Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Proprietor of far-left Australian webzine "New Matilda" echoes Trump
Chris Graham is proprietor of a far-left Australian webzine called "new Matilda" with rather shaky finances but he seems to be far more rational than most Leftists. He defends coal below and hints that nuclear power may be the best of all. Beat that! He seems to be on the same page as Trump when it comes to the electricity supply so it's a wonder he can stand the embarrassment.
His main concerns in fact seem to be Aboriginal welfare and Palestinians. He publishes some pretty one-eyed stuff on those topics. The Aboriginal stuff probably bores most of his readers. The Australian Left mostly regards the Aboriginal problem as "too hard", which it is. Compare the Canadian "first nations" problem or the native American problem. But Palestinians are red meat to Leftists so that probably keeps Chris's ship afloat
Naomi Klein: Definitely of the left and a powerful advocate for the oppressed; at least when they have two legs and an upright stance. Her first book, No Logo, was a powerful polemic against the branding and bullshit of the modern corporate culture.
Klein is now getting heavily involved in climate change politics, writing one of her characteristically large books on the topic a few years back: This changes everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate.
Here’s a shorter taste of Klein in full flight. It’s an essay adapted from her 2016 Edward Said London Lecture. The essay’s central theme is how Said, a Palestinian born Professor of Literature, thought of environmentalism as a bourgeois playground and missed what Klein thinks is the powerful connection between environmental destruction and oppression.
I think she’s a bit rough on Said; he died in 2003, well before many non-scientists realised the deep gravity of climate destabilisation. The penny hadn’t dropped then with Tim Flannery, for example; or I think, Klein herself. It was 2004 before the penny started falling with me.
But even if Said had realised the seriousness of climate destabilisation, would he have agreed with Klein on the connection between oppression and trashing the climate? Perhaps Klein’s connection is simply the result of moving outside her area of expertise. Science changes everything.
Klein is used to identifying protagonists and telling their stories with events and anecdotes. Science is about numbers, evidence and carefully constructed arguments. Klein’s not comfortable with any of the three.
For example, Klein wants to assert that our fossil fuel problems are the result of our othering of miners and Indigenous peoples. Meaning that we treat them as less than human to justify their exploitation.
Did coal and oil mines displace Indigenous people? Certainly, but were they the biggest driving force or simply a minor footnote in a much more general process?
It’s easy enough to check. I’ll illustrate with some Australian numbers, but they illustrate general principles. We crop about 20 million hectares in Australia and graze another 70 million hectares of improved pasture. Cattle and sheep also graze another 330 million hectares of natural vegetation.
Keep in mind that the entire area of Australia is about 770 million hectares. We also have a couple of million hectares of plantation forests. And our mines? All up, not just coal, they occupy a few tens of thousands of hectares and much of that isn’t the prime area with surface disturbance. So… which activities have done most to dispossess Indigenous people? Mines of any description, or cropping or grazing?
The ratios are similar the world over. Mines are tiny, cropping is big and grazing is huge. Indigenous people have been dispossessed by the sheer weight of numbers of non-Indigenous people and the fact that the latter all eat; with the biggest dispossessors being those who indirectly appropriate the most land… meaning meat eaters… which probably includes both Klein and Said (as far as I can make out).
Now think about the other part of her claim. Coal mining is definitely a filthy business, but a damn site healthier than what it replaced… chopping and burning wood. And what did they use to light the lamps of Europe before oil?
They used whale oil.
Perhaps Klein would like us to return to men in little boats throwing sharp pointy things at whales, but I’d rather drill holes in the ground. And wood isn’t dead yet. Some 3 billion people still cook with solid fuels; mostly wood, but also cow dung or charcoal or even coal itself.
Wood smoke indoors shortens lives and kills children. The death toll from household air pollution is about 4.3 million people a year; and the suffering on top of that is immense. The upside of a coal industry, particularly when it became used to generate electricity, is that by replacing wood, a large number of people benefitted from the toil of a few.
The other great thing about coal mining is that it’s a big compact centralised industry; which means it’s easier to regulate. Think about the difference between a textile factory with a union and regulation compared to people working at home. Highly distributed industries are tough to regulate. Globally between 1990 and 2013, coal production trebled, but deaths from black lung dropped from 29,000 to 25,000.
Black lung is the common name for CWP (Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis). It’s the biggest killer of coal miners and is caused by breathing coal dust. But when you mine coal from big open cut holes while sitting in massive air-conditioned machines, the problem can be eliminated; and the pay is better than many other jobs. But it does take good unions and continued vigilance.
