Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rip up your lawns, they're as bad as gas-guzzlers, says British gardening expert

If your lush green lawn is your pride and joy, you should be feeling a little bit guilty, at least according to one expert.

Bob Flowerdew, one of Britain’s leading organic gardeners, has claimed that maintaining a luscious green lawn is as bad for the environment as ‘driving a gas-guzzling vehicle’.

The 58-year-old Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time panellist urged homeowners to tear up their lawns and replace them with perennial plants – or concrete.

Writing in Amateur Gardening magazine, he advises: ‘I think it’s time to get rid of our lawns. Dig up your lawn, I say. Turn the area into something else.’

But other experts – including the editor of the magazine – have dismissed the claims.

In his column, Flowerdew explains: ‘With the prediction of drier summers ahead and the increasing frequency of hosepipe bans, browned-out turf all summer is going to become more and more likely.

‘Indeed, having a green lawn may even become seen as heinous a sin as driving a gas-guzzling vehicle.

‘So why do we not admit that the time and effort needed to maintain a lawn is now too much?’

He suggests replacing turf with drought-tolerant perennial plants, stepping stones or solid concrete, which will never ‘need watering, feeding, aerating, scarifying or mowing’.

Flowerdew, author of several organic gardening guides, goes on: ‘Suddenly we would do away with the irritation of one after another of our neighbours mowing around us.’

But Paul Dawson, managing director of turf grower Rolawn, said: ‘Lawns have significant environmental benefits, producing oxygen, filtering water back into aquifers and reducing flooding.’

Tim Rumball, editor of Amateur Gardening, said: ‘It’s a load of old compost. Take away the lawn and you’re left with a jungle and nowhere to walk, relax and enjoy all your efforts.’


Nigel Lawson warns against Green protectionism

Former UK chancellor warns Europe, US against setting up trade barriers to developing nations

Nigel Lawson believes it is wrong for the West to use environmental concerns as a weapon to beat China. "It is wrong in two ways. It is wrong morally because it is asking them to slow their development down," says the former British chancellor of the exchequer who is now well known as a leading climate change skeptic.

"It is also wrong in practical terms because it is quite clear they are not going to do it (reduce carbon emissions sufficiently). China is not abandoning coal. It is going ahead with its coal-fired power stations."

Lawson, a remarkably youthful 80, was speaking over morning coffee at the House of Lords, whose debates he regularly attends.

He is best known as one of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher's key ministers in the 1980s but since the publication of his book An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming four years ago, he has also found notoriety as a bete noire of the Green Movement.

Some in the environmental movement refuse to engage with him, saying that he is recycling the arguments of the American oil industry and other vested interests.

He insists, however, that by going against what now seems a majority view he is not part of some new "Flat Earth" movement.

"You have to analyze what you mean by majority opinion. I think it is the majority opinion of the political classes in the West. It is not, however, the majority opinion of the public as whole. All the opinion polls show a high degree of skepticism among ordinary people, who often have more common sense than the political classes," he says.

Lawson says he has been recently talking with the 88-year-old renowned British-born American physicist Freeman Dyson, who is on the advisory board of his think tank, The Global Warming Policy Foundation, which he founded in 2009.

Dyson was over from the United States to mark his 60 years as a member of The Royal Society, the 350-year-old British scientific body.

"He says the only thing that is certain about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is that it is very good for plant growth and that the warming effect is extremely uncertain," he says.

Lawson does believe that China is unfairly lectured to on climate change and thinks the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009 was something of a debacle when no international agreement could be reached. China, India and other developing countries felt the terms too onerous.

"It certainly was an accident. It was a great macho thing for the European Union, which was then not in as shaky a state as it is now, to show world leadership," he says.

"They set these hugely ambitious objectives and it was a great humiliation for them that they brought on themselves."

He is dismissive of a lot of the claims made be environmentalists such as those set out by former US vice-president Al Gore in his film An Inconvenient Truth. He says the argument that 11 of the last 12 years have been the warmest on record is very misleading.

"It is generally accepted there has been no serious warming trend over the past 10 to 15 years. Even if the rate of growth flattens out, each year is going to be warmer than the previous year. The important thing is that it has completely flattened out," he says.

Lawson, a former leading financial journalist and editor of The Spectator magazine in the 1960s, is regarded as being one of the UK's most influential chancellors of the post-war period.

He was one of the principal architects of the Thatcherite free market liberalization of the British economy.

But he also presided over a bust of the economy in the late-1980s when interest rates soared to stem inflation and the housing market crashed.

