Thursday, February 22, 2018

Governments are poor guardians of the environmemt

Governments too often ignore data, and fail badly. Citizens must take more responsibility

Justhy Deva Prasad

A primary reason governments exist is to protect their citizens from dangerous threats - foreign, domestic and natural. People can play important roles in this arena, but most lack the resources, funds, legal authority or political power to act on their own.

In recent years, government roles have become even more dominant and pervasive. On environmental or other grounds, federal, state and even local bodies have steadily taken responsibilities from the private sector, and even prohibited citizens from taking steps to protect their lives and property, such as constructing seawalls to block storm surges or thinning out trees to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Under these circumstances, it is essential that governments do their jobs right: by implementing informed policies, gathering and utilizing data about potential risks, making wise decisions in time to safeguard property and lives, and not letting special interests delay or obstruct those decisions.

Modern technologies greatly facilitate all these tasks, if they are employed properly. They make existing data readily available, and make it easy and affordable to acquire vital missing information. However, governments have too frequently failed in these obligations, often spectacularly.

These examples are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and a call for governments to do much better.

Fukushima. Everyone - legislators, regulators, utilities and citizens - knows Japan is in an earthquake and tsunami zone. And yet they permitted insufficient seawalls around nuclear power plants and, even worse, emergency generators in basements, where they would be flooded and rendered inoperable. The resultant reactor meltdowns, power outages and radiation contamination were certainly predictable.

Why didn't Japanese government officials utilize readily available data to prevent this catastrophe?

Superstorm Sandy. City planners, leaders and builders had ample data about previous storms. They knew a direct hurricane hit would have devastating consequences for the New York City region. Yet they narrowed rivers, so that storm surges could go in only one direction: up. They required backup electrical generators, but put them in basements, where they would be flooded and rendered inoperable.

They provided no indicators along streets to show how high waters would rise with specified storm surges, leaving citizens unaware of the dangers they faced. Their warnings were late, inadequate and misleading. People did not evacuate or move treasured belongings in time. Over one hundred died.

After hundreds of U.S. hurricanes, how could governments here and elsewhere be so derelict?

California wildfires. The Golden State has battled droughts, high winds and wildfires for 150 years. But in recent decades, it has succumbed to environmentalist pressure not to thin out forests or allow private communities to remove brush and dead trees, even as more and more homes have been built in or near forested areas, and even as massive conflagrations devastated homes, businesses and wildlife habitats.

The U.S. Forest Service says California has 129 million dead trees, mostly from droughts and pine bark beetles - perfect tinder for enormous fires. Governments even permit or require (or let homeowner associations do so) cedar shake roofs and other flammable materials for homes in fire-prone areas.

They have failed to stockpile sufficient water and fire suppressants or have sufficient aircraft; they have even decreed that fires can be battled only if started by humans, but not by lightning (as if that can be determined amid a conflagration). Again the results are totally predictable. Yet the policies continue.

The 2017 wildfires incinerated some 1.2 million acres of forest habitat - as much land as in Delaware - destroyed 8,400 homes, forced hundreds of thousands to evacuate, often at a moment's notice, with the clothes on their backs, threatened cities like Beverly Hills, cost billions in damages, and killed 43 people. Rain-soaked, barren hillsides then unleash mudslides that destroy more property and kill more people.

Oroville Dam. The tallest dam in the United States, this now 50-year-old dam employs a concrete spillway and a backup earthen spillway to discharge excess water buildup during rainy periods, so that the dam doesn't fail. In 2005, environmental groups raised concerns that the spillways could erode during heavy winter rains and cause massive downstream flooding - and deaths. Federal and state officials rejected their advice, saying everything was fine. Tests for concrete cracking apparently were never done.

Inspectors could have used side scanning radar to detect cavities beneath the concrete, but instead relied on occasional visual inspections from a distance. The last such state inspection was in 2015. Amid historic storms in late 2017, the concrete spillway collapsed into a large, undetected cavern beneath it. Officials ordered 188,000 people living in communities below the dam to evacuate. Luckily no one died.

