Sunday, March 19, 2006

Burning Forests for Energy

Environmental causes are endlessly fashionable in Europe and America. You know a movie star or successful entrepreneur has arrived when he or she announces they have become an environmentalist. What's usually overlooked is how these fashionable causes play out in the rest of the world, particularly underdeveloped countries. There've been more than a few bad examples. The banning of DDT has led to a huge resurgence of malaria in the tropics. Boycotting genetically engineered foods in Europe has played havoc with African farming. Now it's emerging that "biofuels"-the latest environmental craze- is leading to the decimation of forests in South America and Asia. The result may be the end of a few more endangered species plus a big new boost in global warming.

You may not remember the DDT episode. It started in 1962 with Rachel Carson and her book, Silent Spring. Carson charged that DDT was being overused in agriculture -which was true-but added the dubious claims that it was threatening North American bird life and causing cancer. The cancer charged turned out to be a false alarm. A generation of workers was exposed to DDT without showing any ill effects. The bird-life charge was also exaggerated. The Environmental Protection Agency concluded so, but its first commissioner, William Ruckelshaus, bowed to pressure and banned it anyway. By 1986 we were telling African countries they wouldn't get our foreign aid if they didn't stop using DDT. The result has been a huge resurgence of malaria. More than a million people die each year, and tens of millions suffer lifelong debilitation. Even some environmentalists are now admitting that DDT could be used in dusting for mosquitoes, but public inertia is hard to overcome.

Genetically modified (G.M.) foods have followed a similar trajectory. U.S. consumers have actually been marvelous about accepting G.M. products. One third of our corn and three quarters of our soybeans are now genetically engineered and nobody bats an eye. A gaggle of alarmists did manage to create a scare over some G.M. taco shells from Mexico a few years ago, but it blew over quickly. Not so in Europe. From 1998 to 2004, the European Union banned even experimenting with GM crops, and has made farmers liable for spreading its "contamination." The World Trade Organization ruled last month that the decision had more to do with protecting European farmers than science, but the damage is already done.

Swiss scientists have developed a vitamin-A-rich breed of "golden rice." Vitamin A deficiency causes a million deaths around the world each year, plus blindness in 350,000 school-age children. Yet Asian and African countries have resisted accepting golden rice for fear that Europe won't take their exports. Even in the midst of drought and starvation, Zambia has refused donations of genetically engineered American corn.

Turning our attention to another pet cause of fashionable environmentalists, now comes the news that biofuels are accelerating the decimation of tropical forests. American and European environmentalists have long urged that we should replace oil imports with "solar energy" by burning corn-based ethanol in our gas tanks. President Jimmy Carter gave it a federal gas tax exemption, of which Archer-Daniels, the agribusiness giant, has become the chief beneficiary, producing more than half our output. Seven percent of the U.S. corn crop now goes into "gasohol," a 90/10 blend of gasoline and ethyl alcohol that replaces 2 percent of our oil. Still, environmentalists aren't satisfied. They point to Brazil, where one quarter of the cars are built to burn any amount of alcohol from sugar cane. Why can't we be like them? What they don't recognize is that Brazil is cutting down huge tracts of Amazon forest in order to make way for this crop.

In spite of this destruction in the name of (ostensibly) sound environmental policy, Southeast Asia is joining the parade. Tropical forests are being cleared for palm oil plantations, where the entire crop will be sold to Europe and America as "biodiesel." Friends of the Earth-which has promoted biofuels since the 1970s-recently sounded the alarm. "Between 1985 and 2000, the development of oil-palm plantations was responsible for an estimated 87 percent of deforestation in Malaysia," declaims a recent report. The usual method of clearing forests is to burn them down. Even the Tanjung Puting National Park in Borneo is being ravaged, thus threatening the habitat of orangutan, rhinos, gibbon, and several other species.

The world is a complicated place, and environmental policies need to be carefully thought out rather than embraced on little more than what passes for current wisdom among the fashionable set. After all, it's not just all good guys and bad guys. Our enthusiasm for environmental purity can often end up doing more harm than good.



Even the trains that remain after the never-ending "cuts" will be shorter

Dozens of train carriages used on rural lines are to be taken out of service by Britain's biggest train company to save money. The shorter trains will mean that thousands of passengers a day will have to stand during the summer on services across the West Country. Two-carriage trains will serve some stations where up to 400 people will be queueing to board in July and August. The worst-affected routes will be from Cardiff to Portsmouth via Bristol; from Weston-super-Mare to Bristol; and the St Ives branch line in Cornwall.

