Saturday, May 23, 2009

A word of explanation: In parts of the USA, a "snipe" is a fool or a blockhead and snipe hunting is sending someone on a fool's errand. The original snipe is a very elusive waterbird and only a skilled marksman (a sniper) has much chance of shooting one. Curiously enough, I own a car that is called a "snipe" -- a Humber Super Snipe. It is a British car and Brits are very fond of their "feathered friends" so name lots of things after birds. They even named a powerful steam locomotive after a duck! -- the "Mallard"

Being a hopeless steam buff, I cannot resist putting up below a picture of the magnificent "Mallard". It is now in a museum at York. It holds the world speed record for steam traction: 120 mph


"In principle" agreements only are the goal in Copenhagen now

U.S.-run talks on strategies for major nations to fight climate change may stop short of setting firm new targets and dates, such as 2050 goals for greenhouse gas emissions, Washington's top climate envoy said on Thursday. Todd Stern said Washington wanted major economies including China, the European Union and Russia to seek more common ground on issues such as green technology, finance and emissions cuts at talks in Paris on May 25-26.

The talks are the second among major nations accounting for about 80 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions under a plan by U.S. President Barack Obama to contribute to a new U.N. climate pact due to be agreed in Copenhagen in December.

Stern told Reuters that many nations viewed the meetings as "a place where actual progress may be made on issues that otherwise would hang up the (U.N.) negotiations". But Stern, who is U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, said the U.S.-run Major Economies Forum (MEF) would not necessarily seek to culminate in July with agreement on firm greenhouse gas targets and dates. "It may be that we have some numbers ... in July. The honest answer is that I don't know yet," he said in a telephone interview. A MEF summit is due on the margins of a summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations in Italy in July. Paris is the second preparatory ministerial meeting after one in Washington in April. A third is due in Mexico in June.

Asked if Washington might try to get MEF nations to agree to harden a "vision" of halving world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 agreed by a G8 summit in Japan last year, Stern said: "I don't think it's necessarily a question of thinking about this all in terms of whether there will be a 2050 (target) as much as 'are countries going to move towards agreeing a set of principles of the kind that will advance the ball in Copenhagen?'



California Rep. Henry Waxman has spent most of the year catering to the concerns of other Democrats on his Energy and Commerce Committee. Now it's everyone else's turn. Waxman won a long-sought legislative victory Thursday night with committee approval of his sweeping climate-change bill. But the nimble chairman still has to get over some rocky terrain before the bill - or one like it - ever becomes law.

In the House, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel is threatening to sit on the legislation until his panel approves health care reform, and Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson is leading a rebellion by rural Democrats who believe the bill would create enormous new burdens for farmers and ranchers.

And the Senate is ... well, the Senate. "This stuff is going no place in the Senate," a frustrated Peterson told reporters on Thursday. "They can do whatever they want with this, but I can tell you, there is no way this is going to pass."



US Energy Secretary Steven Chu says the US will not be able to cut greenhouse emissions as much as it should due to domestic political opposition.

Prof Chu told BBC News he feared the world might be heading towards a tipping point on climate change. This meant the US had to cut emissions urgently - even if compromises were needed to get new laws approved.

Environmentalists said Prof Chu, a Nobel physicist, should be guided by science not politics. The American political system is in the throes of a fierce battle over climate policy. President Barack Obama says he wants cuts in greenhouse gases but has left it to Congress to make the political running. The House of Representatives is debating a climate and energy bill but even if it passes it may be rejected by senators, many of whom are funded by the energy industry.

Prof Chu is a Nobel prize-winning physicist and a world expert on clean energy. But he said it was impossible to ignore political reality. "With each successive year the news on climate change has not been good and there's a growing sensation that the world and the US in particular has to get moving," he said. "As someone very concerned about climate I want to be as aggressive as possible but I also want to get started. And if we say we want something much more aggressive on the early timescales that would draw considerable opposition and that would delay the process for several years.

The US energy secretary said that awareness of climate tipping points had increased greatly only in the past five years. He added: "But if I am going to say we need to do much, much better I am afraid the US won't get started."

To the anger of environmentalists, he said that one compromise would be approving new coal-fired power plants without obliging them to capture and store their carbon. The UK government has made this a stipulation for new coal plants but Prof Chu declined to explain why the US government would not follow suit.


What Obama’s cap-and-trade policies would result in, if enacted

Throughout his presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to address the “crisis” of anthropogenic global warming. Since taking office his cabinet appointments and policy initiatives have not disappointed those who believe such a crisis exists and that America should act boldly and decisively on this front.

