Sunday, October 12, 2008

Boise, Idaho, gets earliest snow on record

Valley shivers as winter weather makes a premature appearance

Big snow flakes fell early Friday evening, turning Downtown Boise into a giant snow globe for people on their way home from work. The snow caught many people off guard, including this bicyclist heading down Idaho Street between 8th and 9th around 5:45 p.m. Across the Treasure Valley, tree branches heavy with wet, snow-covered leaves fell on power lines, causing scattered power outages.

This is the earliest measurable snowfall in Boise since recordkeeping began in 1898, according to the National Weather Service. At 10 p.m., the Weather Service said 1.7 inches of snow had fallen. The previous earliest recorded snowfall was Oct. 12, 1969, when a little more than an inch fell. And if the snow wasn't enough, meteorologists say winds across southwestern Idaho will average 25 to 40 mph through Saturday afternoon, with gusts up to 55 mph. Sustained winds of 30 to 40 mph are expected, which can make driving difficult.


Switzerland's Green Power Imbecility: Ethicists Ponder Plants' Rights

Who Is to Say Flora Don't Have Feelings? Figuring Out What Wheat Would Want

For years, Swiss scientists have blithely created genetically modified rice, corn and apples. But did they ever stop to consider just how humiliating such experiments may be to plants? That's a question they must now ask. Last spring, this small Alpine nation began mandating that geneticists conduct their research without trampling on a plant's dignity.

"Unfortunately, we have to take it seriously," Beat Keller, a molecular biologist at the University of Zurich. "It's one more constraint on doing genetic research." Dr. Keller recently sought government permission to do a field trial of genetically modified wheat that has been bred to resist a fungus. He first had to debate the finer points of plant dignity with university ethicists. Then, in a written application to the government, he tried to explain why the planned trial wouldn't "disturb the vital functions or lifestyle" of the plants. He eventually got the green light.

The rule, based on a constitutional amendment, came into being after the Swiss Parliament asked a panel of philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians to establish the meaning of flora's dignity. "We couldn't start laughing and tell the government we're not going to do anything about it," says Markus Schefer, a member of the ethics panel and a professor of law at the University of Basel. "The constitution requires it."

In April, the team published a 22-page treatise on "the moral consideration of plants for their own sake." It stated that vegetation has an inherent value and that it is immoral to arbitrarily harm plants by, say, "decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason." On the question of genetic modification, most of the panel argued that the dignity of plants could be safeguarded "as long as their independence, i.e., reproductive ability and adaptive ability, are ensured." In other words: It's wrong to genetically alter a plant and render it sterile.

Many scientists interpret the dignity rule as applying mainly to field trials like Dr. Keller's, but some worry it may one day apply to lab studies as well. Another gripe: While Switzerland's stern laws defend lab animals and now plants from genetic tweaking, similar protections haven't been granted to snails and drosophila flies, which are commonly used in genetic experiments. It also begs an obvious, if unrelated question: For a carrot, is there a more mortifying fate than being peeled, chopped and dropped into boiling water?

"Where does it stop?" asks Yves Poirier, a molecular biologist at the laboratory of plant biotechnology at the University of Lausanne. "Should we now defend the dignity of microbes and viruses?" Seeking clarity, Dr. Poirier recently invited the head of the Swiss ethics panel to his university. In their public discussion, Dr. Poirier said the new rules are flawed because decades of traditional plant breeding had led to widely available sterile fruit, such as seedless grapes. Things took a surreal turn when it was disclosed that some panel members believe plants have feelings, Dr. Poirier says....

Several years ago, when Christof Sautter, a botanist at Switzerland's Federal Institute of Technology, failed to get permission to do a local field trial on transgenic wheat, he moved the experiment to the U.S. He's too embarrassed to mention the new dignity rule to his American colleagues. "They'll think Swiss people are crazy," he says....

Dr. Keller in Zurich has more mundane concerns. He wants to breed wheat that can resist powdery mildew. In lab experiments, Dr. Keller f ound that by transferring certain genes from barley to wheat, he could make the wheat resistant to disease. When applying for a larger field trial, he ran into the thorny question of plant dignity. Plants don't have a nervous system and probably can't feel pain, but no one knows for sure. So Dr. Keller argued that by protecting wheat from fungus he was actually helping the plant, not violating its dignity -- and helping society in the process.

One morning recently, he stood by a field near Zurich where the three-year trial with transgenic wheat is under way. His observations suggest that the transgenic wheat does well in the wild. Yet Dr. Keller's troubles aren't over.

