Friday, January 04, 2013

Reinsurer Munich Re Natural Catastrophe Statistics Report 2012: Far Less Global Damage From Weather In 2012!

Surprising though that must be for those to whom NYC is the  world

The real story of 2012 is one of unextreme weather and natural events. Deaths globally in 2012 from natural disasters were 90% below the longterm average.

The online, eco-leftist TAZ from Berlin has an article about reinsurer Munich Re’s Natural Catastrophe Statistics 2012 report on weather and natural disasters, released yesterday. 2012 was a year of few deaths and relatively little damage from natural disasters worldwide.

Recall that Munich Re is in the reinsurance business, and they stand to profit handsomely from the belief that climate related catastrophes are on the increase. They’ve been aggressive promoters of the manmade climate change story.

So it comes to us as a big surprise to hear them report that 2012 “saw far less damage than a year earlier“.

According to TAZ, 2012′s “total damages of $160 billion was below the long-term average. And foremost ‘only’ 9500 people died in 2012 from storms, floods and earthquakes - far less than the 106,000 in an average year.” That’s a huge drop of 90%! So all the dramatic stories about deadly weather extremes we’ve been hearing for months was mostly hype.

The Munich Re report said it was a “low-damage year”, with most of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy and drought in the USA. Good news came from developing countries, where, according to the TAZ, “there were few catastrophes”.

Boy, if that isn’t a stark contrast from what we’ve heard from the media.

Yet, always itching to jack up their premiums, Munich Re insists that climate change is a major crisis for humanity, and although Hurricane Sandy cannot be attributed to man, it is “a sign of what the future holds”.

I bet all that good news was just really tough for the Munich Re to handle.


Warren seems to be buying popularity  -- What's a fortune good for, anyway?

Or maybe he just wants in on all that subsidy gravy.  Why work to provide good services when you can just raid the pocket of the taxpayer?

Billionaire US investor Warren Buffett is taking a $2.5bn (£1.5bn) bet on solar energy, acquiring what is set to become the largest photovoltaic development in the world.

MidAmerican Energy Holdings, a subsidiary of Mr Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment company, has struck a deal with SunPower to acquire and build two projects in California’s Antelope Valley.

The deal, which will see MidAmerican pay between $2bn to $2.5bn, marks the third time in little over a year that Mr Buffett has ploughed cash into solar energy.

He last year created a unit within Mid American to support an increasing number of solar and wind investments.
Work on the projects will begin within the next few months and construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.
SunPower, which is 66pc-owned by France’s Total, will remain involved in the construction and operation of the projects.

“Customers, investors and banks see this as a stamp of approval on SunPower,” SunPower’s president and chief executive, Tom Werner, said.  “It’s a huge deal for us, roughly the size of our company.”
SunPower, based in San Jose, California, has a market value of $732 million.

The two projects acquired by MidAmerican will have a combined capacity of 579 megawatts (MW), creating the largest solar photovoltaic power development in the world.

The scheme is expected to create about 650 construction jobs, SunPower said in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

In December 2011 MidAmerican acquired another 550 MW solar plant in California from First Solar in a deal valued at an estimated $2bn.

Shortly before the First Solar deal, the investment group also swooped on a 49pc stake in a $1.8bn project in Arizona.

In total, the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary has more than 1,830 MW of assets, also including wind power, geothermal, and hydro projects.

California is the biggest solar market in the US.


US: Lights go out on 75-watt light bulbs

All the old tungsten bulbs have now vanished from Australian shops  but I have some fittings that will not take the new bulbs so I stocked up long ago -- JR

As 2012 becomes an afterthought, Americans can also add one other item to the past - the 75-watt incandescent light bulb.  As of Jan. 1, federal law dictates that 75-watt light bulbs can no longer be produced or imported in the United States. Retailers that still have them in stock can sell them until they run out.

By 2014, traditional 60- and 40-watt bulbs will also be phased out.

The reason for the Thomas Edison invention's demise is energy based.  "90 percent of the energy the bulb uses is wasted," said Celia Kuperzmid-Lehrman of Consumer Reports. "What they replaced them with are much more energy-efficient bulbs."

Kuperzmid-Lehrman stated that the replacements for the incandescent bulb are also as bright and will save consumers more money over time.

