Friday, May 01, 2020

Mankind will suffer worse pandemics than coronavirus if we do not protect the environment and halt deforestation, scientists warn

This is just speculation.  Yet another prophecy

Humans are to blame for coronavirus and even deadlier pandemics will follow unless the environment is protected, scientists have warned.

Scientists said in a report published this week: 'There is a single species responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic – us.

'Recent pandemics are a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost.'

The report was published by IBPES, an international platform that informs policy through science, and co-authored by experts Professors Josef Settele, Sandra Díaz, Eduardo Brondizio and Dr Peter Daszak.

Up to 1.7 million unidentified viruses known to infect humans are thought to exist in mammals and water birds, they warned, and 'Any one of these could be the next "Disease X" – potentially even more disruptive and lethal than COVID-19'.

The report, written for the science-policy website IPBES, said: 'Rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a 'perfect storm' for the spillover of diseases.'

The scientists said activities like these cause pandemics by bringing increasing numbers of people into direct contact with animals that carry the pathogens, where 70 per cent of emerging diseases originate from.

The explosive growth of air travel coupled with urbanisation allowed for a harmless virus in Asian bats to bring 'untold human suffering and halt economies and societies around the world,' they said.

'This is the human hand in pandemic emergence. Yet this may be only the beginning.'

They added that  'Future pandemics are likely to happen more frequently, spread more rapidly, have greater economic impact and kill more people if we are not extremely careful about the possible impacts of the choices we make today.'

The scientists warned that we have a small window of opportunity in overcoming the challenges of the current crisis  'to avoid sowing the seeds of future ones'.

They said a global 'One Health' approach must be developed to recognise the 'complex interconnections among the health of people, animals, plants and our shared environment'.

Government fund recovery packages to bolster failing economies must be used to strengthen environmental protection.  Relaxing environmental standards 'without requiring urgent and fundamental change essentially subsidises the emergence of future pandemics', they said.   

Health services must also be funded properly in countries most at risk of future pandemics to protect the 'health of the most vulnerable'.

They said: 'This is not simple altruism – it is vital investment in the interests of all to prevent future global outbreaks.'

The article comes following a landmark 2019 report when the scientists led the most comprehensive planetary health check and concluded human society was at risk from earth's rapidly declining resources.

Report co-author Dr Peter Daszak told The Guardian that 'The programmes we're talking about will cost tens of billions of dollars a year. But if you get one pandemic, even just one a century, that costs trillions, so you still come out with an incredibly good return on investment.'

He added that business as usual is 'not a good strategy' and that 'we need to deal with the underlying drivers.

The UN's environment chief, Inger Andersen, said in March that 'nature is sending us a message' with the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis.

And last week the UN secretary general António Guterres said: 'The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call' and 'we need to do things right for the future.'

The outbreak has seen more than three million confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide and 211,000 deaths as the pandemic continues to cause widespread devastation.

Strict lockdown measures have been implemented in most countries to slow its spread as scientists race to create a vaccine, though some countries have begun to ease rules.

The World Health Organisation chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said 'the world should have listened' when it first sounded the alarm about coronavirus.

On Monday he said: 'We can only give advice to countries. We don't have any mandate to force countries to implement what we advise them.

'The world should have listened to the WHO carefully. We advised the whole world to implement a comprehensive public health approach - find, test, contact tracing and so on.'


Imagine our Covid-19 response running on wind and solar power

Until the Pandemic struck the world, the desire of the progressive political movement in the United States and much of the world that was focused on ridding the planet of fossil fuels, said to be negatively altering the planet’s climate.

These folks are fully convinced that the world, at its present state of technological advance, could be run entirely on renewable refuels lead by solar and wind power. They have always ignored the intermittency of these sources when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. While they know we have no economic method to store such energy, they assume one will come along.

It has been futile yet interesting to continue such a debate in the face of a calm period where conjecture was but an intellectual exercise. Then reality hit us all in the face with a disaster never seen in our life times. Where would the two million Covid-19 afflicted people be today who depended on ventilators run by electricity from coal and natural gas if they were powered from the wind and the sun? The obvious answer is that many more would be dead.

