Monday, February 13, 2006


A private email from a visitor to China that has not passed through official or media filters. Aren't we lucky to be living in one of those dreaded advanced capitalist societies?

Beijing was the most polluted place I have ever seen. There were a few clear days, 500 metres visibility, but on bad days the pollution was shocking -- 15 metres visibility. On 8 lane roads I could just make out the outline of the kerb from the middle lane.

According the English newspaper there, 5 hours of exposure to air pollution was the same as 70 cigarettes! I am still coughing. They call the sickness that results Beijing flu.

I loved the cold weather though. The hottest it got was -1 Celsius. Average was -5 to - 8 a few places were very cold. The great wall was -15 at the top with a 25 degree wind chill! brrrr. Some days were colder because the pollution completely blocked out the sun. It was totally deserted because of the cold, which was nice. I got lucky with clothing. I managed to find some knock-off Gore-Tex jackets, real gored, fake brand. They were fine. Went to the wall with t-shirt and 1 coat.

China was surprisingly undeveloped. Massive high-rises and cars everywhere trying to use bicycle road rules. Looked like chaos but had a really effective system. I only saw one accident. The drivers are incredibly skilled.

Beware False Profits

On the dangers of ignoring the harmful effects of reducing carbon emissions

By Iain Murray

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. - 2 Timothy 4: 3-5

The Evangelical Climate Initiative today issued a brief report entitled "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action." It calls for Evangelical Christians to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and is signed by 86 evangelical leaders. Sadly, these good men and women have allowed their itching ears to listen to fables. Their claims are based on half-truths and unsound logic.

The first claim is that human-induced climate change is real. This is likely true as a simple statement, but the evidence the group proposes for it is weak and its meaning is far from clear. For instance, the group claims that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has "documented the steady rise in global temperatures over the last fifty years." This is not the case. The earth actually cooled between 1942 and 1980 (see here). The earth has warmed steadily only over the last 25 years, and evidence from satellites is not consistent with the idea that global warming is actually global.

The group then says that the IPCC projects that the global temperature will continue to rise. This is true, but the wording is important. A projection is not a prediction. The IPCC has found itself unable to predict with any degree of confidence what will happen to global temperatures in the future. Moreover, these projections are based on "storylines" about how energy use will grow in the future. As several distinguished commentators have noted, these storylines are based on faulty economic analysis.

The group then claims that the IPCC has attributed "most of the warming" to human activities. This also overstates the case. The IPCC found that "most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations" (emphasis added). Attribution of climate change is a very difficult subject and the IPCC is right to include the caveat. Indeed, there have been recent developments that may affect this claim. For example, a group of paleoclimatologists recently wrote:

"[E]nhanced variability during pre-industrial times, would result in a redistribution of weight towards the role of natural factors in forcing temperature changes, thereby relatively devaluing the impact of anthropogenic emissions and affecting future predicted scenarios. If that turns out to be the case, agreements such as the Kyoto protocol that intend to reduce emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, would be less effective than thought" - Esper et al., Climate: Past Changes and Future Ranges, November 2005

Then the group states that all the G8 scientific Academies have concurred with these findings. The group should have noted that the Russian Academy of Sciences disputes its signature on that document.

The second claim is that "the consequences of climate change will be significant, and will hit the poor the hardest." Here there is much more dispute, as the consequences depend very much on the projected temperature rises, which are themselves in dispute as noted above. There is significant uncertainty even within the IPCC's judgment as to what the temperature rises will be. Rises of 1.5oC may well not have much effect, whereas rises of 5.4oC would probably have a profound effect; the actual data, as opposed to the models, suggest a modest temperature rise of just over 1oC.

As for the consequences, the group first lists sea-level rise. Unfortunately for them, the latest research on the likely effects of melting ice on sea level rise halves the previous estimates. Next come heat waves, drought, and extreme weather events. The evidence for those, however, is mixed. Leading experts in tropical diseases downplay the role of global warming in spreading tropical diseases, which are the next worry, and there is a significant and fractious dispute in the hurricane research field over the role of global warming in increasing hurricane intensity. Neither of these possible effects of global warming has been established with any degree of certainty.

The group goes on to claim that the effects of these changes on the world's poor could be catastrophic, and that "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors." Because of the group's third claim ("Christian moral convictions demand our response to the climate change problem"), which I shall not argue with here, the fourth claim is made that, "The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change - starting now." And the role chosen is to "reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels."

Even if you accept claims 3 and 4, the logic driving towards reduction in fossil fuel use as the appropriate reaction is faulty. The problem is that the deleterious effects of global warming, assuming they do come about, are actually exacerbations of existing problems. Indur Goklany, writing for the National Center for Policy Analysis, examined to what degree global warming would make worse the problems of hunger, drought, sea-level rise, disease, and threats to biodiversity. He found:

* By 2085, the contribution of (unmitigated) warming to the above listed problems is generally smaller than other factors unrelated to climate change.

