Friday, July 25, 2014

Invertebrate populations have dropped by 45 percent in the last four decades

"Invertebrate" means "no backbone".  At that rate America has an ample supply of invertebrates -- in Congress. Seriously, though, how can anybody know how many beetles, wasps etc there are?  It's a fantasy.  They might as well have just made the number up  -- which they probably did

Much has been said about the loss of bird, mammal, reptile, and amphibian species around the world. By current estimates, at least 322 species have gone extinct in the last 500 years. And researchers estimate that 16 to 33 percent of the world’s vertebrate species — animals with developed spinal cords — are currently threatened or endangered. But a new article, published today in Science, paints an even more alarming picture, as scientists have found that the number of individual insects, crustaceans, worms, and spiders decreased by 45 percent on average over the past 40 years — a period in which the global human population doubled.

"We had strong suspicions that the problem was largely with the vertebrates," said Rodolfo Dirzo, an ecologist at Stanford University, in an email to The Verge. "But it was surprising to see this now, also, among the invertebrates," or animals without developed spines. Dirzo calls this loss of animal life "defaunation," and he blames it on humans. "The richness of the animal world of our planet is being seriously threatened by human activities," he said. Many species have gone extinct and the ones that remain — mammals, birds, and insects alike — are showing dramatic declines in their abundance.

In the article, Dirzo and his colleagues reviewed past studies, and compiled a global index of all invertebrate species over the past 40 years. Overall, they found that 67 percent of the world’s invertebrates have declined in numbers by an average of 45 percent. In the UK, for instance, there has been a 30 to 60 percent decline in the number of butterflies, bees, beetles, and wasps. This, the researchers write, is important because too often we measure animal diversity in terms of number of species, or in terms of extinctions. But an animal’s contribution is about more than the mere presence of its species on the planet — it’s also about local shifts in populations that could impact everything from agriculture to human health.


Making Earth a ‘High-Energy Planet’

Electricity for Africa may become a reality

If all goes smoothly, President Obama will be able to sign a landmark bipartisan energy-for-Africa bill when more than 40 African heads of state — all looking to attract more U.S. investment for their economies — convene at the White House for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit on Aug. 5 and 6.

Two bills in Congress are waiting in the wings for their high voltage debut — the “Electrify Africa” measure (HR 2548), which has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate’s companion “Energize Africa” bill (S 2508), which is ready for a floor vote. Both bills abandon yesterday’s foreign aid handouts and propose only private sector-based incentives such as loans, guarantees, and political risk insurance as a shock absorber for U.S. businesses willing to enter frontier African markets.

The mere possibility of an energy-for-Africa bill with the president’s signature on it is already sparking angry outbursts from Obama’s political base. That’s bizarre but predictable — congressional action would give Obama a big boost for his June 30, 2013, “Power Africa” initiative, which — amazingly — is an “all of the above” energy program and not one of those weasel-worded “all except fossil fuels” shams the White House usually perpetrates. The White House fact sheet specifically said, “Power Africa will partner with Uganda and Mozambique on responsible oil and gas resources management.” It was silent about coal, which is plentiful in Africa.

When Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz touts his department’s “Beyond the Grid” initiative to encourage greenie-approved off-grid and small-scale energy projects, he takes care to avoid disparaging fossil fuels because they’re part of Obama’s Power Africa plan.

Obama’s Big Green base is furious that a measly president of the United States would dare to thwart their exalted global mission to force people in developing nations to live off-grid with only the energy for two lightbulbs, a fan and a radio — a standard measure of “energy access” used by the U.N.’s callous “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative.

A recent Sierra Club report, “Clean Energy Services for All,” defines energy access for poor nations as living on 0.15 percent of the average Californian’s annual usage, according to several critiques. Sierra Clubbers, please lead by example.

The Sierra Club’s sourpuss misers got a nasty slapdown in June from the Breakthrough Institute, a brainstorming enterprise formed in 2004 by Big Green bad boys Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger. The unknown pair published a provocative essay titled “The Death of Environmentalism” — drubbing everything wrong with mainstream environmentalism — and presented all the dirty laundry at the annual retreat of the Environmental Grantmakers Association. They weren’t unknown afterward.