In June, about 35 members of a group opposed to the genetic modification of crops, invaded the test field. Clad in white overalls and masks, they scythed and trampled the plants, causing plenty of damage. "They just cut them," says Dr. Keller, gesturing to wheat stumps left in the field. "Where's the dignity in that?"



An ongoing series dedicated to vigorously monitoring emerging threats to The Consensus that global warming is real, caused by humans, and must be addressed immediately if we are to forestall cataclysm. After all, without consensus, scientific conclusions would remain vulnerable to new data and alternative hypotheses that better fit recorded observations!

The Consensus has come under assault from a familiar foe. At a recent presentation before the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Roy W. Spencer, Principle Research Scientist at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, demonstrated how testing current climate models against actual satellite data reveals fatal flaws underlying the assumptions regarding the feedback mechanisms related to heat capture, CO2 and cloud formation.

This is a standard smear tactic used by global warming deniers in which they take observed data and apply it in a straightforward manner to reach verifiable conclusions.

Okay, that doesn't sound as bad when you say it out loud. However, we've already established that The Consensus is true so the real question is not so much how do we subject it to critical examination that may yield superior climate models and in so doing generate information that could be better acted upon by policy makers, it's how do we defend it from any and all criticism. Fortunately, Al Gore has two suggestions on how to better shore up the science underlying The Consensus:



Vandalism: Al Gore has called for "civil disobedience" to stop the construction of new coal plants that do not incorporate "carbon sequestration," a process by which coal plants are made too expensive to build. (So it's sort of a win-win.) This kind of direct action skips the laborious, time-consuming process of building political support among the citizenry, who, let's face it, clearly do not recognize the size and magnitude of the problem Al Gore is still having getting over the 2000 election.

Suppression: Al Gore has also called on attorneys general across the country to prosecute public companies for committing stock fraud if they challenge The Consensus. People who might object to using state law enforcement to suppress dissenting views clearly lack an understanding of the history of scientific inquiry:

If someone as revered as Galileo can face criminal prosecution for challenging the prevailing consensus, then who are we too argue? Of course, Galileo lived in what we now refer to as the "Golden Age of Consensus Enforcement." It makes our attempts at intimidation look feeble in comparison. Sure, you can threaten to strip someone of their scientific certification. But you know what would be better? Threatening to imprison them for life. Sometimes it's that little extra bit that helps to get you over the top.

Now, yes, you could argue that Galileo happened to be, in the strictest technical sense of the word, "correct," regarding the motions of the planets, but that's not really the point. The point is that we need a similar enforcement mechanism to get Richard Lindzen to sign something like this:
I, Richard Lindzen, having before my eyes and touching with my hands, the Fourth Assessment Report, "Climate Change 2007," swear that I have always believed, do believe, and by Al Gore's help will in the future believe, all that is held, preached, and taught by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But whereas -- after an injunction had been judicially intimated to me by the United Nations, to the effect that I must altogether abandon the false opinion that the sun is possibly a greater contributor to climate change than anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and that I must not hold, defend, or teach in any way whatsoever, verbally or in writing, the said false doctrine.

Therefore, I, the said Richard Lindzen, have abjured, sworn, promised, and bound myself as above; and in witness of the truth thereof I have with my own hand subscribed the present document of my abjuration, and recited it word for word at Al Gore's mansion, in the state of Tennessee, this ninth day of October, 2008.

Now that's how you set someone straight, old-school.

Source. (Satire, of course, from a humour site worth visiting)


Lots of Questions Unanswered, States Public Policy Group

Key questions remain unanswered about the so-called "Pickens Plan," an energy plan being promoted across the U.S. in an expensive marketing campaign by billionaire T. Boone Pickens, says a new paper released by the non-profit National Center for Public Policy Research.

The paper, "The Pickens Plan: Questions Unanswered," by Reece Epstein and David A. Ridenour, says Pickens' "advocacy could have an enormous impact on America's energy policy for decades to come." Yet, they say, the plan raises a host of unanswered questions.

"On the surface, Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens appears to be the man with all the energy answers," said Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. "Pickens says his 'Pickens Plan' can cut America's dependency on foreign oil by one-third over the next ten years. It sounds attractive at a time when Capitol Hill is getting nowhere in the pursuit of energy independence. But would the Pickens Plan really work? What would it cost taxpayers? Do parts of it raise Constitutional questions? And would private parties - including Mr. Pickens himself - benefit financially?"