Most screw-in bulbs must use at least 27 percent less energy by 2014.  The remaining options for consumers are Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Light-Emitting Diode bulbs (LEDs).

While a reason for consumer resistance to LED bulbs is cost, prices for them are dropping.

When replacing a bulb, experts at Consumer Reports suggest choosing bulbs the same size or smaller to be sure it fits the fixture. Specialized fixtures, such as dimmers, have specific bulbs for those needs, so check bulb packaging for specific details.


Wind farms vs wildlife

"Renewables pose a far greater threat to wildlife than climate change"

Wind turbines only last for ‘half as long as previously thought’, according to a new study. But even in their short lifespans, those turbines can do a lot of damage. Wind farms are devastating populations of rare birds and bats across the world, driving some to the point of extinction. Most environmentalists just don’t want to know. Because they’re so desperate to believe in renewable energy, they’re in a state of denial. But the evidence suggests that, this century at least, renewables pose a far greater threat to wildlife than climate change.

I’m a lecturer in biological and human sciences at Oxford university. I trained as a zoologist, I’ve worked as an environmental consultant — conducting impact assessments on projects like the Folkestone-to-London rail link — and I now teach ecology and conservation. Though I started out neutral on renewable energy, I’ve since seen the havoc wreaked on wildlife by wind power, hydro power, biofuels and tidal barrages. The environmentalists who support such projects do so for ideological reasons. What few of them have in their heads, though, is the consolation of science.

My speciality is species extinction. When I was a child, my father used to tell me about all the animals he’d seen growing up in Kent — the grass snakes, the lime hawk moths — and what shocked me when we went looking for them was how few there were left. Species extinction is a serious issue: around the world we’re losing up to 40 a day. Yet environmentalists are urging us to adopt technologies that are hastening this process. Among the most destructive of these is wind power.

Every year in Spain alone — according to research by the conservation group SEO/Birdlife — between 6 and 18 million birds and bats are killed by wind farms. They kill roughly twice as many bats as birds. This breaks down as approximately 110–330 birds per turbine per year and 200–670 bats per year. And these figures may be conservative if you compare them to statistics published in December 2002 by the California Energy Commission: ‘In a summary of avian impacts at wind turbines by Benner et al (1993) bird deaths per turbine per year were as high as 309 in Germany and 895 in Sweden.’

Because wind farms tend to be built on uplands, where there are good thermals, they kill a disproportionate number of raptors. In Australia, the Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle is threatened with global extinction by wind farms. In north America, wind farms are killing tens of thousands of raptors including golden eagles and America’s national bird, the bald eagle. In Spain, the Egyptian vulture is threatened, as too is the Griffon vulture — 400 of which were killed in one year at Navarra alone. Norwegian wind farms kill over ten white-tailed eagles per year and the population of Smøla has been severely impacted by turbines built against the opposition of ornithologists.

Nor are many other avian species safe. In North America, for example, proposed wind farms on the Great Lakes would kill large numbers of migratory songbirds. In the Atlantic, seabirds such as the Manx Shearwater are threatened. Offshore wind farms are just as bad as onshore ones, posing a growing threat to seabirds and migratory birds, and reducing habitat availability for marine birds (such as common scoter and eider ducks).

I’ve heard it suggested that birds will soon adapt to avoid turbine blades. But your ability to learn something when you’ve been whacked on the head by an object travelling at 200 mph is limited. And besides, this comes from a complete misconception of how long it takes species to evolve. Birds have been flying, unimpeded, through the skies for millions of years. They’re hardly going to alter their habits in a few months. You hear similar nonsense from environmentalists about so-called habitat ‘mitigation’. There has been talk, for example, during proposals to build a Severn barrage, that all the waders displaced by the destruction of the mud flats can have their inter-tidal habitat replaced elsewhere. It may be what developers and governments want to hear, but recreating such habitats would take centuries not years — even if space were available. The birds wouldn’t move on somewhere else. They’d just starve to death.

Loss of habitat is the single biggest cause of species extinction. Wind farms not only reduce habitat size but create ‘population sinks’ — zones which attract animals and then kill them. My colleague Mark Duchamp suggests birds are lured in because they see the turbines as perching sites and also because wind towers (because of the grass variations underneath) seem to attract more prey. The turbines also attract bats, whose wholesale destruction poses an ever more serious conservation concern.

