A paler shade of Green in Australia now
Conservatives won a huge victory in the Australian Federal election yesterday. The new government is pledged to abolish the carbon tax and pays only lip service to Warmism -- JR.
The new gold rush that proves the anti-fracking fanatics have got it all wrong
As he takes me on a tour of his buzzing little town, mayor Brent Sanford points out the acres of development that have already happened — the giant grocery store, the smart restaurant, the school extension and the endless housing developments.
And he tells me what’s still to come — a smart new recreation centre, a state-of-the-art hospital, public housing, a day-care centre and even an 18-hole golf course.
There’s a new bank, which is essential, as so many local businesses are flourishing and so many more are clamouring to move in.
But it’s not always easy to hear what he’s saying.
His voice is drowned out by the rumble and roar of oil tankers, drilling trucks and the vast articulated lorries carrying waste water, clattering around his roads like an invading army on a never-ending victory parade.
The traffic noise and congestion are a pain, he admits, as are rocketing property prices — and the occasional punch-up as oil men hit town for a hard-earned drink or two.
North Dakotans are a conservative bunch who appreciate the solitude, the wide-open spaces and a simple way of life.
But they are sure of one thing — Watford City and the rest of western North Dakota is the land that was saved by fracking.
Only ten years ago, this region was dying on its feet — its farming industry finished, and businesses refusing to move somewhere so remote and empty.
Young people moved away to find jobs and only the elderly remained.
Geographers were even suggesting getting rid of the humans, and turning over the land to the buffalo that once roamed here.
‘Their reasoning was pretty good,’ says 41-year-old Mr Sanford, a fourth-generation North Dakotan.
‘The town has been shrinking since the Depression — but now we can get back to work.’
Two miles beneath our feet is the discovery that has changed everything here — the Bakken Shale formation, 360 million years old and the richest oil find in North America for 40 years. The figures are mind-boggling.
Geologists estimate the 15,000 square mile region of oil that has been dubbed ‘Kuwait on the Prairie’ could be worked for 25 years, using the controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to produce some 14 billion barrels of high-quality crude oil.
At current rates, that’s enough to meet Britain’s total energy usage for 24 years.
The process involves injecting a pressurised mixture of sand, water and chemicals into shale rock formations, fracturing the rock and releasing gas and oil trapped inside.
There are already 8,000 wells here, producing more than 820,000 barrels a day, but it’s forecast that will increase to as many as 50,000 wells.
Comparisons with the 1847 Gold Rush are often made of the Bakken boom, and they’re no exaggeration.
Thousands of men (and a few women) have poured into the region, drawn by unemployment below one per cent and talk of £65,000 jobs for school-leavers with no experience.
And the Bakken is only one of several major fracking areas that have helped pull the U.S. out of recession, creating tens of thousands of jobs, cutting energy bills and freeing America from having to rely on unpleasant foreign regimes for oil and gas.
Not surprisingly, it’s a side to the fracking phenomenon about which you won’t hear much from the eco-warriors, who are hogging the airwaves about the issue in Britain.
Surrounded by gently rolling hills of cornfields and grass land where cattle graze and hay bales wait to be taken in, Watford City reminds me of nowhere so much as the South Downs of England, close to the West Sussex village of Balcombe, where noisy green protesters including fashion designer Vivienne Westwood have declared war on Britain’s attempt to exploit the fracking boom.
Many of those who descended on Balcombe to take on the police trying to keep order have been exposed as knowing next to nothing about fracking.
If they want to learn more about the economic arguments in its favour, they would do well to study the lessons of North Dakota.
No one here can remember environmental campaigners pitching up when the Bakken boom erupted around 2007.
They would have had a disappointing time of it, notes Mr Sanford, not only because there’s no media around here to listen to them but also because fracking hasn’t caused any of the environmental problems they allege.
No methane in the drinking water, no earthquakes and no air pollution. The one blot on the landscape is what’s known as ‘flaring’, the wasteful burning off of natural gas that comes up with the oil, which many companies haven’t got round to collecting via pipelines.
At night, it looks like there are giant candles dotted around the prairie — but they are estimated to produce large amounts of carbon dioxide.
As for the other big complaint about fracking — the disruption from traffic, noise and people — that’s another matter.
Watford City is the epicentre of the Bakken boom and, like everyone round here, Mr Sanford admits that it’s not the best time to see the benefits of fracking while the actual drilling is still happening.
