Sunday, March 17, 2013
The Liberals' War on Science
Warmist Michael Shermer sees through a dark glassily. But it's not bad for an article in the Unscientific American. He points out how religious the Green/Left is. As Billy Graham often pointed out, there's a God-shaped hole in most of us. It's a pity when it gets filled by something as destructive as Warmism, though -- JR
Believe it or not—and I suspect most readers will not—there's a liberal war on science. Say what?
We are well aware of the Republican war on science from the eponymous 2006 book (Basic Books) by Chris Mooney, and I have castigated conservatives myself in my 2006 book Why Darwin Matters (Henry Holt) for their erroneous belief that the theory of evolution leads to a breakdown of morality.
A 2012 Gallup poll found that “58 percent of Republicans believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years,” compared with 41 percent of Democrats. A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 81 percent of Democrats but only 49 percent of Republicans believe that Earth is getting warmer. Many conservatives seem to grant early-stage embryos a moral standing that is higher than that of adults suffering from debilitating diseases potentially curable through stem cells. And most recently, Missouri Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin gaffed on the ability of women's bodies to avoid pregnancy in the event of a “legitimate rape.” It gets worse.
The left's war on science begins with the stats cited above: 41 percent of Democrats are young Earth creationists, and 19 percent doubt that Earth is getting warmer. These numbers do not exactly bolster the common belief that liberals are the people of the science book.
In addition, consider “cognitive creationists”—whom I define as those who accept the theory of evolution for the human body but not the brain. As Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker documents in his 2002 book The Blank Slate (Viking), belief in the mind as a tabula rasa shaped almost entirely by culture has been mostly the mantra of liberal intellectuals, who in the 1980s and 1990s led an all-out assault against evolutionary psychology via such Orwellian-named far-left groups as Science for the People, for proffering the now uncontroversial idea that human thought and behavior are at least partially the result of our evolutionary past.
There is more, and recent, antiscience fare from far-left progressives, documented in the 2012 book Science Left Behind (PublicAffairs) by science journalists Alex B. Berezow and Hank Campbell, who note that “if it is true that conservatives have declared a war on science, then progressives have declared Armageddon.”
On energy issues, for example, the authors contend that progressive liberals tend to be antinuclear because of the waste-disposal problem, anti–fossil fuels because of global warming, antihydroelectric because dams disrupt river ecosystems, and anti–wind power because of avian fatalities. The underlying current is “everything natural is good” and “everything unnatural is bad.”
Whereas conservatives obsess over the purity and sanctity of sex, the left's sacred values seem fixated on the environment, leading to an almost religious fervor over the purity and sanctity of air, water and especially food. Try having a conversation with a liberal progressive about GMOs—genetically modified organisms—in which the words “Monsanto” and “profit” are not dropped like syllogistic bombs. Comedian Bill Maher, for example, on his HBO Real Time show on October 19, 2012, asked Stonyfield Farm CEO Gary Hirshberg if he would rate Monsanto as a 10 (“evil”) or an 11 (“f—ing evil”)? The fact is that we've been genetically modifying organisms for 10,000 years through breeding and selection. It's the only way to feed billions of people.
Surveys show that moderate liberals and conservatives embrace science roughly equally (varying across domains), which is why scientists like E. O. Wilson and organizations like the National Center for Science Education are reaching out to moderates in both parties to rein in the extremists on evolution and climate change. Pace Barry Goldwater, extremism in the defense of liberty may not be a vice, but it is in defense of science, where facts matter more than faith—whether it comes in a religious or secular form—and where moderation in the pursuit of truth is a virtue.
A stone-deaf Senator
He says that warnings about the damage to be caused by global warming have been silenced. Given the constant shrieks about it in the media, one wonders about his hearing and eyesight. His beef boils down to the effect that Republican congressmen often refuse to do obeisance to the global warming theory. How awful to have people disagree with you! He must be quite infantile if he hasn't learnt to live with that by now
The office of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., has issued the following news release:
Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, I rise today, as I have at least two dozen times in the past year, to say again that it is time for us to wake up to the stark reality of the climate changes carbon pollution is causing.
Elected officials bear a responsibility every once in a while to escape the grip of the polluting special interests and to act in the interests of regular Americans. We need to wake up and start talking about the negative consequences, the harms of climate change. We need to wake up and mitigate–take steps to protect ourselves–and adapt to the consequences that are already hitting our coasts and our forests, our cities and our farms, our economy and our way of life.
But, of course, the climate deniers and the polluters do not want that. The deniers want to prevent discussion of climate change altogether. In the past few years, in this body, climate science has become a taboo topic.
