Tuesday, March 14, 2017
A men's fashion magazine reports on CPAC
Under the cheery heading: "It's the Golden Age of Climate Denial", "Esquire" has a long article that actually gives a fair bit of information about what climate skeptics are saying. But they report it in a sneering tone. They start out sneering about the claim that more CO2 is good for plants. That claim seems to have really caught the attention of the writer
Later we also read about the claim, however: "It's true as far as it goes, but it ignores the broader, complicated interactions that vegetation will face under a changing climate," said Jason Smerdon of Columbia's Earth Institute. "It ignores the fact that agriculture in the tropics, for instance, is much more sensitive to increased temperatures than to drought."
That is standard Warmist stuff but it is quite wrong. Both plant and animal life thrives most in the tropics. If ever you have lived there you would know. So a warm climate is good for plants, not bad.
Aside from goofishness like that, however, the article does quite a good job of covering skeptical thinking. It describes such thinking in a disbelieving way but the information is there. And there is no real refutation of skeptical claims either
On the Friday afternoon of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, inside the hulking Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, a pair of men besuited in various shades of olive and brown discussed how the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which they granted were up 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution) had led to a phenomenon called "global greening." Plants need CO2 to grow, they told a captivated audience of a couple dozen people, and when there's more of it, they grow faster, larger, and—since they need less water—in drier areas.
CPAC has long been a place for the outlandish and the absurd to make its way from the ideological bayou to the mainstream. This year, multiple seminars made the case that Actually, More CO2 in the Atmosphere Is Good. Because of increased CO2 levels, "the Earth is in a far better place today," Craig Idso of CO2Science and the board of directors of the CO2 Coalition told his interviewer, James Delingpole of Breitbart, in a seminar sponsored by the coalition. Most of those assembled nodded vigorously. Later, they showcased a satellite map demonstrating the increased surface area of plant life in recent years.
Taken by itself, the greening argument is solid enough. In fact, it does not contradict the scientific consensus on climate change, which holds that higher carbon dioxide levels lead to warmer temperatures and, in turn, among other things, to melting sea ice and rising sea levels. Both can be true at once. Except the CO2 Coalition's shtick is effectively a red herring; these guys also don't believe in man-made climate change.
"Temperatures have not risen very much, and most of the temperature rise is probably completely natural, and has nothing to do with increasing CO2," William Happer, the coalition's president, told me over the phone. "Industrialization probably played a small role, but I think it's very hard to tell how much." This directly contradicts the scientific consensus. Happer is a former Princeton physics professor who co-founded the group in 2015. Before that, he chaired the George Marshall Institute—dissolved around the same time of the CO2 Coalition's founding—and developed a reputation as one of the nation's premier climate skeptics. (GMI did not advocate for the benefits of CO2—it simply disputed man-made climate change.) He even testified at a Ted Cruz-speared congressional hearing on climate "dogma" in December 2015.
This is a golden moment for the skeptic movement. Two weeks after CPAC, the Trump administration's new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, appeared on CNBC's Squawk Box to explain his stance on climate change: "I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact," the former Oklahoma attorney general said. "So no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see." At his last gig, Pruitt initiated, signed onto, or filed briefs in 14 different lawsuits challenging the EPA's climate regulations. He once fielded a letter from one of Oklahoma's largest energy companies criticizing one of those regulations, which he tweaked a few words in, put his own letterhead on, and promptly sent to the EPA. Now he'll be in charge of regulating the environmental impact of the nation's energy companies.
So now that the fringe theorists are in charge, who is left for them to convince? "We're sleeping much better now," said Marc Morano, the executive director of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. Morano, a former aide to Senator James Inhofe—of snowball infamy—has for decades disputed the scientific consensus on climate change in various capacities. He denies that the Earth is warming, that we could know for sure humans are predominantly causing it, and that we could do anything about it even if we did. (It's important to cover your bases.) "We are grinning ear-to-ear, climate skeptics," Morano said. "We have a rational, scientific approach coming to Washington under the Trump administration."
Morano, who has a B.A. in political science from George Mason University, is more of a traditionalist climate skeptic: Happer's group takes a more proactive approach, but its message is still a distortion of the science.
"It's a misrepresentation of the basic fact that plants both on land and in the ocean need some CO2 to photosynthesize and grow," Robert Tripati, of UCLA's Institute of Environment and Sustainability, told me of "greening" via email. "Of course, these plants already have CO2, and scientists have developed lots of evidence that rapid accumulation of CO2 in both the atmosphere and ocean will generate a large number of negative effects that will be much more severe as a whole. The bad effects will outweigh the good."
