Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Biodegradable bags aren’t better than regular plastic bags, Australian report finds

CONSUMERS like to believe we’re doing the right thing for the environment. Purchasing plastic bags or coffee cups marked “biodegradable”, “compostable” or even plain old “environmentally friendly”, helps us sleep better at night.

But a new Senate inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia has found that “biodegradable” plastic bags are just as bad as regular plastic bags.

“While consumers might feel they are ‘doing the right thing’ by choosing biodegradable or degradable plastic, these products simply disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces to become microplastic,” read the report based on the senate’s findings.

“The committee also notes that there is some community confusion regarding the differences between biodegradable, degradable plastic, compostable and traditional plastic.

“The committee strongly considers that education campaigns are required to ensure consumers make informed choices about the alternatives to traditional plastics being offered.”

Normal plastic bags are usually made from petroleum, while biodegradable bags are made from plant or organic material which can decompose much faster.

But UNSW biodiversity expert Mark Browne, one of several scientists who made submissions to the inquiry, says the biodegradable material has the “same level of environmental impact” as that in regular plastic bags.

“These pieces of microplastic can be ingested or inhaled by animals,” Mr Browne told “They can enter their lungs or guts and can transfer chemicals into the blood and surrounding tissues, which can affect how well they’re able to fight off infections.

“In plants, they can block the plant’s access to light, and plants need light to photosynthesise and produce food,” he said.
Plastic bags can kill marine life. Here a scuba diver swims over a discarded plastic bag tangled on a coral reef.

These microplastics can also affect how much food and water animals can consume. “The particles fill up the animals’ guts and they’re not able to consume as much water or food. They may die from dehydration or starvation or being infected because their immune systems have been reduced,” Mr Browne said.

“The public is buying or using these bags thinking that they’re a quick fix, but there is not enough testing to prove they’re safe.”

Clean Up Australia managing director Terrie Ann Johnson told the inquiry marine plastic pollution is a growing global threat to biodiversity. “[It’s already having a devastating impact on the Australian environment with significant potential to disrupt our lifestyle and lead to substantial economic loss,” she wrote in a submission.

Ms Johnson said it was a common misconception that marine debris and plastic pollution in Australia is a result of international pollution, or waste generated “at sea”.

According to the CSIRO, around 75 per cent of our marine debris is generated by Australian people, “not the high seas, with debris concentrated near cities”.


Earth Day Anniversary and the Balance of Nature Myth

The balance of nature theory, that nature without the influence of human beings is in harmony, is a myth. But in the wake of environmental disaster, it can be especially compelling. Case in point: the 1969 Santa Barbara, California oil spill, which saw images of oil-coated seabirds and poisoned seals and dolphins splattered on American television. The urge to do something to prevent similar catastrophes sparked unprecedented participation at the grassroots level, and a year later, on April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans celebrated the first Earth Day, marking the birth of the modern environmental movement. Soon thereafter, Congress codified the movement by passing the Clean Water Act (1972), the Clean Air Act (1973), and the Endangered Species Act (1973).

In nearly fifty years since that first Earth Day, U.S. environmental policy has been built on the assumption that nature returns to a state of harmony and balance when humans leave it undisturbed. But for all its appeal, the balance of nature theory is supported by neither historical nor ecological evidence, and most ecologists have not subscribed to it for decades.

There is no reason to believe that the Earth would be desolate in our absence, but that surely does not mean that Earth would be better off without us. Though it is commonly assumed that human beings are distinct from nature, the reality is that Homo sapiens is the result of the same natural selection process that resulted in everything else that we call nature. Far from being separate from nature, we are part of it.

If true, the balance of nature theory would indicate that the healthiest ecosystems are those that, undisturbed by humans, arrive at a climax ecology and change little from that state. Natural history does not support this claim. Rather, disturbance and change, not balance and harmony, best describe nature. To offer but one obvious example, four of the five historical mass extinctions were the result of natural causes, not human activity.

The process of survival has never been a harmonious one. Individual organisms, even entire species, that are unable to compete are ruthlessly weeded out by natural selection. Those that are adept at navigating changes in their environment survive.

