Friday, March 06, 2020

How the plastic panic hurts us — and the planet

John Tierney joins Brian Anderson to discuss the campaign to ban the use of plastic products and the flawed logic behind the recycling movement—the subjects of Tierney’s story, “The Perverse Panic over Plastic,” from the Winter 2020 Issue of City Journal.

Hundreds of cities and eight states have outlawed or regulated single-use plastic bags. But according to Tierney, the plastic panic doesn’t make sense. Plastic bags are the best environmental choice at the supermarket, not the worst, and cities that built expensive recycling programs—in the hopes of turning a profit on recycled products—have instead paid extra to get rid of their plastic waste, mostly by shipping it to Asian countries with low labor costs. However, the bans will likely continue as political leaders and private companies seek a renewed sense of moral superiority.

Audio Transcript

Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Coming up on today's show I'll be joined in the studio by John Tierney. John's here to discuss his latest feature essay for City Journal, which appeared in our Winter 2020 Issue. It's called “The Perverse Panic over Plastic.” It's a powerful essay that exposes some of the weak thinking behind the campaign to rid us of plastic bags, bottles, and straws. You can find it on the City Journal website, and we'll be sure to link to it in the podcast description. John also has a brand new book out, which we'll talk about toward the end of the interview, called The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It. That's it for the introduction. We'll take a quick break and we'll be back with John Tierney.

Brian Anderson: Hello again everyone. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me in the studio is John Tierney. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnTierneyNYC. John is a Contributing Editor at City Journal, and before joining us he was a reporter and columnist for the New York Times. He's also a bestselling author. His latest book was just released at the end of the year. It's called The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It. It's coauthored with Roy Baumeister and you can find it on Amazon or wherever books are sold. We'll talk to John briefly about his new book later, but we were eager to get him on the podcast to discuss his latest essay for City Journal which is in our winter 2020 issue, called “The Perverse Panic over Plastic.” The essay was just adapted in the Wall Street Journal so you can check out a shorter version of the piece on their website if you're interested. John, thanks for joining us.

John Tierney: Thank you Brian.

Brian Anderson: So to start, I want to remind our listeners that you've been studying the question of recycling and environmentalism in America for decades now. Back in 1996 the Times published a seminal piece by you on the issue under the provocative headline, “Recycling Is Garbage.” In recent years it seems that the campaign against plastics has really grown. So hundreds of cities and now I think eight states have passed laws to ban or regulate single use plastics, plastic bags most notably. New York's ban on plastic bags is set to go into effect very soon on March 1st. But you write in this essay that if we really cared about the environment, we'd throw our plastics into landfills and incinerators rather than recycle them. And that the plastic bag ban in grocery stores and other retail outlets is going to be counterproductive. So what's the logic behind that position?

John Tierney: You know, it's very strange. I mean, the plastic panic, as I call it, is really even crazier than recycling. I mean recycling was an expensive and time-consuming way to accomplish very little. But the plastic panic is not only a waste of time and money, but it's actually bad for the environment. Because it increases carbon emissions and it actually increases ocean pollution too. The logic behind it, there really... I mean the basic explanation is that environmentalist for like 50 years, just have something against plastic. And they've been looking for one excuse after another to ban it. In the seventies and eighties they were saying that we're running out of petroleum so we can't use plastic. We have to save it. Then there were things that it was causing litter, clogging storm drains. And lately the excuse has been that it's a way to reduce carbon emissions. But if you look at the facts, it's the reverse.

Brian Anderson: Yes. Let's stop there for a minute. Why not just shift to, say, cloth bags?

John Tierney: The problem is, is the cloth bags, or any kind of reusable bag, is much thicker. It takes a lot more energy and resources to manufacture those bags. Also more energy to ship them because they're a lot heavier. So the green logic is well we'll just keep using these bags over and over again and that will save it. But in the real world, people do not use their bags that often. People forget them about half the time they go to the supermarket. The typical tote bag is used only about 15 times. And meanwhile these bags have much bigger carbon footprints than those really thin gossamer grocery bags that we get. And so to offset the initial carbon footprint of a cotton tote bag, you would have to use it 173 times, which nobody does.

