Wednesday, August 27, 2014

We're running out of food!

So says the gullible Justin Gillis of the NYT -- completely ignoring all the facts.  Take for instance the current situation  in icy Canada:  “In Western Canada, we’re moving from a huge glut of wheat to still a pretty big carry-over, but by no means the kind of over-supply we had in the last year.  And in 2013: “Canola - Nationally, canola production increased 29.5% from 2012 to a record 18.0 million tonnes; “Wheat: Farmers reported record wheat production of 37.5 million tonnes, a 38.0% increase from 2012.".  The only crop not a record in 2013 was Barley and Oats."  Anybody who knows anything about international trade in farm products knows that the chronic problem is surpluses, not shortages

Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.

The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities.

“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” the draft report said. “The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases.”

The report was drafted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists and other experts appointed by the United Nations that periodically reviews and summarizes climate research. It is not final and could change substantially before release.

The report, intended to summarize and restate a string of earlier reports about climate change released over the past year, is to be unveiled in early November, after an intensive editing session in Copenhagen. A late draft was sent to the world’s governments for review this week, and a copy of that version was obtained by The New York Times.

Using blunter, more forceful language than the reports that underpin it, the new draft highlights the urgency of the risks that are likely to be intensified by continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

The report found that companies and governments had identified reserves of these fuels at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level.

From 1970 to 2000, global emissions of greenhouse gases grew at 1.3 percent a year. But from 2000 to 2010, that rate jumped to 2.2 percent a year, the report found, and the pace seems to be accelerating further in this decade.

A major part of the jump was caused by industrialization in China, which now accounts for half the world’s coal use. Those emissions are being incurred in large part to produce goods for consumption in the West.

The report noted that severe weather events, some of them linked to human-produced emissions, had disrupted the food supply in recent years, leading to several spikes in the prices of staple grains and destabilizing some governments in poorer countries.

Continued warming, the report found, is likely to “slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing poverty traps and create new ones, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.”


Further comments on the above from Prof. Don Easterbrook, who has studied global climate change for five decades:

"Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points", the report found, With no global warming in 15-18 years, how can 'global warming' cut grain production?

"and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked."  The total increase in atmospheric CO2 during the only period when both CO2 and temp increased (1978-1998) was a whopping 0.004%.  That's going to cause a lot of warming?

Higher seas, In areas cited as 'drowning (Maldives, Kiribati, Bangladesh), the sea level in the Maldives has dropped a full meter since 1979; sea level in Kiribati is not rising faster than coral is growing upward; sea level change in Bangladesh is due largely to compaction of delta sediments, and on and on.  In the next 50 years (2064) global sea level rise will be only about 3 inches!

"devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes" This is simply not true--hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, etc are all declining, not increasing.

"The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities."  Nonsense! Except for a few small blips, all of the past 10,000 years to 1500 years ago were 2.5 to 5.5 F warmer than present in Greenland and the ice sheet didn't disappear. As for the Antarctic, the average annual temp is -58 F so warming of 100 F would be required to melt the Antarctic ice sheet.

“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” Global snow and ice is on the increase, not decreasing, the rate of global sea level rise has decreased in recent years, modeling results have not even come close to predicting global temperatures in the past few decades and with no warming in 18 years, how can human influence be invoked?

"A continued rapid growth of emissions in coming decades could conceivably lead to a global warming exceeding 8 degrees Fahrenheit, the report found."  This is based on computer models that have proven to be totally worthless in predicting global temperature for even a few decades, so why should this number have any credibility?

What is really astonishing, is how the discredited IPCC can continue to put out such nonsense totally contrary to real evidence and still pretend to be scientists.

U.S. government releases predators against its own people

Many times the sound of howling and yelping coyotes awake me from a sound and cozy slumber. I sit bolt upright in my bed as my sleep-filled brain tries to calculate where my critters are and whether or not they are safe. The dogs on the floor beside me, the cat on the foot of the bed, I roll over and go back to sleep.