They have matured wonderfully into welcome thought leaders with their April publication, “Our High Energy Planet — A Climate Pragmatism Project.” In the past I have disparaged some of their more leftward shenanigans, so I offer the following quote from their executive summary as part contrition, part admiration:

“Today, over 1 billion people around the world — 500 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa alone — lack access to electricity. Nearly 3 billion people cook over open fires fueled by wood, dung, coal, or charcoal. This energy poverty presents a significant hurdle to achieving development goals of health, prosperity, and a livable environment.”

I have friends in sub-Saharan Africa, from my days working with leaders of the Congress of Racial Equality, two of whom run CORE Uganda, Fiona Kobusingye and her husband Cyril Boynes. Kobusingye is also an outspoken promoter of DDT sprays as coordinator of Uganda’s Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now Brigade. She is a victim of malaria herself, requiring lifelong medical treatment — I was seated next to Fiona at a 2004 conference in New York City when she suffered an attack and went to a hospital where none of the doctors had ever seen malaria — and she has lost many cherished family members to the disease.

I asked CORE’s national chairman, Roy Innis, how he felt about the two energy-for-Africa bills now in Congress. Although best known for his activism in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, he is also a long-time champion of energy access for the disadvantaged — and author of “Energy Keepers, Energy Killers: The New Civil Rights Battle.”

Innis said, “A short visit to most of Africa reveals a crushing shortage of controlled and developed energy. It appears that on this legislation, HR 2548 and S 2508, we can avoid the usual fights that bogged down the legislative branch. We hope that the executive branch can follow.”

CORE Uganda hopes so in particular. The Ugandan census of 2002 reported that 7.7 percent of households used electricity for lighting (only 2.6 percent of rural households), with 74.8 percent of households using “tadooba,” a form of paraffin candle, for lighting. Most tourist areas need backup generators because of grid failures. In 2002, the network fed by hydroelectric dams on Lake Victoria provided power to only 33 of the 54 districts of Uganda. Things have improved with diesel-fueled power turbines and co-generation from sugar works, bringing most numbers up about 50 percent since 2002. And in February, the Ugandan Ministry of Energy signed a deal with three European — not American — oil companies to develop its petroleum reserves estimated at over 3.5 billion barrels, based on limited drilling and testing.

Assuming that Congress does the right thing and puts an energy-for-Africa bill on Obama’s desk soon, the new law and his Power Africa initiative may together have the momentum to steamroller the would-be energy-starvation despots of the world into the frozen darkness of Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell and lift the Breakthrough Institute’s report title into global reality — “Our High-Energy Planet.”


Property Rights at Stake in EPA’s Water Power Grab

Thanks to the federal government, it soon may become far more difficult to use and enjoy private property. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers want to make a water—and land—grab that should scare everyone.

Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government has jurisdiction over “navigable waters,” which the statute further defines as “the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.” Property owners often need to get permits if waters covered under the law will be impacted. Therefore, a critical question is what types of “waters” are covered under the CWA. That’s what the EPA and Corps seek to address with a new proposed rule that would define “the waters of the United States.” As expected, the EPA and the Corps are seeking to expand their authority to cover waters never imagined when the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972.

For example, the new proposed rule would regulate all ditches, except in narrow circumstances. This even includes man-made ditches. The rule would apply to tributaries that have ephemeral flow. This would include depressions in land that are dry most of the year except when there’s heavy rain.

There’s widespread opposition to the proposed rule. Farmers and ranchers are concerned that the rule could affect normal agricultural practices. Homebuilders could face additional development costs that would likely be passed on to buyers. Counties are concerned because of costly new requirements that could impact municipal storm sewer systems, roadside ditches, among other things.