In two years, the town’s population has exploded — from 1,700 to 25,000. Inevitably, the infrastructure, especially housing, is struggling.
But come back in five years, local bigwigs assured me, and it will have calmed down. The building work and road widening will have eased, and pipelines will have been installed so there won’t be the endless procession of tankers.
Then there’s the prickly issue of who gets the tax revenues from the oil and gas.
In Britain, pro-fracking advocates predict there would be much less opposition to it if local people benefit more, rather than all the proceeds being split between the mining companies and the Treasury.
Mr Sanford says he is fighting for his town to get a bigger share, too — it gets eight per cent of the 11.5 per cent tax on the value of the oil that comes out at the well head. The state government keeps the rest.
The other key difference with the UK is that American landowners can sell the rights to the minerals under their land, while in Britain they are owned by the Crown.
In the U.S., companies that want to extract oil from the land — and most of it lies under farmland — must give the owner a lump sum to drill a well, then pay them a royalty for every barrel extracted.
Some North Dakotans have become very, very rich out of the Bakken boom, and state taxation records show around 12 new millionaires are created every week.
Not that you would notice — the plain-living, God-fearing locals don’t go in for flashy displays of wealth.
The mayor’s assistant recounted how a local farmer recently came into his second-hand car dealership to get his old car repaired, and confided that he gets a cheque for almost £200,000 every five or six weeks just for the mining rights under his land.
When I managed to track down one of these newly minted multi-millionaires, Ed Shelke, the 74-year-old said he has never totted up how much he made from the 1,700 acres he sold to the oilmen. I suspect he is simply too modest to say.
Some of the land is now being fracked for oil, some of it has been built on, some is being used to store the highly salty water that is a fracking waste product.
Given that he says he sold each acre for anything from £13,000 to £22,400, he could have made almost £38 million. And then he gets a five-figure sum every month in royalties.
But he and his wife Charlotte still live in the same modest house, and drive an eight-year-old Chrysler.
‘It was a peaceful little town before,’ he says. ‘But now we’ve got a nice foodstore, a hospital, new work on the churches and a golf course — a lot of things we’ve always wanted.’
The Gold Rush feel is even more obvious when I drive 46 miles north to the town of Williston.
There, Tom Rolfstad, the economic development chief, gave me the good news: Williston has been America’s fastest-growing metropolitan community for the past two years, adding 10,000 new jobs every 12 months.
The average income has soared from £19,000 to £55,000 in just five years.
The oil companies are spending £1.3 billion a month in the region and he has private investors coming to see him every week looking to sink money into his town.
Here, there is a new public playground with a gym designed to look like an oil derrick, and a seesaw that resembles an oil pump: a gift, naturally, from an oil company.
No wonder Rolfstad has no time for the way environmentalists around the world — and especially in Britain — have seized on fracking to further their anti-carbon agenda.
‘In the next two or three years, you’ll see this place blossom even more,’ he says bluntly.
There’s a Wild West feel to the place at the moment, though.
As Williston, hotel receptionist Brice Walters told me, he found the town ‘totally surreal’ — but he earns three times what he would have made for the same job back home in California.
Businesses are so short of workers that everyone earns over the odds here — workers at the fast-food store Subway take home £500 a week, and even box-stackers in Walmart get £15 an hour.
Oil workers here talk of retiring at 45.
Tucking into a large plate of prime ribs over lunch at R Rooster Barbecue, father and son Ken and Daniel Stinnett took me through the economics that have kept them in Williston for the past two years.
Rig hands — who do heavy labouring and general maintenance — can earn more than £20 an hour, while drillers get £30 or more.
Oil companies work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, here and if you factor in overtime (it’s not unusual to work a 98-hour week), and the fact that there’s nothing to spend your money on but food and drink, people are taking their annual dollar earnings well into six figures.
‘I came from California where the economy was so bad you couldn’t find a job,’ said Daniel. ‘I got here to find ‘Help Wanted’ signs on every business.’
Fracking sceptics will say that you can’t possibly compare Sussex or even the Pennines — site of Britain’s potentially vast Bowland Shale deposit — with the vast, underpopulated expanse of the American prairies.
They have a point. But if the environmental risks have been overplayed, can Britain afford to turn down fracking just because of the disruption and the ugliness?