In his February 24 address to the nation, Obama said, “I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America.” About a month later, Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA) obliged by introducing the cleverly titled “America’s Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009” (ACES) on March 31.

The legislation, which hinges on the cap-and-trade regimen favored by the president and key members of his administration, is currently working its way through various committees and subcommittees in the House of Representatives, though many pundits wonder aloud whether it has any chance ever to reach the Senate floor.

In addition to his cap-and-trade proposal and the ACES bill, both the stimulus legislation and the president’s 2010 budget contain heavy incentives to move America away from fossil fuel-based energy (the energy form that enabled America to become the envy of the world in terms of standard of living). Obama and his followers on the environmental left promise that this new era of CO2 control and alternative energy development will “save us from the ravages of climate change,” will create “green jobs,” will enable America to lead the world in clean energy production, and are central to our emergence from the current deep recession.

But are these policies really the economic lifeline for America and a benefit to the planetary environment they have been portrayed to be by the administration and its neo-environmentalist supporters?

Huge New Tax Burdens

When he initially laid out his CO2 cap-and-trade policy, the president stated publicly his expectation that it would raise “revenue” (read: tax) of approximately $650 billion over eight years. But in a briefing to Senate staffers in late February, Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council and an Obama staffer, said the administration actually believed it could raise two to three times that amount through the cap-and-trade program during that period.

All credible analyses of the costs of a cap-and-trade approach to controlling CO2 emissions suggest it will cost the world 1 to 4 percent of global GDP. The United States is an approximately $14 trillion annual GDP economy. So for America, 1 percent = $140 billion annually, 2 percent = $280 billion annually, 3 percent = $420 billion annually, and 4 percent = $560 billion annually.

Supporters of cap-and-trade have endlessly attacked the 1 to 4 percent of GDP figure, but the Obama administration’s own number uttered by Furman seems to kill their argument. Using even two times his publicly stated figure of $646 billion over eight years (which works out to more than $160 billion per year), even Obama admits that estimates of the cost of cap-and-trade in this range are realistic.

Thus it is pointless to argue the administration’s numbers vs. the Congressional Budget Office’s numbers vs. any number of calculations from top, credible environmental economists across the world (and there are plenty). In terms of what matters domestically, the Obama administration essentially concedes that annual costs in the range of 1 to 4 percent of America’s GDP are just the freight we have to pay. Thank you for confirming this for us, Mr. Furman.

No Benefits

Since we now have a basic understanding of the costs of Obama’s cap-and-trade policy, it seems appropriate to try and understand the potential benefits. Here too, the peer-reviewed literature helps.

If all Annex I and II nations had signed the Kyoto Protocol, implemented it, met their CO2 emissions reduction targets, and extended these protections in perpetuity, the most likely difference this would make to planetary temperatures by the year 2100 vs. business as usual would be approximately .13 to .20 degrees Celsius. In case you missed the decimal, that’s less than a quarter of a degree Celsius, 91 years from now, at a cost of 1 to 4 percent of global GDP. And that means 1 to 4 percent of global GDP not once but annually, from now until the Earth explodes from “global warming” or humanity comes to its senses.

Feel free to fact check these figures. In fact, start with the high church of global warming policy, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC), because their own estimates are within this range.

Currently, global annual GDP is approximately $50 trillion. Ergo, 1 percent = $500 billion annually, 2 percent = $1 trillion annually, 3 percent = $1.5 trillion annually, 4 percent = $2.0 trillion annually. (As an aside, ask yourself this question: What could be done to improve the environment and the lot of humanity for this amount of money--or even a fraction of it--each year, every year?)

But alas, these cost/benefit figures assume all Annex I and II nations implement Kyoto, meet their CO2 emissions reduction targets, and extend those reductions in perpetuity. If we assume that China, India, and Brazil will not implement such policies (and they already have indicated they won’t, as their bigger priority is pulling millions out of poverty, a goal technologically and financially incompatible with restricting CO2 emissions), the calculated benefit to global temperatures from just the current Kyoto signatories continuing their efforts, plus adding the United States using the Obama administration’s cap-and-trade plan, is even less than .13 to .20 degrees Celsius.

If it were clear that taking such drastic measures would surely avert a planetary crisis, there might be an argument for spending such enormous amounts, because the cost/benefit tradeoff would be obvious. But alas, computer models are not clear evidence of harm from anthropogenic CO2 (they are merely predictions) and no such hard evidence exists. In fact, much evidence to the contrary has been known to scientists for many years, and more arrives almost daily.

