Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The latest environmental scare

Do you notice the dog that didn't bark in the report below?  Did you notice that there is no EVIDENCE about how harmful microparticles are?  It's all theory and falls into the category of things that are OBVIOUSLY bad and so must be discouraged.

All to often, however, things that are OBVIOUSLY bad turn out not to be bad at all -- with dietary fat being the most recent major example of that.  So you need to be able to put numbers on just HOW bad a thing is.  Doing so can generate surprising revelations  -- such as the fact that dietary fat can be GOOD for you.

So what DO the numbers say?  What is the research evidence on how bad these things are?  And how come there was no mention of any such evidence below?  I think I know.  In just ten minutes of searching I found the following sentence in a review article on the subject:  "Bioavailability and the efficiency of transfer of the ingested POPs across trophic levels are not known and the potential damage posed by these to the marine ecosystem has yet to be quantified and modelled".

In other words, nobody knows how harmful they really are.  The article is from 2011 so much knowledge my have accumulated since then but I am not hopeful.  I suspect that microbeads are a very minor problem in the great scheme of things

I note that I searched the "Marine Pollution Bullein" which did have lots of up to date articles on the subject -- but they were all about how prevalent the beads were in various locations. That they were just obviously bad seemed to be taken for granted.  Nowhere could I see any quantification of harms

And if there is a seminal article quantifying harms I would be delighted to scrutinize its metholoogy.  As a former university teacher of research methods and statistics, and as as frequent practitioner of same, much that seems plausible to others seems hilarious to me.  I can often tell where the bodies are buried, even with no knowledge of the particular field.  As is now widely recognized, junk science is in epidemic proportions these days

Facial scrubs are used daily by millions of people to exfoliate their skin - but scientists have exposed the tiny toxic plastic beads hidden in the products.

Each wash contains up to 94,500 microbeads, while one tube comprises up to 2.8million of the beads, which experts at Plymouth University extracted.

Microbeads, among the fastest-growing forms of marine pollution, can cause physical damage or poison sea life with the chemicals and microbes on their surface.

Richard Thompson, professor of marine biology at Plymouth University, published a photograph of the amount of microbeads extracted from popular facial scrubs.

He told The Sunday Times: 'It can be hard to convey in words how small these beads are and how many are released by one wash, but the picture shows the scale of the impact much better.'

He said the beads ranged in size from from a 0.01mm up to 1mm. 'Their size means they can pass through sewage treatment screens and be discharged into rivers and oceans,' he explained.

When the facial scrubs are washed away, they are washed into sewage sludge and can spread onto farmland. Smaller beads can escape filters and are subsequently washed out to sea.

Experts say the size of the beads looks like food to plankton and baby fish - and can poison them when eaten. This is then passed up the food chain to larger fish and birds.

Mary Creagh, the Labour MP and chairwoman of the environmental audit committee, which is holding an inquiry into microplastics, told the Sunday Times: 'Most of us would be horrified to learn how many bathroom products contain this plastic rubbish.'

The Plymouth researchers only examined facial scrubs but microbeads are widely found in many cosmetics.

The US government has banned microbeads in consumer products under a law that will go into full effect in 2017.

This month Waitrose announced it will ban microbeads from all products sold in its shops. The supermarket chain has already removed them from its own beauty products and has promised that from September it will stock only branded products which do not contain them.

Banning microbeads makes sense, campaigners say, because they are not necessary for washing products. Their abrasive effect can be replicated by natural exfoliants such as tiny fragments of rice, apricot seeds, walnut shells and bamboo.

Banning microbeads, however, will not end microplastic pollution. All plastic items that end up in lakes, rivers and the sea tend to disintegrate, creating tiny scraps of plastic with a similar effect.

Synthetic fabrics, such as nylon and polyester, also disintegrate, and tiny plastic ‘microfibres’ are also eaten by marine life, with a similar effect to microbeads.