"A man on a mission, Pickens has set aside $58 million to ensure his energy plan is heard loud and clear," added Ridenour, "and he's got people listening, but America should not choose an energy policy based on the appeal of a billionaire's folksy commercials. The fine print must be examined. In this case, the fine print reveals the Pickens Plan requires billions in government subsidies and the widespread use of government eminent domain powers. It also would further enrich Mr. Pickens."

Aspects of the Pickens Plan examined in the paper include:

* Pickens "refers to the fall in oil production since 2005 as a justification for his claim that oil production has permanently peaked due to dwindling supplies... But we should not conclude by this that oil reserves have peaked. In fact, much of the fall in production since 2005 resulted from the affairs of men rather than dry wells," the paper states. Pickens, the paper says, is echoing concerns made in 1919 by the head of the U.S. Geological Survey "that America would run out of oil by 1928." The paper also quotes National Geographic, which reported that "Concerns about oil droughts is nearly as old as the petroleum industry itself."

* Addressing findings from the U.S. Geological Survey that the East and West Coasts could yield a staggering 86 billion barrels of oil, Pickens told the Senate, "Those guys work on that a lot more than I do... I just don't agree with it." Unbelievably, "Pickens' unsupported assertion wasn't questioned by a single member of the Committee," note the authors.

* Authors Epstein and Ridenour say significant new oil discoveries increase the supply of oil by tens of billions of barrels. Other untapped unconventional methods of oil extraction, such as liquefying shale in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, "could yield one trillion barrels of oil, an amount equal to the world's total consumption of oil since production began in 1959," if Congress does not keep this oil off-limits.

* The authors say rising production costs don't prove Pickens' claim "that cheap and easy oil is gone." They write: "It is true that, as the most accessible sources of oil are depleted, upward pressure is placed on production costs because there is a shift to less accessible sources. But there is also a downward pressure on the costs of conventional and unconventional oil production due to technological advances... Since 2001, production costs have started to climb again, in part due to congressional limits on production from new sources. As the most easily-accessible oil in a reserve is depleted, production shifts to less accessible oil in the increasingly-depleted site, or it shifts to new, previously-untapped reserves. Because government has limited the ability of producers in the United States to shift to economically-attractive new sites, production costs have risen more than otherwise necessary."

* While Pickens supports the use of nuclear energy, he believes "there's only one energy source that can dramatically reduce the amount of oil we have to import each year, and that's natural gas." Pickens may be underestimating the value of nuclear power, the authors say. In France, 80 percent of electricity is generated from nuclear energy; the U.S. produces only a quarter of that, the report states, and nuclear power emits no carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides into the air. "In addition, nuclear power plants create very little waste. If the average American used nuclear power exclusively for his energy needs, his spent nuclear waste over a lifetime would be small enough to fit into a soda can," the authors state.

* The paper compares wind power, recommended by Pickens, to nuclear power. The authors conclude that wind power costs several times more than nuclear power after government subsidies and incentives. While the authors view wind energy as a viable source, they also believe that because of "the challenges inherent in using wind for 20 percent of our electricity, a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly reconstruction of America's energy infrastructure should include nuclear power as a major component."

* Pickens isn't vocal about the problems associated with natural gas vehicles, say Ridenour and Epstein. In Pickens' view, those vehicles "combine top performance with low emissions..." What Pickens is not explaining, the authors say, is that converting a gasoline powered car, like the Honda Civic GX, "to natural gas adds about 200 pounds of weight to the vehicle, cuts trunk space in half and drains about 20 percent of the engine's power... the GX costs a stunning 64 percent more than the standard model, or about $24,590 for the compact sedan." Add to this the time and money necessary to purchase a home fueling station. A staggering 20 hours is what it takes to fill a natural gas tank, which costs about $5,000 to purchase and install. A 20-hour fill-up gives the GX a range of only 250 miles; an overnight fill-up does even worse, with only 100 miles. How feasible is for the average consumer? The authors also note that widespread adoption of natural gas vehicles would require a massive retooling of America's infrastructure. While natural gas makes sense for bus and corporate fleets because of the increase in fuel efficiency, "for most consumers, technological and infrastructure advances are required before natural gas vehicles become a viable alternative to gasoline vehicles," the authors advise.

* Pickens admits, although not in his ads, that government aid is needed to make his plan feasible. The Pickens Plan requires federal tax credits to cover a significant portion of the cost of wind energy, for example.