* More important, these risks would be lowered much more effectively and economically by reducing current and future vulnerability to climate change rather than through its mitigation.

* Finally, adaptation would help developing countries cope with major problems now, and through 2085 and beyond, whereas generations would pass before anything less than draconian mitigation would have a discernible effect

In other words, we can do more to help the poor by combating these problems now than we would by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. There is a terrible opportunity cost to drastic action to reduce climate change, and that cost would likely weigh heavier on the world's poor than the effects of global warming itself.

Moreover, it is acknowledged by every responsible economist that drastic action to reduce fossil fuel use would increase energy costs, which would in turn reduce household income. Wealthier is healthier, and richer is cleaner. Limiting economic activity therefore can have a dramatic impact on quality of life, not least by reducing life expectancy. Researchers have found a direct correlation between income and mortality, with a disproportionate impact on poorer communities. Thus, policies that reduce societal wealth can be expected to induce premature mortalities, as well as to increase disease and injury rates.

For example, it is often asserted that global warming already kills 150,000 people per year worldwide. Yet a recent econometric study by Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Harvey Brenner found that replacing U.S. coal with higher-cost fuels for the purposes of energy production would result in at least 195,000 additional premature deaths per year in the U.S. alone. Given that recent "Kyoto-lite" measures proposed in the U.S. Senate such as the Climate Stewardship Act proposed by Senators McCain (R., Ariz,) and Lieberman (D., Conn.) would result in the replacement of about 78 percent of coal with high-priced fuels, it is entirely plausible that even "baby steps" towards climate mitigation would result in the deaths of more people in the U.S. than global warming would worldwide. The effects of such strategies if adopted across the globe could be far more devastating than global warming even if alarmist predictions come true.

The evangelical leaders need to give more thought to the unintended consequences of their well-intentioned acts. By devoting spiritual and temporal energy to reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, the evangelical leaders will probably hurt the poor more than they help them. As Matthew 7: 15 says, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." By adopting a green agenda, the evangelicals may have thrown the poor to those wolves.


Why do the Japanese and the Inuits have some of the lowest risks for cardiovascular disease and heart-related death? Likewise, why are breast cancer rates unusually low in these same groups? Why are rates of postpartum depression relatively lower in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Chile than in most western nations? Why is the prevalence of Alzheimer's disease so high in Arab populations in Israel while the risk is significantly lower for the Cree Indians of northeastern Canada? The best explanation points to differing diets. The healthier populations listed above ingest high levels of nutritious omega-3 fatty acids through consumption of fish and shellfish. Comparing national daily intakes of these essential fatty acids reveals average Americans consume between 2 to 10 times below rates in Japan, Singapore, Scandinavia, and Spain.

So, why are American diets deficient in fish and fish oil? Why aren't Americans eating more fish? Our self-imposed consumption restriction is at least partially derived from being confused and alarmed by the daily news barrage claiming available sources of seafood may be overly "contaminated" by the biologically toxic form of mercury, called methylmercury. For example, recent evidence demonstrates that pregnant women from eastern Massachusetts are consuming less fish following the FDA's confusing revision of its fish consumption advisory. Also, the latest sales figures for canned tuna report a drop of 10 percent nationwide, compared to 16 months ago. This represents an industry revenue loss of nearly $150 million. More worrisome than financial loss, a further drop in American seafood consumption below an already deficient level is particularly bad news for our most sensitive populations, such as pregnant women, fetuses, and young children.

Such mercury fears are unfounded in science. The wide variety of ocean fish available to Americans is almost surely safe, with no emerging health threats from the trace levels of mercury. There is nothing in these fish to warrant unnecessary consumption restrictions. Here is what the best science tells us:

First, the overall health benefits of consuming a variety of ocean and lake fish clearly far outweigh the risk from micro traces of mercury (measured in parts per million) occurring naturally in fish through the synthesis of existing mercury from Earth's crust, oceans, and rivers. The medical literature richly documents the potential mitigation for a host of serious negative health conditions by the intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Secondly, widespread claims of modern industrial mercury "contamination" are without scientific support. In sharp contrast, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly points to naturally elevated levels of mercury in both fish and humans. Third, the recent popular alarmism about damage to child neurodevelopment and adult cardiac health related to mercury are rooted in extrapolations from highly inappropriate studies of populations in the Faroe Islands and eastern Finland, respectively.

The Faroese studies are inappropriate for setting risk levels for the U.S. population because the Faroe Island inhabitants are uniquely exposed to very high levels of mercury from consumption of pilot whale meat. Additionally, Faroese mothers and children are exposed to a cocktail of other toxic chemicals, including PCBs and DDT, by eating pilot whale blubber.