I watched, when my back was out in the last few days, one of the Harry Potter movies on television. Lord Voldemort was called “He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named” in those Harry Potter stories. Well, carbon pollution is the “Pollution Which Shall Not Be Named.” Climate change–the harm that is caused by that pollution–is the “Harm That Shall Not Be Named.”
The obstructionists want to squelch any discussion of the “Pollution Which Shall Not Be Named” so as to let big polluters continue dumping carbon and other greenhouse gas into our oceans and atmosphere.
THE NEW HOCKEY STICK
A very clear demolition of the shifty Marcott et al. paper
The latest foofaraw in the global-warming scene is the "Marcott et. al." paper (“A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years” by Marcott, Shakun, Clark, and Mix). The media are trumpeting variously that the Earth is "warmer than in most of the past 11,300 years", "a heat spike like this has never happened before", or that "temperatures are rising faster today" or are more volatile than ever before.
Hold on a minute. They're using data samples 120 years apart (median sampling interval), before smoothing. Their smoothing of the data seems to reduce the resolution to 400 years. You simply can't conclude that there was never a 50- or 100- year spike in temperatures, with data that coarse!
The scary graph being bandied about uses "Michael's Little Helper" -- they splice instrumental records for the last 150 years onto the chart. On the 13,000 year graph, the roughly 1-degree rise in the last 100 years looks like an upward spike. As a commenter at DotEarth observed,
[T]hey take these proxies that go back thousands of years and are smoothed to show an average and then tack on our recent temperatures. This is akin to showing our average temperature graphs for the year and then adding our daily temperatures for the last month to show the volatility of our recent climate.
Even using the "smoothed" data, it seems that some 3,100 of the last 11,300 years were warmer than today, and current temperatures are "about average for the Holocene" era. So much for today's temperatures being "unprecedented."
But wait, there's more:
1. The Marcott et. al. reconstruction differs significantly from other, established temperature data for the past 10,000 years -- data that shows warmer temperatures in prehistoric times.
2. The reconstruction averages 73 temperature proxies which are all over the map, numerically speaking. Some of the proxies show a rising trend; others are falling. Some show warming followed by cooling, others cooling followed by warming. Averaging this mish-mash gives, essentially, nothing -- the "handle" of the new hockey stick.
3. It has been pointed out that 80% of the source data is for marine temperatures, so splicing on a land temperature record will show an abrupt change.
4. Steve McIntyre is already finding likely errors in the data. (I do commend Marcott et.al. for releasing their data, if not their computational methods.)
5. Marcott et. al. show the recent warming as starting 100 years ago, before the widespread (post-WW2) use of fossil fuels.
I find myself thinking that this paper was rushed to publication to make the March 15 deadline for inclusion in the next IPCC report...and, conveniently, after the deadline for comments on that report. (Yes, the IPCC allows new papers to be included after the review process is over.) So be prepared for a deluge of breathless "unprecedented temperature rise" claims after that report is released. But the fact is, the Marcott report does not support any such conclusion.
Carbon Tax Fight Looms
The White House continues to inch closer to a carbon tax. In Obama’s first post-election press conference, he dodged the question. The next day his spokesman Jay Carney said: “We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one.” Great, but they don’t have to propose it. The proposals have now been made by Obama’s key allies. Senator Barbara Boxer, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee introduced a carbon tax bill with Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist. On the House side, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman, has introduced a carbon tax discussion draft. This week Obama indicated he’s quietly preparing to back these proposals.
“If we move aggressively on an issue like climate change -- that’s not an easy issue for a lot of folks,” Obama said to the first meeting of the operatives of Organizing for Action – his supposedly non-partisan continuation of his presidential campaign. “I want to make sure that a congressman, senator feels as if they've got the information and the grassroots network that’s going to support them in that effort.”
So the bills have been introduced and Obama is readying his grassroots army. This is looking increasingly real, and the economic stakes are enormous.
Let’s start with the pain at the pump. The Boxer-Sanders bill taxes carbon dioxide at $20 per metric ton, which works out to 17.8 cents a gallon of gasoline. So it basically would double the existing federal gas tax. (Which of course begs the question – don’t we already tax carbon enough?) It gets much worse; Boxer-Sanders automatically raises the tax 5.6 percent per year for 10 years, enough to double the tax to 30 cents. And the tax would also hit your electric bill, of course, and industrial energy users would be hit hard.
A study by the National Association of Manufacturers found that a carbon tax similar to Boxer-Sanders would knock an immediate half a percent off of GDP and threaten millions of jobs.