* To the authors, perhaps the most troublesome part of Pickens Plan includes a far-reaching expansion of the use of eminent domain. There is no disputing that Pickens Plan's success hinges on the widespread confiscation of private property. Eminent domain would certainly be necessary for placement of the 100,000 windmills necessary to generate 20 percent of this country's electricity needs by 2030, says the authors, combined with 12,650 miles of power lines needed to transport electricity to both coastlines.

* Pickens admits the Pickens Plan's reliance on the widespread use of eminent domain power. Pickens says land access problems should be resolved using "the route that Eisenhower used with the interstate highway system." Ridenour and Epstein examine some little-remembered pitfalls of Eisenhower's "route," including the large numbers of people forcibly dislocated from their homes, high costs, and the tendency of government to displace homes in low-income areas first (resulting in a disproportionate negative impact on minorities so extensive that housing displacements in some areas were referred to as "negro removals," and were the cause of extensive rioting).

* If the Pickens Plan is adopted, T.Bone Pickens, already a billionaire, will almost inevitably become even wealthier, the authors believe. Pickens has earned his wealth in the energy industry and chairs BP Capital Management, a hedge fund that invests in the exact things Pickens is promoting - natural gas and wind energy. A Pickens firm, Mesa Power, plans to invest ten billion dollars in the world's largest wind farm. If Pickens is successful in his Pickens Plan lobbying for an extension of wind power tax credits until 2018, Pickens' firm "stands to receive between $1.66 billion and about $3 billion in PTC payments alone over ten years, a significant portion of its original investment," report Epstein and Ridenour.

* A rise in number of natural gas vehicles would also certainly boost Pickens' profits. "According to Fox News, Pickens 'owns about 90 of the 500 publicly available natural gas stations with another of his companies, Clean Energy,'" the report says.

While it is clear T. Bone Pickens has the ear of many, Ridenour and Epstein believe his interest is more than a concern about our country's energy woes. "I'm 80 years old and have $4 billion. I don't need any more money," Pickens claims. While that is certainly true, the authors say, "He'll make a great deal more money, much of it through government subsidies, if his plan is adopted."

They conclude: "If the Pickens Plan is really all about doing what is best for the country and not for himself, Pickens could demonstrate his sincerity by renouncing the government subsidies he is lobbying for. That should be easy for a man who says he doesn't need any more money."


Report: 'Obama wants kindergarten children to be taught climate change science'?

On Monday, I wrote about Presidential hopeful Barack Obama's education bill, S.2111, The Positive Behavior for Effective Schools Act of 2007 (Story) and its intent to achieve important social outcomes (emphasis added) to the elementary and secondary student population.

Given that it was William Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist and founder of the Weather Underground who served as "Collaborative" co-chair, crafting education policies to Obama's chair manship in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC ), that reportedly directed more than US$100-million for radical activists, I thought nothing could be more eye-opening.

After all, what could be more eye-popping than Obama possibly resurrecting the radical ghost of William Ayers in elementary and secondary schools by significantly redesigning and amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to allow, in part, for "State...local educational agencies and schools to increase implementation of early intervention services, particularly school-wide positive behavior supports"?

While the highly charged debate on climate change and global warming ensues, Obama wants kindergarten children to be taught climate change science in the classroom. On May 14, 2007, Obama introduced in the Senate, a bill called, the "Climate Change Education Act," which authorizes "the National Science Foundation to establish a Climate Change Education Program."

In Section 3 of Obama's bill, S. 1389 called, "Climate Change Education Program," the Director of the National Science Foundation shall establish a Climate Change Education Program to-"broaden the understanding of climate change, possible long and short-term consequences, and potential solutions; apply the latest scientific and technological discoveries to provide formal and informal learning opportunities to people of all ages, including those of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds; and emphasize actionable information to help people understand and to promote implementation of new technologies, programs, and incentives related to energy conservation, renewable energy, and greenhouse gas reduction."

The National Science Foundation (NSF), according to their website, is an independent federal agency which was created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare - has as an annual budget of "about US$6.06 billion" and is the funding source for "approximately 20% of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities."

Under Obama's education bill, the NSF would be responsible to provide "Program Elements" for the "Climate Change Education Program" which include: "a national information campaign to disseminate information on and promote implementation of the new technologies, programs, and incentives- and create "a competitive grant program to provide grants to States, local municipalities, educational institutions, and other20organizations." These institutions and organizations will use these grants to "create informal education materials, exhibits, and multimedia presentat ions relevant to climate change and climate science" and also will "develop climate science kindergarten through grade 12 curriculum and supplementary educational materials."