There were 6 cases of CWP in Queensland between May 2015 and February 2016 which prompted calls for action in the Medical Journal of Australia. Science changes everything.
Klein can point to coal mining abuses in various parts of the world, but ignores the benefits of coal over what went before. I don’t know of any studies on how many lives coal has saved in replacing wood, but there are studies on the numbers of premature deaths nuclear power has prevented in replacing coal… about 1.8 million. The number of lives coal has saved by replacing wood would be far greater.
Klein is so closely focused on oppression by big business that she missed the much bigger cause of Indigenous displacement and thus all the subsequent domino progression of problems. She misses that large industries can be regulated and improved and that in many countries that’s exactly what has happened.
Similarly, when she talks about health, she is so focused on laying out her argument that she doesn’t bother to check the facts. Consider:
“Turning all that coal into electricity required another layer of othering too: this time for the urban neighbourhoods next door to the power plants and refineries. In North America, these are overwhelmingly communities of colour, black and Latino, forced to carry the toxic burden of our collective addiction to fossil fuels, with markedly higher rates of respiratory illnesses and cancers.”
Where’s the proof? For females in the US, whites have a higher rate of cancer than blacks, with Latino’s significantly lower again and American and Alaskan native Indians lower still! For men, blacks have the highest cancer rates, with whites a little lower and again Latinos and American and Alaskan native Indians lower again.
There may be pockets around power plants where rates are a little different but where’s the data?
As for respiratory diseases, the biggest most serious of these is COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and yes, rates of COPD are higher for non-whites. But what’s the problem, is it mining?
Here’s what a major 2013 US study says: “Because smoking is the dominant risk factor for COPD and contributed to about 80% of COPD deaths in 2000 to 2004 much of this disease is potentially preventable.”
With regard to cancer, Klein makes the same mistake made over many decades by the anti-nuclear movement. They seized on the fact that radiation can cause cancer and entirely ignored more recent findings that radiation is a much weaker cause of cancer than lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, red and processed meat, and being fat and inactive.
Climate science is a little different from some sciences in its emphasis on ranking causes. Plenty of science is focused on tiny details but the climate gurus have to look at a vast array of quite different problems and try to rank them.
Klein cites a paper by Hansen on sea level rise; but when she starts discussing climate science she begins with a faux pas.
“Fossil fuels aren’t the sole driver of climate change – there is industrial agriculture, and deforestation – but they are the biggest.”
Industrial agriculture is a very misleading description of a major part of the climate problem. A more accurate description would be simply “methane from sheep and cattle”.
The 1.4 billion cattle on the planet are unprecedented and have driven a considerable component of the deforestation as well as emitting large amounts of methane as they digest their feed. And what about the “industrial” adjective? Cattle in feedlots generate less methane than cattle eating grass. Industrial methods of animal production are horrid for the animals but far less bad for the climate.
Klein assumes that the cause of the dominance of fossil fuels in our energy supply is otherness, oppression and racism. But I’d rank ignorance very high up on the list of reasons. Klein’s shorter essay illustrates her ignorance about cancer and other health issues and this ignorance very clearly misinforms her narrative.
If you want to take part in charting a course to reduce climate destabilisation, then sympathy with the oppressed isn’t enough. Klein’s essay ignores nuclear power and the obvious role of the anti-nuclear movement in the dominance of fossil fuels.
We could have gotten rid of the fossil fuel industry decades ago, back when climate change was first recognised as a serious issue by the world’s climate scientists; the 1990s. But we didn’t.
The fossil fuel industries thrived because they had no competition and were far better than wood. They were safer, cleaner, and yes, even healthier. They thrive today because people like Klein look at nuclear power without bothering to compare its health and safety record with anything else. Not coal, not wood, not anything.
They just say “Oh gosh, this is scary, radiation can damage your genes and nuclear plants are … well … just plain big and built by big companies!”
As it happens food is also energy and it has an environmental impact and it also damages your genes; meaning that some foods and some diets can cause cancer. Foods can shred DNA … quite literally … causing single and double strand breaks; just like radiation; only they are far more potent.
But ignorance about the big causes of cancer meant that fear of the little causes proliferated in a knowledge vacuum, and any nuclear project was hit by demonstrations and legal challenges and a rolling barrage of increasingly bizarre safety requirements.