He believes the current economic downturn is of a different scale to then and there may be a lot worse to come. "I don't think it is fully played out yet. The reason why it is much worse this time is the banking element. The banks weren't all that fine last time but they didn't go bust."

Lawson says it is the rise of countries like China that is one of the few reasons for optimism.

"I think it is the most important development on the economic front since my time in office and I absolutely welcome it. I think it is great," he says.

"It means the world is a much more competitive place but on the whole it is an excellent thing. It has taken millions of people out of poverty and provides a huge market for exports."


While Europe Sleeps: China Aims To Ramp Up Shale Production Ten-Fold

Technology to force natural gas from its underground source rock, shale, has transformed the energy picture of the United States in the past six years, and China—sitting on reserves some 50 percent larger than those of the U.S.—has taken note. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a made-in-the-U.S.A. process that China aims to import.

On June 9, state-owned oil giant Sinopec started drilling the first of nine planned shale gas wells in Chongqing, expecting by year's end to produce 11 billion to 18 billion cubic feet (300 to 500 million cubic meters) of natural gas—about the amount China consumes in a single day. It's a small start, but China's ambitions are large; by 2020, the nation's goal is for shale gas to provide 6 percent of its massive energy needs.

Because natural gas generates electricity with half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, China's primary power source, the hope is that shale development, if it is done in an environmentally sound manner, will help pave the way to a cleaner energy future for the world's number one greenhouse gas producer. "Clean, rapid shale gas development in China would reduce global emissions," says Julio Friedmann, chief energy technologist at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which has been working with the Chinese on environmentally sound fracking practices.

But challenges lie ahead in China's effort to replicate the U.S. shale gas revolution. Early indications are that China's shale geology is different. And above ground, China lacks the extensive pipeline network that has enabled the United States to so quickly bring its new natural gas bounty to market. A daunting issue is whether water-intensive energy development can flourish in China given the strains the nation already faces on water and irrigation-dependent agriculture. Even though there are more questions at this point than answers, China is determined to move ahead.

"China now realizes it has incredible opportunity to find another major fuel source other than coal," says Albert Lin, chief executive of EmberClear, an Alberta, Canada-based energy project developer that is a partner of China's largest power producer, China Huaneng Group.

Shale gas now makes up 25 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply, less than a decade after Devon Energy and other independent U.S. companies paired high-volume hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling to force natural gas from fissures in the soft black rock layer a mile or more underground. Development started near Dallas-Fort Worth, but it has since spread across the country, from Wyoming to Pennsylvania. The process has stirred intense debate over local land, water, and air pollution issues, including the accidental leakage of the potent greenhouse gas methane.

But the flood of new natural gas onto the U.S. energy market has been a key factor in displacing coal. Coal's share of U.S. electricity production has dropped from almost 50 percent to 34 percent in just three years. Largely as a result of that trend, the United States is on track for its energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2012 to be 11 percent lower than in 2005, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects.

In China, where coal now generates 80 percent of electricity, there is great potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions by substituting natural gas. A preliminary EIA assessment of world shale reserves last year indicated that China has the world's largest "technically recoverable" resources—with an estimated 1,275 trillion cubic feet (36 trillion cubic meters). That's 20 percent of world resources, and far more than the 862 trillion cubic feet (24 trillion cubic meters) in estimated U.S. shale gas stores.

But not all shale deposits are alike. The best targets are marine deposits, formed by millions of years of heat and pressure from dead organic material that mixed with mud at the bottom of ancient seas. The decay produces methane, the main component of natural gas. Experts say Sichuan Province and the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang Province in the northwest hold promising marine deposits. Five other areas identified by the EIA as potential shale plays in China, including Inner Mongolia's Ordos Basin and parts of northern China, are more likely to hold non-marine deposits, lacking the rich stores of organic material. Still, from initial drilling in the more promising regions, "we know there's [at least] 6 to 8 trillion cubic meters of recoverable shale gas and maybe more" in China, says Friedmann.

Other attributes of China's shale might pose additional challenges. It's believed that many of the deposits are mixed with clay. Clay's pliable, bendable quality makes it more difficult to fracture or break than shale containing more brittle quartz. In addition, shale in Sichuan is 1.2 to 3.7 miles (2 to 6 kilometers) below ground. On the higher end, that's deeper than many of the U.S. deposits, and the mountainous terrain above ground increases the difficulty and cost of drilling.

One of the top producing U.S. shale plays, Haynesville in east Texas and western Louisiana, has relatively deep deposits—1.9 to 2.5 miles (3 to 4 kilometers) below ground, notes Bruce Hill, senior geologist at the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston nonprofit that works to lessen fracking's environmental impact. The U.S. experience would suggest that deep fracking can be done, but China's geology has yet to be fully explored.

