Thursday, December 13, 2012

Another "running out" screech

From big-time self-publicist Mark Hertsgaard.  It's sort of tedious to keep pointing out how dishonest these screeches are but if we conceded everything he says below there is still no problem. Canada is already a big wheat grower and Canadian production would simply expand further North.  And right at the moment Canada is wallowing in a bumper crop of all grains.  And Canada is far from alone in having big wheat crops lately. So the screech below completely closes its eyes to the real trends at work.  See also here

A world without pasta seems inconceivable. Mac-and-cheese-loving children across the United States would howl in protest. Italy might suffer a cultural heart attack. Social unrest could explode in northern China, where noodles are the main staple.

But if humans want to keep eating pasta, we will have to take much more aggressive action against global warming. Pasta is made from wheat, and a large, growing body of scientific studies and real-world observations suggest that wheat will be hit especially hard as temperatures rise and storms and drought intensify in the years ahead.

Hurricane Sandy’s recent devastation of New York and neighboring states reminded Americans of what Hurricane Katrina demonstrated in 2005: global warming makes weather more extreme, and extreme weather can be extremely dangerous. But flooding coastlines aren’t our only worry. Climate change is also imperiling the very foundation of human existence: our ability to feed ourselves.

Three grains—wheat, corn, and rice—account for most of the food humans consume. All three are already suffering from climate change, but wheat stands to fare the worst in the years ahead, for it is the grain most vulnerable to high temperatures. That spells trouble not only for pasta but also for bread, the most basic food of all. (Pasta is made from the durum variety of wheat, while bread is generally made from more common varieties, such as red spring.)

“Wheat is a cool-season crop. High temperatures are negative for its growth and quality, no doubt about it,” says Frank Manthey, a professor at North Dakota State University who advises the North Dakota Wheat Commission. Already, a mere 1 degree Fahrenheit of global temperature rise over the past 50 years has caused a 5.5 percent decline in wheat production, according to David Lobell, a professor at Stanford University’s Center on Food Security and the Environment.

By 2050, scientists project, the world’s leading wheat belts—the U.S. and Canadian Midwest, northern China, India, Russia, and Australia—on average will experience, every other year, a hotter summer than the hottest summer now on record. Wheat production in that period could decline between 23 and 27 percent, reports the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), unless swift action is taken to limit temperature rise and develop crop varieties that can tolerate a hotter world.


More on that "successful" IPCC temperature prediction

I laughed at the latest claim by Frame et al. as "cherrypicking" a few days ago but did not provide a graph to show the full reality.  Here is one below, from Clive Best.  Clive has put the 1990 IPCC predictions on one graph together with two records of what has actually happened since 1990.  As I said earlier, all the rise was in the first half of the period, with flat to declining temperature since.  The reality is nothing like the predictions.

Greenie bias in survey results

People tend to give "correct" Greenie responses when asked in surveys what they want.  What they do, however, is quite another matter.  Surveys on Greenie matters generally are hence suspect

Early in my transportation career, I learned to be very skeptical of stated preference surveys. Sometimes, as with introducing something completely new (e.g., the first express toll lanes), stated preference may be the only tool available. But survey writers can slant the results by how they word the questions, and respondents sometimes tell pollsters what they think is the politically correct answer (or what they might do if the alternative were better than what would actually be available).

A good example of the difference between stated preference and revealed preference results turned up in a recent New Geography article on California housing. A paper by Prof. Arthur Nelson (University of Utah), "The New California Dream: How Demographic and Economic Trends May Shape the Housing Market," was published recently by the Urban Land Institute. It identifies a strong trend in California's four major urban areas away from single-family houses on conventional lots and toward multifamily housing and single-family homes on small lots. According to article author Wendell Cox, Nelson's paper has proved influential with transportation and housing officials in the Golden State, who are revamping land-use plans toward higher densities.