John Kerry claims air conditioner chemicals are as dangerous as ISIS at climate conference

Many gases can be used in refrigeration but their efficiency varies greatly.  With the phasing out of HFCs we are getting a long way away from the most efficient one, which means that more electricity will have to be used to get the same cooling effect.  But aren't we supposed to be reducing demand for electricity?  More Greenie foot-shooting, it seems.  And there is general agreement that HFCs make only a trivial contribution (1% is often quoted) to global warming so that foot could reasonably have been left unshot

Chemicals used in refrigerators and air conditioners pose as big of a threat as ISIS, John Kerry said.

The Secretary Of State traveled to Vienna, Austria on Friday to negotiate an amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, created to protect the ozone layer.

The amendment phases out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), compounds that are mostly used as refrigerants and act as potent greenhouses gases.

Kerry went to Vienna with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy and compared the fight against climate change to the fight against terrorism during talks with parties to the Montreal Protocol.

'Yesterday, I met in Washington with 45 nations — defense ministers and foreign ministers — as we were working together on the challenge of [the Islamic State], and terrorism,' Kerry said according to the Washington Examiner.

'It's hard for some people to grasp it, but what we — you — are doing here right now is of equal importance because it has the ability to literally save life on the planet itself.'

Amending the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs is one of the most cost-effective and consequential ways to combat climate change, the Department Of State said in a statement.

HFCs became widely used in the late 1980s, after a previous Montreal Protocol agreement led countries to stop using ozone-depleting chemicals in the air conditioning and refrigeration sectors.

This helped protecting the ozone layer, but companies began using HFCs as an alternative to the banned chemicals.

While HFCs do not harm the ozone layer, they have a strong potential to warm the planet - more so than carbon dioxide.

Reducing the use of HFCs could help limit the global temperature rise and avoid the most severe consequences of climate change.

HFCs can now be replaced with more climate-friendly materials.

California announced earlier this week that it would give half a million dollars to a $6 million project to research alternatives to HFCs.

'We have the technologies and chemicals to get this done, and are confident we can produce an HFC amendment that works,' the EPA said on its blog.

The EPA hopes to pass the amendment to the Montreal Protocol by the end of the year.


Obama Administration Continues Regulatory Assault on Offshore Oil and Gas

Last week the Obama administration released yet another regulation intended to undermine the viability of the offshore oil and gas industry in the United States. On July 7, the Department of Interior announced its new rules for drilling offshore in Alaska.

For the first time ever, the administration decided to create special rules for Alaska, more onerous than the rules that apply to offshore production in the rest of the country. No accidents or incidents have occurred to warrant these new aggressive rules, but then for a regulator when it comes to regulation, there never seems to be a need to ask why.

The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in Alaska are estimated to hold about 23 billion barrels of oil and more than 2.8 trillion cubic meters of natural gas according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. This vast bounty has drawn significant interest from oil and gas companies for many years. However, the technical challenges of drilling in the Arctic are significant: freezing temperatures, floating ice, storms, and the like. These challenges make offshore drilling in Alaska quite expensive from the outset. These high costs have been on display since oil prices crashed as leaseholders in the Arctic have delayed drilling activity to wait until prices rebound.

But this pause in activity was not enough for the regulators and their environmentalist allies; they want to choke off any possibility of future development in the Arctic. Thus, last week’s rules. These stringent new rules follow the administration’s decision last year to cancel offshore lease sales in the Arctic and refusal to extend existing leases. As Sen. Murkowski of Alaska commented recently, “above all, it is the chaotic federal regulatory regime that is discouraging investment.” Regulators are designing and implementing a de facto ban on offshore drilling in Alaska, usurping the role of Congress and ignoring the free market .

These actions in the Arctic are just another entry in the Obama administration’s regulatory attack on offshore drilling. In April of 2016, the administration issued new well control rules that industry associations warned would force many small operators out of business due to increased regulatory costs. In March 2016, reversing his own administration’s decision of just a few years ago, the president announced that he would ban offshore drilling in the Atlantic. In 2011, the Obama administration was held in contempt of court for slow-walking offshore permits in an illegal effort to prevent development by not acting, just one skirmish in the months-long “permitorium” imposed by regulators.