Chris Wright, an American engineer and fracking pioneer who has addressed the House of Lords on the issue and recently visited the north of England, told me: ‘There’s nothing northern England could do more to spur employment than drill for shale gas.’
But what about the environmental concerns? Just this week, new research said fracking caused nearly a dozen mysterious small earthquakes in Ohio in 2011.
Wright says claims of water contamination don’t stack up because you drill oil and gas far below any water table.
Occasional slip-ups occur, he says, where companies have cut corners, such as not properly encasing their drilling pipes in concrete or — in the case of the earthquakes —injecting too much waste water into too few wells.
As for the environmental impact of a new well, ‘it’s not that much different to building a Starbucks’, he says.
Actually, there isn’t a Starbucks for hundreds of miles out across the Bakken field, but no doubt there soon will be — just another piece of the social jigsaw as a region that was once pretty much left for dead transforms before our eyes.
‘I see a light at the end of this tunnel,’ says Williston’s long-serving mayor Ward Kroeser. ‘And it’s a pretty nice light.’
Whether Britain has the will and the political vision to create a fracking boom even half as lucrative remains to be seen.
But with every new well that’s sunk in North Dakota, the arguments for doing so grow ever stronger.
Germany’s Green-Energy Disaster
I’ve written before that Obama’s Solyndra-style handouts have been a grotesque waste of tax dollars.
I’ve argued that they destroy jobs rather than create jobs.
I’ve gone on TV to explain why government intervention in energy creates a cesspool of cronyism.
I’ve even shared a column from Obama’s hometown newspaper that criticizes the rank corruption in green-energy programs.
And it goes without saying that I’ve disseminated some good cartoons on the issue.
But even though green-energy programs are a disgusting boondoggle, American taxpayers and consumers should be thankful they’re not in Germany.
Our programs may be wasteful and corrupt, but we’re amateurs compared to what’s happening on the other side of the Atlantic.
Here are some passages from a must-read story in Der Spiegel.
"The government predicts that the renewable energy surcharge added to every consumer’s electricity bill will increase from 5.3 cents today to between 6.2 and 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour — a 20-percent price hike. German consumers already pay the highest electricity prices in Europe. But because the government is failing to get the costs of its new energy policy under control, rising prices are already on the horizon. Electricity is becoming a luxury good in Germany."
As is so often the case with government intervention, the promises from politicians about low costs were a mirage.
"Even well-informed citizens can no longer keep track of all the additional costs being imposed on them. According to government sources, the surcharge to finance the power grids will increase by 0.2 to 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour next year. On top of that, consumers pay a host of taxes, surcharges and fees that would make any consumer’s head spin. Former Environment Minister Jürgen Tritten of the Green Party once claimed that switching Germany to renewable energy wasn’t going to cost citizens more than one scoop of ice cream. Today his successor Altmaier admits consumers are paying enough to “eat everything on the ice cream menu.”
Perhaps the most shocking part of the story is that Germans are being forced to pay $26 billion in subsidies to get less than $4 billion of green energy.
"For society as a whole, the costs have reached levels comparable only to the euro-zone bailouts. This year, German consumers will be forced to pay €20 billion ($26 billion) for electricity from solar, wind and biogas plants — electricity with a market price of just over €3 billion. Even the figure of €20 billion is disputable if you include all the unintended costs and collateral damage associated with the project. …On Thursday, a government-sanctioned commission plans to submit a special report called “Competition in Times of the Energy Transition.” The report is sharply critical, arguing that Germany’s current system actually rewards the most inefficient plants, doesn’t contribute to protecting the climate, jeopardizes the energy supply and puts the poor at a disadvantage."
Here’s what it means for ordinary people.
"In the near future, an average three-person household will spend about €90 a month for electricity. That’s about twice as much as in 2000. Two-thirds of the price increase is due to new government fees, surcharges and taxes. …Today, more than 300,000 households a year are seeing their power shut off because of unpaid bills. Caritas and other charity groups call it “energy poverty.”
Not surprisingly, politically well-connected interest groups are the ones reaping the benefits.
