Thursday, February 09, 2006


A "Bear's Lair" column by Martin Hutchinson, normally published by UPI but not apparently online other than here as yet. It includes a good comment on the potential for ethanol as an alternative to petroleum products:

About the only bipartisan cheers in President George W. Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday came with his claim that the United States was "addicted to oil" and the inevitable proposals thereafter for various state subsidies to new energy research. Yet neither the diagnosis nor the proposed cure make sense, since they bear little relation to the realities of the market.

According to the American Heritage dictionary, addiction is defined as a compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance. By this definition, the United States is not addicted to cheap oil, any more than it is addicted to water or soybeans; the substance is essential to keep the economy moving, but if an alternative were found the U.S. public would be only too glad to switch to it. The principal U.S. economic addiction is to cheap credit, an addiction fueled by the enablers of the Federal Reserve, but Bush proposed no significant remedies for THAT ailment. In considering the problem of oil however, the underlying easy money, negative-savings-rate, Federal budget deficit environment is a big part of the problem; since Americans consume far too much in general, they will consume too much oil.

The U.S. economy is not addicted to oil. The majority of affluent or comfortably off U.S. consumers have developed a lifestyle that requires a huge amount of private transportation, which in the present state of technology involves burning a lot of petroleum. Choices have been made, notably the suburbanization of U.S. cities that began even before World War I (construction began on the Bronx River Parkway, the world's first automobile divided limited access highway, as early as 1907 and the first section was opened in 1912.)

If cities remain compact, with development proceeding by means of apartments along major arteries, the primary means of transportation can remain bus and rail, as in Paris. With suburbanization, this becomes impossible because the size and cost of a rail or bus network of any given density expands as the square of its radius. Thus a radial subway or rail network that extends 20 miles from a city center has gaps in it, where the network is too far from much of the housing stock, and accessible only after a lengthy bus ride (generally making the total commuting time impossibly long) or with an automobile commute to the station. At that point, the automobile becomes essential, and whining about oil "addiction" becomes equivalent to whining about the public's incessant demand for food and drink.

Complaining about the U.S. addiction to oil is largely a cultural statement, akin to warning of global warming, by which the speaker's credibility at leftist metropolitan cocktail parties can be assured. It is backed wholeheartedly by the global media, most of whom reside in city centers, use automobiles only sparingly and refer to suburbanites among themselves as "bridge" or "beyond the Beltway" people. It is notable that oil company profits, most of which accrue to shareholders, are regarded with much more horror by the media than tech sector profits, much of which are embezzled in one way or another by that sector's overpaid management.

This anti-oil snobbery has over the years had damaging effects on the U.S. economy. It was responsible for the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards of the 1980s, which forcibly downsized U.S. automobiles through regulatory fiat, left the automobile market vulnerable to imports, and resulted in the invention of the immensely ugly and slightly dangerous Sport Utility Vehicle, which was through regulatory quirk exempt from the controls. The financial decline of Detroit was a direct result of CAFE; which placed the U.S. industry at a disadvantage to imports for decades because its fleet mix was affected more harshly by CAFE standards.

Conversely, anti-oil snobbery has perversely prevented the United States from taxing petroleum products at levels comparable to other countries. The unholy glee of the chattering classes in their attempts to make it more difficult for the non-urban to drive large cars and commute to work was noticed by the voters, who correctly took the view that more than financial motivations were involved. Thus increased gas taxes have always been deeply unpopular - far more so than their equivalent in general sales or other taxes.

Bush's State of the Union address was clearly written for cocktail party consumption, rather than as a rational contribution to policy. State funded "research" at which money had already been thrown in large quantities by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was further increased by 22 percent. No major advance has ever resulted from state funded research in the energy sector but hey, there's always a first time! Bush also announced the Administration's goal of reducing U.S. oil imports from the Middle East by 75 percent by 2025 -- at current 21st Century rates of progress that's 10 major terrorist attacks, 8 invasions, 6 nuclear weapon panics and 3 oil supply crises from now, but the thought's a good one.

Notably absent from the speech were references to Canadian tar sands, Colorado oil shale and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, all of which can be expected to make important contributions to U.S. oil self-sufficiency if allowed to do so by Congress and the environmentalists. Opposition to ANWR drilling, in particular, is a sign that the conversation has degenerated to the cocktail party level; when opponents of ANWR tell you that ANWR oil would supply U.S. oil needs for only 13 months, they omit to point out that a more likely usage pattern is to get 5 percent of U.S. needs for the next two decades, a much more strategically attractive prospect.