So the big energy companies said, “Gosh nuclear is hard, let’s just keep on with coal”. And everybody relaxed and got on with building bigger houses and writing bigger books and going on more holidays and generally having a real nice time. Even the coal miners.
London is not bound in toxic smog
The scaremongering about air pollution is blighting innovation in the capital.
Earlier this month, a spate of news stories suggested that London was experiencing an air-pollution crisis. Just one week into 2017, for instance, the Guardian reported that ‘Brixton Road in Lambeth has already broken legal limits for toxic air for the entire year’.
Funnily enough, this same story was published by the Guardian in January 2016, and by the Evening Standard in January 2015. And beyond the headlines, bad science and stats-abuse abound.
According to the scaremongers, the main pollution problem is nitrogen dioxide, or NO2. NO2 is produced by all vehicles but especially those using diesel engines, which produce four times as much NO2 as petrol engines. The great irony here is that green lobbyists encouraged the use of diesel engines and public transport, which is largely diesel powered, because they believed diesel to be less polluting than petrol. So if there is a major cause of NO2 pollution in London, blame the iconic double-decker bus and hackney carriage.
The consequence of air pollution, campaigners argue, is nearly 6,000 premature deaths in London every year. In a city of nearly 8.5million people, that is indeed a shocking figure. But the claim that almost one in 1,000 people is dying as a result of London’s poor air quality is not as straightforward as campaigners suggest.
A 2004 study estimated that London’s 1952 ‘pea soup’ smog had directly caused as many as 12,000 deaths that winter, and left tens of thousands incapacitated by respiratory diseases. The evident scale of the problem at the time prompted the government to draw up the Clean Air Act, which regulated the use of coal. As a result, London’s air is cleaner today than it has been for centuries.
Today, the tool used to detect the current effect of air pollution on public health is not a mortality rate; it’s a statistical model. And such models are highly sensitive to assumptions. The report, from which the current scare stories spring, was produced, and updated in 2015, by researchers at King’s College London, and commissioned by Transport for London and the Greater London Authority. It acknowledges ‘uncertainty in the evidence’, and warns that ‘figures are considered approximate and need to be used with care’. But these cautions have been quickly forgotten in the search for dramatic headlines.
The researchers claim that, should their recommendations be followed, four million life years will be gained by Londoners over 105 years from 2010, whereas, if no action is taken, 13million life years will be lost by Londoners in that time. Such astronomic figures sound dramatic, but the net benefit per Londoner of any intervention is to extend his or her life by hours, rather than years. The report even admits that the difference their recommendations will make to the lifespan people alive today may be less than a week! But don’t expect the Guardian to let that temper its hysterical headlines.
Furthermore, despite London’s much-hyped urban air pollution, the average Londoner born in 2013 has a better chance of living longer than someone of the same age living elsewhere in England. Life expectancy at birth for Londoners is 80 (male) and 84.1 (female), versus 79.3 (male) and 83 (female) nationally.
Plugging estimates of impact and risk into statistical models only creates superficially plausible arguments for action. The obsession with air pollution speaks to the extremely limited debate about the future of London – and the UK – which has for too long been dominated by quangos, NGOs and academics, vying for attention with scare stories underpinned by intangible benefits and opaque statistical methodologies. A better future won’t emerge from this stale network of misanthropic campaigners and miserable green hacks. After all, this was the same contingent that ordered us out of our cars and on to diesel-spewing buses in the first place.
The outcome of this scaremongering is always regulation. The Guardian reports that ‘by law, hourly levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide must not be more than 200 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) more than 18 times in a whole year’. But these limits are arbitrary, and do not permit, much less take account of, London’s climate, geography and history. In short, the record of certain locations in London exceeding these limits does not give a meaningful picture of London’s environmental health.
The legal NO2 limits are being exceeded because London is low-lying and mostly flat. Its main routes are narrow, winding and seemingly chaotic, and were planned long before the invention of the automobile. This is confirmed by a look at the data produced by air-quality monitoring stations located at kerbsides. What they show, as the graph for Brixton Road below indicates, is that the amount of NO2 in the air varies dramatically day to day, week to week, and minute to minute, as a consequence of many factors. Regulating any form of vehicle out of the equation might make as much sense as banning the people, the layout of the road, or the wintery conditions that contribute equally to the excess NO2 in the air.