"…the renewable energy subsidies redistribute money from the poor to the more affluent, like when someone living in small rental apartment subsidizes a homeowner’s roof-mounted solar panels through his electricity bill. The SPD, which sees itself as the party of the working class, long ignored this regressive aspect of the system. The Greens, the party of higher earners, continue to do so. Germany’s renewable energy policy is particularly unfair with respect to the economy. About 2,300 businesses have managed to largely exempt themselves from the green energy surcharge by claiming, often with little justification, that they face tough international competition. Companies with less lobbying power, however, are required to pay the surcharge."
Let’s conclude with an ominous excerpt from the article. Even though prices already are very high, energy will get even more expensive in the future.
"If the government sticks to its plans, the price of electricity will literally explode in the coming years. According to a current study for the federal government, electricity will cost up to 40 cents a kilowatt-hour by 2020, a 40-percent increase over today’s prices."
And isn’t it nice to know that Obama is doing everything he can to impose these policies in the United States?
To Bee or Not to Bee
Activist groups continue to promote scary stories that honeybees are rapidly disappearing, dying off at “mysteriously high rates,” potentially affecting one-third of our food crops and causing global food shortages. Time magazine says readers need to contemplate “a world without bees,” while other “mainstream media” articles have sported similar headlines.
The Pesticide Action Network and NRDC are leading campaigns that claim insecticides, especially neonicotinoids, are at least “one of the key factors,” if not the principle or sole reason for bee die-offs.
Thankfully, the facts tell a different story – two stories, actually. First, most bee populations and most managed hives are doing fine, despite periodic mass mortalities that date back over a thousand years. Second, where significant depopulations have occurred, many suspects have been identified, but none has yet been proven guilty, although researchers are closing in on several of them.
Major bee die-offs have been reported as far back as 950, 992 and 1443 AD in Ireland. 1869 brought the first recorded case of what we now call “colony collapse disorder,” in which hives full of honey are suddenly abandoned by their bees. More cases of CCD or “disappearing disease” have been reported in recent decades, and a study by bee researchers Robyn Underwood and Dennis vanEngelsdorp chronicles more than 25 significant bee die-offs between 1868 and 2003. However, contrary to activist campaigns and various news stories, both wild and managed bee populations are stable or growing worldwide.
Beekeeper-managed honeybees, of course, merit the most attention, since they pollinate many important food crops, including almonds, fruits and vegetables. (Wheat, rice and corn, on the other hand, do not depend at all on animal pollination.) The number of managed honeybee hives has increased some 45% globally since 1961, Marcelo Aizen and Lawrence Harder reported in Current Biology – even though pesticide overuse has decimated China’s bee populations.
Even in Western Europe, bee populations are gradually but steadily increasing. The trends are similar in other regions around the world, and much of the decline in overall European bee populations is due to a massive drop in managed honeybee hives in Eastern Europe, after subsidies ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, since neonicotinoid pesticides began enjoying widespread use in the 1990s, overall bee declines appear to be leveling off or have even diminished.
Nevertheless, in response to pressure campaigns, the EU banned neonics – an action that could well make matters worse, as farmers will be forced to use older, less effective, more bee-lethal insecticides like pyrethroids. Now environmentalists want a similar ban imposed by the EPA in the United States.
That’s a terrible idea. The fact is, bee populations tend to fluctuate, especially by region, and “it’s normal for a beekeeper to lose part of his hive over the winter months,” notes University of Montana bee scientist Dr. Jerry Bromenshenk. Of course, beekeepers want to minimize such losses, to avoid having to replace too many bees or hives before the next pollination season begins. It’s also true that the United States did experience a 31% loss in managed bee colonies during the 2012-2013 winter season, according to the US Agriculture Department.
Major losses in beehives year after year make it hard for beekeepers to turn a profit, and many have left the industry. “We can replace the bees, but we can’t replace beekeepers with 40 years of experience,” says Tim Tucker, vice president of the American Beekeeping Federation. But all these are different issues from whether bees are dying off in unprecedented numbers, and what is causing the losses.
Moreover, even 30% losses do not mean bees are on the verge of extinction. In fact, “the number of managed honeybee colonies in the United States has remained stable over the past 15 years, at about 1.5 million” – with 20,000 to 30,000 bees per hive – says Bryan Walsh, author of the Time article.
That’s far fewer than the 5.8 million managed US hives in 1946. But this largely reflects competition from cheap imported honey from China and South America and “the general rural depopulation of the US over the past half-century,” Walsh notes. Extensive truck transport of managed hives, across many states and regions, to increasingly larger orchards and farms, also played a role in reducing managed hive numbers over these decades.