"There is no cookbook for doing shale gas," says Edward Chow, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. China needs to do "a lot of experimentation and go through trial and error, examining different shales."


54.5 mpg and the law of unintended consequences

Legislators and regulators need to observe a fundamental Golden Rule: Do not implement new laws if you have not considered or cannot control important unintended consequences.

A perfect example is the Obama Administration’s plan to increase new car mileage standards, from the currently legislated requirement of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 to 54.5 mpg by 2025, as an average across each automaker’s complete line of cars and light trucks.

Carmakers reluctantly agreed to the new requirements, to avoid even more onerous standards, or different standards in different states. But the deal does nothing to alter the harsh realities of such a requirement.

First, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analyses indicate that the mileage standards will add $3,000 to $4,800 to the average price of new vehicles for models from now until 2025. Moreover, this price increase does not include the $2,000 to $6,000 in total interest charges that many borrowers would have to pay over the life of a 36-60 month loan.

The consequence: 6 million to 11 million low-income drivers will be unable to afford new vehicles during this 13-year period, according to the National Auto Dealers Association (NADA). These drivers will essentially be eliminated from the new vehicle market, because they cannot afford even the least expensive new cars without a loan – and many cannot meet minimal lending standards to get that loan.

These drivers will be forced into the used car market. However, far fewer used cars are available today, because the $3-billion “cash for clunkers” program destroyed 690,000 perfectly drivable cars and trucks that otherwise would have ended up in used car lots. In addition, the poor economy is causing many families to hold onto their older cars longer than ever before.

Exacerbating the situation, the average price of used cars and trucks shot from $8,150 in December 2008 to $11,850 three years later, say the NADA and Wall Street Journal. With interest rates of 5-10% (depending on the bank, its lending standards and a borrower’s financial profile), even used cars are unaffordable for many poor families, if they can find one.

All this forces many poor families to buy “hoopties,” pieces of junk that cost much more to operate than a decent low-mileage used car. These higher operating costs can cripple families in borderline poverty situations.

The compounded financial impact is a “regressive” tax and a war on the poor.

Another, far worse consequence of the skyrocketing mileage requirements is that many cars will need to be made smaller, lighter, and with thinner metal and more plastic, to achieve the new “corporate average fleet economy” (CAFÉ) standards.

These vehicles – even with seatbelts, air bags and expensive vehicle modifications – will not be as safe as they would be if mileage weren’t a major consideration. They will have less “armor” to protect drivers and passengers, and less space between vehicle occupants and whatever car, truck, bus, wall, tree or embankment their car might hit.

The NHTSA, Brookings Institution, Harvard School of Public Health, National Academy of Sciences and USA Today discovered a shocking reality. Even past and current mileage standards have resulted in thousands of additional fatalities, and tens of thousands of serious injuries, every year – above what would have happened if the government had not imposed those standards.

They also learned that drivers in lightweight cars were up to twelve times more likely to die in a crash – and far more likely to suffer serious injury and permanent disabilities.

Increasing mileage requirements by a whopping 19 mpg above current rules will make nearly all cars even less safe than they are today.

For obvious reasons, most legislators, regulators and environmental activists have not wanted to discuss these issues. But they need to do so, before existing mileage requirements are made even more stringent.

These affordability and safety problems may be unintended. However, no government officials – elected or unelected – can claim they are unaware of them.

Finally, the asserted goals of CAFÉ standards may once have been somewhat persuasive. The standards were necessary, it was argued, to preserve US oil reserves that were rapidly being depleted, reduce oil imports from unstable parts of the world, and prevent dangerous global warming. However, the rationales used to justify these onerous, unfair, injurious and lethal mileage standards are no longer persuasive.

New seismic, drilling and production technologies have dramatically increased our nation’s oil and natural gas reserves. Opening some of the publicly owned lands that are currently off limits would increase reserves even more. Using government and industry data, the Institute for Energy Research has calculated that the USA, Canada and Mexico alone have 1.7 trillion barrels of recoverable oil reserves – enough to meet current US needs for another 250 years – and another 175 years of natural gas.

As to global warming, even the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now backing away from previous claims about alarming changes in global temperatures, sea levels, polar ice caps and major storms, due to greenhouse gas emissions.

All of us should conserve energy and be responsible stewards of the Earth and its bounties, which God has given us. However, to ignore the unpleasant realities of existing and proposed mileage mandates is unethical, immoral and unjust.

We must not emphasize fuel savings at the cost of excluding poor families from the automobile market – and putting people at greater risk of serious injury or death.