Cox points out that Nelson's trend projections are based on data from three stated preference surveys conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California in the early 2000s. From these data, Nelson estimated demand for single-family/conventional, single-family small-lot, and multifamily housing in 2010, 2020, and 2035. His figures show demand for higher-density housing far greater than recent supply, and supply of single-family/conventional housing to be more than twice as great as demand.

But revealed preference data are available from the Census, enabling Cox to do a reality check on Nelson's 2010 trend prediction. From 2000 to 2008, 51% of new occupied housing in the four metro areas was detached housing on conventional lots, compared with Nelson's prediction of 16%.

It appears that developers were misled by projections such as Nelson and many others were making, as well as changed government housing and land-use requirements, to under-supply single-family homes on both conventional and small lots, and to significantly over-supply multifamily housing.

One reason planners (and survey question writers) think higher density is a good thing is their assumption that this will lead to shorter commutes. Yet assuming "shorter" means fewer minutes, there is no data supporting this. To be sure, data from the Southern California Association of Governments (included as a chart in Nelson's paper) do show that as housing density increases, average commute distance decreases. But the chart also shows that commuting time is virtually the same regardless of density, evidently because many commutes from low-density suburbs are not to a far-off central business district but to a suburban edge city.

Survey respondents also generally are positive about living within walking distance of a transit stop. Some 87% of people in the four major California metro areas have such a transit stop near their residence. But data from a recent Brookings report reveal that the average resident in those four areas can reach only 6% of the jobs in their region by transit within 45 minutes. Respondents to a stated preference survey have no conception of these numbers when they reply favorably about transit access—hence the large difference between stated and revealed preference on this aspect of housing choice.


Some Greenies are now acknowledging reality

In 2005, two renegade greens tried to kill off environmentalism in broad daylight. The environmental movement, they said in a provocative essay, had grown stale and ineffectual. It was beholden to a wooly-headed, tree-hugging worldview that was as dated as lava lamps, bellbottoms and Billy Jack. This save-the-Earth brand of environmentalism, which has long idealized wilderness (as true nature) while simultaneously designating humanity as the scourge of the planet, "must die so that something new can live," Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger wrote in "The Death of Environmentalism" (PDF).

Their critique landed like a thunderclap in green circles. Some environmentalists welcomed the jolt. But Sierra Club Executive President Carl Pope, channeling the reaction of many establishment green leaders, was dismissive: "I am deeply disappointed and angered by it," he wrote in a long retort.

For a few moments, though, environmentalists debated the state of their planet-saving enterprise. But this was in the middle of the George W. Bush era, when the environment was widely considered under assault. So green warriors soon returned to the trenches and focused on preventing the administration from rolling back existing environmental protections. They didn't have the time or luxury to reflect on their failings. The opportunity for a reimagined environmentalism seemed lost.

Or perhaps the seeds that had been planted a decade earlier were just budding. Because today there is a growing reassessment under way in the environmental community.

Leading the charge is a varied group of what I call modernist greens (others refer to them as eco-pragmatists). They are people with deep green bona fides, such as the award-winning U.K. environmental writer Mark Lynas, whose book The God Species champions nuclear power and genetically modified crops as essential for a sustainable planet.

Another is Emma Marris, author of the critically acclaimed Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. She argues that “we must temper our romantic notion of untrammeled wilderness” and embrace the jumbled bits and pieces of nature that are all around us—in our backyards, in city parks, and farms.

This broader ecological view rankles traditional conservationists, who have long held that the best kind of nature is that which is protected and left to its own devices. At an Aspen Environmental Forum this summer, Marris annoyed eminent conservation biologist E.O. Wilson by talking about expanding our definition of nature, perhaps even to include invasive species. “Where do you plant that white flag you’re carrying,” Wilson asked.

Wilson is an iconic eco-hero for his eloquent championing of biodiversity. As such, he symbolizes the long-dominant, nature-centric wing of environmentalism. Taking on icons (be it Mother Nature or one of her most celebrated defenders) is not an easy thing. But Marris and Lynas, among others, have helped usher in an ambitious re-examination of green orthodoxies; insurgent (even heretical) ideas are gaining currency in books, at conferences, on blogs, inside NGOs and think tanks. There is—dare I suggest—a new and improved environmentalism in the making.

One of the other heavyweights in the conservation world, Peter Kareiva, the Nature Conservancy's chief scientist, has recently emerged as a blunt-talking modernist green—an environmentalist who has made it his mission to loosen nature’s grip on the green movement.

For example, earlier this year, he and a co-author wrote that "ecologists and conservationists have grossly overstated the fragility of nature, frequently arguing that once an ecosystem is altered, it is gone forever." This belief has flowed from the long-held notion (one that Marris has also forcefully challenged) of a pristine nature that exists apart from people.

But that is a false construct that scientists and scholars have been demolishing the past few decades. Besides, there's a growing scientific consensus that the contemporary human footprint—our cities, suburban sprawl, dams, agriculture, greenhouse gases, etc.—has so massively transformed the planet as to usher in a new geological epoch. It’s called the Anthropocene.

Modernist greens don't dispute the ecological tumult associated with the Anthropocene. But this is the world as it is, they say, so we might as well reconcile the needs of people with the needs of nature. To this end, Kareiva advises conservationists to craft "a new vision of a planet in which nature—forests, wetlands, diverse species, and other ancient ecosystems—exists amid a wide variety of modern, human landscapes."

This shift in thinking is already under way. For example, ecologists increasingly appreciate (and study) the diversity of species and importance of ecosystem services in cities, giving rise to the discipline of urban ecology. That was unthinkable at the dawn of the modern environmental movement 50 years ago, when greens loathed cities as the antithesis of wilderness.

Another important shift involves federal protection of imperiled species. Since its inception in 1973, the U.S. Endangered Species Act  has pitted environmentalists against private property owners, whose lands often provide crucial habitat for species designated as threatened or endangered. (Controversy has also raged on public lands, with the spotted owl war perhaps being the most notorious and polarizing example.) Throughout much of its history, the ESA has triggered lawsuits and much acrimony.

But in recent years, changes in philosophy and approach at the federal level have fostered an increasingly cooperative relationship between conservationists and private property owners. Several months ago, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced a new agreement with farmers and ranchers that requires them to "voluntarily" implement measures that will improve habitat for a variety of species. In return, landowners will receive greater financial assistance and assurances that they will not be penalized if endangered species move on to their property.


Which Facts Does Piers Not Understand?

At the end of last week’s debate on Piers Morgan’s show between Marc Morano and Bill Nye, Morgan concluded by saying to Morano

OK. Look, I respect that you have views. I don’t think they’re facts and there are many scientists who would take issue with you about the use of the word facts.

So what were these facts that Morgan seemed to have trouble believing?  The NewsBusters website has a full transcription of the debate, and includes citations for most of the points Morano made, and is well worth reading.  But, to summarise, the points he made were as follows :-

There are quite literally hundreds of factors that influence global temperature, everything from tilt of the earth’s axis to ocean cycles to water vapour, methane, solar system, the sun, cloud feedback, and volcanic dust.

Peer-reviewed studies show the Medieval and Roman warming periods as warm or warmer than today, and evidence shows these were world wide phenomena.

We’ve had 16 years with no warming.

In the geological past, there have been warmer times when there was less CO2 than now, and colder periods when there was more.

The number of big tornadoes has declined since the 1950’s.

We’ve gone the longest period without a major hurricane hitting the US since 1900, and there are no unusual trends in hurricanes.

US droughts not getting worse.

US floods not getting worse.

Sea levels have been rising since the ice age, and there is no evidence of acceleration.

There is in fact very little disagreement amongst scientists about any of these issues, although there will be debate about the detail and nuances. There are possibly only two issues where there could be controversy.

1) There is clearly a debate about whether the MWP and RWP were global, or just limited to Europe, as Nye claims. However, even Michael Mann would not be able to deny that there are a host of serious studies which contradict the latter, and which cannot simply be swept under the carpet.

2) The question of whether sea level rise is accelerating. Uncertainty still exists about the exact measurements, but the worst case scenario suggests only an increase from 8 inches per century to 11 inches.

If Morgan genuinely does not believe these are facts, it really does prove just how brainwashed some people, who are otherwise intelligent individuals, have become.

So what did the “Science Guy” have to say?

Let’s finish by looking what Bill Nye contributed to the discussion. He appeared to be extremely badly prepared, with little understanding of the subject. But his main points were :-

The MWP and RWP were just in Europe. [Apparently he has not heard of Greenland.]

CO2 emissions are rising.

The world’s population is rising.

It’s the rate of CO2 increase that is the problem, not the actual level.[Not heard of that one before!]

This is the hottest two decades in recorded history.

Accusing Morano of stating the UN says it’s not the hottest 20 years.[ Where on earth does he get this from?]

Tens of millions will try to move north out of South East Asia.

In reply to Morano’s claim that Kyoto will make next to no difference to global temperatures, Nye responds “We’re not talking about the temperature.”

All in all, a rather rambling performance that showed he had very little understanding of the topic.


Why are moose endangered in Minnesota?

As Minnesota's moose population falls, so falls the population of its companion, the lesser-known and hardly heralded (until now) red parasol moss.

The moss, Splachnum rubrum, grows only on the dung piles of the moose, Alces americanus, in a delicate and odorous ballet of co-evolution that has allowed the moss to eke out the most meager of existences -- so rare that it has only been seen three times in Minnesota. The last was 2004. That's a scarcity that state scientists have concluded deserves special attention.

By comparison, the moose, with an estimated population of 4,230, might seem abundant, but its declining numbers have prompted scientists to conclude that it, too, deserves special attention.

Minnesota's moose population has declined for years, and the DNR's proposal to label it "special concern" shouldn't come as a surprise; in 2010, a majority of members of a state Moose Advisory Council supported the status for moose, and the following year, the DNR stated it supported it in its Minnesota Moose Research and Management Plan.

The designation carries little legal weight; for example, moose, which were hunted this fall, could still be hunted.

With 87 permits issued this fall, hunting isn't believed to be a driver of the moose's decline -- from 8,840 moose in 2006 to 4,230 this year. Scientists aren't sure what's killing the largest members of the deer family, but wildlife managers have said the main reasons likely include parasites, diseases and warmer weather.


Jim Beers [] wrote the following reply to the above report.  It was not published:

For years now, as Minnesota wolf numbers have increased, Minnesota moose numbers have decreased.  The latest annual report of this phenomenon from your paper and the Minnesota DNR “wildlife managers” attributes this to “the main reasons likely include parasites, diseases and warmer weather.”  Not since Claude Rains blamed “the usual suspects” in “Casablanca” has a silly line brought more guffaws with its interminable use.

You misspelled predators (i.e. wolves) as p-a-r-a-s-i-t-e-s.  What diseases?  If lynx and fishers are doing well in a couple of warm spells: what is “warm weather” doing to moose?

Wolves have decimated Montana and Idaho moose.  Moose are the reason Alaska has regular state-sponsored wolf control programs.  Aren’t these “wildlife managers” the same experts that have regaled us for decades now about how wolves periodically eradicate moose on our own Isle Royal Park in Lake Superior?  Yet wolves have nothing to do with this statewide decline?

Covering this bit of deceptive reportage with interwoven tales of moose dung moss “parasol” rarities and fears of an as yet undocumented bat disease can’t disguise the fact that this is a taxpayer-funded load of dung.

Doesn’t anyone care about the Minnesota moose?  Doesn’t anyone really want to do more than shovel more money to the DNR and their contractors?  Our moose are like school kids doing worse and worse academically as we shovel more and more money to teachers and administrators that then tell us they need more and more.



Preserving the graphics:  Graphics hotlinked to this site sometimes have only a short life and if I host graphics with blogspot, the graphics sometimes get shrunk down to illegibility.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here and here


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