Bats are what is known as K-selected species: they reproduce very slowly, live a long time and are easy to wipe out. Having evolved with few predators — flying at night helps — bats did very well with this strategy until the modern world. This is why they are so heavily protected by so many conventions and regulations: the biggest threats to their survival are made by us.

And the worst threat of all right now is wind turbines. A recent study in Germany by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research showed that bats killed by German turbines may have come from places 1,000 or more miles away. This would suggest that German turbines — which an earlier study claims kill more than 200,000 bats a year — may be depressing populations across the entire northeastern portion of Europe. Some studies in the US have put the death toll as high as 70 bats per installed megawatt per year: with 40,000 MW of turbines currently installed in the US and Canada. This would give an annual death toll of up to three -million.

Why is the public not more aware of this carnage? First, because the wind industry (with the shameful complicity of some ornithological organisations) has gone to great trouble to cover it up — to the extent of burying the corpses of victims. Second, because the ongoing obsession with climate change means that many environmentalists are turning a blind eye to the ecological costs of renewable energy. What they clearly don’t appreciate — for they know next to nothing about biology — is that most of the species they claim are threatened by ‘climate change’ have already survived 10 to 20 ice ages, and sea-level rises far more dramatic than any we have experienced in recent millennia or expect in the next few centuries. Climate change won’t drive those species to extinction; well-meaning environmentalists might.


British ministers launch PR drive to shake off 'Frankenstein food' image of GM crops

A PR campaign to change the image of genetically modified food is to be launched by the government.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson wants farmers, scientists and ministers to increase the appeal of so-called Frankenstein Foods among the public.

In a speech today to the Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Paterson insists there are ‘great opportunities’ in pushing GM technology , but admitted the public need reassurance that it is safe.

Since last summer’s reshuffle, Mr Paterson has repeatedly backed GM’s role in keeping food supplies secure.

He has dismissed complaints as ‘humbug’ and claimed ‘there isn’t a single piece of meat being served [in a typical London restaurant] where a bullock hasn’t eaten some GM feed’.

GM crops were grown on 395 million acres in 29 countries in 2011, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In today’s speech Mr Paterson said: ‘I fully appreciate the strong feelings on both sides of the debate. GM needs to be considered in its proper overall context with a balanced understanding of the risks and benefits.

‘We should not, however, be afraid of making the case to the public about the potential benefits of GM beyond the food chain, for example, significantly reducing the use of pesticides and inputs such as diesel.

‘As well as making the case at home, we also need to go through the rigorous processes that the EU has in place to ensure the safety of GM crops.

‘I believe that GM offers great opportunities but I also recognise that we owe a duty to the public to reassure them that it is a safe and beneficial innovation.’

He said the industry ‘has long been at the forefront of innovation’ and this must continue, including backing GM.

But opponents of an expansion in GM technology claimed just a quarter of people thought it could be 'encouraged'.

Peter Melchett, policy director of the Soil Association, said: 'Owen Patterson is wrong to claim that GM crops are good for the environment.  The UK Government’s own farm scale experiment showed that overall the GM crops were worse for British wildlife.

'Owen Patterson says that people are eating meat from animals fed of GM feed without realising it.  'That is because the British Government has consistently opposed moves to label to give consumers accurate information, and he should put that right by immediately introducing compulsory labelling of meat and milk from animals fed on GM feed.'

In his speech in Oxford, Mr Paterson admitted that farming had suffered a ‘tough year’ of floods, high feed costs and diseases such as bovine TB and Schmallenberg.

But he said the industry in the UK produces food for 63.5 million people and supports industries that add nearly £90 billion to the UK economy.

And he pledged that the government must ‘get out of people’s hair and let them get on with what they are good at’.

‘I want our farmers to be farming not form-filling,’ he said, pledging to further reduce the burden of paperwork.

While demanding major reform of the EU's Commons Agriculture Policy, he defended giving public money to farmers.

'I do believe that there is a role for taxpayer’s money in compensating farmers for the work they do in enhancing the environment and providing public goods for which there is no market mechanism.

'Farming makes a real contribution to our habitats and wildlife.  We must be able to continue to develop our agri-environment schemes.'