CCD cases began spiking in the USA in 2006, and beekeepers reported losing 30-90% of the bees in many hives. Thankfully, incidents of CCD are declining, and the mysterious phenomenon was apparently not a major factor over the past winter. But researchers are anxious to figure out what has been going on.
Both Australia and Canada rely heavily on neonicotinoid pesticides. However, Australia’s honeybees are doing so well that farmers are exporting queen bees to start new colonies around the world; Canadian hives are also thriving. Those facts suggest that these chemicals are not a likely cause. Bees are also booming in Africa, Asia and South America.
However, there definitely are areas where mass mortalities have been or remain a problem. Scientists and beekeepers are trying hard to figure out why that happens, and how future die-offs can be prevented.
Walsh’s article suggests several probable culprits. Topping his list is the parasitic Varroa destructor mite that has ravaged U.S. bee colonies for three decades. Another is American foulbrood bacteria that kill developing bees. Other suspects include small hive beetles, viral diseases, fungal infections, overuse of miticides, failure of beekeepers to stay on top of colony health, or even the stress of colonies constantly being moved from state to state. Yet another might be the fact that millions of acres are planted in monocultures – like corn, with 40% of the crop used for ethanol, and soybeans, with 12% used for biodiesel – creating what Walsh calls “deserts” that are devoid of pollen and nectar for bees.
A final suspect is the parasitic phorid fly, which lays eggs in bee abdomens. As larvae grow inside the bees, literally eating them alive, they affect the bees’ ability to function and cause them to walk around in circles, disoriented and with no apparent sense of direction. Biology professor John Hafernik’s San Francisco University research team said the “zombie-like” bees leave their hives at night, fly blindly toward light sources, and eventually die. The fly larvae then emerge from the dead bees.
The team found evidence of the parasitic fly in 77% of the hives they sampled in the San Francisco Bay area, and in some South Dakota and Central Valley, California hives. In addition, many of the bees, phorid flies and larvae contained genetic traces from another parasite, as well as a virus that causes deformed wings. All these observations have been linked to colony collapse disorder.
But because this evidence doesn’t fit their anti-insecticide fund-raising appeals, radical environmentalists have largely ignored it. They have likewise ignored strong evidence that innovative neonicotinoid pest control products do not harm bees when they are used properly. Sadly, activist noise has deflected public and regulator attention away from Varroa mites, phorid flies and other serious global threats to bees.
The good news is that the decline in CCD occurrence has some researchers thinking it’s a cyclical malady that is entering a downswing – or that colonies are developing resistance. The bottom line is that worldwide trends show bees are flourishing. “A world without bees” is not likely.
So now, as I said in a previous article on this topic, we need to let science do its job, and not jump to conclusions or short-circuit the process. We need answers, not scapegoats – or the recurring bee mortality problem is likely to spread, go untreated or even get worse.
Keystone XL might surprise you
The biggest mystery about the Keystone XL pipeline is why its final stage hasn't already been approved by the Obama administration.
There are six things most people don't know that make the mystery deeper:
* From following the contentious Keystone pipeline debate, you can be forgiven if you think that the fight is over whether to build it. That's not quite right. The Keystone system has already been transporting oil sands from Canada to U.S. refineries in the Midwest for three years — with no major leaks. The Keystone XL project that has received so much attention is the last phase of a larger project. Phase 1 has been operating since 2010, carrying oil from Alberta across three Canadian provinces and six states to refineries in Illinois. Phase 2 expanded the system from Steele City, Neb., to Cushing, Okla., a major U.S. oil refining and storing hub. It went operational two years ago, again with no major problems. Phase 3, under construction, extends the pipeline from Oklahoma to the Gulf Coast refineries in Texas. President Obama even gave a speech in Cushing in March 2012 — during his re-election bid — praising the pipeline extension as good for the economy. Phase 4, the Keystone XL, would build another extension to the pipeline system from Alberta, crossing only three states (Montana, South Dakota then Nebraska).
* The new pipeline will disturb less land than the pipeline that has already been built. While the Keystone XL will have the capacity to deliver more oil — 830,000 barrels a day vs. 590,000 for Phase 1 — its U.S. footprint is more than 200 miles shorter than Phase 1.