This broad overreach could have significant costs and delays for permit applicants. In Rapanos v. United States (2006), a major CWA case, Justice Antonin Scalia cited a study highlighting the following costs and delays for one of the major types of permits (Section 404 permits), “The average applicant for an individual permit spends 788 days and $271,596 in completing the process, and the average applicant for a nationwide permit spends 313 days and $28,915—not counting costs of mitigation or design changes.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation launched a national campaign to inform people why the Clean Water Act should be 'ditched.' (Photo: American Farm Bureau Federation Facebook)
The American Farm Bureau Federation launched a national campaign to inform people why the Clean Water Act should be ‘ditched.’ (Photo: American Farm Bureau Federation Facebook)
If the EPA and Corps expand their authority over more waters, property owners will have to secure additional permits. They will have to get permission from federal bureaucrats to enjoy and use their property because of waters that were never intended to be regulated under the CWA. If property owners don’t comply with the law, they could face civil penalties as high as $37,500 per day per violation, or even criminal penalties.

In their craving for more power, the EPA and Corps are ignoring a critical aspect of the CWA: cooperative federalism. Both the states and federal government are supposed to play a role in implementation of the law. Yet, this power grab is an attempt by the federal government to push out state and local governments.

At the start of the CWA it states, “It is the policy of the Congress to recognize, preserve, and protect the primary responsibilities and rights of States to prevent, reduce, and eliminate pollution, to plan the development and use (including restoration, preservation, and enhancement) of land and water resources…” The EPA and Corps are pretending that this important policy doesn’t exist.

The EPA also had to ignore sound science and proper rulemaking to move forward with its power play. The agency developed a draft report entitled Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence. A Scientific Advisory Board was convened to peer review the study, which when finalized would provide the scientific foundation for implementation of the rule.

However, the EPA finalized the proposed rule before the Scientific Advisory Board even met. The EPA defends this action by claiming that the final study will still help inform the final rule. But this is putting the cart before the horse (or the rule before the science). The scientific foundation should inform the proposed rule so that the public can provide informed comments and have a meaningful voice in the process.

The public may be commenting on a proposed rule that seems to be a mere placeholder rather than a real policy proposal, or more likely, a proposal that already reflects the final conclusions of the EPA. The EPA has a strong incentive to avoid making major changes to the draft scientific report and, as a result, the final rule. If major changes are made, the EPA might be forced by law to restart the rulemaking process over.

Congress is taking notice. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a bill (H.R. 5078) that would prohibit implementation of the proposed rule, and legislation (S. 2496) has been introduced in the Senate to prohibit implementation as well. In addition, the FY 2015 House Interior and Environment appropriations bill that passed out of the appropriations committee includes a provision that withholds funds for implementation of the rule.

Ultimately though, it is the responsibility of Congress to define the term “navigable waters” instead of deferring to the EPA and the Corps. History shows these agencies will continue to seek to expand their authority. As with other laws, Congress needs to reassert its authority and rein in agency overreach. Private property rights are at stake.


Another comment on Risbey et al

The more you look at it the stranger the paper becomes.  The fact that it has among its authors two old Warmist warriors with no expertise in climate science may help explain that

The Risbey et al. (2014) "Well-estimated global surface warming in climate projections selected for ENSO phase" is yet another paper trying to blame the recent dominance of La Niña events for the slowdown in global surface temperature warming, the hiatus. This one, however, states that ENSO contributes to the warming when El Niño events dominate. That occurred from the mid-1970s to the late-1990s. Risbey et al. (2014) also has a number of curiosities that make it stand out from the rest. One of those curiosities is that they claim that 4 specially selected climate models (which they failed to identify) can reproduce the spatial patterns of warming and cooling in the Pacific (and the rest of the ocean basins) during the hiatus period, while the maps they presented of observed versus modeled trends contradict the claims.


I’ve read and reread Risbey et al. (2014) a number of times and I can’t find where they identify the “best” 4 and “worst” 4 climate models presented in their Figure 5. I asked Anthony Watts to provide a second set of eyes, and he was also unable to find where they list the models selected for that illustration.

Risbey et al. (2014) identify 18 models, but not the “best” and “worst” of those 18 they used in their Figure 5. Please let me know if I’ve somehow overlooked them. I’ll then strike any related text in this post.