First Group, which has agreed to pay the Government 1 billion pounds over the next decade for the right to run the Greater Western franchise, will save o100,000 a year for each carriage it removes. These will be returned to the leasing companies that own them and stored in sidings. They are likely to be stripped of their special liveries depicting West Country scenes such as St Michael's Mount and the great gardens of Cornwall.

Keith Walton, chairman of the Severnside Community Rail Partnership, said: "It is scandalous that the Government is allowing these carriages to be withdrawn only a year after it gave permission for trains to be lengthened to cope with rising demand. "The existing three-coach trains between Trowbridge and Bath have more than 40 people standing in the peak so it makes no sense to cut them down to two coaches. Nothing is more likely to push people back into their cars than having to stand all the way on a train."

The Times revealed two weeks ago that, from December, First Group was planning to remove up to half the daily trains on branch lines and three quarters of the services at rural stations on main lines.

Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, admitted that he was partly responsible for the West Country cuts. He said: "I am not seeking to avoid blame. We cannot be in the business of carting fresh air round the country. If we are terrified to go near any service for fear of flak, then sooner or later we will come a cropper." Mr Darling said that the Liskeard-to-Looe branch line, in Cornwall, which is losing five of its thirteen daily services, had attracted an average of only nine passengers a train in the twelve months to last April. But the Devon and Cornwall Community Rail Partnership said that Mr Darling was using misleading figures based only on tickets sold.

Richard Burningham, the partnership's manager, said: "Trains on the Looe branch are so crowded in summer that the conductor cannot get down the aisle to sell tickets."

First is understood to be reconsidering some of the December cuts after 5,000 passengers wrote in to object. First said: "We won't be able to accommodate every suggestion but we do promise to look at the feedback we have received and make changes where possible within the financial and timetable constraints of the franchise."


Do Britons need another hosepipe ban?

The political leadership's tight-fisted and moralistic approach to water supply is a bigger problem than lack of rainfall

Thames Water, the company that supplies the Thames Valley region of England, including London, this week announced a ban on the use of hosepipes. It joins a number of other companies in placing restrictions on water usage. Water, as with many other facets of modern life, has become a focus for exhortations about using less.

Conditions in southern England have been unusually dry for some time now. [Hey! Global warming should produce MORE rainfall!] The period from November 2004 to January 2006 has been the second driest since records started in 1914, and the driest since 1920-22, with just 724mm of rain (2). Southern Water, already under a hosepipe ban, has been taking extra water from rivers to keep reservoirs moderately stocked. Orders to allow compulsory water metering have been approved for the Folkstone and Dover area.

According to Thames Water, rivers are now flowing at between a half and a third of their normal level and boreholes are at their lowest level ever. Other factors have contributed to the shortages. The population of the south-east is rising with an extra 800,000 people expected to move into the region in the next decade. Water usage per head has been creeping up, too. So, more people are using more water just at the time when the heavens are providing substantially less.

How can it be that a few months of dry weather can have such an impact? After all, this is not some poor and arid backwater. According to Forbes magazine, inner London is the richest area in Europe with a significant chunk of the Thames area (Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire) coming seventh on the same list. Is it really beyond the wit of planners to provide sufficient infrastructure to meet demand?

One problem highlighted frequently is leaking pipes. Thames Water hasn't exactly covered itself in glory on this issue, losing 915 million litres per year. While there is an ongoing drive to cut these losses by 200 million litres over the next four or five years, Britain's water system has suffered from decades of neglect. That won't be turned around overnight and there are practical limits on how much these losses can be reduced.

A solution put forward by Thames to try to deal with this increasing demand is to build a desalination plant at Barking. This would supply up to 150 million litres by taking water from the ebb tide (with only a quarter of the salt content of seawater) and squeezing it through fine membranes to produce drinkable water. While this is a relatively expensive way of producing clean water, it makes sense in an area with less available rainwater than far hotter cities like Madrid, Rome or Istanbul.

However, the plan was blocked by London mayor Ken Livingstone in April 2005. The proposal was regarded as out of step with the 'sustainable management of water supply resources in London'. Thames Water was told to fix more leaks and cut water usage instead. Given the ongoing shortages, Thames Water is now planning to appeal against this decision.

In the meantime, consumers have been bombarded with all sorts of advice about how to save a bit of water here or there: turn the tap off when you brush your teeth; pour the water from peeling the spuds on to the garden; take a shower not a bath. The most appealing advice of all came from Livingstone himself last year: 'We are asking people to consider - and obviously it is a matter of personal choice - that if all you have done is take a pee, you don't need to flush the toilet every time.' That idea caused a bit of a stink, and not just in lavatories.

For all the guff about 'sustainability', it is this tight-fisted, moralising approach to water supply which is unsustainable. Like it or not, water usage is going to continue to rise and dry periods like the current one will occur from time to time. It makes sense to put in place sufficient supply to meet current and future demand - and that means reservoirs, treatment plants and efficient distribution. While there may be a drought at present, water shortage is a social and technical problem, not a natural one.