In the years that I’ve lived in the mountains outside Albuquerque, I’ve lost three cats and three ducks to coyotes. I know they are natural predators and if my pets are outside, there is a chance they’ll fall prey. I hear the coyotes, but I hardly see them. They don’t generally come close to humans. They are after the squirrels and rabbits — and an occasional cat or duck.

But that could all change due to a new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) plan to expand the area for the Mexican grey wolf reintroduction. The current plan calls for virtually all the southern half of New Mexico to become wolf habitat — but wolf advocates at a hearing about the plan, held in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, on Wednesday, August 13, repeatedly declared that Southern New Mexico wasn’t enough. They want the wolf introduced north of I-40 — which would include Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Some called for wolves to be released in the Grand Canyon and the Four Corners area.

Wolves are master predators — and they are enemies of coyotes. Wolves attack bigger prey: deer and elk, horses and cattle — but are known to carry off a dog or cat as well. The wolves that are a part of the reintroduction program are not afraid of people and will come right up to a house if they are hungry.

Supporters of the expanded plan, plead for people to “open their eyes and hearts to wolves, to remove boundaries.” One claimed: “The big bad wolf isn’t so bad after all,” and added, “there’s no proof a wolf has ever harmed a human.”  “Wolves are demonized” and “wolves don’t hurt humans” were reoccurring themes throughout the evening hearing — where 70 people spoke (48 for the expanded plan, 22 against). Not everyone who wanted to be heard was given the opportunity. The hearing was conducted with precision — cutting people off midsentence at the two-minute mark — and ended promptly at 9:00PM.

Most of the 22 against the plan live in the areas already impacted by the current wolf reintroduction — the Gila National Forest on the New Mexico/Arizona border.

One woman told of growing up on her family’s ranch. She remembers being able to play by the stream without fear. But now, with wolves around, it is a different story for her grandchildren. They came to visit one day. They brought their new puppy. As they bounded out of the car, toward the house, two wolves emerged from the creek and snatched the puppy as the shocked children helplessly watched. They are now afraid to go to grandma’s house. They have nightmares.

Another told how she felt when a wolf was spotted less than 35 feet from her children. Her husband was away. She grabbed the children and, along with the dogs, stayed locked in the house — only to see the wolf on the front porch with its nose pressed against the window pane. She has reported on the incident: “Throughout the evening my border collie whimpered at the front door, aggressively trying to get out. Both dogs paced on high alert all night.” The next day wolf tracks were found all around the house — including the children’s play yard. The wolf was euthanized on private property within 150 yards of the house. She concludes her story: “It’s difficult to describe the terror of a predator so fearless and eager to get into my home.”

Others told similar stories. Children, waiting for the school bus, have to be caged to be protected from the wolves. Nine ranches in the current habitat area along the New Mexico/Arizona border, have been sold due to wolf predation — too many cattle are killed and ranchers are forced off the land.

Had I been allowed to speak — and I did sign up, I would have addressed the lunacy of the plan. After huge amounts of effort and resources have been invested to save the sand dune lizard and the lesser prairie chicken in and around the oil patch of southeastern New Mexico, they now want to introduce a master predator that will gobble up the other endangered species? After all, as many proponents pointed out, “wolves don’t have maps.” They don’t stay within the boundaries on the FWS maps, they go where the food is — just ask the families living in the current range.

As I listened to the presenters, I wondered: “Why do they do this?” People and their property need to be protected. Instead, supporters whined that capturing wolves and moving them away from communities “traumatizes” them. What about the harm to humans; the traumatized children? Does human blood need to be shed to consider that they have been harmed?

Perhaps the answer to “why?” came from one wolf supporter who opened with this: “I am from New York. I don’t know anything about ranching or wolves.” And then added: “Ranching will be outdated in 10-15 years. We can’t keep eating meat.”

State Senator Bill Soules, from Las Cruces, supports the new, expanded plan. He said: “I’ve had many people contact me wanting wolves protected. I’ve had no one contact me with the opposing view”—perhaps that is because neither phone number listed on his New Mexico Legislature webpage takes you to a person or voicemail.