When based on the evidence of natural history and ecological science, environmental regulation is one method of addressing pollution concerns. The politics of policy-making, however, mean that legislation can be heavily influenced by the mistaken assumptions of radical environmental groups, which results in inherently flawed legislation. T he balance of nature theory is particularly damaging when used as justification for environmental policy. When emotion and environmental mysticism, instead of historical evidence and ecological science, hold sway over policymakers, poor policy is the inevitable result.

This April 22 is the 46th celebration of Earth Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on the consequences of U.S. environmental policy since the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 and the first Earth Day in 1970. The idea that nature does best when we leave it alone is tempting, especially after the tragedy of human-caused environmental disasters. Despite its appeal, though, the balance of nature theory is a poor foundation upon which to build good environmental policy. Scientists have abandoned it, and it is about time legislators do the same.


The 'Settled' Consensus Du Jour

Authoritarianism, always latent in progressivism, is becoming explicit. Progressivism’s determination to regulate thought by regulating speech is apparent in the campaign by 16 states' attorneys general and those of the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, none Republican, to criminalize skepticism about the supposedly “settled” conclusions of climate science.

Four core tenets of progressivism are: First, history has a destination. Second, progressives uniquely discern it. (Barack Obama frequently declares things to be on or opposed to “the right side of history.”) Third, politics should be democratic but peripheral to governance, which is the responsibility of experts scientifically administering the regulatory state. Fourth, enlightened progressives should enforce limits on speech (witness IRS suppression of conservative advocacy groups) in order to prevent thinking unhelpful to history’s progressive unfolding.

Progressivism is already enforced on campuses by restrictions on speech that might produce what progressives consider retrograde intellectual diversity. Now, from the so-called party of science, aka Democrats, comes a campaign to criminalize debate about science.

“The debate is settled,” says Obama. “Climate change is a fact.” Indeed. The epithet “climate change deniers,” obviously coined to stigmatize skeptics as akin to Holocaust deniers, is designed to obscure something obvious: Of course the climate is changing; it never is not changing — neither before nor after the Medieval Warm Period (end of the 9th century to the 13th) and the Little Ice Age (1640s to 1690s), neither of which was caused by fossil fuels.

Today, debatable questions include: To what extent is human activity contributing to climate change? Are climate change models, many of which have generated projections refuted by events, suddenly reliable enough to predict the trajectory of change? Is change necessarily ominous because today’s climate is necessarily optimum? Are the costs, in money expended and freedom curtailed, of combating climate change less than the cost of adapting to it?

But these questions may not forever be debatable. The initial target of Democratic “scientific” silencers is ExxonMobil, which they hope to demonstrate misled investors and the public about climate change. There is, however, no limiting principle to restrain unprincipled people from punishing research entities, advocacy groups and individuals.

But it is difficult to establish what constitutes culpable “misleading” about climate science, of which a 2001 National Academy of Sciences report says: “Because there is considerable uncertainty in current understanding of how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warming should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or downward).” Did Al Gore “mislead” when he said seven years ago that computer modeling projected the Arctic to be ice-free during the summer in as few as five years?

The attorney general of the Virgin Islands accuses ExxonMobil with criminal misrepresentation regarding climate change. This, even though before the U.S. government in 2009 first issued an endangerment finding regarding greenhouse gases, ExxonMobil favored a carbon tax to mitigate climate consequences of those gases. This grandstanding attorney general’s contribution to today’s gangster government is the use of law enforcement tools to pursue political goals — wielding prosecutorial weapons to chill debate, including subpoenaing private donor information from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

The party of science, busy protecting science from scrutiny, has forgotten Karl Popper (1902-1994), the philosopher whose “The Open Society and Its Enemies” warned against people incapable of distinguishing between certainty and certitude. In his essay “Science as Falsification,” Popper explains why “the criterion of a scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability.” America’s party of science seems eager to insulate its scientific theories from the possibility of refutation.

The leader of the attorneys general, New York’s Eric Schneiderman, dismisses those who disagree with him as “morally vacant.” His moral content is apparent in his campaign to ban fantasy sports gambling because it competes with the gambling (state lottery, casinos, off-track betting) that enriches his government.