Even more than by their refusal to drill in ANWR, the economic un-seriousness of the U.S. political class is demonstrated by their pretence that ethanol, the favored alternative to petrol, must come from corn, wood stalks, soybeans or some other crop grown safely within the United States, preferably in the key Presidential caucus state of Iowa, and therefore to be subsidized in return for campaign contributions. No mention was made of the sugar-cane derived ethanol program in Brazil which supplies 40 percent of Brazil's vehicle fuel, at a price less than half that of gasoline, compared to the price of corn-grown ethanol that is only just competitive with gasoline at today's price of nearly $70 a barrel.

The United States could reduce dependency on the Middle East by importing sugar-cane derived ethanol and save money doing so, even after deducting the cost of retrofitting car engines. Sugar cane is grown in hot, wet tropical countries, not in Iowa (except at exorbitant cost) but there are a whole host of such countries available, in the Caribbean and the northern reaches of South America, only one of which, Venezuela is a significant oil exporter -- in some cases, such as Haiti, the United States is committed to propping the place up anyway.

Ethanol burning in automobiles is even held by environments to be helpful as regards global warming - the rationale is that although ethanol, like gasoline, is a hydrocarbon the burning of which releases carbon dioxide, growing the sugar-cane involves the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and so the loop is closed. This is typical cocktail party arithmetic; it involves assuming that the land where the sugar-cane grows would otherwise be an arid wasteland devoid of plant life. However, if we can avoid environmentalists passing fatuous treaties hindering a partial switch to sugar-cane ethanol, a useful solution to the U.S. energy supply problem, let's not nitpick their logic.

The strategic problem with oil is not that it has to be imported, but that it has to be imported from a relatively small group of countries, most of which are both corrupt and intrinsically somewhat hostile to the United States. Since oil production requires a large concentration of capital equipment, under extraction agreements with the host government, oil revenues tend to produce massive corruption of government officials, wasteful prestige projects and arms buildup rather than genuine economic development. Sugar-cane, on the other hand, is intrinsically a private sector crop, requires only modest capital investment and is fairly labor intensive even with modern cutting technology. Hence growth in the sugar-cane sector is likely to help development and facilitate the growth of a stable middle class in countries of the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America for which the United States has always taken a fatherly interest.

There's a reason for the absence of sugar-cane from Bush's speech: the demands of domestic U.S. politics. Sugar-cane growers in the Caribbean and South America are unlikely to provide significant campaign contributions, so are not a favored class. Indeed, sugar imports to the United States are currently regulated by the "Global Refined Tariff Rate Sugar" program, which prevents significant competition to coddled domestic sugar producers. Needless to say, domestic sugar producers ARE major campaign contributors, particularly in the key state of Florida.

"New Energy" technologies offer significant promise of replacing part of our oil consumption, and indeed must do so if we are not to suffer increasing scarcities, higher prices and eventually a shortage of this essential fuel. Nuclear energy and clean coal are important parts of the answer, but for wholesale power generation not transport. Fuel cell technology is promising, but the gasoline consumption figures of the "hybrid" Toyota Prius and its competitors appear to bear little relation in practice to those achievable in theory. Wind power is very ugly and intrinsically limited in scope, while solar power suffers from the problem that photovoltaic cells tend to overheat - hence the largest solar array in 2005 was in Leipzig, Germany, not generally thought of as a sun-seeker's paradise. Conservation can also help, but is most effectively encouraged by the European method of high taxes on gasoline rather than by command and control edicts from politicians.

The New Energy sector is not short of private funding; its "cocktail party" popularity and the pressure of the Kyoto climate change agreement has produced an ever increasing devotion of resources to research, and a huge boom in speculative investment in the last couple of years. Private equity investments alone in the New Energy sector (excluding investments by existing corporations or government or fund-raising by publicly listed companies) totaled more than $1.6 billion in over 150 transactions in 2005, double the level of the previous year.

As always with such explosive growth, much of the development in the sector is ill thought through. Indeed the popularity of the sector appears to be producing yet another bubble, and has undoubtedly attracted many sharp operators and indeed outright crooks. A boom/bust cycle appears to be inevitable, which is a pity because it could set back genuine progress in the field for a decade.

Price signals from the market and the "cocktail party" credibility of New Energy will produce oil-replacing developments at a rapid pace provided government does not impede the progress. More important than "New Energy" itself, existing technology, both to extract oil reserves from Canada and Alaska and to produce ethanol economically from sugar cane, offers most if not all the additional energy sources we need to avoid over-dependence on the unstable Middle East. Only politics can cause a crisis but as usual, politics appears to be driving government firmly in the direction of obstruction, waste and economic illiteracy.


