Monday, May 15, 2006

You Never Can Tell

When figuring out what to do about the overall energy situation, or predicting the future, I confess to having some degree of modesty. Looking at all the bad predictions from smart people in the past, it's easy to be less than confident when it comes to forecasting what's going to happen 10 and 50 years from now with oil, solar batteries, wave power, ethanol, Chinese motoring, hybrid cars, nuclear power, energy wars, windmills, bicycle sales, wood chips, melting glaciers or switch grass. Here, for example, are some of the more notable predictions from experts on things a lot less complicated than today's energy issues.

Explained David Sarnoff, general manager of RCA, in 1955, "Television will never be a medium of entertainment." Interestingly, that lack of vision sounded not unlike the advice Sarnoff received three decades earlier from his associates when he recommended investments in radio. "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value," they advised, regarding the potential for radio advertising. "Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?"

In 1929, on the eve of the greatest stock market crash in American history, Irving Fisher, professor of economics at Yale University, predicted a long stretch of smooth sailing. "Stocks," he advised, "have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."

Two years earlier in Hollywood, as talkies were being introduced into America's theaters, movie tycoon H.M. Warner of Warner Brothers showed he wasn't much of a prophet. "Who the hell," he asked, "wants to hear actors talk?"

In 1869, Charles Darwin envisaged an unruffled reception for his new book, The Origin of the Species: "I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone."

In turning down the Beatles for a recording contract in 1962, the music whiz kids at Decca Recording Co. explained, "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."

In 1966, Business Week ventured a prediction regarding the impact of Japanese automobiles in the American marketplace: "The Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market."

In 1977, Ken Olson, founder and president of Digital Equipment Corp., issued a forecast about the future of the computer business: "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." Popular Mechanics, three decades earlier, couldn't visualize how a future computer could even fit in a house, even if people wanted one: "Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons."

Even for Albert Einstein, forecasting was a tricky business. "There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable," he proclaimed in 1932. "It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will."

Getting it wrong three times in three short sentences, was British scientist William Thomson, knighted in 1866 for his scientific expertise and best known as the king of Victorian physics: "Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax."

In the 1950s, after the successful launch of Sputnik I, the world's first artificial satellite, the Soviet Union was widely viewed as the scientific and military powerhouse of the future.

In 1975, regarding global climate changes, Newsweek saw a day when polar bears would be snowboarding into Manhattan. "The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the Earth's climate seems to be cooling down," it warned. "The present temperature decline has taken the planet about a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average."

Satellite photos showed "a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72," reported Newsweek, as well as drops in global temperatures and declines in the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the United States.

The predicted consequence was more ice and a "drastic decline" in food output. "Meteorologists," warned Newsweek, are "almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century."

What's clear from the aforementioned miscalculations is that it's easy to introduce personal biases and fears into an analysis, and, more importantly, easy to underestimate the entrepreneurial and inventive spirit of human beings when it comes to problem solving.

Source




Environmental Preservation: A Matter of Property

The study of the laws of economics has been greatly aided by the development of the idea of the evenly rotating economy (ERE) as an artificial construct wherein the world is held constant in a changeless and endless round of the same repetitive, mindless activities and transactions.

As Ludwig von Mises described it, ".in the evenly rotating economy there is no choosing and the future is not uncertain as it does not differ from the present known state. Such a rigid system is not peopled with living men making choices and liable to error; it is a world of soulless unthinking automatons; it is not a human society, it is an ant hill."

Environmentalists, it seems, have their own version of the ERE. The major difference is that environmentalists hold the evenly rotating environmental economy (EREE) to be real, and not as an artificial construct to look at exact conditions. Under the EREE, by holding the environment and all the processes it goes through as unchanging, the environmentalist can then readily blame the entirety of environmental changes on "greedy" human action. This is perhaps the single greatest fallacy of the environmentalist movement.