Then there is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who suggests using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, written to fight organized crime, to criminalize what he calls the fossil fuel industry’s “climate denial apparatus.” The Justice Department, which has abetted the IRS cover-up of its criminal activity, has referred this idea to the FBI.

These garden-variety authoritarians are eager to regulate us into conformity with the “settled” consensus du jour, whatever it is. But they are progressives, so it is for our own good.


Most Americans Enjoy Global Warming Trend

Environmental concerns don’t exactly rank near the top of most Americans' worries. There are a few reasons for that. One is because there are far more urgent problems to deal with — like how to mitigate terrorism and kick-start the still-anemic economy. Junk science also has a lot to do with it. But another reason could be that most Americans actually enjoy the effects of global warming. (Imagine that!) In a new study published in the journal Nature, New York University’s Patrick J. Egan and Duke University’s Megan Mullin write:

“Using previous research on how weather affects local population growth to develop an index of people’s weather preferences, we find that 80% of Americans live in counties that are experiencing more pleasant weather than they did four decades ago. Virtually all Americans are now experiencing the much milder winters that they typically prefer, and these mild winters have not been offset by markedly more uncomfortable summers or other negative changes.”

Still, the authors say to enjoy the pleasant environment while it lasts. “Climate change models predict that this trend is temporary, however, because US summers will eventually warm more than winters,” they add. “Under a scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions proceed at an unabated rate (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5), we estimate that 88% of the US public will experience weather at the end of the century that is less preferable than weather in the recent past. Our results have implications for the public’s understanding of the climate change problem, which is shaped in part by experiences with local weather.”

But if past climate models were right, the Arctic should be ice-free by now and its subsequent effects would be destroying the world. Of course, we already knew that a warmer climate is far more efficient than a cold one, and is therefore more beneficial to society. Plants, after all, could not survive without CO2, and studies show that plants thrive when more CO2 is in the air. That’s why even if global warming is causing some unwanted effects, a better response is to adapt rather than engage in a futile attempt to reverse it. If we really want to celebrate Earth Day and usher in a greener world, let’s stop trying to choke off its food supply — CO2.


Earth Day’s anti-fossil fuel focus could plunge millions into green energy poverty

Friday, April 22, marked the 47th Earth Day. You may think it is all about planting trees and cleaning up neighborhoods. But this year’s anniversary was closer to its radical roots than, perhaps, any other since its founding in 1970. Considered the birth of the environmental movement, the first Earth Day took place during the height of America’s counterculture era. According to, it gave voice to an “emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns on the front page.”

We did need to clean up our act. At that time “littering” wasn’t part of our vocabulary, The air in the Southern California valley where I grew up was often so thick with smog we couldn’t see the surrounding mountains.

Thankfully, that has changed.

Look around your community. You’ll likely see green trees, blue skies, and bodies of water sparkling in the sunshine. With the success of the environmental movement, its supporters, and the nonprofit groups it spawned, had to become ever more radical to stay relevant.

Environmentalism has changed.

The morphing of the movement may be most evident in Earth Day 2016 — which some are calling “the most important Earth Day in history.”

This year, on April 22, in a high-level celebration at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the Paris Climate Agreement will officially be signed. Thirty days after its signing by at least 55 countries that represent 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the agreement will take effect — committing countries to establishing individual targets for emission reductions with the expectation that they will be reviewed and updated every five years.

While news reports of Earth Day 2016 will likely depict dancing in the streets, those who can look past the headlines will see a dire picture — one in which more than 10 percent of a household’s income is spent on energy costs; one of “green energy poverty.”

To meet the non-binding commitments President Obama made last December in Paris, he is counting on, among many domestic regulations, the Clean Power Plan (CPP).

Last week, on the Senate floor, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, delivered remarks in advance of Earth Day on the unattainability of the U.S. climate commitments. He said: “The Clean Power Plan is the centerpiece of the president’s promise to the international community that the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent.” It would “cause double digit electricity price increases in 40 states” and “would prevent struggling communities from accessing reliable and affordable fuel sources, which could eventually lead to poor families choosing between putting healthy food on the table or turning their heater on in the winter.”