Rarely, if ever, are the responsible, incompetent, malfeasant, derelict authorities singled out, punished, fined, fired, or even reprimanded or identified publicly when governments fail so spectacularly.

Rarely, if ever, do governments offer compensation to affected families, business owners and employees for lost paychecks, gross inconveniences . or even the total loss of businesses, inventories, homes, cars, precious and irreplaceable keepsakes, life savings, livelihoods, or very lives - as though many of those losses could ever really be compensated. Anything not covered by insurance is just gone.

Except in the case of Fukushima, government officials tried to deflect blame for the above failures by saying the disasters were cause or worsened by "climate change." It's an absurd, indefensible excuse.

Separating human from natural factors in changing weather and climate is impossible. Far more relevant and important, neither human nor natural climate or weather changes can excuse government officials from failing to acquire and analyze readily available or obtainable data - and then failing to use that information to develop sound policies, laws and regulations, and make timely, informed decisions that safeguard people's property and lives.

Climate change does not prevent or outlaw thinning out forests, putting emergency generators above likely flood levels, inspecting and maintaining spillways, or taking other steps to minimize disasters. Neither do other excuses often offered up by government officials to absolve their action or inaction.

Legislators, regulators and judges cannot escape accountability by claiming their hands were tied by environmental, builder, business or other groups that did not want government officials to disrupt their accustomed ways of doing things. They cannot escape their own culpability by saying California, New York, the United States and other countries worldwide should spend tens of trillions of dollars attempting to control Earth's climate - but then fail to spend mere millions on practical steps that would prevent cataclysmic losses from fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes and other natural disasters.

They cannot say, "We take full responsibility" for missteps - when they rarely or never do so.

There are billions of people on our planet. Hundreds of millions live along seacoasts, next to forests or in other areas threatened by recurrent natural horrors.

Modern data technologies enable governments to formulate policies and rules that can predict many natural disasters, and prevent or minimize their worst consequences. Other modern technologies enable government officials, citizen groups, businesses and families to build disaster-resistant structures that can save property and lives. But those technologies are worthless if they are not used.

What can be done? Legislators, regulators, judges and even special interest groups should utilize data to develop and implement more informed, responsible laws and policies - that put people first instead of last (or dead last). Insurance companies and homeowner associations should assess threats and take commonsense steps to minimize them. Citizens should elect better representatives - or failing that, take personal steps within the law to better protect their property and families. It all starts with data.

Via email

Cars Remain Popular Because They Are Vastly Superior to Transit Alternatives

The Los Angeles Times has recently reported that public transit agencies "have watched their ridership numbers fall off a cliff over the last five years," with multi-year decreases in mass transit use by up to 25 percent. And a new UCLA Institute of Transportation study has found that increasing car ownership is the prime factor for the dive in usage.

As Homer Simpson would say, "Doh."

Southern California residents bought 4 times as many cars per person in the 15 years after the turn of the century, compared to the decade before. That substantial jump in automobile ownership caused the share of Southern California households without access to a car to fall by 30 percent, and 42 percent for immigrant households. As one of the study's authors, Michael Manville, put it "That exploding level of new automobile ownership is largely incompatible with a lot of transit ridership." In other words, once a household has access to a car, they almost universally prefer driving to mass transit.

This patronage plunge threatens transit agencies. Typical responses echo Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, who said, "We need to take this study as an opportunity to figure out how we make transit work better for us." In other words, we should ignore increasing access to automobiles and overwhelming revealed preferences for driving over mass transit, and find new ways to fill bus and train seats.

Many things are already in motion to solve transit agencies' problems. For instance, in 2015, Los Angeles began a 20-year plan to remove auto lanes for bus and protected bike lanes, as well as pedestrian enhancements, diverting transportation funds raised from drivers and heightening congestion for the vast majority who planners already know will continue to drive.