John Tierney: To offset people switch to paper bags. Those things have a carbon footprint that are four times the size of a plastic bag. They also take up 12 times more room in the landfill. So basically by banning the thin plastic bags, people end up using thicker grocery bags. They also, because those single use plastic bags, they're called that, but most people actually reuse them to line their trash bins or pick up after their pets. So people do use them more than once. And when you ban them at the grocery store, people end up buying new plastic bags to make up for that, and they buy thicker ones. So again, you're basically increasing the carbon footprint. You're adding more carbon to the atmosphere.

MORE here

Former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres: Coronavirus may a good thing

Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy asked Figueres: “Is there any sense that this could be self-controlling — that as we see economic growth possibly slowing down around the world, because of coronavirus — that’s actually good for the climate?”

Christiana Figueres replied: “Well, that is, ironically, of course, the other side of this — right? It may be good for climate. But I think — because there is less trade, there’s less travel, there’s less commerce.”

She appeared with her “strategic adviser” Tom Rivett-Carnac and was there promoting their new book ‘The Future We Choose’ about how to deal with the alleged “climate emergency.”

Figueres also praised China for its government structure.

UN climate chief Christiana Figueres lamented U.S. democracy as ‘very detrimental’ – Sought ‘centralized transformation’ – Lauded one-party ruled China for ‘doing it right’ on climate

Many other climate campaigners have also called for reduced economic growth to fight “global warming"


Virginia's 'Clean Economy Act' will have dirty results

Paul Driessen

Largely with party-line, urban-vs-rural votes, Virginia’s legislature is poised to enact a Clean Economy Act that would eliminate coal-based electricity generation, prevent construction of new gas-fired power plants – and replace reliable, affordable fossil energy with wind, solar and battery-backup power. The bill offers important cautionary lessons for voters, workers and consumers in Virginia and across the United States.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw has said Virginia has “a climate problem, and you can’t fix it for free.” However, the climate crisis is mostly exaggerated, imaginary or based on faulty computer models. Worse, the “fix” will be pricey on many levels, but won’t make an iota of difference to the global climate.

The USA has actually had fewer violent (F3-5) tornadoes the past 35 years than during the previous 35, and not one in 2018. Hurricane frequency and intensity has changed little since 1850 – except that the USA enjoyed a record 12-year absence of Category 3-5 hurricanes, 2005-2017. After rising some 400 feet since the last Ice Age, seas have been rising at just 7-12 inches per century for over 150 years, and a lot of apparent sea level rise is actually land subsidence, including around the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area.

Water, ice and water vapor have vastly greater influences on Earth’s temperatures, climate and weather than do carbon dioxide and all the other atmospheric gases combined, Greenpeace cofounder Patrick Moore notes. The oceans have 1,000 times more heat than the atmosphere. Clouds both trap heat and reflect incoming solar energy. And scientists still cannot separate human from natural factors in all this.

But Virginia Democrats insist there is a climate crisis, and are determined to ban fossil fuels to end it.

Virginia’s “carbon-free” bills would shut down some 6,200 megawatts of coal-based electricity and ban construction of new gas-fired units. Meanwhile, China already has 900,000 MW of coal-fired power plants, has another 200,000 MW under construction, is planning an additional 150,000 MW (all in China), Greenpeace reports, and is building or financing numerous coal and gas power plants in Africa and Asia. India already has hundreds of coal-fired units and is planning nearly 400 more. China and India are building or planning to build hundreds of new airports, and to put millions more cars on their roads.

So even if CO2 does play more than a trivial role in climate change, Virginia’s actions might reduce future warming by an undetectable 0.001 to 0.01 degree. The bill’s details are revealing, and troubling.

The nearly enacted law would close America’s newest and cleanest coal-fired power plant, unless it can slash CO2 emissions 83% by 2030, using still unproven “carbon capture and storage” technology. But even if it worked, that technology would cost millions per year to operate – and require a third of the power plant’s electricity output to operate. Talk about not being free, especially for local residents.

To replace the eradicated electricity, Virginia energy companies would install 5,200 MW of offshore wind turbines – apparently GE 12 MW Haliade-X turbines manufactured in a new factory in Guangdong Province, due south of Wuhan. That would require 433 of these behemoths, each one rising 850 feet above the waves some 27 miles off the Norfolk-Virginia Beach coastline, in 50-70 feet of water. (For comparison, the Washington Monument is “only” 555 feet tall.)

Constant saltwater and frequent storms will corrode the turbines, causing them to perform worse every year. Actually getting 5,200 MW of electricity would require that the 433 turbines operate at 100% of rated capacity 24/7/365. If they work only half the time, Virginia would need 866 monster turbines.