Over the Obama presidency, this hostility has had predictable results: oil and gas production offshore has fallen throughout, even as oil and gas production on state and private land has boomed. That decrease has meant less revenue for the federal government, fewer jobs for Americans, and more oil supplies that must come from foreign countries. All to make far left environmentalists feel good. This is the danger of an unaccountable regulatory state captured by left-wing special interests: the power of the government wielded against an industry viewed as the enemy.


US says fuel economy likely won't meet 2025 targets

The U.S. government says the nation's cars and trucks are well on their way to meeting fuel economy and emissions standards set for 2025, but cheaper gas prices could ultimately lower those targets by encouraging consumers to buy less-efficient vehicles.

A report on the standards was issued Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the California Air Resources Board. The report kicks off a two-year review that will determine whether to keep the 2025 fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions targets in place or change them.

Under standards set in 2012, automakers' fleets were expected to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. That's not the real-world mileage vehicles will get; it includes credits for things like more efficient air conditioning systems. The real-world mileage is closer to 40 miles per gallon.

The government calculates an automakers' average based on the vehicles it sells. A company could fail to meet standards on pickup trucks but exceed them with fuel-efficient cars and still meet the requirements, said Alan Baum, a consultant in Detroit who advises automakers on fuel-economy regulations. But if it fails to sell those cars, it could wind up being fined.

As gas prices have fallen, SUV sales have risen, and that could wind up lowering the averages that automakers are expected to meet, the report said. The government now forecasts average fuel economy between 50 mpg and 52.6 mpg in 2025, depending on the price of gas.

The report noted that in October 2012, when the fuel economy standards were finalized, U.S. average gas prices were $3.87 per gallon. They ended 2015 at $2.15 per gallon. So far this year, sales of the Toyota Prius hybrid are down 25 percent while sales of SUVs and other light trucks are up 9 percent, according to Autodata Corp.

But gas prices alone aren't likely to convince the government to weaken the standards adopted in 2012. The report says automakers can meet the original 2012 targets by continuing to make more advanced gasoline engines; the EPA says only about 2 percent of vehicles would need to be hybrids or electric vehicles to meet the standards.

"Today's draft report shows that automakers are developing far more technologies to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at similar or lower costs, than we thought possible just a few years ago," said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.

The government says 100 car, SUV, and pick-up truck versions on the market today already meet fuel economy standards targeted for 2020 or later. Automakers also have been making more use of lightweight materials, like aluminum, and improving vehicles' aerodynamics. They're also adding features like stop-start technology, which automatically shut down the engine and save fuel while a vehicle is stopped in traffic.

Those advances come at a cost. The EPA estimates the fuel economy standards will cost $1,017 per vehicle between 2021 and 2025, while NHTSA estimates they will cost up to $1,245 per vehicle. The agencies differ on how much consumers would save in gas, but they estimate it's between $680 and $1,620 per vehicle.

Those costs, and consumers' reluctance to buy the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicles, mean the auto industry will likely argue that the standards should be relaxed. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group that represents 12 automakers, including BMW, Toyota and General Motors, says meeting the standards is "a daunting challenge."

"Absent a vigorous commitment to focus on marketplace realities, excessive regulatory costs could impact both consumers and the employees who produce these vehicles," the alliance said in a statement.

But environmental groups will urge the government to strengthen the standards. In a statement, Sierra Club President Andrew Linhardt said the report proves that the standards are working.

"Due to technological innovation, our cars are cleaner and more efficient than ever before," he said.


Former NASA Scientist Dispels Notion Global Warming Is ‘Settled’ Science

A former NASA climate scientist has put out a new report criticizing the argument that global warming is settled science.