* Pipeline builders have already addressed the major environmental objection. Environmentalists argued that Phase 4 would transport oil across environmentally sensitive areas of Nebraska. Gov. Dave Heineman expressed similar concerns. So the builder, TransCanada Corp., rerouted the pipeline, which satisfied the governor and the Nebraska Legislature.
* The expanded pipeline doesn't move just Canadian oil; TransCanada routed the expansion to transport up to 100,000 barrels a day of U.S. crude oil from the Bakken reserves in North Dakota and Montana.
* Keystone XL isn't just another way to import oil to the USA, it could actually lower the U.S. trade deficit. The U.S. trade deficit has been at a four-year low, primarily due to declining oil imports. Approving the Keystone XL will improve that trend, allowing the U.S. to export more refined petroleum products that build jobs at U.S. refineries while lowering the trade deficit.
* Many say that by not building the Keystone XL, the U.S. would be taking a stand against importing the Canadian tar sands oil that environmentalists claim is particularly damaging. Such a stand would only be symbolic. According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of train cars carrying Canadian oil is up 20%, and U.S. refineries are expanding their ability to take delivery by rail. Rival pipelines are expanding their existing capacity because they don't require new approvals. The oil is coming, the only question is how much new investment there will be in U.S. energy infrastructure.
The fact is that the Keystone XL pipeline is simply an extension of an already existing program that is working well, creating jobs and expanding U.S. manufacturing. It should be an easy decision for anyone concerned about the economy.
Irish Lilliputs square up to fight British wind giants
Plans are far advanced to erect a forest of giant wind turbines in the flat countryside of the Irish Midlands to generate electricity for the UK - but the protests are growing
To get to Lilliput you travel along a narrow, flat road with a surface so uneven that it feels like the undulations of a sea, then turn right at a pine tree to end up on the shores of the Lough Ennell, in the dead centre of Ireland.
Indeed, the spot where the holidaying Jonathan Swift used to take to the lake – and, once, looking back from his boat, was struck by how small the people on the shore appeared to be – does seem moribund these days, with a disused boathouse, a sad sandpit, a single picnic table and litter bin, part of a nearby “adventure centre”. But it lies at the heart of a growing conflict that promises to be every bit as epic as the contest between the ''Big-endians’’ and ''Little-endians’’ in Gulliver’s Travels.
For, virtually unknown in Britain – and little publicised in Ireland – plans are far advanced to erect a forest of giant wind turbines over three times the height of Nelson’s column in the flat countryside of the Irish Midlands, to generate electricity for the UK. Over the next few years, some 1,100 turbines – more than have been erected in the whole of England – are due to be crammed into the counties of Meath, Westmeath, Offaly, Laois and Kildare and parts of Tipperary and Kilkenny.
Earlier this year the British and Irish governments signed a memorandum of understanding for electricity to be exported along highly efficient undersea cables, and a formal agreement is due to be finalised in 2014.
The agreement – much the most advanced element in a scheme to link the electricity grids of 10 Northern European countries – is strongly backed by both prime ministers. Britain is falling behind in its efforts to provide 30 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, amid ever-increasing hostility to onshore wind. Ireland, by contrast, is expected easily to meet an even more stringent goal, and have capacity to spare; indeed its total wind resources are 19 times greater than it needs.
Britain hopes to save a total of £7 billion by importing the power rather than building the same capacity offshore, while exporting it is predicted to earn the hard-strapped Irish economy over £2 billion a year – about the same as exports from the dairy industry.
Indeed, proponents like Eamon Ryan – the Green Irish energy minister who paved the way for the scheme – see exploiting the country’s wind as producing a similar economic revolution as did capitalising on its grass half a century ago.
But there is also an unspoken element to the deal. By effectively moving most of its turbine construction to Ireland – and thus increasing Britain’s wind energy capacity by 80 per cent – ministers have hoped to bypass objections, since opposition to windpower has so far been almost negligible there. For a while they got away with it, as companies have quietly signed up hundreds of farmers to open up their land, typically promising to pay some £15,000 a year per turbine.
That changed when Andrew Duncan, a Westmeath auctioneer, was approached, by accident, a year ago, and decided to find out what was going on. At the time, he says, he “saw no problem in wind” but he was horrified to find that his home was to be enveloped by turbines “front, side, and back”. Discovering the overwhelming scale of the proposals, he decided not just to fight for his own area but to alert the whole Midlands.
