Monday, June 01, 2020

Destroying the Environment to Save It

Paul Driessen

“We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” The infamous Vietnam era quotation may or may not have been uttered by an anonymous US Army major. It may have been misquoted, revised, apocryphal or invented. But it quickly morphed into an anti-war mantra that reflected the frustrations many felt.

For Virginians and others forced to travel the “clean, green, renewable, sustainable” energy path, it will redound in modern politics as “We had to destroy the environment in order to save it.”

For example, weeks after Governor Ralph Northam signed a “Clean Economy Act” that had been rushed through a partisan Democrat legislature, Dominion Energy Virginia announced it would reach “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To do so, the utility company will raise family, business, hospital and school electricity bills by 3% every year for the next ten years – as they and state and local governments struggle to climb out of the financial holes created by the ongoing Coronavirus lockdown.

Just as bad, renewable energy mandates and commitments from the new law and Dominion’s “integrated resource plan” will have major adverse impacts on Virginia and world environmental values. In reality, Virginia’s new “clean” economy exists only in fantasy land – and only if we ignore CO2 emissions, air and water pollution, and other “clean energy” environmental degradation around the world.

Dominion Energy plans to expand the state’s offshore wind, onshore solar and battery storage capacity by some 24,000 megawatts of new “renewable” energy by 2035, and far more after that. It will retain just 9,700 MW of existing natural gas generation, and only through 2045, build no new gas-fired units, and retire 6,200 megawatts of coal-fired generation. This will reduce in-state carbon dioxide emissions, but certainly won’t do so globally. The company intends to keep its four existing nuclear units operating.

To “replace” some of its abundant, reliable, affordable fossil fuel electricity, Dominion intends to build at least 31,400 megawatts of expensive, unreliable solar capacity by 2045. The company estimates that will require a land area some 25% larger than 250,000-acre Fairfax County, west of Washington, DC. That means Dominion Energy’s new solar facilities will blanket 490 square miles (313,600 acres) of beautiful croplands, scenic areas and habitats that now teem with wildlife.

That’s almost half the land area of Rhode Island, eight times the District of Columbia, 14 times more land than all Fairfax County parks combined – blanketed by imported solar panels. Still more land will be torn up for access roads and new transmission lines. All this is just for Dominion Energy’s solar panels.

The panels will actually generate electricity maybe 20-25% of the year, once you factor in nighttime hours, cloudy days, and times when the sun is not bright enough to generate more than trifling electricity.

Dominion and other Virginia utility companies also plan to import and install 430 monstrous 850-foot-tall offshore wind turbines – and tens of thousands of half-ton battery packs, to provide backup power for at least a few hours or days when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. The batteries will prevent the economy from shutting down even more completely during each outage than it has during the Corona lockdown. Similar policies across America will impact hundreds of millions of acres.

Most of these solar panels, wind turbines and batteries – or their components, or the metals and minerals required to manufacture those components – will likely come from China or from Chinese-owned operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America ... under mining, air and water pollution, workplace safety, fair wage, child labor, mined land reclamation, manufacturing and other laws and standards that would get US companies unmasked, vilified, sued, fined and shut down in a heartbeat.

But it is those minimal to nonexistent laws and regulations that govern most of the companies and operations that will supply the “clean” technologies that will soon blight Virginia landscapes and serve the new “clean” Virginia economy. As Michael Moore observes in his new film, Planet of the Humans, other states that opt for “clean” energy will face the same realities.

Thus far, no one has produced even a rough estimate of how much concrete, steel, aluminum, copper, lithium, cobalt, silica, rare earth metals and countless other materials will be needed. All will require gigantic heavy equipment and prodigious amounts of fossil fuels to blast and haul away billions of tons of rocky overburden; extract, crush and process tens of millions of tons of ores, using acids, toxic chemicals and other means to refine the ores; smelt concentrates into metals; manufacture all the millions of tons of components; and haul, assemble and install the panels, turbines, batteries and transmission lines, setting them on top of tens of thousands of tons of concrete and rebar.

No one has tallied the oil, natural gas and coal fuel requirements for doing all this “Virginia Clean Economy” work – nor the greenhouse gases and actual pollutants that will be emitted in the process.