The Heritage Foundation has just released a report on the devastating economic costs of the Paris Climate Agreement, which it calls “a push for un-development for the industrialized world and a major obstacle for growth for the developing world.” Because global warming regulations “stifle the use of the most efficient and inexpensive forms of electricity, businesses as well as households will incur higher electricity costs.” The report concludes: “restricting energy production to meet targets like those of the Paris agreement will significantly harm the U.S. economy. Bureaucratically administered mandates, taxes, and special interest subsidies will drive family incomes down by thousands of dollars per year, drive up energy costs, and eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. All of these costs would be incurred to achieve only trivial and theoretical impacts on global warming.”

Real world experience bears out the both Inhofe’s observations and the Heritage Foundation’s conclusions.

Germany is one of the best examples of green energy poverty as the country has some of the most aggressive greenhouse gas reduction programs that offer generous subsidies for any company producing green energy. Based on an extensive study done by green energy believers in 2014, I addressed the program’s overall result: raised costs and raised emissions. I stated: “After reading the entire 80-page white paper, I was struck with three distinct observations. The German experiment has raised energy costs to households and business, the subsidies are unsustainable, and, as a result, without intervention, the energy supply is unstable.” At that time, I concluded: “The high prices disproportionately hurt the poor, giving birth to the new phrase: ‘energy poverty.’”

More recently, others have come to the same conclusion (read here and here). On April 13, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) opined: “Germany’s 16-year-old Energiewende, or energy transformation, already has wrecked the country’s energy market in its quest to wean the economy off fossil fuels and nuclear power. Traditional power plants, including those that burn cleaner gas, have been closing left and right while soaring electricity prices push industries overseas and bankrupt households. Job losses run to the tens of thousands.” Meanwhile, emissions over the past seven years have increased. Last month, Mike Shellenberger, President, Environmental Progress and Time magazine “Hero of the Environment,” tweeted: “people really want to believe good things about Germany’s energy shift, but … its emissions rose.” WSJ concludes: “The market distortions caused by overreliance on expensive but undependable power already have pushed German utilities to rely more on cheap and dirty coal-fired power plants to make up the shortfall when renewable sources can’t meet demand.”

Germany is not alone.

The U.K., according to Reuters, is facing “fuel poverty.” The report states: “The government is also under pressure to curb rising energy bills with 2.3 million of Britain’s 27 million households deemed fuel poor, meaning the cost of heating their homes leaves them with income below the poverty line.” Another account covers the U.K.’s cuts to solar subsidies, saying: “The government says the changes were necessary to protect bill payers, as the solar incentives are levied on household energy bills.”

The Netherlands, which is already behind in meeting its green energy targets, has, according to the Washington Post, had to build three new coal-fueled power plants—in part, at least, to power the high percentage of electric cars. Additionally, the country has hundreds of wind turbines that are operating at a loss and are in danger of being demolished. A report states: “Subsidies for generating wind energy are in many cases no longer cost-effective. Smaller, older windmills in particular are running at a loss, but even newer mills are struggling to be profitable with insufficient subsidies.”

Bringing it closer to home, there is über-green California—where billionaire activist Tom Steyer aggressively pushes green energy policies. Headlines tout California has the most expensive market for retail gasoline nationwide. But, according to the Institute for Energy Research, it also has some of the highest electricity prices in the country—“about 40 percent higher than the national average.” A 2012 report from the Manhattan Institute, states that about one million California households were living in “energy poverty”—with Latinos and African Americans being the hardest hit. With the Golden State’s headlong rush toward lower carbon-dioxide emissions and greater use of renewables, the energy poverty figure is surely much higher today.

This week, as you hear commentators celebrate “the most important Earth Day in history” and the global significance of the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement, remember the result of policies similar to CPP: green energy poverty. Use these stories (there are many more) to talk to your friends. Make this “Green Energy Poverty Week” and share it: #GEPW.

We, however, do not need to be doomed to green energy poverty. There is some good news.

First, the Paris Climate Agreement is non-binding. Even Todd Stern, U.S. climate envoy, acknowledged in the Huffington Post: “What Paris does is put in place a structure that will encourage countries to increase their targets every five years.” While the requisite number of countries will likely sign it before the election of the next president, the only enforcement mechanism is political shaming. Even if it was legally binding, as was the Koyto Protocol, Reason Magazine points out what happened to countries, like Canada and Japan, which “violated their solemn treaty obligations”—NOTHING. The Heritage report adds: “History, however, gives little confidence that such compliance will even occur. For instance, China is building 350 coal-fired power plants, and has plans for another 800.”