Such less than effective attempts to cut driving by creating gridlock purgatory suggest we ask a largely ignored question. Why do planners' attempts to force residents into walking, cycling and mass transit, supposedly improving their quality of life, attract so few away from driving?

The reason is simple-cars are vastly superior to alternatives for the vast majority of individuals and circumstances.

Automobiles have far greater and more flexible passenger- and cargo-carrying capacities than transit. They allow direct, point-to-point service, unlike transit. They allow self-scheduling rather than requiring advance planning. They save time, especially time spent waiting, which surveys find transit riders find far more onerous. They have far better multi-stop trip capability. They offer a safer, more comfortable, more controllable environment, from the seats to the temperature to the music to the company.

Those massive advantages explain why even substantial new restrictions on automobiles or improvements in alternatives leave driving the vastly dominant choice. They also reveal that policies which will punish the vast majority for whom driving remains far superior cannot effectively serve all residents' interests.

The superiority of automobiles doesn't stop at the obvious, either. They expand workers' access to jobs and educational opportunities, increase productivity and incomes, improve purchasing choices, lower consumer prices and widen social options. Trying to inconvenience people out of their cars also undermines those major benefits.

Cars' allow decreased commuting times if not hamstrung, providing workers access to far more potential jobs and training possibilities. That improves worker-employer matches, with expanded productivity raising workers' incomes as well as benefiting employers. One study found that 10 percent faster travel raised worker productivity by 3 percent, and increasing from 3 mph walking speed to 30 mph driving is a 900 percent increase. In a similar vein, a Harvard analysis found that for those lacking high-school diplomas, owning a car increased monthly earnings by $1,100.

Cars are also the only practical way to assemble enough widely dispersed potential customers to sustain large stores with affordable, diverse offerings. "Automobility" also sharply expands access to social opportunities.
In all, attempting to force people out of cars and onto transit recycles earlier failures and harms the vast majority of citizens.

As Randal O'Toole noted: "Anyone who prefers not to drive can find neighborhoods ... where they can walk to stores that offer a limited selection of high-priced goods, enjoy limited recreation and social opportunities, and take slow public transit vehicles to some but not all regional employment centers, the same as many Americans did in 1920. But the automobile provides people with far more benefits and opportunities than they could ever have without it."


Security Officials Recommended Pruitt Fly First Class

Media fail to mention high level of death threats against Pruitt and his family

A significant increase in death threats leveled at Scott Pruitt led to security officials to recommend the Environmental Protection Agency administrator fly first class.

Journalists and liberals have made light of security concerns, mocking Pruitt for following the recommendations from the head of his 24-hour security detail, which was required due to "unprecedented" threats.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Pruitt had spent $90,000 flying in first or business class. The article briefly notes records showing Pruitt does so for "security concerns," and that the regulations allow officials to fly first class under "exceptional security circumstances."

By Thursday, the Post reported the decision to fly first class was made by Pasquale Perrotta, the head of Pruitt's security detail. The security team said there are many reasons why flying first class is necessary for Pruitt's security, such as "the chance to make a quick exit if a situation arises."

Politico questioned the need to fly first class in an article Thursday that made no mention of the death threats against Pruitt and his family.

"Pruitt's security threat? A passenger shouting, `You're f-ing up the environment'" the headline reads.

Journalists and liberals seized on the story, mocking the example of the threatening environment faced by Pruitt, given by Henry Barnet, the director of the EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement. Barnet cited an incident at an airport where a liberal harassed Pruitt, recording him on a cell phone, while yelling, "You're f-ing up the environment."

Vanity Fair claimed Pruitt's "excuse" for flying first class is "whiny environmentalists."

"Apparently, individuals going up to the E.P.A. administrator and making completely factual statements was a bridge too far. It's not totally clear why the security team believes that only people flying coach think Pruitt is a prick who deserves to be told as much, but perhaps they'll address that at a later date," the fashion magazine wrote.