Just up the A23, at Streatham Green, a very different picture of London’s air emerges to that provided by Brixton Road (note the difference of scale on the Y-axis below).
What this comparison shows is that NO2 is a highly localised problem, the extent of which cannot be understood by kerbside monitoring. Monitoring stations might just as well be located on the exhaust pipes of buses – as indeed they sometimes are.
The situation in Streatham Green is far less dynamic than on Brixton Road. This shows that even if atmospheric NO2 is a problem, it is a problem that Londoners with particular health vulnerabilities can easily escape – it is as simple as being in a different area, or not being on the high street, at busy times of the day. This may be cold comfort for people with asthma or respiratory problems, but it does show that London is far from being trapped under a layer of toxic smog.
Environmental and public-health campaigners, academics and journalists have their own agendas, which means their claims should not be taken at face value. No doubt London will continue to face interrelated public-health and transport problems. But we should respond to these problems with a vision of better future, not panic over faked statistics that, if acted on, might rob London of its vitality.
Even this climate-change-denying, fossil-fuel-loving petrol-head hopes that by 2115, a better alternative to the fossil-fuel-powered engine and London’s narrow streets will have been developed. As well as cleaner air, why not look at how we can improve travel so that it takes less than two hours to travel across the city? Sadly, such innovations will not emerge from public-health quangos, university departments and their bullshit statistical models.
GOP targets landmark Endangered Species Act for big changes
In control of Congress and soon the White House, Republicans are readying plans to roll back the influence of the Endangered Species Act, one of the government's most powerful conservation tools, after decades of complaints that it hinders drilling, logging, and other activities.
Over the past eight years, GOP lawmakers sponsored dozens of measures aimed at curtailing the landmark law or putting species such as gray wolves and sage grouse out of its reach. Almost all were blocked by Democrats and the White House or lawsuits from environmentalists.
Now, with the ascension of President-elect Donald Trump, Republicans see an opportunity to advance broad changes to a law they contend has been exploited by wildlife advocates to block economic development.
"It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species. It's been used for control of the land," said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop. "We've missed the entire purpose of the Endangered Species Act. It has been hijacked."
Bishop said he "would love to invalidate" the law and would need other lawmakers' cooperation.
The 1973 act was ushered though Congress nearly unanimously, in part to stave off extinction of the national symbol, the bald eagle. Eagle populations have since rebounded, and the birds were taken off the threatened and endangered list in 2007.
In the eagles' place, another emblematic species - the wolf - has emerged as a prime example of what critics say is wrong with the current law: seemingly endless litigation that offers federal protection for species long after government biologists conclude that they have recovered.
Wolf attacks on livestock have provoked hostility against the law, which keeps the animals off-limits to hunting in most states. Other species have attracted similar ire - Canada lynx for halting logging projects, the lesser prairie chicken for impeding oil and gas development, and salmon for blocking efforts to reallocate water in California.
Reforms proposed by Republicans include placing limits on lawsuits that have been used to maintain protections for some species and force decisions on others, as well as adopting a cap on how many species can be protected and giving states a greater say in the process.
Wildlife advocates are bracing for changes that could make it harder to add species to the protected list and to usher them through to recovery. Dozens are due for decisions this year, including the Pacific walrus and the North American wolverine, two victims of potential habitat loss due to climate change.
"Any species that gets in the way of a congressional initiative or some kind of development will be clearly at risk," said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife and a former Fish and Wildlife Service director under President Bill Clinton. "The political lineup is as unfavorable to the Endangered Species Act as I can remember."
More than 1,600 plants and animals in the US are now shielded by the law. Hundreds more are under consideration for protections. Republicans complain that fewer than 70 have recovered and had protections lifted.
"That tension just continues to expand," said Jason Shogren, professor of natural resource conservation at the University of Wyoming. "Like a pressure cooker, every now and then, you've got to let out some steam or it's really going to blow."
Congress reconvened last week with two critics of the law holding key Senate leadership positions - Wyoming Senator John Barrasso as the incoming chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski as chairwoman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Spokesman Mike Danylak said Barrasso will seek to "strengthen and modernize" the management of endangered species but offered no specifics.
Barrasso's predecessor, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, suggested in an interview that one species should be removed from the list every time another is added. Another Republican, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, said he wants to limit applications for protections to one species at a time.