"It's true as far as it goes, but it ignores the broader, complicated interactions that vegetation will face under a changing climate," said Jason Smerdon of Columbia's Earth Institute. "It ignores the fact that agriculture in the tropics, for instance, is much more sensitive to increased temperatures than to drought." He added that the insect pests that decimate some plant species also thrive in hotter conditions, when their larvae don't freeze in winter, citing the bark beetle infestation in the western United States. And then, of course, there's the fact that none of this addresses the other consequences of rising temperatures due to CO2, like rising sea levels.
At the CPAC seminar, that threat was dismissed out of hand. "Almost everything you read in the mainstream media, everything you learn in school, is wrong," said Idso, who has a PhD in geography from Arizona State. The mountains of peer-reviewed findings from hundreds of climate scientists from dozens of countries are just the product of "a multi-billion-dollar industry," they said gravely, funded by governments and groups like Greenpeace. At an earlier meeting sponsored by CO2Science—Idso was again in attendance—climate science was described as a "machine" that a "few small non-profits" like these are going up against.
Of course, some of the largest multinational corporations in the history of the world have spent decades disputing the effects of carbon dioxide production to protect vested interests.
ExxonMobil, for instance, first became aware of the threat in 1981, but spent 27 years funding denial of it. That climate science is the real big business, crushing the little guy whose work just happens to help the fossil fuel industry, is the kind of delusion that pervaded the seminars at CPAC, and that infects this movement generally.
In our conversations, both Happer and Morano said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who left his post as CEO of ExxonMobil to take the job, could be the biggest obstacle to their agenda in the White House. (That ExxonMobil has donated over half a million dollars to Morano's organization over the years doesn't seem to complicate things for him. Happer, whose organizations have also received funding from large fossil fuel companies and prominent conservative donor networks like the Bradley Foundation, described a "David and Goliath" scenario where the Sierra Club is Goliath.) Happer also identified ExxonMobil as an enemy of his movement. If you're keeping score at home, the former CEO of the world's fourth largest oil and gas corporation is now, in the estimation of some skeptics, the most prominent advocate for combatting climate change in the executive branch.
Back at the CPAC seminar, it was time to attack more recent findings that climate change leads to the acidification of our oceans. Idso and Delingpole ridiculed those as the left's latest excuse to keep funding climate research (something echoed by Morano, who characterized environmentalism as a series of trumped-up scare campaigns). Meanwhile, the seminar hosts spoke at length about the expanded range of Juniper trees and the use of CO2 in commercial greenhouses, in what amounts to just the newest iteration of a tried-and-true climate denial tactic: distraction and information deluge.
After all, these are already difficult concepts. If you can reroute the conversation, or bury them in enough information, most people will struggle to keep things in focus. The seminar was full of science-like objects, such as Idso's discussion of the "CO2 enrichment studies" his father conducted, that provided a veneer of authority. To bolster his argument that governments fund climate research to aggrandize their own power, he offered a deep observation:
"We are carbon-based life forms," he said knowingly, "If you control carbon, you control life."
"These are really simplistic, kind of awe-shucks arguments that just don't think through—or don't care to think through—all of the implications," says Smerdon, the researcher at Columbia, who says the new CO2-is-good routine may have sprung from new research that attempts to quantify the "CO2 fertilization effect" as part of climate change models. "Scientifically, you could have this discussion, but that isn't what these people are doing. They're grabbing one finding from the literature and presenting this hand-wavey argument that suits their ideological standpoint."
Nonetheless, this is their moment—whether they're in that camp, or whether they believe, as Morano claims, that climate science is manufactured as part of a U.N. conspiracy. From a more practical standpoint, Morano wants the Trump administration to overturn Obama-era executive orders like the Clean Power Plan, defund the United Nations climate panel, and to "Clexit" (or "climate exit") from the Paris Climate Accords. He also suggested, in glowing terms, that fellow traveler Happer may join the Trump administration as a "science czar." After that, Morano wants the president to "unleash" fracking, oil drilling, and coal production, the latter of which he somewhat agreed was no longer even competitive due to the rise of cheap natural gas.
Strange: a climate skeptic who isn't just interested in disputing the science, but who also openly advocates for more expansive use of fossil fuels, including economically inefficient ones. It's almost like these things are connected.
The crowd at CPAC, of course, was more than receptive. When it was time for questions, each audience member called on launched into not a question, or even a comment, but a diatribe. They were bursting to voice their frustration at the "climate alarmists" who were "indoctrinating" children in schools. They welcomed "greening" into their worldview like an old friend, but rarely referenced—much less inquired about—the specifics. This was new, valuable ammo in the fight against the academic scourge.
