments are matching funds for employees’ donations, meaning that individual GE employees gave money, and the company matched it. (GE matching fund donations to the Union of Concerned Scientists for those same two years totaled $6,980, or 21 times more than was donated to the Reason Foundation.) Grifo's memo does note that the UCS report admits “that because the details of these affiliations are not publicly available, we cannot directly link specific donations to climate-related activities.” Indeed not. But it appears that UCS nonetheless wanted credulous reporters to uncritically accept these vaguely-referenced payments as evidence of underhanded corporate influence.

Digging further into GE’s 990 forms one finds that with just a few significant exceptions, all of the money donated to the various groups is in fact corporate matching funds for employee donations. In other words, GE executives had no hand in directing these donations.

Now consider the actual amounts contributed by GE employees (through GE’s matching funds program), as well the several directed donations from the GE Foundation. With regard to matching funds, the think tanks identified by UCS as climate science “supporters” are the Brookings Institution, Earthwatch, the Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, the Woods Hole Research Center, the Worldwatch Institute, and the World Resources Institute. The UCS’ climate “misrepresenters” are the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), and the Reason Foundation. The UCS report puts together an “anti-climate: pro-climate ratio” which is based on funding allocated between the organizations identified as anti- and pro- by UCS researchers. Much of the report focuses on political giving, but let’s restrict this analysis to just the money that individual GE employees donated to think tanks and see what that might tell us about how careful and rigorous the UCS researchers were in putting their report together.

In 2009, the think tanks identified as pro-climate received matching funds from GE amounting to $5,216.40 for Brookings; $150 for Earthwatch; $44,000 for the Nature Conservancy; $30 for Conservation International; $185 for the Woods Hole Center; $150 for Worldwatch; plus a directed grant of $95,000 to the World Resources Institute; all for a grand total of $144,731.40. The think tanks categorized as anti-climate garnered $32,765 for Heritage; $750 for Cato; $50 for CEI; and $100 for Reason; for a grand total of $33,665.

In 2008, Brookings once again received $5,216.40, plus a directed grant from the GE Foundation of $100,000; Conservation International, $250; Earthwatch, $1,035; the Nature Conservancy, $173,677.03; the Woods Hole Research Center, $120; and Worldwatch, $250; plus a directed grant to the World Resources Institute of $73,500; yielding a grand total $353,013.43. GE matching funds for the opposing nonprofit think tanks came to $5,830 for Heritage; $2,450 for Cato; $25 for CEI; and $225 for Reason; amounting to a grand total of $8,530.

When you add up the allegedly pro-climate matching funds, the total is $497,744, while the total for the purportedly anti-climate funds from GE employees amounts to $42,195. Applying the UCS’s “methodology” to the think tank world, this yields a pro/anti-climate ratio of nearly 12 to 1. As for Reason Foundation, when you compare the total GE funding that went to pro-climate groups, that figure is more than 1,500 times greater than the paltry, but nevertheless much appreciated, matching funds Reason received. I do note that GE employees were uncommonly generous to Heritage in 2009, but I suspect that such giving might have more to do with growing Republican opposition to the Obama administration’s economic policies than anything to do with concerns about climate-change science. (I also asked Reason's development team about any past GE contributions to the Reason Foundation and I am unhappy to report that the corporation last contributed in 1993 in the amount of $10,000. This is just one year after the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change had been negotiated at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.)

But there’s more. Just combing through the GE 990 forms, it appears that lots of non-profits that work on climate change issues that were “supported” by the company were unaccountably overlooked by the UCS researchers. Among those missed are Greenpeace, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense, Friends of the Earth, the National Wildlife Federation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Sierra Club. All of these non-profits were mentioned in connection with climate change hundreds of times in the Nexis database, whereas the Reason Foundation turned up only 37 times.

Adding up the funds from the 990 forms contributed in 2008 and 2009 by means of matching grants to these additional groups, the total comes to $131,086. Adjusting the pro/anti ratio to take these funds into account now finds the UCS approved funding is nearly 15 times that attributed by the UCS researchers to disapproved groups. It bears noting that the direct grants (as distinct from employee matching grants) amounting to $100,000 for the Brookings Institution and $168,500 for the World Resources Institute are chosen by executives at the head of the GE Foundation.