Trump's position is unclear. A strong advocate for energy development, he has lamented environmental policies he says hinder drilling. But his appointment of Montana Representative Ryan Zinke as Interior secretary was seen by some conservationists as a signal that Trump will support protections for public lands to the benefit of fish and wildlife.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it isn't allowed to repay damage claims filed against it following a 2015 mine waste spill in Colorado
In a statement, the agency said it consulted with the Justice Department on the question of the claims, which total more than $1.2 billion.
Attorneys determined that the EPA cannot pay for damages because of a legal principle called sovereign immunity, which prohibits lawsuits against the government.
The agency said individuals and businesses who filed claims against the agency can appeal Friday's decision in federal court.
"[The law] does not authorize federal agencies to pay claims resulting from government actions that are discretionary - that is, acts of a governmental nature or function and that involve the exercise of judgment," the agency said in a statement.
"The circumstances surrounding the Gold King Mine incident unfortunately do not meet the conditions necessary to pay claims."
According to The Denver Post, the EPA fielded at least 73 claims totaling $1.2 billion following the August 2015 incident in which a team of agency contractors triggered a waste spill while assessing the condition of the shuttered Gold King Mine. The spill sent 3 million gallons of toxic sludge into Colorado's Animas River.
Conditions in the region have since returned to normal. Even so, the spill incensed local landowners, farmers, tourism officials and tribes, who filed for damages against the agency.
In a separate report released on Friday, the EPA listed 10 steps it could take to bolster its response efforts following incidents like the mine waste spill, including establishing a formal response team and developing new emergency training methods.
Australian push: ‘Dump CO2 target when America walks away from Paris agreement’
A growing number of government MPs, including some on Malcolm Turnbull’s front bench, say Australia should dump the Renewable Energy Target and its carbon emissions reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement if Donald Trump walks away from the deal.
Conservative MPs have told The Australian they believe there is no point in remaining committed to the Paris accord without the US locked into action on climate change, a phenomenon the new President has previously labelled a Chinese “hoax”.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott and South Australian senator Cory Bernardi have both publicly argued for the scrapping of renewable energy targets, saying that would allow the government to campaign more forcefully against Labor on energy policy.
One conservative MP said the view was “getting a lot of traction very quickly”, while another said that opinion was already “widespread” within the Coalition partyroom.
The push comes as many MPs express frustration that the government has made little political mileage out of Labor’s policy to lift the renewable target to 50 per cent by 2030, believing it is a hot-button cost-of-living issue that should dominate the political debate in the lead-up to the next election.
The government has committed to reducing its emissions by 26 to 28 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030. “I think when Trump walks away from the Paris agreement that will be the perfect opportunity to follow,” one MP said.
“We would grandfather any existing investments that have been made under the current scheme, but for new investment, it has got to be economic, it has got to stand on its own two feet.”
But MPs said Mr Abbott’s opinion piece published in The Weekend Australian this month advocating a shift in policy was “not helpful”, saying it would make it more difficult to convince the Prime Minister of the merits of the political strategy.
Another said that regardless of the RET target, the government would seek to incentivise the building of new coal-fired power stations, in a move aimed at wedging Labor on job creation and cost-of-living pressures linked to the new investment.
“There was a lot of absolute dismay that we didn’t actually campaign on Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target, because it would impact household budgets and small business and we wouldn’t have had to run a scare campaign on that, it would have been an actual factual campaign,” one MP said.
“Let’s see what Donald Trump does, but it stands to reason that we should not be trying to lead the world on this and if other countries are not going to be playing their part, whether it is right, wrong or indifferent, if we try to sacrifice our economy and household budgets to make no environmental difference we would be doing not only ourselves a great disservice but also the environment.”
But that view is not shared by cabinet, which believes any change to the renewable target would create more policy uncertainty and discourage investment. Several senior conservative MPs said there would be no change in position by the Turnbull government, and warned that doing so could create sovereign risk.
They also argued that it would not get through the Senate, and so there was no point advocating the position which could potentially act like a carbon tax given the impact on power prices without new investment.
Another conservative MP said that the RET should be maintained, but other policy levers used to incentivise the next generation of coal-fired power stations to generate more domestic electricity.
Resources Minister Matt Canavan said last week that new “ultra-supercritical” coal-fired power stations could be used in Australia to generate electricity with a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions.
The parameters of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation could also potentially be changed to allow for low emissions coal technology. Following Mr Abbott’s call to abolish future renewable targets, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the government had no plans to change the policy which was settled only 18 months ago, providing investor certainty.
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Posted by JR at 1:36 AM