“It should be clear that the science of global warming is far from settled,” said Dr. Roy Spencer, a former NASA scientist who now co-runs a major satellite temperature dataset at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

“Uncertainties in the adjustments to our global temperature datasets, the small amount of warming those datasets have measured compared to what climate models expect, and uncertainties over the possible role of Mother Nature in recent warming, all combine to make climate change beliefs as much faith-based as science-based,” Spencer wrote in a report published by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

“Until climate science is funded independent of desired energy policy outcomes, we can continue to expect climate research results to be heavily biased in the direction of catastrophic outcomes,” Spencer wrote.

Spencer’s report covers a wide swath of climate science topics from the factors behind global warming, to how scientists make adjustments to climate data, to the “97 percent” consensus figure often cited by politicians and environmentalists.

“Besides, if global warming is settled science, like gravity or the Earth not being flat, why isn’t the agreement 100 percent?” Spencer asked. “And since when is science settled by a survey or a poll? The hallmark of a good scientific theory is its ability to make good predictions.”

“From what we’ve seen, global warming theory is definitely lacking in this regard,” Spencer wrote.

Spencer also explained why climate models tend to over-predict how much warming will occur as greenhouse gas emissions rise. Spencer argues a warming bias is built into the models themselves.

“Since climate models can be ‘tuned’ to produce a rather arbitrary amount of warming, they were tuned to be ‘sensitive’ enough so increasing carbon dioxide alone was sufficient to cause the observed warming,” he wrote.

“It was assumed that there was no natural component of the warming, since we really don’t know the causes of natural climate variations,” he wrote. “As a result, none of the models were prepared for the global warming “hiatus” we have experienced since about 1997, because their climate sensitivity was set too high. The models continued to warm after 2000, while the real climate system essentially stopped warming.”

Indeed, Spencer’s satellite data, which measures the average temperature of the lowest few miles of the atmosphere, showed no significant global warming trend for more than 21 years before an incredibly powerful El Nino warming event hit late last year.

El Nino is a naturally occurring warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean and tends to warm the planet. Satellite temperatures are extremely sensitive to El Ninos (and La Nina cooling events), so mid-tropospheric readings spiked in early 2016.

But temperatures have come down after El Nino faded, and now it looks like a La Nina is setting in. Some even expect the so-called “hiatus” in global warming to return after this year’s La Nina ends.


Australia: Conflict of interests over wind and solar power

Changing to "renewables" without conventional backup is a recipe for disaster -- and it's happening in South Australia right now.  The Green/Left S.A. government just ignored the risks and forced its coal-fired stations to close down. And South Australians are now paying the price of that.  The response of the S.A. energy minister?  Blaming other states for not sending enough of their backup power to S.A.  Blaming everyone but yourself is childish but common

With electricity prices spiralling as South Australia struggles to digest a world-breaking build of wind farms without firm power backup, federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg is facing a challenge that defines the conflict and mixed signals of his new super portfolio.

The challenge was delivered on a windswept blustery paddock about 200km west of Melbourne where Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced state approval for the $65 million, 96-turbine Dundonnell wind farm.

What the Premier did not tell reporters was that the 300 megawatt project, claimed to be the state’s biggest, had yet to receive federal government approval under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

If Frydenberg does not give EPBC approval for Dundonnell he can expect a fiery backlash and accusations of turning his back on renewables and new economy jobs.

If he does give EPBC approval Frydenberg will be accused of grand-scale environmental vandalism against the Victorian brolga, which is listed as threatened and nests at the proposed wind farm site.

The New Zealand wind farm developer, Trustpower, claims to have accommodated the brolga in its layout plans. But the planning process for Dundonnell has been long and tortured with accusations of hidden records and dodgy environmental investigations.

The complaints have not come from peak environment groups but local bird enthusiasts because — rather than endangered fauna — organised environmental activists such as Friends of the Earth have preferred to concentrate on the need for renewable energy and a long-running campaign to make permanent the existing moratorium on coal-seam gas exploration in the state.

In the great circle of energy and environmental politics it is all connected.