Nothing about this is clean, green, renewable or sustainable. But neither Dominion Energy nor Virginia government officials have said anything about any of this, nor about which countries will host the mining and other activities, under what environmental and human rights standards.

Will Virginians ever get a full accounting? Just because all of this will happen far beyond Virginia’s borders does not mean we can ignore the global environmental impacts. Or that we can ignore the health, safety and well-being of children and parents in those distant mines, processing plants and factories.

This is the perfect time to observe the environmentalist creed: think globally, act locally. Will that be done?

Will Dominion and Virginia require that all these raw materials and wind, solar and battery 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, cancer prevention and mined lands reclamation? Will they tally up all the fossil fuels consumed, and pollutants emitted, in the process?


Fracking insanity

The coronavirus won't destroy America's energy industry. But Democrats might.

Progressive lawmakers like Senator Bernie Sanders have long called for a nationwide ban on fracking. But even Joe Biden, the "moderate" Democratic apparent nominee, recently seemed to embrace this radical idea.

The oil and gas industry has already taken a big blow to the gut. Because of reduced demand caused by lockdown orders nationwide and a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, the unthinkable happened in April when an oil futures contract sank into negative territory. In my home state of Colorado, hundreds of wells have been abandoned and many small operators are struggling to stay afloat.

Already shattered by COVID-19 lockdowns, our economy can't afford another shock. But that's precisely what a fracking ban would deliver in the form of mass layoffs and skyrocketing energy costs.

To make matters worse, a fracking ban would reverse America’s ascendance to energy independence and once again jeopardize our national security. This policy would cause problems in the best of circumstances. In the wake of a global pandemic, it could wreak havoc.

Thanks in part to fracking, the energy industry has done wonders for the U.S. economy. Oil and natural gas firms support over 10 million American jobs, nearly 6 percent of the nation's total employment. The energy industry also supports over $1 trillion in annual economic activity and accounts for almost 8 percent of U.S. GDP.

A fracking ban would reverse these gains and then some. Banning fracking and drilling on federal lands and offshore territory as promised by would trigger a recession, according to a 2019 study by OnLocation. All told, a fracking ban would reduce cumulative GDP by $7 trillion over the next decade.

Such a policy would eliminate 7.5 million jobs in 2022 alone, a job loss rate nearly three times higher than the Great Recession's worst year. These layoffs would disproportionately affect blue-collar workers. Over 3 million workers in Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio could lose their jobs in a single year.

Any shock to the energy industry would reverberate throughout an economy already on life support. Consider agriculture. Farmers rely on natural gas to make fertilizer, and on gasoline and diesel to power their equipment. Under a fracking ban, farms could lose 43 percent of their income by 2030, or $25 billion each year. The cost of farming wheat could spike 64 percent, and the cost of farming corn 54 percent. Farmers would pass these costs onto consumers in the form of higher prices.

A fracking ban would also send energy prices through the roof. Residential natural gas prices could jump almost 60 percent, and electricity prices could climb nearly 20 percent per family annually. Meanwhile, it could cost 15 percent more to fill up your gas tank or heat your home with oil. All told, a fracking ban could cost American households more than $5,000 per year.

To make matters worse, a fracking ban would compromise national security. America currently leads the world in gas and oil development. In less than a decade, a fracking ban would force the United States to rely on foreign suppliers for 40 percent of its oil and 30 percent of its natural gas. This reliance on imported products could leave the United States at the mercy of hostile foreign nations like Russia and the Middle East members of OPEC.

Unfortunately, America wouldn't gain much from these sacrifices. Contrary to what some environmentalists claim, fracking doesn't impede public health. At least 23-peer reviewed studies, 10 research institutions, and 17 government agencies have reached this conclusion.

Thanks to COVID-19, the United States is already facing an economic crisis perhaps worse than  the Great Recession. Banning oil and gas development, which could trigger a recession on its own, is fracking insane.


Colorado River Water Woes Are Real — But Not Climate Related

Unless greenhouse-gas emissions are drastically reduced, the already shrinking Colorado River could shrink another 31% by 2050, two scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) warned in a recent study published in the online journal Science.

The study, “Colorado River Flow Dwindles as Warming-Driven as Loss of Reflective Snow Energizes Evaporation,” was written by P.C.D. Milly and K.A. Dunne. It appeared in Science on Feb. 20, 2020.