"Nature", that famous global-warming propaganda rag, recently put out a paper under the title Widespread amphibian extinctions from epidemic disease driven by global warming. The poor reasoning of the paper was pointed out almost immediately and it is now clear what a load of codswallop the paper was. As we see from the report below:

"An outbreak of an infectious disease called chytridiomycosis, attributed to the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has infected and caused rapid die-offs in eight families of Panamanian amphibians, scientists report in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). A survey of amphibian populations in central Panama has uncovered a case of chytridiomycosis that is rapidly radiating outward from western Panama into the El Cope region, spreading from northwest to southeast from Costa Rica toward Colombia. "Chytridiomycosis is an alarming model system for disease-driven extinction of a high proportion of an entire class of vertebrates," the scientists write in PNAS. "It is no longer correct to speak of global amphibian declines, but more appropriately of global amphibian extinctions."

The fungus has been implicated in the decline of more than 40 amphibian species in Central America and 93 such species worldwide. But few researchers have been able to detect and monitor the presence of the fungus before a disease outbreak, and then witness the impact of an epidemic as it occurred, said zoologist Karen Lips of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, lead author of the report. "We anticipated the eastward movement of the fungus, and chose a fungus-free study site near a previously infected area," she said. "Indeed, the fungus found its way there, and when it did, it quickly caused local amphibian extinctions and devastated frog and salamander biodiversity."

Pathogens, or disease-causing microbes, "rarely cause extinctions in the species they infect," said James Collins, assistant director of biological sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Collins is on leave from Arizona State University, and is a co-author of the paper. "There are only a few examples where we think a pathogen resulted in extinction of a species in an area. This is one of them."

The rockhopper frog, for example, which lived along El Cope riverbanks, disappeared completely within one month. Chytridiomycosis wasn't detected at the El Cope study site, said Collins, until Sept. 23, 2004, when scientists found the first infected frog. From then through mid-Jan. 2005, the fungus went on a rampage, killing so many frogs within 4 months that amphibian abundance was reduced by more than 50 percent. Dead frogs included individuals in 38 species (57 percent of the amphibian species at the site). All but three of the dead amphibians were infected with chytridiomycosis, and six of seven samples from substrates like stream boulders tested positive for the fungus, the researchers report. "None of the 1,566 individuals of 59 amphibian species sampled before Sept. 2004, was infected with this fungus," said Lips. "Our results demonstrate that the prevalence of the fungus very rapidly went from zero to high at this site." The timing of the outbreak, said Collins, "indicates that chytridiomycosis is rapidly moving southeastward, allowing us to predict its entry into amphibian communities in central Panama."

When the disease emerges at a site, it is thought to spread through a combination of frog-to-frog and environment-to-frog transmission. In the lab, some species of amphibians can carry the infection for up to 220 days before dying. The die-off at El Cope occurred during the peak of the rainy season. Many mountain-dwelling frogs in the New World tropics make their way to water bodies to breed during the region's prolonged rainy season, thereby transmitting the waterborne fungus. "Our findings definitively link the appearance of chytridiomycosis to amphibian population declines," said Lips. The area had no evidence of climate anomalies in 2004; its temperature and rainfall patterns were similar to those found in long-term records. "These results support a model of amphibian declines in which this fungus enters and quickly spreads through a community with no previously infected individuals," Lips said. The researchers predict the loss of many more amphibian species from the region, most likely from mountainous areas directly east of the study site."



Excerpt from here:

While today's balance between the icecaps and global sea level has been relatively steady since about 1000 B.C., it would be careless to assume that this is the Earth's natural state and that it should always be this way. What could happen to climate naturally in the next few thousand years? If the Earth continued to warm and break from ice age conditions, some of the remaining ice caps could melt. On the other hand, climate might swing back into another ice age. (In fact, some of the environmentalists now worried about global warming were worried about another ice age in the 1960s and 1970s.)

In either case, such a change in climate would take thousands of years to accomplish. Note that it has taken 18,000 years to melt 60% of the ice from the last ice age. The remaining ice is almost entirely at the north and south poles and is isolated from warmer weather. To melt the ice of Greenland and Antarctica would take thousands of years under any realistic change in climate. In the case of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which accounts for 80% of the Earth's current ice, Sudgen argues that it existed for 14,000,000 years, through wide ranges in global climate. The IPCC 2001 report states "Thresholds for disintegration of the East Antarctic ice sheet by surface melting involve warmings above 20ΓΈ C... In that case, the ice sheet would decay over a period of at least 10,000 years." [31] The IPCC is the United Nations' scientific committee on climate change; its members tend to be the minority that predicts global warming and its statements tend to be exaggerated by administrators before release. Given that the IPCC tends to exaggerate the potential for sea level rise, it is clear that no scientists on either side of the scientific debate on global warming fear the melting of the bulk of Antarctica's ice. Consider also this abstract of an article by Jacobs contrasting scientific and popular understanding:

A common public perception is that global warming will accelerate the melting of polar ice sheets, causing sea level to rise. A common scientific position is that the volume of grounded Antarctic ice is slowly growing, and will damp future sea-level rise. At present, studies supporting recent shrinkage or growth depend on limited measurements that are subject to high temporal and regional variability, and it is too early to say how the Antarctic ice sheet will behave in a warmer world. [32]

This statement alludes to the significant point that the Antarctic ice cap appears to currently be growing rather than shrinking. In fact, were the climate to warm significantly in the next few centuries (not a certain future, but supposing it happened), current models suggest that Antarctica would gain ice, with increased snowfall more than offsetting increased melting.

How much concern should we have about the 20% of world ice outside the East Antarctic Ice Sheet? Some sources have recently discussed the "possible collapse" of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). It is suggested that this sheet (about 10% of Antarctic ice) could melt in the "near term" (a usefully vague phrase) and raise sea level 5 to 6 meters. Current understanding is that the WAIS has been melting for the last 10,000 years, and that its current behavior is a function of past, not current climate. [23] The abstract of an article by Alley and Whillans addresses this:

The portion of the West Antarctic ice sheet that flows into the Ross Sea is thinning in some places and thickening in others. These changes are not caused by any current climatic change, but by the combination of a delayed response to the end of the last global glacial cycle and an internal instability. The near-future impact of the ice sheet on global sea level is largely due to processes internal to the movement of the ice sheet, and not so much to the threat of a possible greenhouse warming. Thus the near-term future of the ice sheet is already determined. However, too little of the ice sheet has been surveyed to predict its overall future behavior. [34]

Similarly, recent stories have periodically appeared concerning the potential receding of the Greenland ice cap. Two points may be made regarding current understanding here. First, there is considerable disagreement as to the current rate of net ice cap loss--or even if there is net loss versus net gain. Second, even with temperature increases far greater than the dubious predictions of the IPCC, models indicate that Greenland's ice cap would take 2,000 to 10,000 years to disappear.

Some discussion of the concerns about near term sea level rise may be found in Facts and figures on sea level rise. The predictions that have been made for ice cap melting in the next century rely mostly on melting of glaciers in mountain regions, not melting of the polar ice caps. Even the pessimistic models cited by the IPCC tend to predict an increase in the volume of the Antarctic ice cap with warmer temperatures due to increased snowfalls. In general temperature changes of a few degrees do not seem to be sufficient to begin to melt the polar ice caps, particularly the Antarctic ice cap.....

The article goes on to show what would happen if all the polar ice DID melt:

Today the Earth has 148 million sq. km of land area, of which 16 million sq. km is covered by glaciers. A sea level rise of 66 meters would flood about 13 million sq. km of land outside Antarctica. Without polar ice, Antarctica and Greenland would be ice free, although about half of Antarctica would be under water. Thus, ice-free land would be 128 million sq. km compared to 132 million sq. km today.

As a result, in terms of total habitable land area, the Earth might have more than today. The coastal areas reclaimed by the sea would be mostly offset by now habitable areas of Greenland and Antarctica. Again, remember that such climate change would take thousands of years. Over such time scales vegetation would be restored to newly ice-free regions even without human activity. Also, vast areas which are now desert and tundra would become more fit for human habitation and agriculture.

The illustrations above do not depict any changes in vegetation. In reality, local climates would be very different in ways that are currently difficult to predict. It might be that the warmer climate would lead to generally greater precipitation (this is suggested by comparison to the last ice age, when cooler temperatures caused expansion of the Sahara). Unfortunately, current models are not reliable enough to give a confident answer.

So why wouldn't people drown? Again, a change in the Earth this dramatic would take thousands of years to effect from any realistic cause. Over generations people would migrate as the coasts changed. Consider that virtually all of the settlements in the United States were established only in last 350 years. Of course, many settlements inhabited for thousands of years would have to be abandoned to the ocean--just as many would have to be abandoned if ice age conditions returned and covered vast areas with ice sheets. But people can comfortably adjust where they live over periods of decades, far shorter than the thousands of years needed for these climate changes to naturally take place. Also, that's if they occur, and we have no evidence to indicate what would happen to climate over the next few thousand years.


I cannot resist reproducing one of John Daly's graphs of the historical temperature record at the Eureka station on Baffin Island in the Canadian arctic.

You see what happens when there is no urban heat island effect and when you use thermometers to measure temperature rather than tales from Eskimos.


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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