He and others formed the first protest group last October. Now there are 30, with another two starting up last week. Three thousand people marched against the plans in the town of Mullingar, almost every house in villages near Lilliput sports a poster denouncing the development, and a poll in one affected area recorded opposition running at over 90 per cent. Other parts of Ireland are now beginning to follow their lead.
“We are normal people who have never objected to anything in our lives,” he says. “But we have been compelled to resist something that is being imposed on us as Britain tries to export its environmental problems to us.” So strong has the opposition become in less than a year that proponents and opponents of the scheme increasingly believe it will not go ahead as planned.
Both sides now increasingly suggest that the turbines – which protesters fear may increase to over 2,000 – should be sited far from housing on the area’s tens of thousands of acres of worked-out peat bogs. But, unless such a compromise is reached, the people of the Midlands look like restraining the wind giants as effectively as the Lilliputians tied down Gulliver.
James Lovelock On Why Global Warming Has Stalled
The scientist known for his Gaia theory and warnings about climate change is 94 but feels he still has work to do
In 2007 the influential scientist, inventor and environmentalist spoke of dire and imminent climate change. Warning of a lethal rise in temperatures over the next two decades, he noted that since 1970 sea levels had risen 1.6 times faster than predicted, and stated that worse was to come.
Since then, Lovelock has revised some of his assertions – and aged 94, he has little to worry about personally – but is he concerned about the fate of his pretty 1820s coastguard’s cottage?
“Not one bit. We’re 70 yards from the sea but we’re also more than 50 feet above it, and by 2100, when I’ll be long gone, it won’t have risen – at most, I should think – more than a metre,” he says, though he can’t resist a bit of doom-mongering. “I think we’re more likely to be done by a tsunami caused by a bit dropping off one of the volcanoes on the Canaries.” [...]
Despite the influence his work has had on “green” politics, he has an ambivalent relationship with the environmental movement, and little time for eco-posturing. A quick glance around confirms the house has all the usual electrical appliances; a bottle of Fairy Liquid, rather than any all-natural cleaner, stands at the kitchen sink; and having experimented with a biofuel boiler in the 1970s with disastrous consequences, Lovelock now uses oil to heat his home.
Over the years, he has infuriated many environmentalists with his criticism of renewable energy sources, including wind turbines – a stance that many have interpreted as mischievous provocation – and with his promotion of nuclear power as the cleanest, safest and most efficient alternative to fossil fuels. More recently, he has even voiced his support of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a short-term option.
“People don’t decide on logic or sense, or even on economics, they decide on fear,” he says. “When you look at the actual records you find that wind turbines have killed far more people than nuclear energy.”
For years, Lovelock has devoted a great deal of energy to highlighting the risks of global warming, or “global heating” as he prefers it. The next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, due to be published in part next month, will have to address the fact that, despite an increase in the use of fossil fuels, and carbon dioxide emissions, temperatures have not risen as rapidly over the past 15 years as in previous decades. So what does Lovelock make of this anomaly?
“I remember back to the IPCC in the 1990s, the ice-core data were coming in very well,” he says. “At that time you could look at the temperatures in Antarctica and the atmospheric concentrations together over about 500,000 years, now you can look at about a million, and it’s extraordinary, there’s a complete one-to-one correlation between temperature and CO2. So they said, ‘Right, well we know the sensitivity now, so we can predict the climate’. The problem is that there’s now all that junk going into the atmosphere from burning fuels so the sensitivity’s no longer what it was.”
Some have suggested an increase in aerosols – particles of smoke, and mist in the earth’s atmosphere that reflect some of the sun’s heat – has affected temperatures. Lovelock agrees and he points to the smoke produced as a result of large-scale coal and forest burning in China and Indonesia, suggesting that the growth of emerging economies could, in fact, be contributing to a short-term cooling effect.
As for the cold winters experienced in the UK in recent years, he sees this as a more local effect. “I think – and a lot of others do too – it’s attributable to the melting of the floating ice up in the north,” he says. “Ice is pure water so when it melts it becomes fresh water not salt water, which is lighter, so it floats on the surface of the sea and drifts downwards [south]. That does two things, it makes the water off western Europe a lot cooler but, much more seriously, it stops the sinkholes that drive the Gulf Stream.”
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