The Waxman discussion draft is potentially much worse. It proposes a range of starting prices and automatic increases up to $35 per metric ton and 8 percent. That would mean about 31 cents a gallon gas tax to start, automatically jumping to 67 cents by year 10 and $1.34 by year 20. Of course electricity generation, manufacturers, and every product grown, shipped, or manufactured would also be hit.
But perhaps the biggest danger is that despite the widespread economic damage, these proposals could become politically viable by incorporating large scale income redistribution. Even one supposedly conservative advocate of carbon taxes recently suggested 11 percent of the revenue should be used to increase social welfare spending to alleviate the impact of higher energy prices on the poor. We can safely assume the liberals will push for a much larger piece than that, perhaps issuing free gas cards much like existing food stamp cards so hardworking taxpayers can pick up the (fast-rising!) gas tab not just for themselves but for others, too.
Fortunately, some leaders in Congress are not waiting for the Democrats to spring this trap. Congressmen Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Joe Barton of Texas have introduced a resolution of disapproval making clear that a carbon tax would be economically destructive and should be rejected. Such “Sense of Congress” resolutions are usually just political statements, but given the marshaling of Democratic forces, it could serve as a vital prevention strategy to put the House firmly on the record in opposition now and prevent any risk of a carbon tax emerging as a real possibility. House leadership would be wise to bring the resolution to the floor and put the House on record against this terrible idea.
Tenn. university proposes fracking on its own land
The University of Tennessee wants to allow hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas on a state-owned tract of rolling woodland, raising the hackles of environmentalists who question its stated goal of raising funds to research the environmental impact of such drilling.
With debate over "fracking" continuing, the unique proposal is being considered when many universities say they don't have enough money to properly study the environmental implications of an increasingly popular and lucrative method for energy companies to remove gas or oil from rock formations by forcing liquids underground at high pressure.
"We have not been able to find any instances of a university drilling on their land and funding their research with revenues from the drilling activities," said Gwen Parker, a Nashville-based staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. Her group is taking a lead in trying to block the move, saying the university's proposal raises ethical concerns.
The university is requesting permission from the state to allow an outside company to drill on about 8,000 acres of mature woodlands it maintains as an outdoor laboratory in the Cumberland Plateau — all while performing research on the effects on water quality, air quality and ground impacts.
University officials argue that because the property is state-owned, they can maintain control over the drilling project, and provide independent scientific results in an area of the industry where many environmental questions remain.
On Friday, the university will present its proposal on the project to a subcommittee of State Building Commission, which will decide whether to allow the university to seek bids from companies. Environmental groups are planning a rally and news conference before the 2 p.m. session.
Parker called the proposal a "fundamental conflict of interest." She argued that the university risks its credibility by funding research with the very proceeds from such drilling. Other environmental groups have joined in the opposition, although Gov. Bill Haslam is supportive.
Environmentalists also argue that preservation of the particular forest tract in question is critical because it is one of the few mature forests still intact in the state's Cumberland Mountains region.
Without an appraisal, it was unclear how much revenues such drilling could yield though some said it could potentially be lucrative in the range of millions of dollars annually.
Shale formations undergird a wide swath of Appalachia, crossing several states. Hydraulic fracturing has touched off a boom of sorts, making enormous reserves of natural gas accessible where previous methods could not. Natural gas is extracted using large volumes of water, plus sand and chemicals, injected deep underground to break rock apart, freeing the gas. But environmentalists say the fluids could pollute water sources and methane leaks could cause air pollution.
"There are questions surrounding natural gas extraction and we have the facilities, and we have the faculty, so have obligation to investigate in an unbiased, scientific way to provide those answers," said Dr. Bill Brown, dean for research and director of the University of Tennessee Agricultural Experiment Station.
Other universities that have studied fracking have faced criticism about their scientific findings after discovering that researchers had ties to the energy industry.
The University of Texas at Austin recently said it would create a group of outside experts to review that school's Energy Institute, which issued a report on environmental effects from gas without disclosing that the lead researcher was also being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by an energy company.
And in May, a report from New York's University at Buffalo generated similar controversy because of the researcher's ties to the gas industry.
Brown said the faculty who would work on the project if it's approved would be screened for outside relationships with industry contacts. He said other funding sources, such as federal or state grants, would be sought. He also rejected any notion that possible involvement by an energy company in the project would affect research findings.
"We need to get past this notion that if the university works with an industry, that somehow we are compromised or tainted," Brown said. "Ultimately, many of the technologies that our faculty develops are going to be delivered to the market through the industry."