Climate activists and Big Wind developers expect up to 30,000 MW of offshore wind along the East Coast by 2030. At 100% capacity, that’s 2,500 gargantuan Heliade-X turbines! The impacts on radar, aviation, submarines, surface ships and fishing would be enormous. Turbine blades would kill countless birds. Vibration and infrasound noise would impair whale and dolphin sonar navigation systems for miles.

Since these turbines would be in federal waters, the Interior Department, National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal agencies must fully and carefully evaluate their cumulative impacts on all these human activities and environmental values. They must also address the cumulative impacts of all the global mining, processing, manufacturing and other operations required to build and install the turbines.

These monster windmills will require millions of tons of concrete, steel, copper, rare earth elements, carbon-fiberglass composites and other raw materials. Obtaining them will require removing billions of tons of ore and associated rock, in new or expanded mines all around the world, but probably not in the United States. Wind (and solar) energy would be almost totally dependent on foreign materials, components and finished products – mostly Chinese or Chinese owned. Pollution, workplace conditions, land and habitat destruction, child labor and human rights violations, cancers and other terminal diseases among workers and local communities, would be rampant, and abhorrent to most Americans.

Right now, there are few or no derrick barges capable of installing 12-MW turbines. Imagine how long it will take to install 400 to 2,500 of them along the East Coast – and repair or replace them as they age, or after a huge storm like the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944 wipes out offshore electricity generation.

The Clean Economy Act states that another16,100 MW of fossil fuel replacement power would come from photovoltaic solar panels. Based on data for a 400 MW Spotsylvania County, Virginia solar operation, those panels would completely blanket a land area up to 3.5 times larger than Washington, DC.

Arizona conditions don’t exist in Virginia. Clouds, nighttime, and sub-optimal sunshine during much of the day and year make it likely that these millions of panels will actually generate little more than 3,200 megawatts – unpredictably and unreliably. To get the full, legislated 16,100 MW of electricity, Virginia would have to cover up to 18 times the land area of Washington, DC with panels. That’s 700,000 acres.

The Virginia legislation (HB1526 has passed both chambers) also requires that utility companies “construct or acquire 3,100 megawatts of energy storage capacity,” presumably batteries. This is confusing, since batteries don’t generate electricity (megawatts); they simply store power generated by coal, gas, nuclear, wind or solar sources (megawatt-hours, MWh). If the legislators mean 3,100 MWh, Virginia would need 36,500 half-ton Tesla 85-kilowatt-hour battery packs, requiring still more lithium and cobalt sourced from places with terrible environmental and human rights records.

Will Virginia require that its wind, solar and battery materials and components be responsibly sourced? Will it require independently verified certifications that none of them involve child labor, and all are produced in compliance with US and Virginia laws, regulations and ethical codes for workplace safety, fair wages, air and water pollution, wildlife preservation and mined lands reclamation? Will it require that any supposed social costs of carbon recognize the social benefits of carbon-based fuels and carbon dioxide?

Getting power from offshore wind and eastern region solar facilities to communities on the western side of the 2,200-mile-long Appalachian Trail will require many new transmission lines across the trail. Environmentalists adamantly oppose gas pipelines that would pass 700 feet beneath the trail. How will they respond to multiple transmission lines and towers crossing the trail and impairing scenic views?

Wind, solar, battery and biofuel alternatives are simply not clean, green, renewable or sustainable. The Clean Economy Act represents greenwashing, virtue-signaling and government control at their worst. It replaces reliable, affordable electricity with expensive, unreliable power. Simply declaring, as this Virginia legislation repeatedly does, that all these actions are “in the public interest” does not make it so.

Eliminating fossil fuel electricity means lighting, heating, air conditioning, refrigeration, computing and other costs will soar – for families, hospitals, schools, churches, businesses, factories and government agencies. Local, state, US and global environmental impacts will skyrocket, with no climate benefits.

In Virginia and across America, liberal cities and counties have given “sanctuary” to illegal immigrants, including repeat criminals. Numerous conservative Virginia communities have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. Perhaps it is time for them to resist the onslaught of climate alarmism and pseudo-renewable energy fantasies – by declaring themselves fossil fuel sanctuaries, as well.

Via email

Greta Thunberg embarrasses EU by savaging bloc's new climate law

Greta Thunberg attacked the EU's new law to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 as a "surrender" on Wednesday, humiliating the European Commission on the day the flagship legislation was launched.