According to a 2007 US Senate report, "over 400 prominent scientists from more than two dozen countries" voiced significant objections to major aspects of the so-called "consensus" on man-made global warming. These scientists, many of whom are current and former participants in the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), criticized the climate claims made by the UN IPCC and former Vice President Al Gore."

Putting those findings aside, preschool and kindergarten children are already participating in save-the-Earth and recycling type programs throughout the school year.

In addition, during "Earth Day," every April 22, for example, according to a "First-School" program, children are encouraged to partake in "arts and crafts experiences" that enables them "to acquaint themselves with the natural qualities of the earth such as leaves, rocks, shells, dirt, wind, rain and sunshine. Children also learn to observe, create, and remain in touch with the ever changing world, and to develop a caring attitude towards the ear th by learning to recycle and use materials for art and crafts rather than throwing them away."

Then there is the United Nation's "World Environment Day," which was established in 1972. It's another day focusing on climate change and the environment that the US actively participates in, that according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) website, recommends every June for people of all ages to celebrate-in many ways, including street rallies, bicycles parades, green concerts, essay and poster competitions in schools, tree planting, recycling efforts, clean-up campaigns and much more."

The UNEP's Environment Fund for 2008-2009 has been budgeted at US$152 million. In response to the "contribution trends in 2006-2007," the UN has asked governments to "increase their pledges to this fund "by at least 22%." The United States already contributes 22% of the UN's regular budget-- which this year "$4.19 billion for core UN operations" was requested. That figure includes the UNEP but does not include the UN budgets for programs like "UNICEF and the World Health Organization" or "the cost of UN peacekeeping, which is projected to. increase from US$5 billion in 2007 to US$7 billion in 2008."

Although no firm budget has been set to enact Obama's K-12 Climate Change Education bill "such sums as may be necessary to carry" it out have been "authorized." Whatever the cost of Obama's Climate Change Science Education will be-- Obama's education plans do not begin at kindergarten but "at birth" and will cost annually US$10 billion.

According to "Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Plan for lifetime Success for Education" found at, the White House hopefuls have "a pre-school agenda that begins at birth" called their comprehensive "Zero to Five" plan which "will provide critical supports to young children and their parents by investing $10 billion per year." Because as the Obama-Biden plan states: "Children's ability to succeed in school relies on the foundation they build in their first three years. Prekindergarten f or four-year-olds is important, but it is not enough to ensure children will arrive at school ready to learn."

Last week, the US Congress passed a US$700 billion economic bail out package designed to save the US economy from collapse. With Obama's revolutionary CPositive Behavior in Effective Schools Act," which if passed into law allows Title I education funding to be extracted-without restrictions and Obama's Climate Change Education program, the amount of US taxpayer educations dollars dedicated to subjects such as math, reading, writing and history is unknown. Obama's Climate Change Education Act has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.


Old Global Cooling Consensus Not A Myth

Timely but alas flawed contribution by Thomas Peterson of NOAA, William Connolley of the British Antarctic survey and science reporter John Fleck, reporting on the "Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society" about the apparent lack of peer-reviewed papers predicting global cooling, between 1965 and 1979 (it's reported here in Nature's Climate Feedback blog).

Unfortunately, it really does look like Messrs Peterson, Connolley and Fleck simply have not looked well enough. or have conveniently restricted their search just enough to miss a 1961 article describing a Global Cooling consensus among scientists at a meeting supported also by.the American Meteorological Association.

The article, written by Walter Sullivan for The New York Times (cited by Peterson et al. for his 1975 climate-related articles), refers to a 5-day Conference co-chaired by Rhodes W. Fairbridge of Columbia University and Charles G. Knudsen of the United States Weather Bureau, in the January of 1961.

Perhaps the AMA’s own archives could clarify what climatologists exactly talked about at the time.

Notably, the 1961 Conference is described as as varied and multidisciplinary as any today. And yes, scientists at the time were aware of the “greenhouse effect” of carbon dioxide.

UPDATE OCT 10: Nigel Calder’s comment was particularly interesting, so I managed to find online the Proceedings of the 1961 UNESCO Symposium he was referring to. The contents do appear to indicate a global cooling consensus, as suggested, that was important enough to be mentioned in the concluding Lecture.



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