Limited suggestions of cardiac risk from consuming fish with trace levels of mercury is contradicted by numerous studies of documented cardiac health benefits, as noted by the American Heart Association. The Finnish study often referenced by alarmists is almost certainly too unique and poorly designed to suggest any direct relevance for Americans. For example, the rate of cardiac death in eastern Finland is among the highest in the world, likely due to high consumption of animal fat. The authors themselves identified at least eight other risk factors, including vodka and beer binging; low dietary intake of fruits, berries, and vegetables; and vitamin C deficiency. More important is a critical design flaw of the Finnish study: The time lapse for collection of the mercury data can be as long as 10 years before the documented death events, which raises serious questions about misclassification of exposure. Thus, persistent, exaggerated, and unfounded mercury scares reported in the media could be seriously and irresponsibly endangering the health of all Americans.


It's simple: Sydney needs another dam

Greenies or no Greenies

EUREKA! Premier Morris Iemma has "discovered" a secret stash of underground drinking water and suddenly we're drought-proof. Sure, and next the Premier will be telling us the Cross City Tunnel is a bargain. He might get away with the ruse, since the drought has broken and the dams are filling. But the "vast underground lakes" beneath Penrith and the Southern Highlands that have given the Government the excuse to shelve its dud desalination program haven't miraculously appeared overnight. Geology students have been mapping the aquifers and farmers have been drilling water bores from them for 100 years. Some secret.

The aquifers are just a fig leaf to hide Iemma's embarrassment at canning the desalination plant that was only ever a diversionary tactic to stop drought-affected Sydneysiders clamouring for a new dam. Any engineer with a clear head will tell you that, even with water restrictions and a better effort recycling water for industrial use, at the rate Sydney is growing (700 new residents a week at last count), it is long overdue for a new storage facility. Dams have been the tried and true way of storing water since civilisation began. They are designed to tide you over between wet spells.

When Warragamba was built in 1960, Sydney had half the population of today and the catchment designers always envisaged expansion to keep up with the needs of a growing city. For 40 years successive state governments bought up land near Braidwood for the planned Welcome Reef Dam on the Shoalhaven River. By 1997 about half the land needed had been bought - 87 properties or more than 20,000 hectares. But in 2000 the deep-green former Premier Bob Carr announced that the dam, tipped then to cost $400 million, was on "indefinite deferral". He then locked up the land that had been set aside, stealthily transferring 6000 crucial hectares into a nature reserve, thus destroying any prospect the plan could be revived.

So last week our dams were 44.2 per cent full after hitting an all-time low on June 29 last year when Warragamba fell to 34.7 per cent. If more people are drawing water out of a dam, it is obvious it will empty faster. It's not global warming but simple maths. Sydney hasn't built a new dam since Tallowa in 1976, yet projections are for an extra 1 million people living in Sydney by 2021.

Now the Iemma Government has even blinked over raising the Tallowa dam walls, billed by last year's Utilities Minister Frank "the Punisher" Sartor as a central plank of the Government's water strategy. Sartor's plans included applying ever more draconian water restrictions, squeezing the last dregs out of Warragamba dam, piping excess water from the Shoalhaven to Warragamba, increasing the price of water, reducing leaks and maximising recycling. A bit of this and a bit of that.

It was just seven months ago that Dubai Bob, as Carr was dubbed after his $120,000 tour of London and Dubai two weeks before he resigned, announced his grand plan for a desalination plant at Kurnell. It was always an expensive, environmentally unsound, technological furphy aimed at diverting attention from the dam that was so glaringly needed.

Yet the Government will spend a reported $120 million on this aborted folly, compensating private companies, buying land and setting up pilot plants.

Not that the NSW Opposition is any better. When asked for Peter Debnam's policy on a new dam, his spokesman said: "We haven't spoken about building a new dam at any stage. Our water policy at this stage revolves around recycling . . . We've maintained that Sydney doesn't have a rainwater problem, it has a catchment problem." Well, duh.

Welcome Reef would have cost $1.8 billion. But the desalination plant would have cost $2 billion with environmental costs arguably greater than any dam, and benefits far less. Instead of frightening the populace with apocalyptic visions of the future, dreaming up mad schemes and encouraging ideologically warped councils to ban swimming pools, couldn't one politician make a rational decision, wear the greenie protests and earn the respect of the voters?



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

Comments? Email me here. My Home Page is here or here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


1 comment:

Raf M said...

Great insights! Like a travelogue, only grimmer.
National Geographic once did a story on pollution in China. H. G. Wells and Huxley would've been shocked as to how man has exceeded the dystopian horror of their novels. Forced labor to work the most hazardous chemicals, appalling standards. but there ARE environmentalists in China; the problem though, is that significant economic gains would've been sacrificed (and China's superpower role, eventually) had the government listened to them.
health news resources