Further to this topic, Anthony Watts sent emails to two of the authors on Friday, July 18, 2014, asking if the models selected for Figure 5 had been named somewhere. Refer to Anthony’s post A courtesy note ahead of publication for Risbey et al. 2014. Anthony has not received replies. While there are numerous other 15-year periods presented in Risbey et al (2014) along with numerous other “best” and “worst” models, our questions pertained solely to Figure 5 and the period of 1998-2012, so it should have been relatively easy to answer the question…and one would have thought the models would have been identified in the Supplementary Information for the paper, but there is no Supplementary Information.

Because Risbey et al. (2014) have not identified the models they’ve selected as “best” and “worst”, their work cannot be verified.


The Risbey et al. (2014) paper Well-estimated global surface warming in climate projections selected for ENSO phase was just published online. Risbey et al. (2014) are claiming that if they cherry-pick a few climate models from the CMIP5 archive (used by the IPCC for their 5th Assessment Report)—that is, if they select specific climate models that best simulate a dominance of La Niña events during the global warming hiatus period of 1998 to 2012—then those models provide a good estimate of warming trends (or lack thereof) and those models also properly simulate the sea surface temperature patterns in the Pacific, and elsewhere.

Those are very odd claims. The spatial patterns of warming and cooling in the Pacific are dictated primarily by ENSO processes and climate models still can’t simulate the most basic of ENSO processes. Even if a few of the models created the warning and cooling spatial patterns by some freak occurrence, the models still do not (cannot) properly simulate ENSO processes. In that respect, the findings of Risbey et al. (2014) are pointless.

Additionally, their claims that the very-small, cherry-picked subset of climate models provides good estimates of the spatial patterns of warming and cooling in the Pacific for the period of 1998-2012 are not supported by the data and model outputs they presented, so Risbey et al. (2014) failed to deliver.

There are a number of other curiosities, too.


The Risbey et al. (2014) abstract reads:

"The question of how climate model projections have tracked the actual evolution of global mean surface air temperature is important in establishing the credibility of their projections. Some studies and the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report suggest that the recent 15-year period (1998–2012) provides evidence that models are overestimating current temperature evolution. Such comparisons are not evidence against model trends because they represent only one realization where the decadal natural variability component of the model climate is generally not in phase with observations. We present a more appropriate test of models where only those models with natural variability (represented by El Niño/Southern Oscillation) largely in phase with observations are selected from multi-model ensembles for comparison with observations. These tests show that climate models have provided good estimates of 15-year trends, including for recent periods and for Pacific spatial trend patterns."

Curiously, in their abstract, Risbey et al. (2014) note a major flaw with the climate models used by the IPCC for their 5th Assessment Report—that they are “generally not in phase with observations”—but they don’t accept that as a flaw. If your stock broker’s models were out of phase with observations, would you continue to invest with that broker based on their out-of-phase models or would you look for another broker whose models were in-phase with observations? Of course, you’d look elsewhere.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any other climate “broker” models to choose from. There are no climate models that can simulate naturally occurring coupled ocean-atmosphere processes that can contribute to global warming and that can stop global warming…or, obviously, simulate those processes in-phase with the real world. Yet governments around the globe continue to invest billions annually in out-of-phase models.

Risbey et al. (2014), like numerous other papers, are basically attempting to blame a shift in ENSO dominance (from a dominance of El Niño events to a dominance of La Niña events) for the recent slowdown in the warming of surface temperatures. Unlike others, they acknowledge that ENSO would also have contributed to the warming from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s, a period when El Niños dominated.


The fifth paragraph of Risbey et al. (2014) begins (my boldface):

In the CMIP5 models run using historical forcing there is no way to ensure that the model has the same sequence of ENSO events as the real world. This will occur only by chance and only for limited periods, because natural variability in the models is not constrained to occur in the same sequence as the real world.

Risbey et al. (2014) admitted that the models they selected for having the proper sequence of ENSO events did so by chance, not out of skill, which undermines the intent of their paper. If the focus of the paper had been need for climate models to be in-phase with obseervations, they would have achieved their goal. But that wasn’t the aim of the paper. The concluding sentence of the abstract claims that “…climate models have provided good estimates of 15-year trends, including for recent periods…” when, in fact, it was by pure chance that the cherry-picked models aligned with the real world. No skill involved. If models had any skill, the outputs of the models would be in-phase with observations.