Calls to our elected officials do matter. Contact yours and tell him/her that you want people protected, that humans shouldn’t be harmed by an expanded wolf reintroduction territory.

I wrote a short version of my experience at the hearing for the Albuquerque Journal because I wanted people there to be aware of the plan to introduce wolves into close proximity to the Albuquerque area. My op-ed in the local paper generated a vitriolic dialogue on the website — with more than 90 comments at the time of this writing. Many said things like this one, supposedly from a woman in Concord, New Hampshire: “If you don’t like it move to the city it is their home and you moved into it so either deal with it and stop your whining or move back to the city.” Yeah, that will work really well for the ranchers who earn their living and feed America by raising livestock.

This story is about New Mexico, Arizona and the Mexican grey wolf. But similar stories can easily be found in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana where the Canadian grey wolf was reintroduced nearly two decades ago. The wolf population has grown so rapidly that they have been known to aggressively kill livestock and cause millions of dollars of loss to ranching families—with the Idaho record being 176 sheep killed in one night. In Wyoming, the Wolf has been removed from the endangered species list and ranchers can now kill the wolf and protect their herds without fear of punishment from our government. Even the U.S. FWS is removing and euthanizing the wolves that were intentionally introduced into the region. As recently as August 21, 2014, wolves are wreaking havoc, killing sheep just 50 miles outside of Spokane, Washington — where the U.S. FWS has authorized a rancher to kill the wolves and, much to the dismay of environmental groups, state wildlife agents are killing wolves to protect people and property.

Environmental groups have been pushing to bring the wolf back to Colorado through the Rocky Mountain National Park.

While the public hearing regarding the expanded introduction of the Mexican Grey Wolf is over, the U.S. FWS is accepting written comments on the proposed revision to the Nonessential Experimental Population of the Mexican Wolf through September 23. Please add to the discussion — though they don’t make it easy as to be accepted, comments must be substantive, related to the proposed alternatives, or scientifically valid, and something not yet considered.

People shouldn’t lie awake in fear for their families and property because our own government introduces a predator amongst us.


Iconic view hailed as one of the best in England by National Trust faces being 'ruined' by 242ft high wind turbine to power 400 homes

A stunning rural landscape hailed as one of the finest views in England by the National Trust could be ruined by a 242ft high wind turbine.

The outlook from Creech Hill towards the imposing King Alfred's Tower on the Stourhead Estate has become an iconic image of the Somerset Levels.

It features in the book 'England's 100 Best Views' and features Iron Age forts, a Roman temple and ancient woodlands.

But the skyline is under threat after plans were submitted for a towering turbine which would provide enough power for 400 local homes.

The proposals come from Swansea-based firm Seren Energy run by Steve Hack,a Friends of the Earth board member.

He admitted the site is contentious, but said the overall impact on the area will be minimal.

'As far as South Somerset is concerned there are relatively limited opportunities for turbines,' he said.

'But this is relatively simple as far as good conditions and delivery are concerned and there are not that many people who live very close to the site. The overall impact on the local population is going to be low.'

But local residents and the National Trust fear the development will tarnish the treasured landscape.

A National Trust spokesman said: 'Stourhead is an incredibly special place and we want to make sure its setting, the wider landscape and views, both to and from, are protected.

'We believe that appropriately designed wind has an important part to play in a mix of British renewables, but it must work in harmony with the landscape.  'We are now carefully considering this planning application and the scale and location of the proposed wind turbine.'

Creech Hill lies seven miles to the north west of the Stourhead Estate, which is owned by the National Trust.

It is home to King Alfred's Tower - a 160ft tall folly tower marking the spot where King Alfred rallied the forces of Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire, before his decisive defeat at the Battle of Edington in 878AD.

It was erected in the mid 18th century by banker Henry Hoare II, then owner of the Stourhead estate, and dominates the landscape in the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In his book 'England's 100 Best Views', the National Trust's chairman Sir Simon Jenkins describes the vista from Creech Hill towards Stourhead as the best view of the Somerset Levels.