At less than a quarter of a degree Celsius by the year 2100--an amount which cannot even be differentiated from natural climate variability--taking such measures today “for future generations” makes no sense at all. In fact, ironically enough, it fits precisely the term Al Gore has used to brand those who disagree with him: “morally reprehensible.”

Huge Drag on Economy

It is thus clear that the Obama administration’s cap and trade policy will be (a) environmentally inconsequential and (b) extremely costly. The administration also claims that cap-and-trade is a key to our economic growth and emergence from the current deep recession. But in addition to the direct cost (expressed above as a percentage of annual GDP), there is a substantial indirect cost to the economy that is conveniently overlooked by many proponents of cap-and-trade policy.

No one on the environmental left suggests with a straight face that cap-and-trade won’t raise energy prices; actually, most proponents are rather proud of this fact and say “that’s exactly the point.” Raising energy prices has a demonstrable negative effect on economic growth. This is not just a computer model projection or hypothesis; it has been proven true in the real world over and over again. Witness the drag on the U.S. economy caused by high energy prices in the past, including as recently as the summer of 2008. Since it is a foregone conclusion that cap-and-trade will raise energy prices, it is safe to bet the farm that such a policy will have a long-term negative effect on U.S. GDP growth, in addition to the direct cost in the range of hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Annual U.S. GDP growth in the twentieth century averaged approximately 3 percent in real dollars. If we hinder this growth by even 1 percent of total GDP (one-third of our average GDP growth) through a cap-and-trade CO2 policy, as many credible analyses show, it is difficult to see how such a policy can be viewed as creating future economic growth and a way out of the current recession.

Inefficient Pursuit of Other Goals

Obama and left-leaning environmentalists also portray cap-and-trade as a means of creating “green” jobs. However, academic analyses of the potential green jobs created by the administration’s cap-and-trade proposal, the green jobs elements of the recently passed stimulus bill, potential green jobs related to Obama’s renewable energy standard preferences (25 percent of electricity from renewables by 2025), and the experiences with green job creation in many European Union countries all suggest that using such means to create job growth is a net negative to society.

A recently released study from Spain’s Juan Carlos University on Spain’s renewable energy initiatives, for example, found that for every “green” job that was created, 2.2 “dirty” jobs were destroyed. Yet Obama regularly holds Spain out as a shining example of the “green jobs” policy he favors.

Punishing fossil fuel-based energy, closing coal-fired power plants, shifting to alternative forms of energy with much higher costs, and transforming 100 years of energy use patterns overnight with the stroke of a pen will eliminate many jobs in the power and utility, heavy manufacturing, steel, cement, and other energy-intensive industries. Many of these jobs will simply head to countries without strict CO2 emissions regulation.

In effect, we will have willingly created a situation where the United States experiences net job losses and at the same time exports “carbon leakage,” where domestic CO2 reductions are more than offset by increases in emissions in another country, hampering our economy while helping the economies of developing countries (some of which, like China, are direct competitors). And we will have done so in the hope of an environmentally inconsequential effect on the planet’s climate that we will fail to achieve.

Finally, the Obama administration portrays its cap-and-trade proposal as a critical means of funding “alternative energy research and development.” Spending a portion of GDP to develop future low- or no-carbon energy supplies that lessen our dependence on foreign oil would likely be a good thing for America, even if it provides no meaningful effect on global climate. But is a cap-and-trade policy the best means of providing funds for this purpose?

The initial figures coming from the Obama administration suggested that $646 billion in “revenue” (read: taxes) would be raised via its cap-and-trade proposal for the period 2012-2019, and that $150 billion of this would be dedicated to clean energy R&D. That means only 23 percent of the cap-and-trade tax money will go to alternative energy R&D. Regardless of whether we use the administration’s figures, the Congressional Budget Office’s figures, or any other analysis to arrive at the total direct cost (the so-called “revenue”), we can assume that 23 percent of the actual revenue will go to fund alternative energy R&D if Obama gets his way.

By his own administration’s measure, then, every dollar spent on alternative energy R&D will cost us $4.35 under Obama’s cap-and-trade plan. If we want to spend $15 billion or so per year on alternative energy R&D--a wholly worthwhile pursuit at some level of expenditure--wouldn’t we be better off directly burdening the U.S. economy to the tune of $15 billion per year than $81 billion per year (or as much as $240 billion per year by Mr. Furman’s own admission)?