5 million Scottish trees felled for wind farms

ONLY a fraction of Scottish forests felled to make way for wind farms have been replanted, figures show, sparking calls for a ban on new developments.

Forestry Commission statistics reveal that about five million trees – almost one for every person in Scotland – have been cut down to clear space for turbines in the past six years but less than a third of them have been replaced.

Of the 2,510 hectares stripped of woodland to make way for turbines since 2007, just 792 hectares were reforested after construction was completed.

The Scottish Conservatives, who obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request, claimed the figures are evidence that the Scottish Government is “destroying nature” in a bid to meet its own climate targets, which aim for all the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020.

MSP Murdo Fraser, energy spokesman for the party, said: “The SNP is so blindly obsessed with renewable energy that it doesn’t mind destroying another important environmental attribute to make way for it.

“It’s quite astonishing to see almost as many trees have been destroyed as there are people in Scotland.”

The government has hit back at the claims, saying the figures do not represent the full picture.

Environment and climate change minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “We have replanted nearly 800 hectares and have restored significant areas of important open habitat where this is best for the environment. The result is that, of the area felled for wind farms, only 315 hectares of land suitable for another rotation of trees has not been replanted.”

He also pointed out that 31,400 hectares of new forestry was planted around the country in the same six-year period. “That’s a staggering 62 million trees in the ground across Scotland,” he said.

“Scotland is also shouldering the vast majority of tree-planting in Britain, with nearly two and a half times more in Scotland compared to south of the Border.”

Mr Fraser, who has previously voiced his opposition to wind farms, is calling for a year-long moratorium on planning applications for new developments.

The regional MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife said: “The contribution of trees to our environment has been well established through the ages.

“I’m still waiting to see compelling evidence of the contribution wind farms make. They are an expensive, intermittent and unreliable alternative, and not one that it’s worth making this level of sacrifice to ­accommodate.

“If the Scottish Government cooled its ludicrous renewable energy targets, we wouldn’t see this kind of wanton destruction and intrusion on our landscape.”

Mr Wheelhouse defended Scotland’s planning rules, which he said require developers to plant new trees to replace any cut down to make way for wind farms.

He added: “It was the Scottish Government that took a proactive role in protecting Scotland’s forests and woodlands. In 2009, we tightened up the guidance around felling from wind farm developments.

“A key component is to keep any felling to a minimum and compensatory planting undertaken where suitable. Every energy company building wind farms has to comply with this policy. All renewable developments are subject to environmental scrutiny through the planning process and this manages any impacts on the natural environment, landscape and communities.”


Smart Growth Facts vs. Ideology

Debates over smart growth–sometimes known as new urbanism, compact cities, or sustainable urban planning, but always meaning higher urban densities and a higher share of people in multifamily housing–boil down to factual questions. But smart-growth supporters keep trying to twist the arguments into ideological issues.

For example, in response to my Minneapolis Star Tribune article about future housing demand, Thomas Fisher, the dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, writes, “O’Toole, like many conservatives, equates low-density development with personal freedom.” In fact, I equate personal freedom with personal freedom.

Fisher adds, “we [meaning government] should promote density where it makes sense and prohibit it where it doesn’t”; in other words, restrict personal freedom whenever planners’ ideas of what “makes sense” differ from yours. Why? As long as people pay the costs of their choices, they should be allowed to choose high or low densities without interference from planners like Fisher.

Another writer who makes this ideological is Daily Caller contributor Matt Lewis, who believes that conservatives should endorse new urbanism. His weird logic is conservatives want people to love their country, high-density neighborhoods are prettier than low-density suburbs, and people who don’t have pretty places to live will stop loving their country. Never mind that more than a century of suburbanization hasn’t caused people to stop loving their country; the truth is there are many beautiful suburbs and many ugly new urban developments.