He wrote: 'Creech Hill stands seven miles to the north and is closer to the Levels. It looks up to Stourhead behind it, and looks across to Cadbury to the left.

'It directly overlooks the golden limestone town of Bruton, deep in the Brue valley and with only its church and dovecot visible from a distance.'

Seren Energy has submitted plans to South Somerset District Council to erect the turbine at Gilcombe Farm, a 300-acre family organic farm.

But Dick Skidmore, a former Mendip District councillor now living at Bruton, is one of many locals who have written to the planning department to object.

He believes the turbine will 'degrade a rural landscape particularly in a tourist area'.

He is also worried that photographs submitted with the application were misleading and that the Ministry of Defence will insist on it having a warning light on top.

Pen Selwood Parish Council has already raised its opposition to the turbine because of its proposed position in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

In a response to the application, it said: 'Whilst we are not sure this wind turbine will be visible from this parish, Pen Selwood Parish Council is opposed to all applications that could cause any detrimental effect upon the visual amenity of the village which is within an AONB.'

It goes on to say: 'Concern has also been expressed that this development would set a precedent for other, similar, developments and that if we are not careful these structures could spring up throughout the area and would blight the countryside around us.'


Obama to circumvent Congress

 The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.

In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.

To sidestep that requirement, President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a “politically binding” deal that would “name and shame” countries into cutting their emissions. The deal is likely to face strong objections from Republicans on Capitol Hill and from poor countries around the world, but negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.

“If you want a deal that includes all the major emitters, including the U.S., you cannot realistically pursue a legally binding treaty at this time,” said Paul Bledsoe, a top climate change official in the Clinton administration who works closely with the Obama White House on international climate change policy.

Lawmakers in both parties on Capitol Hill say there is no chance that the currently gridlocked Senate will ratify a climate change treaty in the near future, especially in a political environment where many Republican lawmakers remain skeptical of the established science of human-caused global warming.

“There’s a strong understanding of the difficulties of the U.S. situation, and a willingness to work with the U.S. to get out of this impasse,” said Laurence Tubiana, the French ambassador for climate change to the United Nations. “There is an implicit understanding that this not require ratification by the Senate.”

American negotiators are instead homing in on a hybrid agreement — a proposal to blend legally binding conditions from an existing 1992 treaty with new voluntary pledges. The mix would create a deal that would update the treaty, and thus, negotiators say, not require a new vote of ratification.

Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts.

“There’s some legal and political magic to this,” said Jake Schmidt, an expert in global climate negotiations with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “They’re trying to move this as far as possible without having to reach the 67-vote threshold” in the Senate.

The strategy comes as scientists warn that the earth is already experiencing the first signs of human-caused global warming — more severe drought and stronger wildfires, rising sea levels and more devastating storms — and the United Nations heads toward what many say is the body’s last chance to avert more catastrophic results in the coming century.

At the United Nations General Assembly in New York next month, delegates will gather at a sideline meeting on climate change to try to make progress toward the deal next year in Paris. A December meeting is planned in Lima, Peru, to draft the agreement.

In seeking to go around Congress to push his international climate change agenda, Mr. Obama is echoing his domestic climate strategy. In June, he bypassed Congress and used his executive authority to order a far-reaching regulation forcing American coal-fired power plants to curb their carbon emissions. That regulation, which would not be not final until next year, already faces legal challenges, including a lawsuit filed on behalf of a dozen states.

But unilateral action by the world’s largest economy will not be enough to curb the rise of carbon pollution across the globe. That will be possible only if the world’s largest economies, including India and China, agree to enact similar cuts.

The Obama administration’s international climate strategy is likely to infuriate Republican lawmakers who already say the president is abusing his executive authority by pushing through major policies without congressional approval.

“Unfortunately, this would be just another of many examples of the Obama administration’s tendency to abide by laws that it likes and to disregard laws it doesn’t like — and to ignore the elected representatives of the people when they don’t agree,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, said in a statement.