In the arid and semi-arid West, water has always been a prized commodity. As the region’s population has grown, so too has the demand for water.

Deciding who gets how much of this scarce resource has marked water-management disputes in the West since the late 19th century.

Snowfall rates along the course of Colorado can vary greatly from year to year, leaving the 40 million people it serves in doubt over how much water will flow down the river.

In other words, dealing with the mighty Colorado, the river that cuts through the Grand Canyon, has always been a challenge.

Using computer simulations of the Colorado River Basin, the two USGS researchers determined that, on average, a regional temperature increase of 1.4 degrees Celsius over the last century reduced the annual amount of water flowing through the West’s largest river by more than 11%.

To forecast the river’s future, the two researchers combined their simulations with climate models (yes, those) that predict temperature increases under purely hypothetical greenhouse-gas emissions scenarios.

In other words, all we have to do is curb atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide by reducing our use of fossil fuels, and the Colorado River will live happily ever after. Or so their argument goes.

Evapotranspiration and an Unwelcome Intruder

“Writing in the American Spectator (May 21), Greg Wachler points out that “evapotranspiration has robbed the river of vast quantities of water because public land managers have allowed forests to grow unnaturally clogged with too many trees – the same bad management that caused 100 million acres of catastrophic fires in the last 20 years.”

“Water evaporates from the trees before ever hitting the ground, much less the river,” he explains. “The Bureau of Reclamation has estimated that the Colorado River loses almost four million acre-feet per year from evapotranspiration…”

Wachler is president of the Natural Resources Group and is the former head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

In addition to overgrowth of forests managed, or mismanaged, by federal agencies, the Colorado has another tormentor: Tamarisk, an invasive and non-native species.

A deciduous shrub or small tree, tamarisk (also known as salt cedar) originated in Eurasia. Tamarisk has taken root in almost half the river systems in the U.S. and is causing trouble everywhere it spreads.

“Tamarisk is among nature’s thirstiest plants, lowering water tables and drying up springs, wetlands, and riparian areas. One tree can drink more than 200 gallons of water per day, and they often grow in stands of up to 3,000 trees per acre,” Wachler says. “Tamarisk now covers nearly two million acres of river banks.”

Given what is known about the thirsty non-native species, Wachler calculates that the approximately 6 billion tamarisk trees nationwide consume an astounding 1.2 trillion gallons of water a day.

“If replaced by the native cottonwood and willow vegetation (which in their natural density consume less than a fourth of the water), 75 percent of the water would remain in the rivers – nearly a trillion gallons per day,” he says.

Private Conservation to the Rescue

The harm wrought by the tamarisk has been known for decades, but the agencies responsible for managing the millions of acres of federal land in the West have done little to address the problem.

Of necessity, that task has fallen to practitioners of private conservation, most notably Grand Junction, CO-based non-profit RiversEdge West (formerly the Tamarisk Coalition).

But with an annual budget of under $4 million, RiversEdge West can restore less than 2,000 acres of riverbank a year. Still, Wachler notes, that far surpasses what they feds have done.

Our sad experience with the lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is a grim reminder of how public policy based on dubious models can go astray. This is true whether the models deal with the climate or with a virus.


Australia: Science and free speech under challenge from Greenie correctness

A court case this week in front of three judges of the Federal Court was a further stage in Peter Ridd’s fight for freedom of speech on climate change. The case, James Cook University v Peter Vincent Ridd, has enormous significance for the future of Australia’s universities and scientific institutions.

Ridd’s case is a dramatic illustration of the free speech crisis in Australian universities, not least around matters as politically and emotionally charged as climate change. It will determine, in effect, whether universities have the ability to censor opinions that threaten their sources of funding. It is one of the most important cases for intellectual freedom in the history of Australian jurisprudence.

The Ridd case has resonated around Australia — and has attracted significant attention worldwide — for good reason. It confirms what many people have suspected for a long time: Australia’s universities are no longer institutions encouraging the rigorous exercise of intellectual freedom and the scientific method in pursuit of truth. Instead, they are now corporatist bureaucracies that rigidly enforce an unquestioning orthodoxy, and are capable of hounding out anyone who strays outside their rigid groupthink.