I also asked Grifo on what basis did the Union of Concerned Scientists determine that the Reason Foundation “misrepresented” climate change science. Grifo and Goldman could not recall during our phone conversation, but said they would get back to me the next day with their analysis in a memo. This memo cites one specific example of alleged misrepresentation, a blog post by one of Reason Foundation’s policy analysts that linked to a Daily Mail article that interpreted recent temperature data released by researchers at the U.K’s Met Office Hadley Centre as showing “no warming in the past 15 years.” As Grifo points out in her memo, the Met Office hotly disputed the Daily Mail’s interpretation of its temperature data.

I will just note that other research groups who have been monitoring the Earth’s temperature trends for decades have a different view. For example, University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists who have been measuring the Earth’s atmospheric temperature for more than 30 years reported last year: “While Earth’s climate has warmed in the last 33 years, the climb has been irregular. There was little or no warming for the first 19 years of satellite data. Clear net warming did not occur until the El NiƱo Pacific Ocean 'warming event of the century' in late 1997. Since that upward jump, there has been little or no additional warming.”


Canada Leads the Way on the Pipeline No-Brainer

By Alan Caruba

“Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No Mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.”

That was Canada’s Natural Resources Minister, Joe Oliver, speaking on January 9, 2012 and he might have been saying the same thing about special interests and the Obama administration in America. With refreshingly plain speech, Oliver criticized environmental organizations, both in Canada and in the U.S., saying they “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”

Canada is bringing common sense back into style. A June 3rd Washington Post article reported that “The government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is rewriting the nation’s environmental laws to speed the extraction and export of oil, minerals and other materials to a global market clamoring for Canada’s natural resources.” Moreover, it has “added provisions to an omnibus budget bill that would revamp the way the government reviews the environmental impact of major projects, regulates threats to fisheries, and scrutinizes the political activities of nonprofit groups.”

What is instructive is the way Canada is now leading the way against the obstacles that the environmental organizations on both sides of the border have imposed on the development of energy and other sectors of the nation’s economy. The centerpiece of this development for the moment is the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The Harper government has also proposed the repeal of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, part of the global warming hoax that would require huge reductions in so-called greenhouse gas emissions. It is seeking changes to other federal laws such as the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and Species at Risk Act.

Also under scrutiny is the proper role of non-profit organizations and “charities” that engage in blatant political activities. In typical fashion, the Sierra Club website on Monday claimed that Harper is trying to “steal tax-exempt status from charities that stand up to Big Oil.” Another environmental organization, Friends of the Earth, devotes its website to efforts to block the construction of “the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline from Oklahoma through Texas to the Gulf Coast.”

Every effort in the United States to ensure the provision of energy, whether from coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power, continues to be assaulted by the huge environmental propaganda machine that currently sees the defeat of the pipeline as crucial to its anti-energy agenda.

On January 18, Americans were astonished to learn that President Obama had formally rejected a bid by Canadian energy company, TransCanada, to build a $7 billion oil pipeline that would link the tar sands of Alberta to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. In a time when the U.S. economy is suffering loss of jobs, the project would normally be a no-brainer.

However, opponents of the pipeline are a virtual who’s who of environmental organizations and a torrent of lies has poured forth from them regarding the project. The American Petroleum Institute estimates it will create 10,000 U.S. jobs next year with an anticipated 45,000 jobs by 2015 and close to 85,000 by 2020.

Among the lies put forth by militant environmentalists is that the environmental impact studies and securing the permits necessary for the pipeline were “rushed.” In truth, it took three years, four months, and five days up to the day TransCanada first filed the permit request to begin construction.

Obama repeated this lie, blaming Republicans for preventing “a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment.” The Obama administration had, in fact, reviewed more than 10,000 pages of environmental studies and the State Department had twice concluded that all requirements had been met!

By contrast, in 1974, the TransAlaskan Pipeline was approved by Congress in just about a year and it was built in less than three years despite being more environmentally and technically challenging.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans have been so angered by the president’s decision against the pipeline that in mid-April the House passed a short-term transportation bill that would facilitate the next stage of the oil pipeline. The bill passed 293 to 127, with 69 Democrats supporting it. It was the fourth time the House had passed a measure to expedite the stalled project, one of which failed in the Senate by a narrow vote when the president personally lobbied some Democrats to vote against it.

Let’s tip our hat to the Canadians who have concluded that environmental lobbies, think tanks, and charities are doing more to harm Canada’s interests by means of the environmental treaties and laws they have worked so hard to impose on that nation and ours. We Americans could learn a valuable lesson from our neighbors to the north.