A deal that would not need to be ratified by the United States or any other nation is also drawing fire from the world’s poorest countries. In African and low-lying island nations — places that scientists say are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change — officials fear that any agreement made outside the structure of a traditional United Nations treaty will not bind rich countries to spend billions of dollars to help developing nations deal with the forces of climate change.

Poor countries look to rich countries to help build dams and levees to guard against coastal flooding from rising seas levels, or to provide food aid during pervasive droughts.

“Without an international agreement that binds us, it’s impossible for us to address the threats of climate change,” said Richard Muyungi, a climate negotiator for Tanzania. “We are not as capable as the U.S. of facing this problem, and historically we don’t have as much responsibility. What we need is just one thing: Let the U.S. ratify the agreement. If they ratify the agreement, it will trigger action across the world.”

Observers of United Nations climate negotiations, which have gone on for more than two decades without achieving a global deal to legally bind the world’s biggest polluters to carbon cuts, say that if written carefully such an agreement could be a creative and pragmatic way to at least level off the world’s rapidly rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

About a dozen countries are responsible for nearly 70 percent of the world’s carbon pollution, chiefly from cars and coal-fired power plants.

At a 2009 climate meeting in Copenhagen, world leaders tried but failed to forge a new legally binding treaty to supplant the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Instead, they agreed only to a series of voluntary pledges to cut carbon emissions through 2020.

The Obama administration’s climate change negotiators are desperate to avoid repeating the failure of Kyoto, the United Nations’ first effort at a legally binding global climate change treaty. Nations around the world signed on to the deal, which would have required the world’s richest economies to cut their carbon emissions, but the Senate refused to ratify the treaty, ensuring that the world’s largest historic carbon polluter was not bound by the agreement.

Seventeen years later, the Senate obstacle remains. Even though Democrats currently control the chamber, the Senate has been unable to reach agreement to ratify relatively noncontroversial United Nations treaties. In 2012, for example, Republican senators blocked ratification of a United Nations treaty on equal rights for the disabled, even though the treaty was modeled after an American law and had been negotiated by a Republican president, George W. Bush.

This fall, Senate Republicans are poised to pick up more seats, and possibly to retake control of the chamber. Mr. McConnell, who has been one of the fiercest opponents of Mr. Obama’s climate change policy, comes from a coal-heavy state that could be an economic loser in any climate-change protocol that targets coal-fired power plants, the world’s largest source of carbon pollution.


Wood burning idiocy

If wood-burning power stations are less eco-friendly than coal, we are getting the search for clean energy all wrong

On Saturday my train was diverted by engineering works near Doncaster. We trundled past some shiny new freight wagons decorated with a slogan: “Drax — powering tomorrow: carrying sustainable biomass for cost-effective renewable power”. Serendipitously, I was at that moment reading a report by the chief scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change on the burning of wood in Yorkshire power stations such as Drax. And I was feeling vindicated.

A year ago I wrote in these pages that it made no sense for the consumer to subsidise the burning of American wood in place of coal, since wood produces more carbon dioxide for each kilowatt-hour of electricity. The forests being harvested would take four to ten decades to regrow, and this is the precise period over which we are supposed to expect dangerous global warming to emerge. It makes no sense to steal beetles’ lunch, transport it halfway round the world, burning diesel as you do so, and charge hard-pressed consumers double the price for the power it generates.

There was a howl of protest on the letters page from the chief executive of Drax power station, which burns a million tonnes of imported North American wood a year and plans to increase that to 7 million tonnes by 2016. But last week, Dr David MacKay’s report vindicated me. If the wood comes from whole trees, as much of it does, then the effect could be to increase carbon dioxide emissions, he finds, even compared with coal. And that’s allowing for the regrowth of forests.

Despite the best efforts of the Conservatives to rein in their Lib Dem colleagues, the renewable-energy bandwagon careers onward, costing ever more money and doing real environmental harm, while producing trivial quantities of energy and risking blackouts next winter. People keep telling me it’s no good being rude about all renewables: some must be better than others. Well, I’m still looking:

Tidal power remains a (literal) non-starter; if you ask ministers why nothing has been built, they say it’s not for want of proffering ludicrously generous subsidies on our behalf. Yet still no takers.