JCU is attempting to severely limit the intellectual freedom of a professor working at the university to question the quality of scientific research conducted by other academics at the institution. In other words, JCU is trying to curtail a critical function that goes to the core mission of universities: to engage in free intellectual inquiry via free and open, if often robust, debate. It is an absurd but inevitable consequence of universities seeking taxpayer-funded research grants, not truth.

Worse still, it is taxpayers who are funding JCU’s court case. Following a Freedom of Information request by the Institute of Public Affairs, the university was forced to reveal that up until July last year, it had already spent $630,000 in legal fees. It would be safe to assume that university’s legal costs would have at least doubled since that time. The barrister who JCU employed in the Federal Court this week was Bret Walker SC, one of Australia’s most eminent lawyers. Barristers of his standing can command fees of $20,000 to $30,000 a day. And all of this is happening at the same time as the vice-chancellor of the university, Sandra Harding — who earns at least $975,000 a year — complains about the impact of government funding cuts.

While Australian taxpayers are funding the university’s efforts to shut down freedom of speech, Ridd’s legal costs are paid for by him, his wife and voluntary donations from the public. As yet, neither the federal nor the Queensland Education Minister has publicly commented on whether JCU is appropriately spending taxpayers’ money and, so far, both have refused to intervene in the case.

Ridd describes himself as a “luke-warmist”. “I think carbon dioxide will have a small effect on the Earth’s temperature,” he told an IPA podcast recently. “But it won’t be dangerous.” He has been studying the Great Barrier Reef since the early 1980s and was even, at one point, president of his local chapter of the Wildlife Preservation Society.

But Ridd is sceptical about the conventional wisdom that the Great Barrier Reef is dying because of climate change. “I don’t think the reef is in any particular trouble at all,” he says. “In fact, I think it’s probably one of the best protected ecosystems in the world and virtually pristine.”

The problems Ridd’s views cause for JCU are obvious. The university claims to be a leading institution when it comes to reef science, and has several joint ventures with taxpayer-funded bodies such as the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence in Coral Reef Studies.

Ridd challenged his sacking in the Federal Circuit Court on the basis that the university’s enterprise agreement (which determined his employment conditions) specifically guaranteed his right to “pursue critical and open inquiry”, “express unpopular or controversial views”, and even “express opinions about the operations of JCU and higher education policy more generally”. In September last year, Ridd won his case as the court found he had been unlawfully sacked and he was awarded $1.2m in damages and compensation for lost earnings.

The case in the Federal Court this week was an appeal by JCU against that decision. At issue was whether the intellectual freedom clauses in the enterprise agreement covering JCU staff protected his criticism of quality assurance issues in reef science at the university. The university alleges that in going public with his concerns that organisations such as the ARC Centre “cannot be trusted” on reef science, Ridd committed several breaches of the university’s staff code of conduct, with its vague, faintly Orwellian requirements to act “collegiately”, and to “uphold the integrity and good reputation of the university”.

In other words, even though the enterprise agreement specifically declared that staff had the right to intellectual freedom, it was for the university to determine the limits of what that freedom actually permitted. If it is accepted, it will be the death knell of free intellectual inquiry in Australia’s universities. As Ridd’s barrister, Stuart Wood QC, said to the Federal Court: “If you can’t say that certain science cannot be trusted because it is ‘discourteous’ and ‘not collegial’, then you cannot call out scientific misconduct and fraud. It’s not just the end of academic freedom, it’s the end of the scientific method. At that point, JCU ceases to be a university and becomes a public relations outfit.”

An academic who doesn’t have the ability to challenge the research findings of their colleagues because those questions threaten the university’s funding doesn’t have intellectual freedom. And if academics know they could get sacked, as Ridd was, for asking uncomfortable questions, they will stop asking uncomfortable questions.

Academics should of course be open to criticism — particularly for some of their more outlandish conclusions — but as a matter of public policy it is vital that universities be places where bad ideas can be expressed as well as good ones. The difference between the former and the latter should be resolved by free and open debate, not opaque “disciplinary processes”. We may not like what university professors say, but a strong university sector requires that we defend to the death their right to say it.

It is up to the Federal Court now to decide exactly how far universities can go to censor and sack their staff. But in Ridd, James Cook University has one professor who will not go quietly.



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.  

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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