Real Agenda: Redistribution of Wealth

All of this brings us right back to the title of this article. Is Obama’s cap-and-trade policy for controlling CO2 emissions and saving the planet “from the ravages of climate change” (his words, certainly not mine), creating “green jobs,” and reconstituting America as the global epicenter of clean energy really a lifeline or a noose? Before we decide, let us quickly review:

We have credible evidence suggesting the president’s cap-and-trade policy won’t affect the global temperature in any amount distinguishable from natural climate variability, with or without the participation of China, India, and Brazil.

We have the Obama administration itself telling Senate staffers that the real direct cost of this policy is within the range of 1 to 4 percent of U.S. GDP every year.

We have credible analyses suggesting we will lose one or more “dirty” jobs for every “green” job we create (no net gain, possibly worse).

By the administration’s own figures, only 23 percent of the tax money raised via cap-and-trade will go towards alternative energy R&D.

Hidden Agenda?

Since cap and trade won’t fix “global warming,” will be very costly for a minuscule (if any) climatic benefit, won’t be a net job creator for the U.S., and is a poor means of funding alternative energy R&D, might there be something else going on here? The answer lies in the numbers.

If 23 percent of the tax money raised from Obama’s cap-and-trade policy is going toward alternative energy R&D, then 77 percent is going somewhere else. Where is all that money going? Most of it is going to two specific purposes.

First, a significant portion of this 77 percent will come right off the top and be used to fund the new gargantuan bureaucracy to administer CO2 emissions regulations and the cap-and-trade program itself. During the debate over Lieberman-Warner-Boxer last summer, it became obvious that 40 or more new agencies, departments, or other edifices of government would have to be created to administer the program. CO2 emissions allowances have to be calculated, tracked, and enforced. The legislation would create an entirely new government commodities market in CO2 emissions allowances out of thin air, and that would require regulation, monitoring, and other administrative efforts. These examples merely scratch the surface.

Second, as has become obvious over the past two months, the administration plans to use something on the order of 50 to 70 percent of the revenue raised from his cap-and-trade plan to directly provide “middle class” tax cuts, much of them to people who are already essentially net tax consumers rather than net sources of tax revenue.

All of this is to say that what’s really going on here isn’t about saving the planet, efficiently funding alternative energy R&D, creating green jobs, or helping America emerge from the current recession. What it is really about is using the Teflon shield of environmental apocalypse as one of many means to pay for Obama’s wealth redistribution agenda. As an added benefit, neo-environmentalists love cap-and-trade because it puts the brakes on economic growth, redirects America away from consumerism (which they blame for all planetary ills), and shifts more power to the government. A “three-fer,” if you will.

Are we really in a position right now to impose a huge added cost on society, burden our economic recovery, drive more manufacturing jobs overseas, and pay for tax breaks for people who don’t pay taxes, all for something that is inconsequential to the planet’s climate?

America may need a lifeline, but what it doesn’t need is to be sold a lifeline that turns out to be a noose.



It is probably not generally recognized, but the Chinese have an excellent sense of humour. I suspect that they having a great laugh over all this. They are hoisting the West with its own petard

China adopted a hard line yesterday ahead of climate change negotiations, calling on rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2020 from 1990 levels and help pay for reduction schemes in poorer countries. Beijing reiterated its belief that developing countries, including China, should curb emissions on a voluntary basis, and only if the cuts "accord with their national situations and sustainable development strategies".

It also demanded that developed countries be bound to give at least 0.5-1.0 per cent of their annual economic worth to help poorer countries, including China, to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and cope with global warming

Although it only spells out China's initial bargaining position, the strident stance will encourage other developing nations to take tougher positions. It will not be welcomed in Washington and Brussels, where policymakers yesterday made tackling climate change a central theme in bilateral talks with Beijing.

China's proposals are one of a series of demands made by developing countries as part of this year's crucial climate change talks. Formal negotiations begin officially on June 1 in Bonn, with three or more meetings to follow before the final summit in Copenhagen in December to forge a successor to the Kyoto protocol. Other developing nations have asked for higher percentages of the rich world's GDP to be transferred to poorer countries and have demanded emissions cuts of up to 80 per cent by 2020 from certain rich nations.

Officials in Europe and the US privately dismissed the Chinese demands as posturing. "They're hoping that if you ask for 1 per cent, you may get a small fraction of a per cent," said one.

China had taken a more helpful stance at the negotiating table - by discussing the many measures the Chinese government had taken - and had promised to take on improving energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy.