That's enough on its own, but CPAC is also now the right's premier forum for young people. One of the meetings was around 40 percent college-age or younger, and they were all soaking this up. As a seminar wrapped up, I went up to a young woman making her way out from one of the middle rows to see if all this was leaving a mark.
"I've never heard that argument before," said Sarah Olsen, a high school student from Bethesda, Maryland. "I took environmental sciences with a teacher who was very progressive, so I hadn't really heard a conservative idea about it. My first thought was that it doesn't necessarily disagree with it. It's not denying that it's happening. It's just a different, additional fact. Is CO2 good and bad? More good than bad? I feel like I want more evidence to strongly say one way or another."
Embarrassment: Greenpeace tries to close an already closed door
Activists are pressuring Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to recuse himself from approving the Keystone XL pipeline, even though the former Exxon CEO already promised to step away from the project.
The environmental group asked the Office of Government Ethics, the federal watchdog responsible for weeding out conflicts of interest in the executive branch, to clarify how the pipeline’s approval doesn’t conflict with the former ExxonMobil CEO’s oil interests. Tillerson has direct authority over Keystone’s approval process.
“The time is ripe for OGE to clarify exactly what those commitments mean in one of their first real tests and first real decisions Tillerson may take relating to his former employer,” Greenpeace wrote in a letter to the OGE.
“Secretary Tillerson decided in early February to recuse himself from TransCanada’s application for a presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline,” Mark Toner, acting Department Of State spokesman, said in a statement Thursday. He was referring to a Greenpeace-led campaign to force Tillerson to step away from the pipeline’s approval process.
He added: “He has not worked on that matter at the Department of State, and will play no role in the deliberations or ultimate resolution of TransCanada’s application.”
Greenpeace framed the flub in a different light, suggesting the White House’s statement confirming Tillerson’s decision was in response to pressure from activists.
“Rex Tillerson’s recusal from the Keystone Pipeline decision might have never been transparent to the public without people flooding the lines of the Office of Government Ethics today,” said Greenpeace Climate Campaign Specialist Diana Best.
Cleaning up the Clean Water Act
Sen. Mike Lee
In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to protect the “waters of the United States” by empowering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”
At first glance, this seems like a sensible, even commendable, piece of legislation. After all, who doesn’t want clean water?
But there’s a catch: What exactly are the “waters of the United States?” Rivers, streams, lakes, bays, and marshes obviously fit the bill. But what about a small creek that contains running water only a few months out of the year? Or a ditch beside the road that diverts runoff water after a big storm but is otherwise dry? Or what about a hole in your backyard that periodically collects a few inches of rainwater?
The answers to these questions are vital, because the EPA’s jurisdiction to enforce its strict permitting and polluting regulations extends only to what is officially considered “waters of the United States.” But you won’t find these answers in the Clean Water Act, because Congress wrote the law without defining “waters of the United States” or providing the EPA with any clear and precise standards to do so. This ambiguity in the law — and the immense discretion enjoyed by the EPA as a result — is problematic for two main reasons.
Putting Utahns in control of environmental conservation
First, by telling the EPA to regulate a thing without strictly defining what that thing is, Congress effectively gave the bureaucratic agency the power to make the law and to enforce it. You don’t need to be a cynic to see that such a concentration of power within a single government agency — especially one that is run by individuals who don’t have to stand for election and whose names the American people will never know — is a recipe for abuse and corruption.
Moreover, an executive agency that has the power to define something also has the power to redefine it, again and again. This is exactly what has happened with the Clean Water Act. Over the years, EPA regulators have interpreted — and repeatedly reinterpreted — the law to accommodate their ever-expanding conception of their own power. This process reached the point of absurdity under President Obama when the EPA issued a rule, commonly called the “Waters of the United States rule,” that expanded its reach so far that it claimed it could regulate a hole in someone’s backyard that fills with rainwater in the winter, even if it is situated miles away from a stream that leads into a river.
For left-wing environmental groups, the open-ended nature of the Clean Water Act has been a dream come true, providing endless opportunities to steadily expand the federal government’s control of public and private lands. But for many Americans — everyone from farmers and ranchers to ordinary homeowners — the EPA’s evolving definition of “waters of the United States” has been a nightmare. If you’re required to obtain a permit from the EPA in order to lawfully fill a hole in your backyard with dirt, and if the EPA has the power to fine you tens of thousands of dollars a day for building a pond on your farm, are your private-property rights not under attack?