For Frydenberg, the gas ban is as significant as the brolgas and the windmills.

And it has all been supercharged by the parlous state of South Australia’s electricity network and what it may portend for the rest of the nation, under pressure to roll out of renewable power.

Frydenberg is clearly aware of the scale of the challenge. He argued for amalgamation of energy and environment portfolio responsibilities and he knows Australia must respond to a fundamentally changing energy world.

In an address to the Brookings Institution in the US earlier this year, Frydenberg said “technology will be the swing factor to achieving the world’s climate goals”.

“Home batteries, carbon capture and storage, high-efficiency, low-emissions coal-fired plants, large-scale solar, are all likely to feature going forward,” he said.

But, politically, Frydenberg’s task is to avoid becoming known as the minister for sky-high electricity prices.

Events in South Australia — where wholesale power prices have spiked, household electricity costs are the highest in the nation and industry is threatening to quit— provide a good opportunity for a reality check.

Wholesale prices are usually below $100 per megawatt hour but in South Australia they have repeatedly spiked past $10,000 and sometimes touching the $14,000 limit.

There are many reasons advanced for the unstable electricity situation in South Australia.

These include high demand for electricity and gas during a cold snap, restricted competition, limited interconnector capacity to the national grid and the high costs of transporting gas. The gas squeeze has been exacerbated by fierce objections to coal-seam gas exploration in NSW and Victoria as the giant liquefied natural gas export projects in Queensland suck vast quantities of what used to be domestic supplies.

Clean Energy Council network specialist Tom Butler says the reasons for South Australia’s high power prices compared with the rest of the country remain the same as they were before a single wind turbine or solar panel was installed.

A briefing paper released by the Australian Conservation Foundation says renewable energy wrongly is being blamed.

“In fact the problem is not a failure of renewable energy; it is a failure of the national electricity market,” the ACF says. This may be true. But it is disingenuous to suggest renewable energy is not having a leading impact.

The Australian Energy Market Operator conducted a survey of why wholesale prices spiked during the same period last year.

An analysis of the findings by Frontier Economics says the common denominator was a low level of wind generation at the time.

“As has been long predicted, increasing penetration of wind, and its inherent intermittency, appears to be primarily responsible for the (price spike) events,” the Frontier Economics report says.

“While the events have coincided with relatively high demand conditions in South Australia and some minor restrictions on imports of electricity from Victoria, low wind production levels are the key common feature of every event.

“The market response at such times has been to offer higher-priced capacity to the market, leading to high prices, just as the National Electricity Market was designed to do under conditions of scarcity.”

The Frontier report says the level of wind and solar penetration in South Australia presents a fascinating natural experiment in the impact of intermittent generation on wholesale prices.

“Unfortunately, this test is anything but academic and the people of South Australia are increasingly likely to bear increased electricity costs as wind makes up a greater proportion of South Australian generation,” Frontier says.

“While policymakers may be tempted to act to force thermal and/or wind to behave uneconomically, the likely outcome means South Australian consumers will bear more costs.”

Fast forward 12 months and the same weather conditions have produced the same outcomes in the wholesale market, with higher prices to consumers starting to flow through as well.

In the meantime, Alinta Energy has been forced to close its two coal-fired power stations in South Australia early because their business model has been wrecked by the introduction of low-cost, subsidised wind generation into the wholesale market.

Renewable energy champions have always argued the so-called merit order effect, in which abundant cheap renewable energy suppresses the wholesale market, is a positive for consumers. But the evidence is that there are limits.

South Australia is being watched closely by traditional energy companies and renewable energy specialists worldwide as a test case for what happens when high levels of intermittent energy, such as wind and solar, are introduced into a system that is not fully covered by other sources of readily available power.

Elsewhere, such as Denmark, where there is a high percentage of wind power in a national market there is also access to sufficient baseload power from hydro, nuclear or coal from neighbouring countries available to cover the fluctuations.

In South Australia the backup from the Victorian interconnection is 23 per cent.