The 17-year-old activist was invited to Brussels as the commission put forward a bill to make the target legally binding on its member states. The climate law is central to the European Green Deal, which includes a €100 billion package to help fossil fuel-dependent regions move to cleaner technologies.

Ms Thunberg savaged the law as unenforceable and unambitious, and accused the EU – which styles itself as global frontrunner on climate action – of a lack of leadership.

She said it had a less than 50 per cent chance of  limiting the global average temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees celsius, a goal of the Paris accord


Study shows climate change link to devastating 2019/20 Australian bushfire season

There is no way these attribution studies can prove anything.  To make judgments of cause and effect you need the same events to be repeated several times but this never happen with climate.  It is always changing

One comment below is admirably frank:  "We found that climate models struggle to reproduce these extreme events and their trends realistically"

Need I say more?

This bushfire season has been the worst on record, but what elements of it are fact and what has been distorted by myth.
Climate change did play a part in Australia’s devastating 2019 bushfire season as it has increased the chances of extreme temperatures by at least 30 per cent, a new study shows.

The eight-week study from World Weather Attribution (WWA), an international collaboration that analyses the effect of climate change on extreme weather events, found a strong link between climate change and hotter-than-normal conditions in Australia during the time of the 2019/20 fires.

Last year was the warmest and driest year in Australia since temperature and rainfall records began in 1910 and 1900, and it follows two other dry years in large parts of the country.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Annual Climate Statement 2019, these conditions contributed to a more widespread and intense fire season that started earlier in the season than usual. Other factors included a strong Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annual Mode.

The WWA study looked at what caused the high temperatures and prolonged dry conditions between September to February, to see if they could be linked to climate change.

While they couldn’t link climate change to the drought, it did find a 30 per cent increase in the likelihood of high temperatures.

As climate-heating emissions continue to increase, “We will be facing these extreme conditions more often than in the past,” said Maarten van Aalst, a climate scientist and director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre. “Should we be worried about this? Yes, very,” he told journalists.

The study also suggested that scientific models may be vastly underestimating the impacts of rising temperatures.

“We found that climate models struggle to reproduce these extreme events and their trends realistically,” Professor Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute said.

“However, they always underestimate the increase in chances for extreme fire risks such as Australia saw in the last few months.

“This means we know the effect is likely larger than 30 per cent increase lower bound, which is already a significant influence of global warming.”

The high temperatures and prolonged dry conditions resulted in unprecedented bushfire activity across the states of New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and in the Australian Capital Territory.

The 2019/20 bushfires burned more than 11 million hectares – an area larger than Ireland or South Korea – destroyed nearly 6000 buildings and killed at least 34 people and an estimated 1.5 billion animals.

The economic costs of the fires could reach $100 billion, according to separate analyses.

“Climate change is now part of Australia’s landscape,” Dr Sophie Lewis of the University of New South Wales said.

“Extreme heat is clearly influenced by human-caused climate change, which can influence fire conditions. There is evidence that Australian fire seasons have lengthened and become more intense, and extreme temperatures have played a role in this.

“Climate change contributed to the fires and extreme heat we lived through in southeastern Australia.”

A week of hot temperatures, like that experienced in southeast Australia in December 2019, was 10 times less likely in 1900 than it is now, while heatwaves like the one in Australia in 2019/20 are already hotter by 1-2°C than they were around 1900.

Dr Friederike Otto of Oxford University said the study was not an ultimate answer to the question of how climate change was impacting things like fire but did confirm it was an important driver locally.

“We need to continue to test our models in the real world to improve them so we can provide higher confidence risk information at the scales where people live and make decisions.”

Researchers from Australia, Europe and the United States carried out the analysis under the World Weather Attribution project, which provides rapid scientific evidence on how much climate change is fuelling extreme weather events.

The group has so far conducted more than 230 such studies, linking last year’s record-breaking heatwave in France and extreme rainfall during Tropical Storm Imelda in Texas, for instance, to climate change.

Not all the events analysed show a connection to global warming.

But the researchers said devastating fire seasons will be at least four times more common in Australia than they were in 1900 if global average temperatures rise 2C above pre-industrial times.

Temperatures have already heated up by a little over 1C, and the world is on track for at least 3C of warming even if all countries meet their commitments to cut emissions under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.



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