A one-time anti-GM warrior realizes he did not know it all  -- and is big enough to admit it

Mark Lynas

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.

As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.

So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.

When I first heard about Monsanto’s GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.

This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.

For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change. I published my first book on global warming in 2004, and I was determined to make it scientifically credible rather than just a collection of anecdotes.

So I had to back up the story of my trip to Alaska with satellite data on sea ice, and I had to justify my pictures of disappearing glaciers in the Andes with long-term records of mass balance of mountain glaciers. That meant I had to learn how to read scientific papers, understand basic statistics and become literate in very different fields from oceanography to paleoclimate, none of which my degree in politics and modern history helped me with a great deal.

I found myself arguing constantly with people who I considered to be incorrigibly anti-science, because they wouldn’t listen to the climatologists and denied the scientific reality of climate change. So I lectured them about the value of peer-review, about the importance of scientific consensus and how the only facts that mattered were the ones published in the most distinguished scholarly journals.

My second climate book, Six Degrees, was so sciency that it even won the Royal Society science books prize, and climate scientists I had become friendly with would joke that I knew more about the subject than them. And yet, incredibly, at this time in 2008 I was still penning screeds in the Guardian attacking the science of GM – even though I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited personal understanding. I don’t think I’d ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science even at this late stage.

Obviously this contradiction was untenable. What really threw me were some of the comments underneath my final anti-GM Guardian article. In particular one critic said to me: so you’re opposed to GM on the basis that it is marketed by big corporations. Are you also opposed to the wheel because because it is marketed by the big auto companies?

So I did some reading. And I discovered that one by one my cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths.

I’d assumed that it would increase the use of chemicals. It turned out that pest-resistant cotton and maize needed less insecticide.

I’d assumed that GM benefited only the big companies. It turned out that billions of dollars of benefits were accruing to farmers needing fewer inputs.

I’d assumed that Terminator Technology was robbing farmers of the right to save seed. It turned out that hybrids did that long ago, and that Terminator never happened.

I’d assumed that no-one wanted GM. Actually what happened was that Bt cotton was pirated into India and roundup ready soya into Brazil because farmers were so eager to use them.

I’d assumed that GM was dangerous. It turned out that it was safer and more precise than conventional breeding using mutagenesis for example; GM just moves a couple of genes, whereas conventional breeding mucks about with the entire genome in a trial and error way.

But what about mixing genes between unrelated species? The fish and the tomato? Turns out viruses do that all the time, as do plants and insects and even us – it’s called gene flow.

But this was still only the beginning. So in my third book The God Species I junked all the environmentalist orthodoxy at the outset and tried to look at the bigger picture on a planetary scale.

And this is the challenge that faces us today: we are going to have to feed 9.5 billion hopefully much less poor people by 2050 on about the same land area as we use today, using limited fertiliser, water and pesticides and in the context of a rapidly-changing climate.

Let’s unpack this a bit. I know in a previous year’s lecture in this conference there was the topic of population growth. This area too is beset by myths. People think that high rates of fertility in the developing world are the big issue – in other words, poor people are having too many children, and we therefore need either family planning or even something drastic like mass one-child policies.

The reality is that global average fertility is down to about 2.5 – and if you consider that natural replacement is 2.2, this figure is not much above that. So where is the massive population growth coming from? It is coming because of declining infant mortality – more of today’s youngsters are growing up to have their own children rather than dying of preventable diseases in early childhood.

The rapid decline in infant mortality rates is one of the best news stories of our decade and the heartland of this great success story is sub-Saharan Africa. It’s not that there are legions more children being born – in fact, in the words of Hans Rosling, we are already at ‘peak child’. That is, about 2 billion children are alive today, and there will never be more than that because of declining fertility.

But so many more of these 2 billion children will survive into adulthood today to have their own children. They are the parents of the young adults of 2050. That’s the source of the 9.5 billion population projection for 2050. You don’t have to have lost a child, God forbid, or even be a parent, to know that declining infant mortality is a good thing.

So how much food will all these people need? According to the latest projections, published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we are looking at a global demand increase of well over 100% by mid-century. This is almost entirely down to GDP growth, especially in developing countries.