Lewis adds, “Nobody I know is suggesting that big government–or the U.N.!–ought to mandate or impose these sorts of development policies.” He apparently doesn’t know many urban planners, and certainly none in Denver, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, the Twin Cities, or other metropolitan areas where big government in the form of regional planning agencies (though not the U.N.) are doing just that. If new urbanism were simply a matter of personal choice, no one would criticize it.

The real issues are factual, not ideological.

Fact #1: Contrary to University of Utah planning professor Arthur Nelson, most people everywhere prefer low-density housing as soon as they have transport that is faster than walking. While a minority does prefer higher densities, the market will provide both as long as there is demand for them.

Fact #2: Contrary to Matt Lewis, American suburbanization did not result from a “post-World War II push for sprawl” coming from “the tax code, zoning, a federally financed highway system, and so on.” Suburbanization began before the Civil War when steam trains could move people faster than walking speed. Most American families abandoned transit and bought cars long before interstate highways–which, by the way, more than paid for themselves with the gas taxes collected from the people who drove on them. Nor did the tax code promote sprawl: Australians build bigger houses with higher homeownership rates in suburbs just as dispersed as America’s without a mortgage interest deduction.

Fact #3: Contrary to Thomas Fisher, low-density housing costs less, not more, than high-density. Without urban-growth boundaries or other artificial restraints, there is almost no urban area in America short of land for housing. Multifamily housing costs more to build, per square foot, than single-family, and compact development is expensive because the planners tend to locate it in areas with the highest land prices. The relative prices in my article–$375,000 for a 1,400-square-foot home in a New Urban neighborhood vs. $295,000 for a 2,400-square-foot home on a large suburban lot–are typical for many smart-growth cities. Compare these eastside Portland condos with these single-family homes in a nearby Portland suburb.

Fact #4: Contrary to Fisher, the so-called costs of sprawl are nowhere near as high as the costs of density. Rutgers University’s Costs of Sprawl 2000 estimates that urban services to low-density development cost about $11,000 more per house than services to high-density development. This is trivial compared with the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars added to home prices in regions whose policies promote compact development.

Fact #5: Contrary to University of Minnesota planning professor Richard Bolan, the best way to reduce externalities such as pollution and greenhouse gases is to treat the source, not try to change people’s lifestyles. For example, since 1970, pollution controls reduced total air pollution from cars by more than 80 percent, while efforts to entice people out of their cars and onto transit reduced pollution by 0 percent.

Fact #6: Contrary to Lewis, suburbs are not sterile, boring places. Suburbanites have a strong sense of community and are actually more likely to engage in community affairs than city dwellers.

Fact #7: Smart growth doesn’t even work. It doesn’t reduce driving: After taking self-selection into account, its effects on driving are “too small to be useful.” It doesn’t save money or energy: Multi-family housing not only costs more, it uses more energy per square foot than single-family, while transit costs more and uses as much or more energy per passenger mile as driving. When planners say smart growth saves energy, what they mean is you’ll live in a smaller house and have less mobility.

Fact #8: If we end all subsidies and land-use regulation, I’ll happily accept whatever housing and transport outcomes result from people expressing their personal preferences. Too many planners want to control population densities and transport choices through prescriptive land-use regulation and huge subsidies to their preferred forms of transportation and housing.

These planners think only government can know what is truly right for other people. Even if you believe that, government failure is worse than market failure and results in subsidies to special interest groups for projects that produce negligible social or environmental benefits.

If urban planners have a role to play, it is to ensure people pay the costs of their choices. Instead, it is planners, rather than economists such as myself, who have become ideological, insisting density is the solution to all problems despite the preferences of 80 percent of Americans for low-density lifestyles.



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1 comment:

Joseph said...

The "urban sprawl debate" is between two groups of people controllers. One group wants to fight congestion by reducing population density in crowded areas and the other wants to fight sprawl by reducing population density in uncrowded areas. Sometimes the two sides cooperate and pass BANANA (Build Almost Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) regulations. The resulting housing shortage is blamed on greedy landlords and used as a pretext for more regulations.

Maybe we should let people make their own decisions about where to live.