A reader had to come to the end of the Politico story to discover that the "threats are so prevalent" against Pruitt that his security detail has to perform a new threat assessment every 90 days.

"EPA instituted 24/7 protection for Pruitt last year, a step up from previous administrators who typically were guarded only when in public or traveling," the penultimate paragraph of the Politico story reads.

"Citing security concerns, EPA does not announce Pruitt's travel plans ahead of time, a departure from the habits of previous administrators who would often alert the media about upcoming trips, particularly overseas," the article concludes. "Barnet said that scheduling announcements are not a decision made by the security detail."

The article fails to mention the number of death threats Pruitt and his family have received.

"He has had significantly more threats directed against him," said Patrick Sullivan, the EPA's assistant inspector general for investigations. "There's absolutely no question about it."

Pruitt told Bloomberg News last year that his family was also being targeted, and security officials said the administrator had received threatening letters and packages delivered to his home.

"The quantity and the volume-as well as the type-of threats are different," Pruitt said. "What's really disappointing to me is it's not just me-it's family."

Pruitt recently said he does not make the security decisions but blamed a "toxic" political environment.

For instance, the FBI had to open an investigation after a drunk viewer watching MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show threatened to kill Pruitt and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). A San Francisco columnist justified the increased number of death threats against Pruitt last fall, saying the threats "make a warped sort of sense."

Pruitt has received up to five times the amount of threats than his predecessor Gina McCarthy, Sullivan has said. The inspector general opened 70 threat investigations in 2017, nearly double the amount during the previous year.

Pruitt has received direct threats, such as, "I'm going to put a bullet in your brain."


WESTERN Nations, Driven By A Global Agenda Of Climate Alarmism, Are Destroying Their Industries With Carbon Taxes And Promotion Of Expensive, Intermittent Green Energy

ANTHROPOGENIC "climate change", and the control of carbon dioxide (energy) has deep roots in a radical, yet gravely misguided campaign to reduce the world's population.

GLOBAL warming aka climate change has little to do with the "environment" or "saving the planet". Rather, its roots lie in a misanthropic agenda engineered by the environmental movement in the mid 1970's, who realised that doing something about "global warming" would play to quite a number of the Lefts social agendas.

THE goal was advanced, most notably, by The Club Of Rome (Environmental consultants to the UN) - a group of mainly European scientists and academics, who used computer modelling to warn that the world would run out of finite resources if population growth were left unchecked.

"In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that .. the threat of global warming.. would fit the bill.. the real enemy, then, is humanity itself." - Club Of Rome

THE Club Of Rome's 1972 environmental best-seller "The Limits To Growth", examined five variables in the original model: world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion.

NOT surprisingly, the study predicted a dire future for mankind unless we `act now':

AROUND the same time, influential anthropologist and president of the American Medical Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Margaret Mead, gathered together like-minded anti-population hoaxsters at her 1975, North Carolina conference, "The Atmosphere: Endangered and Endangering". Mead's star recruits were climate scare artist Stephen Schneider, population-freak George Woodwell and former AAAS head, John Holdren (Barack Obama's Science and Technology Czar). All three of them disciples of Malthusian catastrophist Paul Ehrlich, author of the "The Population Bomb".

THE conference concluded that human-produced carbon dioxide would fry the planet, melt the ice caps, and destroy human life. The idea being to sow enough fear of man-made climate change to force global cutbacks in industrial activity and halt Third World development.

WE are given clues as to the motives of this extreme agenda from various statements by prominent environmental `icons'.

"Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun."
- Prof Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University

"The Earth has cancer and the cancer is Man."
- Club of Rome, premier environmental think-tank, consultants to the United Nations

"If we don't overthrow capitalism, we don't have a chance of
saving the world ecologically. I think it is possible to have
an ecologically sound society under socialism. I don't think it is possible under capitalism"
- Judi Bari, principal organiser of Earth First

"We've got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy."
- Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation

"No matter if the science of global warming is all phony. climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world."
- Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment

"In Searching For A New Enemy To Unite Us, We Came Up With The Threat Of Global Warming" - Club of Rome, premier environmental think-tank, consultants to the United Nations

"Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?" - Maurice Strong, founder of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

"Current lifestyles and consumption patterns of the affluent middle class - involving high meat intake, use of fossil fuels, appliances, air-conditioning, and suburban housing - are not sustainable." - Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the UN's Earth Summit, 1992.


VIV Forbes on how the control of population growth and people's lifestyles manifests today through the control of energy supply.

The "zero-emissions" zealots want to force us backwards down the energy ladder to the days of human, animal and solar power. They oppose the main thing that sets us apart from all other species - the use of fire from explosives, coal, oil, gas or nuclear power.

They have yet to explain how our massive fleet of planes, trains, tractors, harvesters, trucks, road trains, container-ships and submarines will be powered and lubricated by windmills, treadmills, windlasses, solar energy, distilled whiskey and water wheels.

Western nations, driven by a global agenda of climate alarmism, are destroying their profitable industries with carbon taxes; and their promotion of expensive, intermittent green energy is pushing us back down the energy ladder; and our competitors in Asia are climbing the energy ladder as quickly as they can. At the same time, the enormous waste of public money on government promotion of the climate industry has created a global fiscal mess.

Unless reversed, this wasteful de-energising policy will drive much of the world's population back to the poverty and famines which often prevailed in the past. Some see the inevitable de-population this would cause as a desirable goal.


Enlightenment Environmentalism: The Case for Ecomodernism

Is progress sustainable?

A common response to good news about global health, wealth, and sustenance is that it cannot continue. As we infest the world with our teeming numbers, guzzle the earth's bounty heedless of its finitude, and foul our nests with pollution and waste, we are hastening an environmental day of reckoning. If overpopulation, resource depletion, and pollution don't finish us off, then climate change will.

To be sure, the very idea that there are environmental problems cannot be taken for granted. Beginning in the 1960s, the environmental movement grew out of scientific knowledge (from ecology, public health, and earth and atmospheric sciences) and a Romantic reverence for nature. The movement made the health of the planet a permanent priority on humanity's agenda, and it deserves credit for substantial achievements - another form of human progress.

Yet today, many voices in the traditional environmental movement refuse to acknowledge that progress, or even that human progress is a worthy aspiration. While it is true that not all the trends are positive, nor that the problems facing us are minor, it is crucial to understand that environmental problems, like other problems, are solvable, given the right knowledge.

In contrast to the lugubrious conventional wisdom offered by the mainstream environmental movement, and the radicalism and fatalism it encourages, there is a newer conception of environmentalism which shares the goal of protecting the air and water, species, and ecosystems but is grounded in Enlightenment optimism rather than Romantic declinism. That approach is called ecomodernism.

Environmental problems, like other problems, are solvable, given the right knowledge.

Ecomodernism begins with the realization that some degree of pollution is an inescapable consequence of the second law of thermodynamics. When people use energy, they must increase entropy elsewhere in the environment in the form of waste, pollution, and other forms of disorder. The human species has always been ingenious at doing this - that's what differentiates us from other mammals - and it has never lived in harmony with the environment. When native peoples first set foot in an ecosystem, they typically hunted large animals to extinction, and often burned and cleared vast swaths of forest.[1]

A second realization of the ecomodernist movement is that industrialization has been good for humanity.[2] It has fed billions, doubled lifespans, slashed extreme poverty, and, by replacing muscle with machinery, made it easier to end slavery, emancipate women, and educate children. It has allowed people to read at night, live where they want, stay warm in winter, see the world, and multiply human contact. Any costs in pollution and habitat loss have to be weighed against these gifts. As the economist Robert Frank has put it, there is an optimal amount of pollution in the environment, just as there is an optimal amount of dirt in your house. Cleaner is better, but not at the expense of everything else in life.