In other words, we need to produce more food not just to keep up with population but because poverty is gradually being eradicated, along with the widespread malnutrition that still today means close to 800 million people go to bed hungry each night. And I would challenge anyone in a rich country to say that this GDP growth in poor countries is a bad thing.

But as a result of this growth we have very serious environmental challenges to tackle. Land conversion is a large source of greenhouse gases, and perhaps the greatest source of biodiversity loss. This is another reason why intensification is essential – we have to grow more on limited land in order to save the rainforests and remaining natural habitats from the plough.

We also have to deal with limited water – not just depleting aquifers but also droughts that are expected to strike with increasing intensity in the agricultural heartlands of continents thanks to climate change. If we take more water from rivers we accelerate biodiversity loss in these fragile habitats.

We also need to better manage nitrogen use: artificial fertiliser is essential to feed humanity, but its inefficient use means dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and many coastal areas around the world, as well as eutrophication in fresh water ecosystems.

It is not enough to sit back and hope that technological innovation will solve our problems. We have to be much more activist and strategic than that. We have to ensure that technological innovation moves much more rapidly, and in the right direction for those who most need it.

In a sense we’ve been here before. When Paul Ehrlich published the Population Bomb in 1968, he wrote: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” The advice was explicit – in basket-case countries like India, people might as well starve sooner rather than later, and therefore food aid to them should be eliminated to reduce population growth.

It was not pre-ordained that Ehrlich would be wrong. In fact, if everyone had heeded his advice hundreds of millions of people might well have died needlessly. But in the event, malnutrition was cut dramatically, and India became food self-sufficient, thanks to Norman Borlaug and his Green Revolution.

It is important to recall that Borlaug was equally as worried about population growth as Ehrlich. He just thought it was worth trying to do something about it. He was a pragmatist because he believed in doing what was possible, but he was also an idealist because he believed that people everywhere deserved to have enough to eat.

So what did Norman Borlaug do? He turned to science and technology. Humans are a tool-making species – from clothes to ploughs, technology is primarily what distinguishes us from other apes. And much of this work was focused on the genome of major domesticated crops – if wheat, for example, could be shorter and put more effort into seed-making rather than stalks, then yields would improve and grain loss due to lodging would be minimised.

Before Borlaug died in 2009 he spent many years campaigning against those who for political and ideological reasons oppose modern innovation in agriculture. To quote: “If the naysayers do manage to stop agricultural biotechnology, they might actually precipitate the famines and the crisis of global biodiversity they have been predicting for nearly 40 years.”

And, thanks to supposedly environmental campaigns spread from affluent countries, we are perilously close to this position now. Biotechnology has not been stopped, but it has been made prohibitively expensive to all but the very biggest corporations.

It now costs tens of millions to get a crop through the regulatory systems in different countries. In fact the latest figures I’ve just seen from CropLife suggest it costs $139 million to move from discovering a new crop trait to full commercialisation, so open-source or public sector biotech really does not stand a chance.

There is a depressing irony here that the anti-biotech campaigners complain about GM crops only being marketed by big corporations when this is a situation they have done more than anyone to help bring about.

In the EU the system is at a standstill, and many GM crops have been waiting a decade or more for approval but are permanently held up by the twisted domestic politics of anti-biotech countries like France and Austria. Around the whole world the regulatory delay has increased to more than 5 and a half years now, from 3.7 years back in 2002. The bureaucratic burden is getting worse.

France, remember, long refused to accept the potato because it was an American import. As one commentator put it recently, Europe is on the verge of becoming a food museum. We well-fed consumers are blinded by romantic nostalgia for the traditional farming of the past. Because we have enough to eat, we can afford to indulge our aesthetic illusions.

But at the same time the growth of yields worldwide has stagnated for many major food crops, as research published only last month by Jonathan Foley and others in the journal Nature Communications showed. If we don’t get yield growth back on track we are indeed going to have trouble keeping up with population growth and resulting demand, and prices will rise as well as more land being converted from nature to agriculture.

To quote Norman Borlaug again: “I now say that the world has the technology — either available or well advanced in the research pipeline — to feed on a sustainable basis a population of 10 billion people. The more pertinent question today is whether farmers and ranchers will be permitted to use this new technology? While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low-risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called ‘organic’ methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income, food-deficit nations cannot.”

More here



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


No comments: