Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Now the green-energy crowd is touting cellulosic ethanol. This is a blunder, one they will regret more than any of their previous blunders. It will level forests, destroy wetlands and disrupt ecosystems all around the globe. Or at least it will if the enabling technology ever becomes economical. And it might. Even a Republican President, in a State of the Union address, resolved to develop the technology "for producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switchgrass."

The green logic is simple: Use carbohydrates to replace hydrocarbons. Farmers and the lumber industry generate copious amounts of cellulose-rich waste. America has lots of spare prairie, which grows grass. Gather the waste, harvest the grass and renewable biomass can replace dwindling supplies of crude. The global warming problem is solved, too, because plant growth pulls carbon out of the air.

In fact what lies ahead is an environmental debacle. Corn contains sugar, and sugars are easy to turn into ethanol. Just ask Anheuser-Busch or E. & J. Gallo. But to get a high-grade fuel out of wood, stalks or grass you have to take apart cellulose, a much tougher molecule. Some microbes and fungi can do it. So can cows, but only by filling their massive guts with those same microbes. And they do it inefficiently, and make quite a mess.

But the grass-to-fuel boosters don't plan to use cows. They plan to build chemical refineries that do the cow-gut thing much better. The key technical challenge is cheap production of huge quantities of robust, cellulose-splitting enzymes. Biochemists and genetic engineers could well find ways to deliver.

Plants won't celebrate if they do. (Consider, by way of analogy, how we humans might feel about a scheme to perfect flesh-eating bacteria, those mercifully rare strep bugs that digest muscles, fat and skin tissue with horrifying speed.) Plants pack their seeds with readily digestible sugar because they want animals to eat them. Most of the seeds get digested, but those that slip through get deposited, prefertilized, in some distant spot, where they grow another plant. Cellulose, by contrast, is the adult plant's armor and scaffold. Voracious animals don't strip every last plant off the face of the earth only because most animals must work so hard to digest what plants are mostly made of.

We humans, however, are exceptionally clever at stripping and exploiting. What we can't eat, we burn in our cooking fires and hearths. Or we burn down trees just to clear space for seed-bearing crops. Or for pasture to feed our cows. Western countries began to curb their appetite for green cellulose only a couple of centuries ago, when they discovered that it's often easier to dig up fossilized forms, like coal and oil. Most of humanity, however, still relies on the fresh stuff.

Now picture a world in which cellulose-splitting enzymes are cheaper than bottled water, and a pint poured into the steel cow behind your hut will quickly turn a hundred pounds of wood chips or grass into a gallon of diesel. However sensibly we Americans might use the enzymes in Kansas, we know where cow-gut chemistry will inevitably lead in rural Burundi, India or China. Sure, a villager will fill the still with waste cellulose first. The enzymes, however, are just as happy to take apart freshly cut wood or grass, and that's what villagers will use instead when they need or want more energy than waste alone can supply. Just as villagers do today when they cook. The one difference is this: When the villager harvests wood or grass today, he can only bake chapatis, heat his hut or feed his cow. With cheap enzymes at hand, he can also power a generator and a motorbike.

History has already taught us what a carbohydrate energy economy does to a rich, green landscape--it levels it. The carbon balance goes sharply negative, too, when stove or cow is fueled with anything but waste or crops from existing farmland. It's pleasant to imagine that humanity might get all its liquid fuels from stable, legacy farms or from debris that would otherwise end up as fungus food. But that just isn't how humans have historically fed whatever they could feed with cellulose.

From the perspective of all things green, cellulose-splitting enzymes are much the same as fire or cow, only worse. Fire and cow consume cellulose, but the process is generally messy and inconvenient, which is a big advantage, from the plant's perspective. To improve on wood-burning fires, or grass-eating cows, perfect the cellulose-splitting enzyme. Then watch what 7 billion people will do to your forests and your grasslands.



Embarrassment for those who have faith in models: Climate change in Africa's Sahel region challenges researchers and policymakers because the best models around predict opposite outcomes, reports Catherine Brahic

Computer models of future climate often disagree about the scale of likely change but predictions for the Sahel are also contradictory about the direction of change and give policymakers little help in preparing for the future. The semi-arid Sahel stretches across Africa just south of the Sahara. The region suffered severe drought during the second half of the 20th century, and the famine it caused is thought to have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and affected millions more.

Scientists initially believed that the decline in rainfall was caused by overgrazing and people clearing vegetation to make way for more farming and herding. But since the mid-1980s, several computer models have suggested that changes in the surface temperature of the oceans have changed the dynamics of the West African monsoon and are therefore to blame. This hypothesis has gained widespread support but there still some disagreement. Different models point the finger at different oceans - some say the influence of the Indian Ocean is most important, others the difference between the North and South Atlantic.

Most scientists agree that the greenhouse gases and aerosols that human activities release into the atmosphere are partially to blame for changing ocean temperatures. The question, then, is how this will affect future rainfall. Again, the answers depend on the models used. Last year US-based researchers Martin Hoerling and James Hurrell looked at all of the most recent climate models, averaged them out, and came to the conclusion that the Sahel's recent fate would be reversed in the 21st century. Global warming, they concluded, would bring much-needed rainfall to the region - one of the very few positive outcomes of greenhouse gas emissions (see Decades of drought predicted for southern Africa).

But in late 2005, Isaac Held of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published the results of a new climate model that suggested that, far from becoming wetter, the Sahel faces a period of "dramatic drying" if greenhouse gas emissions are not checked (see Climate model refutes predictions of wetter Sahel). Held's team readily admitted that their results, from a single model, should not be the basis for policy decisions. But one striking point meant the results could not be discarded. The model mimicked the region's recent climate more faithfully than any previous one had - an important measure of how reliable it is.

Why the differences? Understanding why the models predict such widely divergent futures "is a scientific priority that requires really getting into the bowels of the models" says Alessandra Giannini, a climate expert at Columbia University in the United States. "There must be something in the models' physics that is causing them to respond differently."



Discussing: Herrmann, S.M., Anyamba, A. and Tucker, C.J. 2005. Recent trends in vegetation dynamics in the African Sahel and their relationship to climate. Global Environmental Change 15: 394-404.


There has been a long history of assertions of widespread and irreversible desertification occurring in the Sahel of Africa (Dregne, 1983; Lamprey, 1988; Middleton et al., 1997). During the 1970s, in particular - when Lamprey's report was originally written - the United Nations spearheaded a massive media campaign to warn the world about the phenomenon; and as recently as August 2002, leaders of the UN Environment Program told the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg that over 45% of the continent was at that time experiencing severe desertification. Several years earlier, however, scientists had already begun to realize that these assertions were no longer true, as demonstrated by the work of Nicholson et al. (1998) and Prince et al. (1998), which fact has been confirmed by the more recent studies of Eklundh and Olsson (2003), Anyamba and Tucker (2005) and Olsson et al. (2005), as reported in our Editorial of 11 Jan 2006.

What was done

Herrmann et al. provide addition support for the newer findings as a result of their investigation of "temporal and spatial patterns of vegetation greenness and rainfall variability in the African Sahel and their interrelationships based on analyses of Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) time series for the period 1982-2003 and gridded satellite rainfall estimates."

What was learned

For the period 1982-2003, the three researchers determined that "the overall trend in monthly maximum NDVI [was] positive over a large portion of the Sahel region, reaching up to 50% increase in the average NDVI in parts of Mali, Mauritania and Chad." In addition, they found that "rainfall emerges as the dominant causative factor in the dynamics of vegetation greenness in the Sahel at an 8 km spatial resolution," but that "the presence of spatially coherent and significant long-term trends in the residuals suggests that there might be another, weaker, causative factor," which is also suggested by the fact that the "recovery of vegetation greenness [was] beyond what would be expected from the recovery of rainfall conditions alone."

What it means

Herrmann et al. state that their study "confirms previous regional-scale findings for the period 1982-1999 by Eklundh and Olsson (2003) and Olsson et al. (2005), who observed widespread positive trends of both time-integrated NDVI and NDVI amplitudes, and Anyamba and Tucker (2005), who [observed] increases in growing season NDVI across most parts of the region." In concluding, they thus say that "a greening of the Sahel expressed in positive trends in NDVI indicates a net increase in biomass production during the period 1982-2003, which challenges the notion of irreversible desertification in the Sahel."

We would only add that this positive development has occurred in the face of the concurrent expression of the twin evils of the radical environmentalist movement, i.e., increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration and air temperature that are claimed to be unprecedented over the past two millennia or more, which should lead one to wonder: are these phenomena really the greatest threat facing the planet today, as members of this movement claim? Maybe more CO2 and warmth are not so bad after all. Indeed, maybe they're not bad at all. In fact, maybe they're actually good.

CO2 Science Magazine, 7 June 2006

Nuclear should be a part of our energy future, say Christine Todd Whitman & Patrick Moore

From the minute the alarm clock goes off in the morning to the moment we adjust the thermostat before bed, our lives are fueled by electricity. We are amazed at the seemingly endless parade of new, life-improving, and life-saving technologies, but too little attention is paid to the looming shortage of energy needed to power them. America takes for granted that the lights will come on or the air conditioning will comfort us at the flip of a switch. It's wonderful that we feel so confident in the reliability of our electricity supply. But there are concerns on the horizon.

The US Department of Energy projects that the nation will need 45 percent more electricity by 2030. Where is this going to come from? Energy conservation, greater efficiencies in the production of natural gas, oil, coal, and hydro power, and a genuine commitment to renewables such as wind, solar, and geothermal power will be needed. Across America today companies are reducing their demands for power without slowing their growth, but those efforts won't be enough in and of themselves. We will continue to need a mix of power sources, and nuclear energy must play an increased role in supplying our nation's growing demand for electricity.

Nuclear energy offers numerous benefits and advantages over other sources. It's cleaner. Nuclear energy has the lowest impact on the environment -- air, land, water, and wildlife -- of any major energy source. It produces no harmful greenhouse gases or controlled air pollutants, its waste byproducts are isolated from the environment, and it requires less land to produce the same amount of electricity than any other electricity sources. It's safe. Strict government regulations and continuous training by the industry ensure that the safety of operations and the security of facilities exceed the highest standards of any American industry. It's cheaper. Nuclear plants are the most efficient on the electricity grid, and nuclear power has the lowest production cost of all major sources of electricity other than hydropower.

Public support for nuclear energy has never been stronger. A recent nationwide poll by Bisconti Research found that 86 percent of Americans see nuclear energy as an important part of meeting future electricity needs and 77 percent agree that utilities should prepare now to build new nuclear plants in the next decade. The business and manufacturing community is supportive, recognizing the value of a cost-effective, reliable, and predictable energy source, and the numerous indirect benefits nuclear energy offers, such as economic growth, job creation, and technology innovation. And nuclear energy has garnered solid backing from policymakers, evidenced by the desire to host new nuclear plants among state and county officials and bipartisan congressional support for new nuclear plants in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Americans don't pay much attention to energy issues beyond the cost. It still comes as a surprise to many Americans that nuclear energy already powers one of every five US homes and businesses, and that some states, including New Jersey, Illinois, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, rely on nuclear energy for more than half of their electricity.

The world's finite supply of natural resources requires that we focus on a diverse energy portfolio that includes clean, affordable, and sustainable solutions. Nuclear energy, right here and right now, is one of those solutions. We have joined together to lead the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition to ensure the United States embraces nuclear energy as part of a diverse energy plan for our future. The CASEnergy Coalition will help raise awareness of the benefits of clean and safe nuclear energy and continue to build policymaker and public support for nuclear energy as a component of a comprehensive plan to meet America's future electricity needs.

We must plan today to meet our energy needs of tomorrow in a manner that protects the environment. Building new nuclear plants and expanding existing facilities takes time. Working together, we must broaden and advance the national dialogue to include the issues of rising electricity demand, energy conservation, and efficiency. We must educate the public about the merits of nuclear energy, including both the benefits of nuclear plants and the challenges that remain, including a federal facility for managing spent nuclear fuel rods. We will have this dialogue with community leaders, academics, environmentalists, businesses, and policymakers at every level to set the stage for the next generation of nuclear energy. We must act now to secure our energy future. 2030 is closer than we think.



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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