The third premise is that the trade-off that pits human well-being against environmental damage can be renegotiated by technology. How to enjoy more calories, lumens, BTUs, bits, and miles with less pollution and land is itself a technological problem, and one that the world is increasingly solving. If people can afford electricity only at the cost of some smog, they'll live with the smog, but when they can afford both electricity and clean air, they'll spring for the clean air. This can happen all the faster as technology makes cars and factories and power plants cleaner and thus makes clean air more affordable.

This idea, that environmental protection is a problem to be solved, is commonly dismissed as the "faith that technology will save us." In fact, it is a skepticism that the status quo will doom us - that knowledge and behavior will remain frozen in their current state for perpetuity. Indeed, a naive faith in stasis has repeatedly led to prophecies of environmental doomsdays that never happened.

The first is the "population bomb," which defused itself. When countries get richer and better educated, they pass through what demographers call the demographic transition.[3] Birth rates peak and then decline, for at least two reasons. Parents no longer breed large broods as insurance against some of their children dying, and women, when they become better educated, marry later and delay having children. Fertility rates have fallen most noticeably in developed regions like Europe and Japan, but they can suddenly collapse, often to demographers' surprise, in other parts of the world. Despite the widespread belief that Muslim societies are resistant to the social changes that have transformed the West, Muslim countries have seen a 40 percent decline in fertility over the past three decades, including a 70 percent drop in Iran and 60 percent drops in Bangladesh and in seven Arab countries.[4]

The other environmental scare from the 1960s was that the world would run out of resources. But resources just refuse to run out. The 1980s came and went without the famines that were supposed to starve tens of millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide. Then the year 1992 passed and, contrary to projections from the 1972 bestseller The Limits to Growth, the world did not exhaust its aluminum, copper, chromium, gold, nickel, tin, tungsten, or zinc. In 2013 the Atlantic ran a cover story about the fracking revolution entitled "We Will Never Run Out of Oil." Humanity does not suck resources from the earth like a straw in a milkshake until a gurgle tells it that the container is empty. Instead, as the most easily extracted supply of a resource becomes scarcer, its price rises, encouraging people to conserve it, get at the less accessible deposits, or find cheaper and more plentiful substitutes.

A naive faith in stasis has repeatedly led to prophecies of environmental doomsdays that never happened.

Indeed, it's a fallacy to think that people "need resources" in the first place.[5] They need ways of growing food, moving around, lighting their homes, and displaying information. They satisfy these needs with ideas: with recipes, formulas, techniques, blueprints, and algorithms for manipulating the physical world to give them what they want. The human mind, with its recursive combinatorial power, can explore an infinite space of ideas, and is not limited by the quantity of any particular kind of stuff in the ground. When one idea no longer works, another can take its place.

Take the supply of food, which has grown exponentially even though no single method of growing it has ever been sustainable. In The Big Ratchet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis, the geographer Ruth DeFries describes the sequence as "ratchet-hatchet-pivot." People discover a way of growing more food, and the population ratchets upward. The method fails to keep up with demand or develops unpleasant side effects, and the hatchet falls. People then pivot to a new method. At various times, farmers have pivoted to slash-and-burn horticulture, night soil (a euphemism for human feces), crop rotation, guano, saltpeter, ground-up bison bones, chemical fertilizer, hybrid crops, pesticides, and the Green Revolution.[6] Future pivots may include genetically modified organisms, hydroponics, aeroponics, urban vertical farms, robotic harvesting, meat cultured in vitro, artificial-intelligence algorithms fed by GPS and biosensors, the recovery of energy and fertilizer from sewage, aquaculture with fish that eat tofu, and who knows what else - as long as people are allowed to indulge their ingenuity.[7]




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


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