That doesn't mean that water couldn't be used more efficiently. Modern toilets and domestic appliances use far less water than in the past and further efficiency gains are undoubtedly possible without reducing effectiveness. Exhortations and restrictions are likely to be far less effective than policies that actively encourage change. For example, in various parts of the USA, including New York, households have been offered grants to replace old toilets with more efficient modern ones. This may be a sensible short-term option to postpone the more expensive construction of a reservoir or treatment plant.

However, the message we are getting is that it is our overconsumption which is to blame. A Thames Water spokesman told Spiked that the introduction of the hosepipe ban was as much about raising awareness of water usage as it was about the amount of water saved from a ban itself.

We should be more concerned about planners and authorities that treat power showers, dishwashers and car washes as unnecessary luxuries rather than things we might all want to enjoy. Watering our gardens should not be a criminal offence.



(From Trends in Ecology & Evolution, Volume 21, Issue 3 , March 2006, Pages 111-113)

Climate change and the migration capacity of species

By Richard G. Pearson

Department of Herpetology & Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY 10024, USA

In a recent paper, McLachlan et al. presented evidence that migration rates of two tree species at the end of the last glacial (c. 10-20 thousand years ago) were much slower than was previously thought. These results provide an important insight for climate-change impacts studies and suggest that the ability of species to track future climate change is limited. However, the detection of late-glacial refugia close to modern range limits also implies that some of our most catastrophic projections might be overstated.

The migration rate debate

Studies that predict the potential impacts of future climate change on biodiversity usually consider two scenarios regarding the ability of species to track the changing conditions: either unlimited or no dispersal 1, 2 and 3. In reality, the migration capacity of species is likely to fall somewhere between the two; however, the degree to which species can achieve rapid large-scale migrations is still poorly understood. New molecular evidence reported recently by McLachlan et al. suggests that migration rates of two North American tree species (American beech Fagus grandifolia and red maple Acer rubrum) at the end of the last glacial [c. 10-20 thousand years ago (ka)] were much slower than has previously been deduced from the fossil pollen record. These findings provide an important warning as to the limited potential for species to keep pace with future climate change.


It's not all bad news

Although McLachlan et al. provide yet more warning as to the potentially severe effects of climate change on biodiversity, there is an important additional interpretation of their findings. If postglacial colonization from isolated refugial populations was common, then the concept that species respond to climate change by undergoing large-scale distribution shifts to track optimal conditions might be erroneous. Instead, the ability of species to maintain low-density isolated populations for long periods of time while the regional climate is unsuitable becomes of paramount importance. This ability provides a fundamental challenge to the 'bioclimate envelope' models that are often used to project future impacts on biodiversity.

Bioclimate envelope models use associations between environmental variables and known distributions of species to define environmental requirements that can be projected under scenarios of future climate change. The models predict large-scale distribution shifts and are usually run at coarse spatial resolutions, for example across 50x50 km cells [3]. By averaging climates over large cells, the models do not incorporate localized microclimates within which low-density populations can persist. Thus, just as the fossil pollen record is too coarse to identify small populations, bioclimate envelope models might be too coarse to incorporate a key mechanism by which species can persist through rapid changes in climate. The result will be overly pessimistic predictions of extinction risk from climate change.


New research is constantly improving our understanding of the responses of species to climate change, yet often reminds us that current knowledge is inadequate, and that predictions of future impacts are fraught with uncertainty. To improve predictions of climate-change impacts on biodiversity, new modeling approaches are required that address fine-scale impacts and that can identify potential refuges from conditions that are regionally unfavorable. Unfortunately, such efforts are likely to be hampered by the difficulties of making regional climate-change predictions. There is also the need to use more dynamic and mechanistic modeling approaches that integrate envelope models of envrionmental requirements with simulations of the dispersal of species across landscapes.

In light of McLachlan et al.'s study, such dispersal models should not rely on extraordinarily rare long-distance dispersal events to achieve rapid migrations, but should instead incorporate dispersal and life-history traits (e.g. seed production and survival) that limit migration capacity. In addition, models will be required to incorporate land-use data alongside climate-change scenarios, because modern human-dominated landscapes are very different from those at the end of the last glaciation. Furthering our understanding of past responses to climate-change gives an important insight into what responses we can expect in future, yet the magnitude of impacts on biota caused by anthropogenic climate change remains difficult to predict. The article by McLachlan et al. provides reason to think that some of our most catastrophic projections of climate-change impacts might be overstated, yet the low potential for rapid migration implied by the new analysis gives no cause for optimism.


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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