The EREE, then, like the ERE, is a convenience, though, without which we cannot apply economics to understand the real world in which we find ourselves. Unlike the EREE or the ERE, the real world is one of flux, of change, where entrepreneurial activity flourishes, interest rates rise and fall, and people come to value different goods differently at various times, the winds blow from different directions on some days, floods occur periodically, all of which show that while the environment may exhibit some broad general patterns, these patterns are not continual. We do not see rain hit the same places in the same amounts on the exact same time on the exact same days every year just as we do not see the same movements in interest rates every year.

The social sciences cannot function as a laboratory science, and this is where the ERE needs careful handling. Human nature cannot allow for all things to be held equal. Obviously, then, the environment is limited by similar constraints; it too is a dynamic place. All weather save wind cannot be held equal to see the effect it may have on the Earth; the environment is a complex, ever-changing matrix, much like that of the market economy, which, like the environment may be said to exhibit general broad patterns at times, but without a endless continuation of the same activities.

When human action is curtailed by government regulation, then economic activity goes "underground." This is another way of saying that a free market has been established in defiance of a regulated market backed by threats of government involvement. If the environment were, in a sense, "regulated" or interfered with by human emissions of pollutants, then the environment would surely adapt and continue on in its operations, much in the manner of those who make exchanges on black markets. To assume that the environment is incapable of dynamic change overlooks how our present hydrogen-oxygen atmosphere developed.

If the EREE is true as environmentalists insist, then we find that humanity is responsible for dire environmental changes. How, then, the well-meaning environmentalist asks, can the environment be "protected" from the excesses of human action? The answer, it should be obvious, is property rights. But, to the environmentalist, this is not the obvious answer, so a comparison of property rights in a hypothetical free market to empirically-proven conditions under the Soviet Union to see how the environment fares under each should provide a basis for making rational decisions regarding the role of property rights, and, as a corollary, government intervention.

Property Rights: In the Home of the Free

Murray Rothbard ingeniously solved the problem of air pollution that environmentalists quibble about endlessly. His argument for private property inclusive of air over a piece of land solves, among other things, the problem of pollution. "In so far as the outpouring of smoke by factories pollutes the air and damages the persons or property of others, it is an invasive act. Air pollution, then is not an example of a defect in a system of absolute property rights, but of failure on the part of the government to preserve property rights." If property rights include the right to modify the air over one's land, then one may pollute so long as this pollution does not spill over into the air space of another. This is an outright impossibility given the flow of air; and many cunning ways can be developed to prevent emissions from getting into the air, anywhere from storing emissions in bottles to finding ways to convert emissions into water vapor, thus alleviating the problem. Emissions, the bane of environmentalists, would be significantly reduced on a free market, as individuals who do emit pollutants could face legal action by their victims.

The free market solution, then, is based on rational calculation by the individual as to the best use of the environment under his control. The incentives to preserve and protect such environment are sensible: preserving an asset is preferable to squandering it. But, in all their recommendations to adapt society such that economic activity has less of an impact on the environment, environmentalists make no mention of property rights of air and water as developed by Rothbard. Instead, environmentalists advocate a myriad of concepts from tax breaks on hybrid cars to trading emissions between companies to meet government regulation on maximum emissions output. No matter how close to a "market" solution, these recommendations do modify property rights, sometimes blatantly, such as the alleged right to "pollute" implied by the existence of emissions trading, and the more subtle forms such as behavior modification through aforementioned tax breaks. These concepts, all of which involve government regulation to achieve the goals of the environmentalists, lead to one important question: is rational economic calculation under environmentalism possible?.....

Conclusions

It seems, then, that environmentalism has become the last refuge of the socialist and leftist scoundrel; by holding to the theoretical EREE to place the blame for environmental changes on human activities such as the driving of automobiles, they are in a far better position to advocate eradication of private modes of transportation in favor of public transportation under such criteria as the 'environmentally friendly' solution.

But the solution to what? To the personal enjoyment and freedom that comes with owning a car? This is hardly a solution at all; merely the imposition of arbitrary values supposedly backed by an alleged compassion for the environment with, at best, shaky scientific theories in support. If individuals are stripped of the ability to use the environment to further their own ends to the point where sustenance becomes an issue, then they will have no choice but to succumb to government for their sustenance; some will hear the siren-song of "free" housing, health care, etc., far before they reach that breaking point. The choice, then, is a clear echo of the choice between socialism and capitalism: the environment, or civilization.