Rich countries accept that China, India and other emerging economies will not agree to absolute cuts in emissions in the medium term. But before they agree to finance packages to help poor countries tackle global warming, they want commitments from those countries to curb their emissions so that they do not rise to the levels they would reach under "business as usual". China's unwillingness to offer early concessions could signal a tough road ahead for policymakers who hoped progress on this issue could lead to breakthroughs on other topics, such as trade, human rights and the military build up in Asia.



By David Whitehouse

It is very interesting to see today's story on BBC News Online about BSE/CJD "vCJD carrier risk overestimated.". It is the latest in a long line of similar assessments of the vCJD situation.

After many years of sporadic interest the BSE/vCJD story took off in 1996 after an admission in parliament by the health minister that there was a link between BSE contaminated meat and a new strain of the degenerative vCJD brain disease that had afflicted a handful of people. Initially, few people knew anything definite about the disease and its possible progression and, depending upon assumptions, computer models predicted anything from a small number of people being affected to a large fraction of the population. While such uncertainty existed it was right for journalists to reflect the scientific situation but as I was science correspondent for BBC Radio at the time, I soon began to realise the tension between science and journalism and the changing approach to science within BBC News at the time.

In terms of news the potential for a modern day catastrophic plague is a much 'better' story than the possibility that nothing much more will happen. So whilst the uncertainty persisted that was the story that was emphasised with the appropriate caveats. However, it soon became clear to most scientists at least that a major catastrophe was not in the making. The increase in numbers afflicted, despite the unknown incubation of the disease, was not increasing as some predicted, but that fact was inconvenient to some and did not impinge on our general approach to the story.

In such circumstances I took the view that journalists should stay close to the data and not let the scientific possibilities, however dramatic and 'newsworthy,' obscure what was actually happening, especially when those possibilities rested on a cascade of debateable assumptions being fed into a computer model that had been tweaked to hindcast previous data. It was not a point of view taken by other arms of the BBC one part of which was repeatedly promoting the same scare story coming out of one institution based on said computer models and predictions. I believed that taking a sober approach was the right one, especially for the BBC, which was looked to for responsible reporting. Wanting to get on air with a story and make an impression with editors and management was one thing, but I took the view that a journalist should not tailor the science to suit ones ambitions, or survival, that way. The political journalist John Sergeant summed it up when he said that there were many journalists who reported what they could get away with rather than what they know.

My approach was not favoured by the BBC at the time and I was severely criticised in 1998 and told I was wrong and not reporting the BSE/vCJD story correctly. But with hindsight I was correct in my approach. To date the total number of people afflicted with BSE/vCJD remains very small. In fact, far smaller than many illnesses that never get a mention in the media, and the scientific doom mongers have moved onto new pastures. But the attitude towards science still remains at the BBC and has been evident in its evangelical, inconsistent climate change reporting and its narrow, shallow and sparse reporting on other scientific issues.

Reporting the consensus about climate change (and we all know about the debate about what is a consensus in the IPCC era) is not synonymous with good science reporting. The BBC is at an important point. It has been narrow minded about climate change for many years and they have become at the very least a cliché and at worst lampooned as being predictable and biased by a public that doesn't believe them anymore.

Times are changing. New data is emerging, the world refuses to warm in the past decade, the sun becomes quiet, and scientists are beginning to study themselves investigating how entrenched positions become established and whether consensus is a realistic concept. History and science will always correct things in the end. It has done so with vCJD and it is not impossible that the judgement of history and science on current environmental reporting will be the same.



By Bjorn Lomborg

Some business leaders are cozying up with politicians and scientists to demand swift, drastic action on global warming. This is a new twist on a very old practice: companies using public policy to line their own pockets.

The tight relationship between the groups echoes the relationship among weapons makers, researchers and the U.S. military during the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned about the might of the "military-industrial complex," cautioning that "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." He worried that "there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties."

This is certainly true of climate change. We are told that very expensive carbon regulations are the only way to respond to global warming, despite ample evidence that this approach does not pass a basic cost-benefit test. We must ask whether a "climate-industrial complex" is emerging, pressing taxpayers to fork over money to please those who stand to gain.

This phenomenon will be on display at the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen this weekend. The organizers -- the Copenhagen Climate Council -- hope to push political leaders into more drastic promises when they negotiate the Kyoto Protocol's replacement in December.

The opening keynote address is to be delivered by Al Gore, who actually represents all three groups: He is a politician, a campaigner and the chair of a green private-equity firm invested in products that a climate-scared world would buy.

Naturally, many CEOs are genuinely concerned about global warming. But many of the most vocal stand to profit from carbon regulations. The term used by economists for their behavior is "rent-seeking."



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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