Carbon credits a goldmine for British fraudsters

Figures obtained from the Financial Services Authority (FSA) revealed an explosion in companies fraudulently offering to deal in carbon credits – transferable certificates that allow companies to pollute. More than 100 companies have been reported to the watchdog over the past 12 months. The figure is up from just six prior to June last year.

The City watchdog has already published the names of 21 companies in its list of unauthorised firms. The list comes with the warning that some of the firms "knowingly run scams".

The companies, including Green Carbon Solutions, Global Climate Agency and Carbon Credit International, have names designed to suggest probity. In fact many of them are run by individuals who used to operate boiler room scams selling shares to unsuspecting investors.

One company approached by The Telegraph, which does not appear on the FSA list, was offering "minimum returns" of 15pc per year and up to 30pc or 40pc returns were "quite possible". The company was not authorised by the FSA.

Jonathan Phelan, head of unauthorised business for the FSA, said: "There has been a massive rise in referrals about carbon credit trading between last year and this. We have taken a close look at a number of them and referred four to other agencies. There are six we are investigating ourselves, while 21 firms have been added to our list of unauthorised firms.

"Typically we think they are the same people who have run boiler rooms and land banking fraud. They are moving from con to con."

The rise in scams around carbon credit is being seen by law enforcers at the FSA as proof that work they have been carrying out against boiler rooms and land-banking is paying off. However, as trading in carbon credits is not regulated by the FSA it makes cracking down on the market difficult.

While the FSA can name and shame companies it believes are operating scams it cannot act against them unless they are trading carbon credits as part of a collective investment scheme or a futures contract.


Pesky! USA leads world in CO2 cuts since 2006

As Obama's "Green" policies send industrial jobs to China

"US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector … and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector."

How big is a cut of 430 million tonnes of CO2? It's equal to all CO2 from all Canadians outside Alberta. From a US perspective, it's equal to eliminating the combined emissions of ten western states: Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada.

It seems the planet's biggest all-time CO2 polluter is finally reducing its emissions. The average American's CO2 emissions are down to levels not seen since 1964 -- over half a century ago.

Oil is the biggest source of CO2 in the USA. Now with rising oil prices, new vehicle regulations and the emergence of electric cars it looks like the USA's biggest source of CO2 will continue to fall. Considering that Americans could cut oil use in half and still use more per person than Europeans, there is clearly lots of room for big declines ahead.


Carbon tax a foundational faith for the Australian Left?

Taxes generally certainly are

LABOR was demonstrating "breathtaking arrogance" by refusing to countenance the repeal of the carbon tax under an Abbott government, the Coalition said yesterday.

"How arrogant and out of touch is this government to say it will defy the verdict of the people? The next election is going to be a referendum on the carbon tax … Any Labor Party which persists in opposition in supporting a carbon tax is a Labor Party which is arrogant and out of touch," the Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, said yesterday.

The Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, told the Herald on Monday there were no circumstances in which Labor would support a repeal, meaning the Coalition would probably have to go to a double dissolution election to abolish it and the tax would operate well into a conservative government's first term.

Combet also vowed to hold Abbott to account for his "rank" and deceitful" campaign against the tax, which he said had been based on untruths.

But Abbott is continuing his attack, saying yesterday the tax was "an act of economic lunacy" which would be "toxic for families' cost of living".

"As for the damage that the carbon tax will do, we are already seeing it. I mean, jobs are already being lost in places Kurri Kurri … Airlines are already shutting routes because of the carbon tax. Councils are already putting up rates because of the carbon tax," he said.

The Kurri Kurri aluminium smelter cited the carbon tax as a long-term consideration in its decision to mothball its operations, but said the strength of the Australian dollar and low commodity prices were far bigger reasons and that the decision would have been taken "with or without a carbon tax."

Brindabella Airlines said tax was a "major factor" in the closure of some marginal routes.

IPART has ruled that councils across NSW will need to raise rates by just 0.4 per cent to cope with the costs of the tax.

The Coalition has said it will "begin" to repeal the tax on day one, but many constitutional experts say it will be difficult to meet the requirements for a double dissolution election (two rejections by the parliament three months apart) before a new Senate takes its seat in mid-2014, meaning the repeal process could under some circumstances take years.



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1 comment:

slktac said...

I always though Bernie Madoff would be proud of the carbon trading schemes. I can't wait for the NIgerian hucksters to get involved--you know, the ones that tell you they are a prince and they need to move money and they will mail you check.....Now it's: Best investment opportunity--millions to be made from carbon credits. Click on this link!