While not much good will come from this world wide tragedy, perhaps more of the people deluded by the climate change fear mongering will come to their senses. Eliminating fossil fuels to produce electricity or power automobiles would not support life as we know it today but only life as we knew it a century and a half ago. It may also be time to rename the electric cars, beloved by many, to what they really are, coal, natural gas or nuclear powered cars.

It is a mystery that virtually all the electric car owners believe their power comes magically out of a wall socket at home or a charging station on the road. The power really comes from a nearby power plant all of which burn coal, natural gas or obtain heat from nuclear fuel. Even if the plant gets some energy from local wind turbines or solar photovoltaic cells this amount is minimal. If we really want a huge increase in the number of electric automobiles on the road we must build more fossil fuel burning power plants, not more wind or solar farms.

Perhaps a little history of the electrification of our nation is in order. It was the development of our fossil fuels that made possible the greatest contribution to health and prosperity which was to make electricity affordable everywhere.

In 2000 the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) announced “the 20 engineering achievements that have had the greatest impact on the quality of life in the 20th century”. The achievements were nominated by 29 professional engineering societies and ranked by a distinguished panel of the nation’s top engineers. They ranked electrification as the number one achievement.

It powered almost every pursuit and enterprise in modern society. Aside from lighting the world, it impacted countless areas of daily life including food production and processing, air conditioning, heating, refrigeration, entertainment, transportation, communication, health care and eventually computers.

In the NAE announcement regarding electrification it stated : “One hundred years ago life was a constant struggle against disease, pollution, deforestation, treacherous working conditions and enormous cultural divides ……. By the end of the 20th century, the world had become a healthier, safer and more productive place, primarily because of this engineering achievement”.

Fossil fuels brought electricity to the homes and workplaces of billions of people around the world. Wind and solar power in anyone’s wildest dreams can never support what electricity provided us in these past 148 years since Thomas Edison built the world’s first coal fired generating plant on Pearl Street in New York City in 1882.

Part of our collective problem as to energy and electricity is that technology has past us by. We all once understood how an automobile engine worked, how a home was wired, and what was a fuse. When computers, GPS and smart phones came along, most of us gave up trying to understand. Many believe there really is a cloud up there keeping our data safe.

So why not think electric cars reap the magic from the wall socket, the wind and sun can keep us doing all that we do. That scientists have high tech crystal balls to tell us the climate decades from now. It should become clear as technology advanced beyond the average persons ability to comprehend, we have actually become dumber. Perhaps being rationally ignorant of things we do not need to know is okay. Unfortunately people in leadership positions are then able to lead us astray. The elimination of fossil fuels is a poor path to follow.

Isn’t it a little strange that a century ago electrification and its fossil fuel source was revered and now so many despise the source but think they can just keep the electricity. No one told them you can not have your cake and eat it too, or that there are no free lunches.


Beyond the Blinders: Economic Progress in the Age of Radical Environmentalism

The dominant global narrative is that the world is overpopulated and we are exhausting natural resources.

With the ongoing hysteria surrounding climate change, some even go so far as to suggest that human population growth is the cancer of the earth.

But what if I told you that these fears are baseless? That innovation and invention are making resources less scarce over time, even as population and resource consumption rise? That our ability to adapt improves as the world changes?

Here are some real facts that the mainstream media seldom acknowledge in this scaremongering era.

Despite two world wars and disease outbreaks like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic and now the  COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, the world has become a better place to live in.

Forty-two percent of the world’s people lived in severe poverty in the early 1980s, and many more in the preceding centuries. As of 2015, only 10% did.

During the 1950s, almost all of today’s developing countries were under severe stress and food shortage. The agricultural revolution in the 1960s transformed many of these developing countries into agricultural superpowers, meeting their local demands and exporting food to the world.

Today, we live longer and healthier lives. Global average life expectancy rose from a mere 29 in 1777 to 71 in 2014. That’s over a 40-year gain. The number is even higher in Japan and the UK.

Some argue that humans, in order to achieve this socioeconomic progress, are using up natural resources and will soon run out of many. But that is far from the truth.

The Industrial Era Revolutionized Our Use of Natural Resources

Radical environmentalists put resource use in a bad light. They conveniently ignore the fact that the world has become more efficient in extracting, processing, using, and reusing natural resources.

In the past, wood served almost all energy needs. As a result, people rapidly cut down forests. But after the Industrial Revolution, the situation changed. Despite the rapid increase in population since then, Europe’s forests are growing in size.