As we have seen, only property rights can instill the necessary desire to be respectful and resourceful with environmental assets. The logical implication is that as the standard of living rises in a country, so the treatment and appreciation of natural resources in that country will rise.

Government modifications of property rights in the name of environmental protection will only cause a decline in the standard of living; clearly "tragedy of the commons" is not a phrase in the environmentalist lexicon. No matter which way environmentalism turns, as long as it retains its socialist ambitions and accepts the EREE as true, then the successful implementation of environmentalist policies will serve to make the environment worse over time.

More here





Critique of the IPCC

By David Henderson

(An excerpt from a text which formed the basis for a talk given in Stockholm on 5 May 2006 at a meeting convened by Timbro)

I think that their lordships were justified in voicing concerns about the IPCC. I believe that there are good reasons to query the claims to authority and representative status that are made by and on behalf of the Panel, and hence to question the virtual monopoly that it now holds.

To begin with, the principle of creating a single would-be authoritative fount of wisdom is itself open to doubt. Even if the IPCC process were indisputably and consistently rigorous, objective and professionally watertight, it is imprudent for governments to place exclusive reliance, in matters of extraordinary complexity where huge uncertainties prevail, on a single source of analysis and advice and a single process of inquiry. Viewed in this light, the very notion of setting consensus as an aim appears as questionable if not ill-judged.

In any case, the ideal conditions have not been realised. The IPCC process is far from being a model of rigour, inclusiveness and impartiality. In this connection, there are several related aspects that I would emphasise.

First, the Panel's treatment of economic issues is flawed. Writings that feature in the Third Assessment Report contain what many economists and economic statisticians would regard as basic errors, showing a lack of awareness of relevant published sources; and the same is true of more recent IPCC-related writings, as also of material published by the UNEP. In this area, the IPCC milieu is neither fully competent nor adequately representative.[4]

Second, the built-in process of peer review, which the IPCC and member governments view as a guarantee of quality and reliability, does not adequately serve this purpose, for two reasons.

* Reason No. 1 is that providing for peer review is no safeguard against dubious assumptions, arguments and conclusions if the peers are largely drawn from the same restricted professional milieu.

* Reason No. 2 is that the peer review process as such, here as elsewhere, may be insufficiently rigorous. Its main purpose is to elicit expert advice on whether a paper is worth publishing in a particular journal. Because it does not normally go beyond this, peer review does not typically guarantee that data and methods are open to scrutiny or that results are reproducible.

Third, in response to criticisms that have been made of published and peer-reviewed work that the IPCC has drawn on, the authors concerned have failed to make full and voluntary disclosure of data and sources. A leading instance is that of the celebrated 'hockey-stick' diagram, which was prominently displayed and drawn on in the Third Assessment Report and afterwards. Probably no single piece of alleged evidence relating to climate change has been so widely cited and influential. The authors concerned failed to make due disclosure of data and sources, and neither the publishing journals nor the IPCC required them to do so As a result, fundamental errors and evidence of deficient statistical properties were concealed until very recently.[5]

Fourth, the response of the Panel's directing circle and milieu to informed criticism has typically been inadequate or dismissive. A recent instance of such behaviour is the official response by the British government to the report from the House of Lords Select Committee, which does little credit to the department concerned.[6] Within the scientific community, as Richard Lindzen has noted, these dismissive attitudes have sometimes gone together with a disturbing intolerance of dissenting views and ideas.