Parker, meanwhile, said the university has attempted to push this proposal through the approval process without getting an independent appraisal of the value of the property or the natural gas below ground. She also said there hasn't been enough time to get details about the project.
Pittsburgh-based Consol Energy Inc. hired Bryan Kaegi, a fundraiser for Haslam and other prominent Tennessee Republicans, to help shepherd the proposal through the approval process.
Kaegi, who has not registered as a lobbyist, said in the correspondence with school officials that he had met with the governor and environmental officials to make the case for the program. Kaegi did not return messages seeking comment.
Brown said if the subcommittee approves the university's request to seek bids, they will have to evaluate those and go back to the State Building Commission for final approval.
Germany’s Green Energy Disaster: A Cautionary Tale For World Leaders
There’s nothing wrong with expanding renewable energy sources. The more choices available in this (or any) marketplace the better consumers will be served — both from a price and a quality standpoint. However serious problems are caused when government starts using taxpayer resources to subsidize or incentivize these expansions. Things get even worse when centralized planners start manipulating market choices or trying to manage the marketplace itself by controlling the generation of power.
This is precisely what is happening in Germany — where command economists have failed spectacularly in their bid to force a national transition to renewable energy.
In 2000 Germany passed a major green initiative which forced providers to purchase renewable energy at exorbitant fixed prices and feed that power through their grids for a period of twenty years. Promulgated by a Socialist-Green coalition government — this initiative has since been embraced by Germany’s Conservative-Liberal majority, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. In fact Merkel has doubled down on Germany’s renewable energy push in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan — ramping up government’s plan to phase in renewables while taking the country’s nuclear power industry offline.
Merkel’s government shut down eight reactors in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima disaster (which was caused by a tsunami — a threat Germany isn’t exposed to) and has vowed to shut down all remaining nuclear facilities by 2022. The problem? Despite heavy government subsidization, renewable energies simply aren’t filling the void.
“After deciding to exit nuclear energy, it seems as if Ms. Merkel’s coalition stopped its work,” a former German environmental minister told The New York Times last year. “There is great danger that this project will fail, with devastating economic and social consequences.”
A year later the project is failing — resulting in what one German industry expert termed a “chaotic standstill.”
Merkel’s energy plan called for the addition of 25,000 megawatts of sea-based wind turbine power by 2030. However through the first six months of 2012 only 45 megawatts had been added to Germany’s existing 200-megawatt supply, according to an industry analyst quoted by Reuters. And despite massive subsidies funded by a household energy surcharge (which currently comprises 14 percent of German power bills), major wind projects in the North Sea are being delayed or canceled due to skittish investors.
The basic problem? Wind farms are notoriously unreliable as a power source. Not only that, they take up vast amounts of space and kill tens of thousands of birds annually.
“Generating energy with wind involves extreme fluctuations because it depends on the weather and includes periods without any recognizable capacity for days, or suddenly occurring supply peaks that push the grid to its limits,” a 2012 report from Germany energy expert Dr. Guenter Keil notes. “There is a threat of power outages over large areas, mainly in wintertime when the demand is high and less (power) gets delivered from abroad.”
A typical 20-turbine wind farm occupies an area of 250 acres. So in order for Merkel to achieve her objective, she would have to cover an area six times the size of New York City with turbines. Not surprisingly the erection of all those turbines — along with the infrastructure needed to route their inconsistent power supply back to the German heartland — would be astronomical.
“The costs of our energy reform and restructuring of energy provision could amount to around one trillion euros by the end of the 2030s,” Germany’s environmental minister announced last month.
That sum could rise even higher, as last month a Harvard University study revealed the extent to which the power generating potential of wind farms has been “overestimated.”
“The generating capacity of very large wind power installations may peak at between 0.5 and 1 watts per square meter,” the study concluded. “Previous estimates, which ignored the turbines’ slowing effect on the wind, had put that figure at between 2 and 7 watts per square meter.”
Such are the shifting sands upon which Merkel has staked her country’s energy future.
Because renewable power sources have been so unreliable, Germany has been forced to construct numerous new coal plants in an effort to replace the nuclear energy it has taken offline. In fact the country will build more coal-fired facilities this year than at any time in the past two decades — bringing an estimated 5,300 megawatts of new capacity online. Most of these facilities will burn lignite, too, which is strip-mined and emits nearly 30 percent more carbon dioxide than hard coal.
In other words Germany is dirtying the planet in the name of clean energy — and sticking its citizens with an ever-escalating tab so it can subsidize an energy source which will never generate sufficient power.
This is the cautionary tale of command energy economics — one other nations would be wise to heed.
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Posted by JR at 4:03 PM