Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some rare optimism from Greenies

At least some of them have noticed the big gains in agricultural productivity.  Malthus begone! (No mention of GM crops though!  Heh!)

As agricultural production becomes more concentrated, growth in acreage devoted to food production has dropped far below projections, according to authors of a new paper. The graph shows how much land conversion has been avoided through this trend.

Jesse H. Ausubel of Rockefeller University has long been one of my core “go to” analysts of global resource issues and trends. Now he’s alerted me to a new study and related lecture on what he and his co-authors are calling “peak farmland” — an impending stabilization of the amount of land required for food as humanity’s growth spurt plays out. While laying out several important wild cards (expanded farming of biofuels among them), Ausubel and his co-authors see a reasonable prospect for conserving, and restoring, forests and other stressed terrestrial ecosystems even as humanity exerts an ever greater influence on the planet.

The study, “Peak Farmland and the Prospects for Sparing Nature,” is by Ausubel, Iddo K. Wernick and Paul E. Waggoner and will be published next year as part of a special supplement to the journal Population and Development Review, published by the Population Council.

Drawing on a host of data sets, the authors conclude that a combination of slowing population growth, moderated demand for land-intensive food (meat, for instance) and more efficient farming methods have resulted in a substantial “decoupling” of acreage and human appetites.

Here’s the optimistic opener:

Expecting that more and richer people will demand more from the land, cultivating wider fields, logging more forests, and pressing nature, comes naturally. The past half-century of disciplined and dematerializing demand and more intense and efficient land use encourage a rational hope that humanity’s pressure will not overwhelm nature.

Ausubel will describe the findings in a talk during a daylong symposium at his university on Tuesday honoring Paul Demeny, who at age 80 is stepping down as editor of the journal.

Ausubel’s prepared remarks are online. In his talk, he explains that while the common perception is that meeting humanity’s food needs is the task of farmers, there are many other players, including those of us who can choose what to eat and how many children to have:

[T]he main actors are parents changing population, workers changing affluence, consumers changing the diet (more or less calories, more or less meat) and also the portion of crops entering the food supply (corn can fuel people or cars), and farmers changing the crop production per hectare of cropland (yield).

The new paper builds on a long string of studies by Ausubel and the others, including the 2001 paper “How Much Will Feeding More and Wealthier People Encroach on Forests?.” Also relevant is “Restoring the Forests,” a 2000 article in Foreign Affairs co-written by Ausubel and David G. Victor (now at the University of California, San Diego)

This body of analysis is closely related to the core focus of this blog: finding ways to fit infinite human aspirations (and appetites) on a finite planet. The work presents a compelling case for concentrating agriculture through whatever hybrid mix of means — technological or traditional — that best fits particular situations, but also fostering moderation in consumption.


United Nations doubles down on ignorance

The United Nations is doubling down on ignorance and bias for its upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, investigative journalist Donna Laframboise reported in a bombshell presentation earlier this month in Munich, Germany.

Laframboise created a sensation in global warming circles last year when she documented rampant IPCC misbehavior in her book, “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert.” Laframboise showed IPCC officials appointed unqualified scientists and blatant global warming advocates as lead authors for its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report.

Although IPCC claims it only appoints scientists at the very top of their profession to oversee its reports, it appointed several people without Ph.D.’s, or even Masters Degrees, as Lead Authors for its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. IPCC also appointed scientists affiliated with environmental activist groups such as Greenpeace, Environmental Defense, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to steer the direction of the Report. Indeed, Laframboise documented formal connections between at least 78 IPCC scientists and the World Wildlife Fund environmental activist group.

WWF-affiliated scientists helped craft at least two-thirds of the Fourth Assessment chapters, Laframboise reported. WWF-affiliated scientists actually led one-third of the chapters. One chapter was crafted by at least eight WWF-affiliated scientists.

Although IPCC officials claim the group relies solely on peer-reviewed material for its assessment reports, Laframboise audited the Fourth Assessment and found 21 of the 44 Fourth Assessment chapters contained at least 40 percent non-peer reviewed reference sources, often taking the form of student theses and advocacy papers published by environmental activist groups. For the Fourth Assessment Report as a whole, more than 30 percent of the referenced sources were not peer-reviewed.

At the European Institute for Climate and Energy’s Fifth International Conference on Climate and Energy, co-sponsored by the Heartland Institute, Laframboise documented these IPCC outrages and reported that IPCC is planning more of the same in its Fifth Assessment Report, scheduled for 2014.

Laframboise reported 130 “leading climate scientists” have now joined WWF to work with the activist group, supplementing the 78 IPCC participants in the 2007 Report. Laframboise also reported that IPCC has issued two separate statements during the past six weeks that directly contradict IPCC Chairman Raj Pachauri on IPCC rules and procedures.

In another new development, Laframboise reports that IPCC lead author Andrew Weaver has dropped all pretense of political and scientific objectivity and is now running for political office in Canada representing the Green Party.

Shortly after IPCC announced its lead authors for the 2014 Fifth Assessment Report, the Heartland Institute reviewed the resumes of the lead authors and discovered rampant bias and agenda-driven research among the authors.

While Laframboise’s 2011 book created a sensation among people closely following the global warming debate, the mainstream media predictably attempted to sweep it under the rug. At the Munich global warming conference earlier this month Laframboise said the media continues to paint IPCC as an objective, authoritative scientific body and that neither the media nor global warming alarmists have addressed the IPCC shortcomings Laframboise revealed in her book.

Laframboise remains undeterred, publishing regular updates of IPCC misconduct on her website, No Frakking Consensus. She is also writing a follow-up book to document IPCC’s ongoing ignorance and bias regarding its upcoming 2014 Fifth Assessment Report.


Disgusting Indian Greenies trying to block electricity to the villages

The ongoing extension of the electric grid to the remote islands of Sundarbans will not only adversely affect the viability of existing renewable energy projects, but will also accelerate the process of climate change, experts say.

"In view of the growing threat of climate change and contribution of the electricity sector to the overall green house gas emission, there is need for adopting appropriate strategies to rationalise use of coal and fossil fuel in the electricity sector," according to a latest report by research body CUTS International.

India's fossil fuel-driven energy sector is one of the biggest contributors (more than 50 per cent) to carbon emission, widely considered to be chiefly responsible for climate change worldwide.

In West Bengal, 96 percent of electricity is generated through use of coal, officials say.

Under the Remote Village Electrification scheme by the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, it is mandated to develop off-grid projects using renewable energy sources for remote villages in India.

However, with the demand for electricity expected to grow 10 to 20 fold between 2010 and 2020, the West Bengal government is extending grid-based electricity to about 1,076 villages in the Sundarbans.

Environmentalists warn that the soil in the wetlands of Sundarbans is soft and setting up of large and heavy transmission poles may increase erosion and even change the tidal patterns when installed in rivers and creeks, surrounding the fragile islands.

"The ecological footprint of this scheme will be massive with all these electric poles across the river," says Anshuman Das of Sabuj Sangha, an NGO that has been working in the Sundarbans for over 10 years.


“Harvard Needs Remedial Energy Math”

Environmental activist Bill McKibben and his organization, 350.org, are on a ”Do the Math” tour in which they urge colleges and universities to “divest their endowments, estimated at a total of $400 billion nationwide, from the fossil fuel industry.” The 350.org campaign is explicitly modeled on the 1980s divestment campaign that persuaded many universities to dump their stock in companies doing business in South Africa. Radical environmentalists view fossil-energy use as the moral equivalent of apartheid — or worse.

With about half of the student body polled, 72% of Harvard undergrads voted for the university to Go Fossil Free, reports energy scholar Robert Bryce in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Harvard is renowned for educating the ‘best and brightest.’ Should U.S. and global policymakers do as these ivy leaguers say?

Bryce takes the ‘Harvards’ to school and shows them what doing the math really means.

About 33% of global energy comes from oil, which is indispensable to transportation. Most of those voting to Go Fossil Free probably did not walk or bike from home to Harvard. As Steven Colbert asked McKibben, a Vermont native, during a Washington, D.C. protest rally against the Keystone XL Pipeline: How did you get down here? Did you ride your bicycle? Did you ride ox cart? ”Or do you have a vehicle that runs on hypocrisy?”

But okay, unselfconscious hypocrisy is a prerogative of the young.

Byrce’s math lesson proper begins with the fact that since 1985, global electricity demand has increased by 121%, three times faster than the growth rate of oil demand. Over the past 25 years, global electricity consumption increased on average by 450 trillion watts-hours (“terawatt-hours”) per year. ”That’s the equivalent of adding about one Brazil (which used 485 terawatt-hours of electricity in 2010) to the electricity sector every year,” Bryce writes. “The International Energy Agency expects global electricity use to continue growing by about 450 terawatt-hours per year through 2035.”

The point? The world in 2011 had 240,000 megawatts of wind generation capacity, producing 437 terawatt-hours of electricity. “Therefore, just keeping up with the growth in global electricity demand — while not displacing any of the existing need for coal, oil and natural gas — would require the countries of the world to install about as much wind-generation capacity as now exists, and they’d have to do so every year.”

Well, what’s wrong with that? For one thing, it would put a big fat industrial footprint across a lot of green space: “Put another way, just to keep pace with demand growth, the wind industry will need to cover a land area of some 48,000 square miles with wind turbines per year, an area about the size of North Carolina.”

Okay, then, what about going fossil-free with solar power? Germany, with about 25,000 megawatts, has the most installed solar capacity of any nation on earth. In 2011, Germany produced 19 terawatt-hours of electricity from solar. “Thus, just to keep pace with the growth in global electricity demand, the world would have to install about 23 times as much solar-energy capacity as now exists in Germany, and it would have to do so year after year.”