Wave power: again, the sky’s the limit for what the government will pay if you can figure out how to make dynamos and generators survive the buffeting of waves, corrosion of salt and encrustation of barnacles. Nothing doing.

Geothermal: perhaps great potential in the future for heating homes through district heating schemes, though expensive here compared with Iceland, but not much use for electricity. Air-source and ground-source heat pumps, all the rage a few years ago, have generally proved more costly and less effective than advertised, but they are getting better. Trivial contribution so far.

Solar power: one day soon it will make a big impact in sunny countries, and the price is falling fast, but generating for the grid in cloudy Britain where most power is needed on dark winter evenings will probably never make economic sense. Covering fields in Devon with solar panels today is just ecological and economic vandalism. Solar provides about a third of one per cent of world energy.

Offshore wind: Britain is the world leader, meaning we are the only ones foolish enough to pay the huge subsidies (treble the going rate for electricity) to lure foreign companies into tackling the challenge of erecting and maintaining 700ft metal towers in stormy seas. The good news is that the budget for subsidising offshore wind has almost run out. The bad news is that it is already costing us billions a year and ruining coastal views.

Onshore wind: one of the cheapest renewables but still twice as costly as gas or coal, it kills eagles and bats, harms tourism, divides communities and takes up lots of space. The money goes from the poor to the rich, and the carbon dioxide saving is tiny, because of the low density of wind and the need to back it up with diesel generators. These too now need subsidy because they cannot run at full capacity.

Hydro: cheap, reliable and predictable, providing 6 per cent of world energy, but with no possibility for significant expansion in Britain. The current vogue for in-stream generation in lowland streams in England will produce ridiculously little power while messing up the migration of fish.

Anaerobic digestion: a lucrative way of subsidising farmers (yet again) to grow perfectly good food for burning instead of eating. Contrary to myth, nearly all the energy comes from crops such as maize (once fermented into gas), not from food waste. Expensive.

Waste incineration: a great idea. Yet we are currently paying other countries to take it off our hands and burn it overseas. If instead we burned it at home, we would make cheap, reliable electricity. But Nimbys won’t let us.

Over the past ten years the world has invested more than $600 billion in wind power and $700 billion in solar power. Yet the total contribution those two technologies are now making to the world primary energy supply is still less than 2 per cent. Ouch.


Pursuing Energy Failure, Again and Again

Policy makers can never resist the urge to “just do something.” And it never works.

Energy policies are faddish. From the energy-independence moonshine of the corn-ethanol scam to the latest 645-page slate of regulations the EPA wants to inflict on the domestic electricity-generation sector, the supposed threats have varied.

Back in the 1970s, the claim was that we were too dependent on Arab oil (a claim that we continue to hear today). These days, in addition to the never-ending blather about “energy independence,” we have the spurious claim from the Obama administration that yet another layer of EPA rules on U.S. industry will make a dramatic difference when it comes to global climate change.

There’s an enduring theme in all the energy-policy fads we’ve endured since 1973: that just a little more governmental intervention will cure the ills of the energy marketplace. In fact, policymakers invariably believe that the energy sector needs more governmental intervention because there has been some type of market failure.

In the 1970s we were told that domestic producers weren’t producing enough energy and therefore government needed to intervene to encourage oil production. Congress also decreed that we must decrease natural-gas consumption. Today we’re told that the global energy market is producing too much energy — or at least, too much energy of the wrong kind (e.g., too much from coal) — and therefore we need governmental intervention to protect us from the consumption of too much energy, which is producing too much carbon dioxide, which may lead to catastrophic climate change, which may cause economic losses in the future. Oh, and by the way, those proposed new EPA rules are effectively requiring increased natural-gas consumption.

Over the decades, many journalists and academics have chronicled the myriad misadventures of U.S. energy policy, but few have done it as thoroughly or as well as Butler University economist Peter Grossman does in his essential book, US Energy Policy and the Pursuit of Failure. Before going further, I should point out that this is a tardy review of Grossman’s book, which came out in May 2013. But throughout my reading of it, I found myself routinely nodding in agreement with Grossman’s analysis and conclusions.