How is this possible?

The trump card to this turnaround is human ingenuity in harnessing naturally available resources, aided by scientific discoveries.

The ability to harness raw materials is the greatest achievement of the 19th and 20th centuries. Instead of exclusively relying on wood for construction, transportation, industrial, and household needs, we now have an array of long-lasting, affordable, safe, efficient, and convenient alternatives.

Today we manufacture a diverse array of end products from raw materials. The same materials, in earlier centuries, would have served only a single service or even have been considered useless.

Using coal as fuel revolutionized the use of iron ore, enabling us to produce steel for construction. This drastically reduced our reliance on wood.

Coal is one of the key raw materials for all metallurgical processes that involve smelting — the process of extracting metal from ore. The global boom in coal use thus enabled an upgrade of metallurgical processes. Without this extraction, our homes and working places would lack most of the things we use today.

We are more efficient not only with the use of available resources but also with our time and energy.

Similarly, the advancement in agricultural technology — like drone-based precision agriculture and GMOs — has enabled us to produce crops that give a higher yield and to smaller areas of cultivation using less water and pesticides.

We have also revolutionized animal husbandry and now serve quality nutrition to billions across the globe. With improved insights into the microbiological world, we know how to restore the population and habitat of various species of plants and animals.

Illegal hunting, not population growth, is the primary explanation for the downfall of wildlife species across the globe. Through conservation efforts, some species that were pushed to the brink of extinction by over-hunting are making a comeback. The growing numbers of polar bears in the Arctic and the Bengal tigers of India give us a ray of hope.

Fake-news peddlers and fearmongers are losing this argument. The world has become a better place for us to live in, and we are making it better for other life forms as well.


The strategic petroleum reserve and the fallacies of ‘embargo’ thinking

President Donald Trump announced a few days ago that the US Department of Energy (DoE) will purchase “large quantities of crude oil” to be stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), created under authority of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, enacted in the wake of the 1973–74 oil “embargo” imposed by the Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

The SPR at present contains about 635 million barrels (mmb) of crude oil in its salt domes, with a total capacity of 713.5 mmb; accordingly, the goal of filling the SPR to capacity would yield purchases of about 78 mmb. There are four SPR storage sites, with respective capacities available for additional oil, in mmb, of about 4.2, 26.7, 16.9, and 30.7. The Trump announcement emphasized the opportunity to acquire additional crude oil at prices suppressed sharply by a global economic slowdown attendant upon the COVID-19 pandemic and by the strenuous tug-of-war over production quotas and prices between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Expecting exceptionally low prices now to rise sharply (that is, faster than the rate of interest) over the foreseeable future is a problematic strategy, given that the price today is the best market evaluation of the price tomorrow for a natural resource that can be consumed either today or tomorrow. (Consumption is “substitutable” over time.) After all, if a sharp price increase is expected tomorrow, the price would rise today. One central purpose of stockpiles — they are a form of insurance — is to shift the availability of supplies into uncertain future periods when the value of those supplies is predicted to be relatively high. An example: a future period during which there is a serious supply disruption.

The purchases Trump announced are intended to prop domestic oil prices up, thus implicitly subsidizing domestic producers. But the magnitude of that effect is likely to be slight, given that the notional purchase of 78 mmb would be less than one day of global oil production of about 100 mmb and only about six days of daily US production of about 12–13 mmb.

For now, it is useful to recognize that much conventional wisdom about the rationale for a government oil stockpile continues to be driven by the “embargo” thinking from decades ago, the fallacies of which I discuss below. One former senior official at the DoE argued the following in support of the new Trump policy: “I am in the camp of keeping the SPR at full capacity and using it as needed in case of supply emergencies.”

However ubiquitous, such thinking — the SPR as a hedge against supply disruptions — raises a fundamental question. Why would a government oil stockpile be necessary (or economically efficient) in a world in which the private sector can foresee the near certainty of oil supply disruptions, thus leading it to stockpile oil on its own? Does the private sector have incentives to stockpile too little? Precisely what is the rationale for a government oil stockpile?