Australia: Carbon tax price hike jolts Anglican Church Grammar School electricity bills

THE carbon tax has begun hitting Queensland small businesses, including a Brisbane private school which faces a $70,000-a-year hike in its electricity bill.

Six weeks into the carbon tax regime, price hikes are starting to hit hip pockets as power bills drop into letterboxes.

Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry president David Goodwin said the "weird distortions" were becoming apparent.

"We are finding that ordinary supermarkets like the local IGA may be up for up to $15,000 on the carbon tax alone if they have to re-gas their giant refrigeration system," Mr Goodwin said. "Somehow these guys are going to have find ways to cover these extra costs."

The Anglican Church Grammar School (Churchie) faces a 30 per cent increase in electricity for the month of July, well above the 9 per cent increase predicted by the Federal Government.

Headmaster Jonathan Hensman said Churchie had struggled to become energy-efficient, employing everything from external louvres to power factor connection mechanisms to stop power leakage. Now he estimates the school will have to find an extra $1400 a week to meet the cost of the carbon tax. "Given what we have done it's a bit disappointing," he said.

He said that in the post-GST environment, passing on the cost to parents through higher fees was not an option.

Electricity broker Peter Phillips said several schools were reeling from the steep increases.

A spokesman for federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the average rise would be 9 per cent, and consumers had been compensated for businesses that passed on the cost of steeper rises.

The carbon tax component for Churchie for the month of July is $5600 - about 15 per cent of the entire bill of $38,000.

The school negotiated low-cost power through Mr Phillips, but now estimates it will have to find about $70,000 a year extra to cover the tax.

Mr Phillips, owner of Mantel Solutions, said many high-end users used brokers to secure cheap electricity discounts of up to 50 per cent over the average householder. But brokers could not secure concessions to the carbon tax.

The Federal Government predicted businesses may face steeper hikes and had compensated households, the spokesman said.

"That is why we are providing households with tax cuts, higher family payments and pension increases to meet the increase in the cost of living, which Treasury estimates will be an increase in the CPI of 0.7 per cent," he said.

"Businesses concerned that they are being charged too much for electricity should consider shopping around for a better deal."

Queensland Energy Minister Mark McArdle seized on the bill as an transparent example of how the carbon tax impacted commercial electricity bills.

"For most domestic customers the price of the carbon tax is hidden in the total cost of the electricity tariff," Mr McArdle said. "In the case of market contracts, such as this, each of the components that make up a bill is clearly identified.

"It shows that off-peak energy is attracting an 80 per cent increase directly related to the carbon tax."


Electric car sales lagging worldwide

Comment from Australia

SALES of electric vehicles have been so slow that Mitsubishi has temporarily halted production of two cars.

The slow global take-up of EVs has been mirrored in Australia, with only 18 sold privately this year and 45 sold to government and business.

After sales of less than 1000 each, Mitsubishi has now temporarily stopped producing the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn, which are rebadged versions of its i-MiEV. In Australia, Mitsubishi has sold only 12 i-MiEVs this year and none last month.

This follows disappointing global sales for the Nissan Leaf, which has sold 51 here this year, and the Chevrolet Volt, which goes on sale next month with a Holden badge.

While many blame high prices Mitsubishi i-MiEV retails at $48,800, Nissan Leaf at $51,500 and Holden Volt at $59,990 Australian industry figures point to a lack of government subsidies.

Fuel economy campaigner and former Australian Rally champion Ed Ordynski said the issue of subsidies for electric vehicles was "way too bogged down in politics".

"I don't think we'll see changes until there is a shake-out of local manufacturers," he said, pointing out that local manufacturers had no plans to produce electric vehicles, although several Australian companies are converting conventional cars to electric power.

"I don't think the government will offer incentives to produce locally, so subsidies for electric vehicles would only be for full imports and that isn't going to happen."

BMW Group Australia boss Phil Horton said government incentives would be a "relatively easy thing to do" and not necessarily expensive.

He suggested incentives such as cheap or free tolls, use of transit lanes, cheaper parking spaces and discounts on registration and stamp duties.

"Unless they take some steps to encourage electric vehicles, people won't buy them," he said.

BMW is about to release its ActiveHybrid 5, followed by a 3 Series model later this year, a 7 Series early next year, with a full electric car, the i3 in 2014 and a plug-in hybrid i8 after that.

"But there doesn't seem any interest from the government to do anything to encourage their take-up," Mr Horton said.

The BMW ActiveHybrid 5 will be among the highlights of a GreenZone Drive today on the Gold Coast.



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


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