Then there is the legal delay to the implementation of the CPP—which, thanks to a Supreme Court decision earlier this year, will be tied up in courts for at least the next two years. Inhofe stated: “Without the central component of (Obama’s) international climate agenda, achieving the promises made in Paris are mere pipe dreams.”

“President Obama’s climate pledge is unobtainable and it stands no chance of succeeding in the United States,” Inhofe said. “For the sake of the economic well-being of America, that’s a good thing.”


The Green War Against the Working Class

There was a time in America—and it wasn’t even so long ago—that liberals actually cared about working class people. They may have been misguided in many of their policy solutions (i.e., raising the minimum wage) but at least their heart was in the right place.

Then a strange thing happened about a decade ago. The radical leftwing environmentalists took control. These are people who care more about the supposed rise of the oceans than the financial survival of the middle class. The industrial unions made a catastrophic decision to get in bed with these radicals and now they—and all of us—are paying a heavy price.

The latest evidence came last week when another coal giant in America, Peabody Energy Corp., declared bankruptcy. This is the same fate suffered by Arch Coal Inc., Alpha Natural Resources Inc., and other coal producers that have filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors.

Peabody has stated that the lower cost of natural gas may have been a factor in their decline, and I am all for market competition, but this isn’t a result of free market creative destruction. This was largely a policy strategy by the White House and green groups.

They wanted this to happen. This was what Clean Power Plant rules from the Environmental Protection Agency were all about.

The EPA set standards by design that were impossible to meet and even flouted the law that says the regulations should be “commercially achievable.” This was a key component of the climate change fanaticism that pervades this White House.

Ideas have consequences. Obama has succeeded in decimating whole towns dependent on coal—in Wyoming, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

Progressive liberals don’t seem to care that an estimated 31,000 coal miners, truckers, engineers, construction workers and others have lost their job since 2009 as a result of this global warming fanaticism. Another 5,000 or so could be given pink slips at Peabody.

To the left, the families whose lives are ruined are collateral damage to achieve their utopian dream of saving the planet. The Stalinists who now run the green movement believe the ends justify the ruthless means.

Investors have gotten crushed too as a result of coal’s demise. The coal industry has lost tens of billions of dollars in stock value since 2009—with many of these losses in union pension funds and 401k plans.

What is maddening about all of this is that coal is much cleaner than ever before. EPA statistics show that emissions of sulfer, lead, carbon monoxide, and smog from coal plants have been reduced by 50 to 90 percent in the last 40 years.

(The air we breathe is cleaner than ever. Carbon dioxide, by the way, is not a pollutant—it doesn’t make you sick.)

Global warming fanatics should ask themselves what they are accomplishing. For every coal plant we shut down, China and India build another 10 or so. Our coal is much cleaner and our environmental laws much stricter than China’s and India’s, so this shift of output and jobs from the U.S. to our rivals succeeds in making us poorer and the planet dirtier.

America is the Saudi Arabia of coal. We have an estimated 500-year supply. So for economic and ecological reasons, we should want American coal to dominate the world market, but the mindless environmentalists’ rallying cry is: “Keep it in the ground.”

Do liberals care that the demise of coal could lead to major disruptions in America’s electric power supply?

Coal still supplies more than one-third of our electricity, because it is cheap and highly reliable—much more so than wind and solar energy. Perhaps the millennials will realize their mistake when they won’t be able to power up their PlayStation 4s, their iPhones, and their laptops.

Republicans in Congress aren’t blameless here. They have controlled the House for five years and both chambers since 2015. But they have sat by while the EPA destroys an iconic American industry.

Why has Congress not overruled EPA rules on carbon, which is not a pollutant? Every poll shows Americans care most about jobs and the economy—and only about 3 percent care most about climate change. Yet, they refuse to stand up to Obama and take the side of the American worker.

It’s not too late to revive American coal, but that strategy starts with putting jobs first. I thought that’s what both parties have been promising.



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.  

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