Thankfully, this week, President Trump signed an executive order that requires the EPA to revise the Obama administration’s rule according to the standard set forth by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In Rapanos v. U.S., Justice Scalia proposed defining “waters of the United States” to mean “only relatively permanent, standing or flowing bodies of water” not including “channels through which water flows intermittently or ephemerally, or channels that periodically provide drainage for rainfall.”
President Trump’s executive order is a tremendous first step toward bring clarity and commonsense to the Clean Water Act.
But ultimately, this is a mess that only Congress can fix, which is why I will continue to try to advance legislative reforms, like those offered by Sens. Barrasso and Paul, that will prevent the EPA from abusing its powers, while ensuring the agency still has the tools and resources it needs to help maintain a clean and healthy water supply in the United States.
Media Freaks Out Over Something The EPA Chief Has Been Saying A Long Time
Media outlets are feverishly reporting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s remarks that carbon dioxide is not the primary driver of global warming.
Environmentalists are calling for Pruitt to resign over the comments, arguing he “misled Congress” about his beliefs in global warming. Democratic senators have chastised Pruitt for his “ignorant display.”
But Pruitt’s comments to CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” which have outraged many on the left, are no different than what he’s been saying for a long time.
“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt told CNBC Thursday.
German Minister Announces End Of Unilateral Climate Targets
“I am not the most weighty, but the most heavy minister in the Cabinet,” the Minister of the Chancellery, Peter Altmaier, said last Friday at an event in the Hotel Adlon: “I have lost weight, but the gap with others was so great that my leadership was not at risk.”
As usual, Altmaier’s ironic treatment of his diet ensured cheerfulness among his listeners. Soon afterwards, however, the relaxed atmosphere in the Berlin Grand Hall turned into excitement.
For the federal Minister for Special Responsibilities promised the assembled business leaders and managers to fulfill a long-cherished wish: Germany’s expensive go-it-alone climatic policies could soon be over for good.
“I am firmly convinced that the path of national climate targets is wrong,” Altmaier told the participants of the exclusive “Convention on Energy and Climate Policy” organised by the economic council of the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU). Although it is “difficult to cancel existing goals,” Altmaier said, in future “European and international targets” would be required.
Altmaier’s words sparked the first thunderous applause of the day — for a good reason: The Federal Government had always played the role of model pupil and “pioneer” in climate policy. For example, when the EU decided to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020, Germany decided to reduce its emissions by 40 percent. When Europe set itself a green energy target of 20 percent, Berlin had to surpass immediately with a national 35 percent target.
Expensive go-it-alone policies of this kind were not only received badly by German industry given that increasing energy prices and green regulations threaten its competitiveness. Environmental economists also criticised again and again that national unilateralism would not save any extra CO2 under the umbrella of the EU’s emissions trading scheme.
Even before the UN Climate Conference in Paris at the end of 2015, Germany’s unilateral ambitions had led to controversial discussions. The federal government had argued that it wanted to encourage other nations to follow its lead by adopting equally ambitious CO2 targets. Critics argued that Germany undermined a coherent EU position at the UN Climate Summit, preventing the EU from speaking “with one voice.”
At the meeting of the CDU Economic Council in Berlin, Altmaier — just as EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete had done before – aregued for a “level playing field” in Europe, i.e. cross-country rules for investments in energy efficiency and climate targets.
Bursting with anger, Alexander Cerbe, the chairman of Cologne’s utilities company Rheinenergie retorted: If the same investment conditions were so important for EU climate policy, why did Germany always go much further than the rest, Cerbe wanted to know. “You are quite right,” the federal minister replied to everyone’s surprise: He too considered unilateral goals as “the wrong approach.”
Altmaier’s position concurs with the new energy policy “Energy lab 2030″, developed by the CDU’s Economic Council over several months with the assistance of numerous expert committees and presented at their Congress on Friday. “Unilateral national targets for climate protection are counterproductive and should therefore be abandoned,” it says.
Objectives are over-ambitious
The fact that the federal government now seems intend to pursue only targets that are uniform throughout the EU may be due to the gradual realisation that Germany has adopted over-ambitious targets that cannot be achieved.
In its “Energy Concept 2010″, the federal government had decided to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent by 2020, twice as much as the rest of Europe. The phasing out of non-CO2-emitting nuclear power plants did not seem to contradict these ambitions.
However, the climate target now proves to be over-ambitious. Among experts, it is certain that the federal government will clearly miss the promise of a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by the end of the decade.
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Posted by JR at 1:42 AM