One argument in favor of the SPR might be that the federal government — Congress, senior executive-branch officials, and the bureaucracy — has better foresight about the likelihood and magnitude of future oil supply disruptions. That premise simply does not pass any test for bare plausibility: Producers, buyers, and shippers of oil, ad infinitum, have powerful incentives to maintain a minute-by-minute vigil of all things international oil market in the hope that opportunities for profits (that is, efficient reallocations of oil) might emerge.

Another argument might be that the federal government has a longer time horizon than the private sector, a hypothesis even less plausible than the first given that the next election is the overwhelming parameter driving the attention of senior public officials.

A third argument might be that the federal government enjoys storage costs lower than those confronting the private sector, particularly because the reported costs of storing oil in the SPR salt domes are lower than those of storage in tanks, floating vessels, underground reservoirs, and the like. This is not a persuasive argument for a government oil stockpile, in that the salt domes could be sold or leased to the private sector for storage purposes, with market competition driving up the price. Official cost comparisons do not include the opportunity costs of such forgone revenues.

A fourth hypothesis might be that the federal government can be predicted over time to allocate the stored oil more efficiently, a premise that is laughable given the wholly ad hoc process characterizing the federal government’s past decisions to sell or trade oil throughout the history of the SPR. Under the reasonable assumption that market forces are vastly more efficient in terms of allocating oil across sectors and over time, the feds should sell call options for the future rights to draw oil out of the SPR, allowing the market to determine such resource allocation.

One argument does make conceptual sense: Because the federal government imposed price and allocation controls during the 1973 and 1979 supply disruptions, the perceived likelihood of such market meddling — “no price gouging or profiteering!” — during a future disruption is greater than zero, so the market has net incentives to store too little oil from the social standpoint. Under this rationale for the SPR, the federal government compensates for the perverse effects of past policies by implementing additional costly policies, the adverse effects of which will lead to more such policies. Such expanding federal power inexorably will be used to subsidize favored constituencies; is there a better description of the historical growth of the federal leviathan?

Note also that market forces yield an equilibrium aggregate stockpile of oil balancing costs and expected benefits. It is far from clear that a government stockpile actually increases total preparedness, as it might lead the private sector to stockpile less. Perhaps the ad hoc nature of federal decisions to sell off some of the SPR oil makes the SPR less relevant in terms of the market equilibrium level of stockpiling, an ironically beneficial effect of federal clumsiness. Or perhaps it yields a decline in aggregate preparedness. Who knows?

It still is asserted commonly that the 1973 Arab OPEC oil “embargo” created the sharp price increases in 1973 (and even 1979) and the market dislocations experienced in the US during that decade. In the wake of the 1970s experience, many have argued that explicit and implicit subsidies for domestic energy production — an example is the Renewable Fuel Standard — would increase energy “independence” and thus insulate the US economy from the effects of international supply disruptions.

Those arguments were and remain largely incorrect. Since there can be only one world market for crude oil, a refusal to sell to a given buyer (i.e., impose a higher price on that buyer only) cannot work, as market forces will reallocate oil so that prices are equal everywhere (adjusting for such minor complications as differential transport costs). In 1973 there was (1) the “embargo” aimed at the US, the Netherlands, and a few others; (2) the production cutback by Arab OPEC; and (3) the US system of price and allocation controls.

The embargo itself had no effect at all: All the targeted nations obtained oil on the same terms as all other buyers, although the transport directions of the global oil trade changed because of the reallocation process. It was the production cutback that raised international prices, and it was the imposition of price and allocation controls that created the queues and other market distortions

Note that there was no embargo in 1979. But there was a production cutback in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, and the US again imposed price and allocation regulations. And, once again, there were queues and market distortions.

Furthermore, however counterintuitive it may seem, the degree of “dependence” on foreign sources of energy is irrelevant, except in the case in which a foreign supplier or foreign power can impose a physical supply restriction, perhaps through a naval blockade or a military threat to ocean transport through, say, a narrow strait. Because the market for crude oil is international in nature, nations that import all their oil (e.g., Japan) pay the same prices as those that import none of their oil (e.g., the UK). Changes in international prices, caused perhaps by supply disruptions, yield price changes in the two classes of economies that are equal, except for such minor factors as differences in exchange-rate effects.

Political machinations have afflicted energy markets for decades. One might think that an administration dedicated generally to “deregulation” would avoid such meddling. At least in the context of the SPR, one would be wrong.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

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