Modelling by Deloitte Access Economics suggests that by 2019 the interconnector will be importing all the Victorian electricity it can handle into South Australia for almost 23 hours a day. It does not leave much margin for error if things go wrong.

“The last few weeks in South Australia have been a perfect storm but it shows that we have to be very careful how we design markets and policies to decarbonise,’’ Australian Energy Council policy specialist Kieran Donoghue says.

This is the real challenge for Frydenberg in his new portfolio.

The ACF wants a national plan to manage the transition to clean energy. It says this plan should “deal with intermittent generation and energy security, appropriate interconnections, careful placement of renewable facilities to maximise flexibility, an orderly closure of coal-fired power plants and detailed strategies to help affected communities with the transition”.

“The benefits of renewable energy are numerous, but without national leadership and a national plan to transition our energy sector we are certain to see a rocky transition with more price fluctuations,” the ACF says.

Powerful South Australian senator Nick Xenophon has said he will support a Senate inquiry to examine the mix of renewable energy in Australia.

Australian energy ministers are due to meet soon to consider exact­ly these issues. But no one has yet put forward a credible plan of how this should be done or what the cost would be.

At best, there will be a Band-Aid solution to the immediate problems in South Australia.

Industry specialists say the Council of Australian Governments certainly will look at options for additional intercon­nectors to deepen ties between states in the national electricity market.

The cheapest option will be to expand the connection to Victoria, but that is unlikely to give South Australia the sort of diversity of supply it is seeking.

It is further complicated by Victoria’s own plans to lift renewables — through projects such as Dundonnell — and the desire of environment groups nationally that Victoria’s big baseload brown coal generators, which underpin the system, be forcibly retired as soon as possible.

Another option would be to connect to NSW or Tasmania.

The cost of a new interconnector is high, with estimates of up to $3.75 billion for a connection between NSW and South Australia. Experience shows costs can blow out by almost double.

Meanwhile, rapid advances in technology, particularly in battery storage and grid management, make it uncertain whether expensive interconnectors are the right solution for the long term.

South Australian Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis wants the ability to ship his state’s wind power to other states, something coal-fired generators in NSW and Queensland would resist.

The challenge is to stop what is happening in South Australia from occurring elsewhere as the amount of intermittent power is expanded nationally to meet the state-based and federal renewable energy targets.

Already, existing generators are arguing for greater payment for the ancillary services they provide to keep the electricity network stable.

Payments for standby reserve power and voltage regulation that cannot be provided by wind and solar would lessen the dependence of baseload plants on the spot electricity market.

But is this not a Band-Aid solution rather than long-term vision?

Central planning can be a slippery slope.

“It is important to be clearer that this transition is not costless,” Donoghue says.

“Instead of thinking that the wind and sun are free, it would be better to give a more realistic understanding of what the costs will be.”

The more governments mandate things such as the amount of renewable energy in the market, the likelier they are to find themselves having to also support remaining dispatchable generators.

“If they (governments) want to direct the transition they are going to be on the hook for all the infrastructure as well,” Donoghue says.

And under the pathways put forward by the ALP and Greens they are also going to be on the hook for the heavy social transition costs as well.

It remains uncertain what pathway Frydenberg intends to take.

In his Brookings Institution address in February, Frydenberg said it was clear the global energy supply dynamic was moving to lower emission energy sources.

He said country comparisons showed that lowering emissions from the energy sector could not be one-dimensional because countries were starting from different positions and faced different challenges.

“One such challenge will be the need to question traditional energy supply” and “such a discussion is currently taking place in South Australia”, he said.

He was talking about the South Australian royal commission into nuclear energy, which he said had “revived the discussion about the role nuclear power could play in a low carbon economy”.

“Given South Australia has 78 per cent of Australia’s uranium reserves and the stable geology to store high-level waste, this debate is shifting community attitudes and has some way to run,” he said.

The Environment and Energy Minister has a substantial challenge ahead.



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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