Fifth, I believe that both the Panel's directing circle and the IPCC milieu more generally are characterised by an endemic bias towards alarmist assessments and conclusions. Again, this situation has been described by Lindzen. Let me add here a pertinent observation made by two German academics, one of them, Hans von Storch, a well known climate scientist. They have made the point that, in the context of climate change, 'Scientific research faces a crisis because its public figures are overselling the issues to gain attention in a hotly contested market for newsworthy information'.[7]

Largely because of the alarmist propensities of the IPCC milieu and its various allies, the treatment of climate change issues by environmental and scientific journalists and commentators across the world is overwhelmingly one-sided and sensationalist. Perhaps this is to be expected, since horror stories make good copy. All the same, it is unfortunate that in such stories non-alarmist studies and results are typically played down or disregarded, while the lack of knowledge and the huge uncertainties which still loom large in climate science are passed over. This chronic bias on the part of so many commentators is in itself a matter for concern; but even more worrying, to my mind, is the fact that leading figures and agencies connected with the IPCC process do little or nothing to ensure that a more balanced picture is presented. Some of them have become accomplices of alarmism.

Alarmist attitudes and presumptions in relation to world issues, together with a fondness for radical so-called 'solutions', have a long history: they go back well before climate change issues came into prominence, and hence predate the creation of the IPCC. They have been characteristic of the Panel's sponsoring departments and agencies, and in particular of the UNEP and the ministries which are responsible for it. From the outset, the IPCC's links with what I have termed global salvationism have affected its capacity and readiness to treat the issues objectively.

To sum up: the IPCC process, which is widely taken to be objective, representative and authoritative, is in fact deeply flawed: I would describe it as tainted. Professionally, in spite of its scale, pretensions and reputation, it is not up to the mark

The moral to be drawn. From this conclusion I draw two related morals, one general and the other specific.

The general moral, and my main single message today, is this. In relation to climate change, the overriding present need is to build up a sounder basis than now exists for reviewing and assessing the issues. A process should be established, for informing and advising governments and public opinion alike, which is more objective, more representative and more balanced than that which the IPCC has built up and shown itself unwilling to change.

Specifically and immediately, the need is to present a more effective challenge to the current IPCC process and its outcomes, with special reference to AR4.






THE MEGAFAUNA EXTINCTION CONTROVERSY

Was it primitive hunters or climate change that caused the extinction of most of the earth's large animals? The Greenies like to say that the noble savages could not have done it and it must have been caused by climate change. The evidence however points the other way -- as Tim Flannery (a frantic Greenie on many other issues) points out most succinctly below:

Extinction of megafauna is almost a global phenomenon. Most of the world's continents and islands have lost the larger members of their fauna at some time over the last 50,000 years. Africa is the only continent which has not suffered significant extinctions.

In answering the question 'Why is this so?', I propose that people caused the extinction of megafauna' in a blitzkrieg-like fashion. This theory is based on the world-wide pattern of extinctions for the following reasons:

Firstly, the most important points about the extinction of megafauna are associated with timing. Megafauna became extinct up to 50,000 years ago in Australia and New Guinea, around 10,900 years ago in North (and presumably South) America, about 1500 years ago in Madagascar, and between 900 and 600 years ago in New Zealand. This pattern closely follows the current chronology of human expansion around the world.

Secondly, megafauna are the biggest and slowest animals in the environment. These kinds of animals are very vulnerable to hunting, but not to climate change. As people did not arrive in Africa, but evolved there, the evolution of our human ancestors from scavengers into skilled hunters happened slowly, allowing the ecosystem and its abundant megafauna time to adjust. However, that did not happen elsewhere. The extinction of megafauna was most extreme in places where humans arrived as already skilled hunters.

Other evidence to support a human-caused extinction includes the relatively recent extinction of megafauna, such as those in South Africa after 1820, when rifles were introduced. With this kind of weaponry, humans can clearly exterminate large mammals and other defenceless species.

Australasia's megafauna were once very diverse. Some species lived in the eternally wet rainforests of Papua New Guinea, while others lived in the driest deserts. The other theory of megafauna extinction that is based on climate change must argue that extinction could have happened at almost any time in the last 50,000 years, whether the climate has been warm and wet or cold and dry, or any combination in between. Under this scenario, it is my opinion that the influence of climate on megafauna extinction was so weak that it must have been negligible.

Source

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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 blogger.com is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.

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1 comment:

DIRTY BIRD said...

The biggist amount of HOT AIR comes from the wackos at GREENEACE and from AL GORE as well