Even those numbers understate the scale of the ‘challenge’ of going fossil-free, because ”we haven’t even considered the incurable intermittency of solar and wind, a problem that requires backup capacity from fossil fuels or nuclear power.”

Bryce’s column does not estimate how much wind and solar power would have to be built each year to meet both current electric demand and incremental demand by, say, 2035. Maybe because by this point in the tutorial, even an egghead should grasp that literally going fossil-free is an agenda of economic suicide.



Rising sea level has become an icon of global warming with claims that by 2100 many cities on the coast will face severe problems. In 2009 the Met Office, the Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) and the Royal Society released a joint pre-Copenhagen Conference statement that included as one of its five main scientific points: “There is increasing evidence of continued and accelerating sea-level rises around the world.”

At the same time the Royal Society said in a press statement touching on sea level changes that, “…estimates generally larger than those previously projected including evidence of continued and accelerating sea-level change around the world.”

What a difference a few years makes.

Sea levels have been rising since the end of the last Ice Age as the Northern Hemisphere’s ice burden was lifted. From Roman times however there is no evidence of significant changes in sea level until about 1750 – 1800 when sea levels started to rise linearly until about 1910 when the rate of change increased. Since 1910 the rate of sea level rise has been, within the errors, constant, despite the statements made by the institutions listed above.

Recently however there have been signs things are changing in the opposite direction from the statements made in 2009. It is early days, but there does appear to be a lowering in the rate of rise, contrary to the IPCC’s assessment and predictions.

In 2009 – the year the Royal Society, the Met Office and NERC made their statements about the acceleration of sea level rise – researchers analysed TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason-1 altimeter satellite data between January 1993 and June 2008. These calculations showed a reduction in the rate of sea level rise since 2005, by ~2 mm/yr. This is a 60% reduction compared to the 3.3 mm/yr sea level rise (glacial isostatic adjustment correction applied) measured between 1993 and 2005.

In 1997 Bruce Douglas of the University of Maryland looked at this data set and concludes that sea level rose at 1.8 mm per year between 1880 – 1980. The data was based on 24 measurement sites with the average data set length being 83 years. Douglas detected no acceleration at all between 1880 – 1980.

The Forth Assessment Report for the IPCC states that sea level rise was 1.8 mm per year between 1961 – 2003 and that the rate was faster, 3.1 mm/yr, between 1993 – 2003 (the satellite era).

Now a new report by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that global sea levels rose by only 1.1 – 1.3 mm/year from 2005 – 2012, which is less than half of the rate claimed by the IPCC. This is less than 5 inches per century.

A new paper in the Journal of Climate examines global sea level and shows that it is possible to reconstruct changes in global sea level from known contributors apart from a constant residual term that is small enough to be explained as a long-term contribution from the Antarctic ice-sheet.

The interesting thing about this work is that it shows that sea level has remained constant this century confirming what others have pointed out. There has been little, or very small acceleration in sea levels, despite the increasing anthropogenic forcing.

This observation that the rate of sea level rise has decreased has important implications for forecasting the future. Many models for projecting global sea levels rise depend on a relationship between global climate change and the rate of sea level rise, but the implication of the paper in the Journal of Climate Change is that such a relationship is weak.


German Lawmakers Reject Ban on Shale-Gas Fracking

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government won votes that will permit fracking to continue in Germany, saying the technique may help the country’s energy supply security.

Merkel’s coalition government defeated motions from the Green Party and Left Party that called for banning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, after the opposition argued the technique is harmful to the environment. The vote was 309 against the Green Party’s motion, 259 in favor and two abstentions. There was no count for the second motion.

There’s no reason to prohibit a technique that’s been used in Germany for many years without incidents, said Andreas Laemmel, a lawmaker with the Christian Democratic Union.

“We need the technology and we need natural gas as a resource won domestically,” Laemmel said in parliament in Berlin before the vote. The U.K. government earlier today lifted a ban on shale-gas fracking.

Companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) have drilled test wells into unconventional natural gas reservoirs in Germany in an attempt to emulate the U.S. shale-gas boom. While a successful drilling campaign would redraw the energy map across Europe -- a continent reliant on Russia for about a quarter of its gas -- little headway has been made in Germany, largely due to public opposition on environmental grounds.

Fracking involves drilling hundreds of wells and cracking shale rocks with a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals, to unlock gas or oil from impermeable stone. The Green party says the method should be banned until possible risks related to groundwater pollution and seismic shocks can be managed.

Fracking has been practiced in Germany since the 1960s, and has been used at least 275 times at conventional gas and oil wells in Lower Saxony state, according to a study presented by the Environment Ministry in September. It was outlawed in France last year and the practice is also banned in Bulgaria.

The government has commissioned studies on fracking to further evaluate the method and will adopt regulation if necessary, Laemmel said.




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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