Grossman begins with an overview of the 1973 Arab oil embargo and Richard Nixon’s “Project Independence,” which aimed to make the U.S. entirely self-sufficient in energy by 1980. He goes on to point out that in the year after the 1973 embargo, Congress “considered about 2,000 bills that incorporated at least some provisions related to energy.” Grossman makes clear that the events of 1973 still haunt American energy policy today, even though it was excessive governmental intervention that fueled the gasoline shortages that followed the embargo. Grossman writes that the price controls implemented by the Nixon administration “made the disruption of the oil market in 1973–74 much worse than it would have been otherwise. In fact, it was U.S. policy that turned the embargo into a major national emergency.”

Claims about an “energy crisis” have, he writes, “been ubiquitous for 40 years” in American politics. And yet despite occasional energy shocks, Grossman points out that real U.S. GDP has tripled during that time period.

Legislators are always wanting to “do something” when it comes to energy. A prime example of that mentality occurred 41 years ago: In December 1973, Congress voted to require year-round use of daylight-savings time. Nixon quickly signed the bill even though there was scant proof that the time-shifting would save any energy at all.

That desire to “do something” emerged again with the release of the National Energy Strategy in 1991, shortly after the first Iraq war. At that time, President George H. W. Bush was near the peak of his popularity, with an 86 percent approval rating. But lest Bush appear to be not “doing something,” the White House proposed the National Energy Strategy, a 214-page document that called for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as well as spending $3.5 billion on research for batteries to be used in electric vehicles. (Sound familiar?)

Under Bill Clinton, the “do something” mentality continued with the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a program that aimed to produce a “super car” that would have the same size, styling, and price as a typical family automobile, but would get 80 miles per gallon. (Sound familiar?)

Under George W. Bush, the push for some type of energy strategy continued with the National Energy Policy Development Group, which was led by Bush’s vice president, Dick Cheney. That group predicted rapidly rising oil and gas consumption and an “ever-increasing gap” between domestic energy supplies and domestic demand. After years of quarreling with Congress, Bush signed into law the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a 1,700-page bill that, Grossman explains, included “subsidies for just about every form of energy production.” Among its most lavish subsidies were those given to corn-ethanol producers.

I could provide many more examples from Grossman’s book to prove his points about legislators’ inability to resist “doing something” about energy. Frankly, I wish I had written this book. By giving us chapter and verse on how our politicians have continued to deceive themselves (and, in turn, the public) about energy, Grossman has performed a valuable public service. He has exposed the underlying fallacy of policymakers when it comes to energy: that they are smarter than the marketplace.

And having fully researched America’s energy-policy foolishness (his book is packed with footnotes), Grossman forecasts more of the same in the future, writing that it is “especially doubtful” that legislators will be able to resist intervening in the world’s biggest industry.

In the last section of his book, Grossman neatly summarizes recent U.S. energy-policy efforts on climate change, including the infamous Waxman-Markey bill of 2009 (also known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act), calling it “the kind of panicky grandiose solve-all” legislative effort that has “marked energy policy for four decades.”

I fully agree with Grossman, too, when it comes to how the U.S. should position itself on the issue of carbon dioxide emissions. He writes that the goal of “international policy should be to help poor nations develop and leave the climate issues aside for the time being.” Furthermore, he’s exactly right when it comes to broader climate goals. Since carbon dioxide emissions have been rising rapidly (up an average of about 500 million tons per year since 1985) and that rise will almost certainly continue unabated, the U.S. and the rest of the world will need to focus on preparedness.

It’s a bit clichéd to suggest that a certain book should be required reading for policymakers. Please forgive me for doing exactly that with this book. With US Energy Policy and the Pursuit of Failure, Peter Grossman has revealed himself to be the preeminent historian of American energy policy. If policymakers are going to insist on inflicting themselves on the energy market, they should at least know how their predecessors have failed doing the very same thing.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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