Thursday, April 29, 2010

Who's worried about sea level rise? Gore buys $8.8 million ocean-view villa with 6 fireplaces and 9 bathrooms

Former Vice President Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, have added a Montecito-area property to their real estate holdings, reports the Montecito Journal.

The couple spent $8,875,000 on an ocean-view villa on 1.5 acres with a swimming pool, spa and fountains, a real estate source familiar with the deal confirms. The Italian-style house has six fireplaces, five bedrooms and nine bathrooms.


Five myths about green energy

"Green" energy has great emotional and political appeal. However, before we wrap all our hopes -- and subsidies -- in it, let us take a hard look at some common misconceptions about what "green" mean, says Robert Bryce, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute.

Solar and wind power are the greenest of them all:

* Solar and wind technologies require huge amounts of land to deliver relatively small amounts of energy, disrupting natural habitats.

* The Nature Conservancy issued a report last year critical of "energy sprawl," including tens of thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines needed to carry electricity from wind and solar installations to distant cities.

Going green will reduce our dependence on imports from unsavory regimes:

* The United States will be increasingly reliant on just one supplier, China, for elements known as lanthanides.

* Lanthanum, neodymium, dysprosium and other rare earth elements are used in products from high-capacity batteries and hybrid-electric vehicles to wind turbines and oil refinery catalysts; China controls between 95 and 100 percent of the global market in these elements.

A green American economy will create green American jobs:

* In a global market, American wind turbine manufacturers face the same problem as American shoe manufacturers: high domestic labor costs.

* If U.S. companies want to make turbines, they will have to compete with China, which not only controls the market for neodymium, a critical ingredient in turbine magnets, but also has access to very cheap employees.

Electric cars will substantially reduce demand for oil:

* Gasoline contains about 80 times as much energy, by weight, as the best lithium-ion battery.

* The Government Accountability Office reported that about 40 percent of consumers do not have access to an outlet near their vehicle at home.

The United States lags behind other rich countries in going green:

* According to data from the Energy Information Administration, average per capita energy consumption in the United States fell by 2.5 percent from 1980 through 2006.

* That reduction was greater than in any other developed country except Switzerland and Denmark; the United States achieved it without participating in the Kyoto Protocol or creating an emissions trading system like the one employed in Europe.


Earth Day predictions of 1970. A reason you shouldn’t believe the latest ones

Here are some of the hilarious, spectacularly wrong predictions made on the occasion of Earth Day 1970.

“We have about five more years at the outside to do something.”
• Kenneth Watt, ecologist

“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”
• George Wald, Harvard Biologist

“We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.”
• Barry Commoner, Washington University biologist

“Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”
• New York Times editorial, the day after the first Earth Day

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
• Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day

“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
• Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”
• Life Magazine, January 1970

“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

“Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.”
• Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones.”
• Martin Litton, Sierra Club director

“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

“Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”
• Sen. Gaylord Nelson

“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
• Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

Keep these predictions in mind when you hear the same predictions made today. They’ve been making the same predictions for 39 years. And they’re going to continue making them until…well…forever.


How loony can you get?

"Green Screen: A Living, Carbon-Capturing Face Mask That Filters Bacteria". I hope it is satire but I fear not -- JR

From color-shifting swine-flu masks to vegetation-filled breathing filters, we’ve seen some wacky mouth sheaths in our time. (And that goes double for accessories made from living plants.) Made with pulp derived from fungal spores, along with seeds that eventually sprout, this concept face mask blows its high-concept competition clear away. Not only does “Green Screen” filter airborne bacteria away from delicate nasal passages, but it also sequesters carbon dioxide from every exhalation.

Besides creating a barrier against germy invaders, the reusable face mask also acts as a miniature ecosystem for the embedded seeds. With every breath exhaled, carbon dioxide and moisture facilitate the germination and growth of the budding flora.

With every breath exhaled, carbon dioxide and moisture facilitate the germination of the embedded seeds.

“An average adult weighing 154 pounds exhausts 456 liters of carbon dioxide a day,” notes designer Robert Ortega. “Encapsulating this from the breath can have a significant effect on the total greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” Bonus: As the mask takes root, it can be planted directly into soil.


Australia's Department of Hot Air costing taxpayers $90m

TAXPAYERS will fork out $90 million a year to keep more than 400 public servants employed within the Federal Climate Change Department - despite most of them now having nothing to do until 2013.

More than 60 of them are classified as senior executive staff on salaries between $168,000 and $298,000 a year. Their salary bill alone will cost an estimated $12 million every year.

A further $8 million will also be paid in rent for plush offices at Canberra's Constitution Place until 2012, where it is believed 500 new computers will be delivered this week.

It can be revealed that despite Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's decision on Tuesday to suspend the failed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme until at least 2013, the department has ruled out plans to cut back staff.

A formal response by department secretary Martin Parkinson to a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday - the same day as the scheme's suspension - claimed the department would not offer redundancies.

The formal response, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, said there were no plans for "the immediate future" of any scaling back of staff, despite the agency losing its core function.

According to official figures, the number of top-paid bureaucrats being paid up to $298,000 a year has almost doubled since January this year from 39 to 61. That was to gear up for establishment of the Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority, which will also now have no function.

Overall agency staff has also been ramped up since last year with total climate change employees having risen from an initial 246 to 408.

Of the 61 senior agency officials, only nine have been inherited from the scrapped home insulation scheme. The majority, 38, were employed on the CPRS and a further 19 were employed on the renewable energy scheme which has also been axed.

But none of the 408 staff within the department will be shed even though the department's key function, the CPRS, has been axed.

Its own tender documents reveal a lease contract of $16 million for its offices which expires in 2012.

"The hundreds of public servants who have been beavering away on this policy, the 114 public servants who they took to Copenhagen for that matter in support of this policy . . . none of that's changed," Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said yesterday.

"Which is why I think that Mr Rudd for political reasons doesn't want to talk about his great big new tax on everything but as sure as night follows day, if he gets re-elected, we'll be stuck with it."


Why scepticism is still ‘the highest of duties’

Scepticism is widely denounced as a poison and a disease today, just as it was in the Dark Ages. We urgently need to rescue its reputation.

Over Easter, the official Greenpeace website carried a blog written by Gene Hashmi, communications director of its affiliate in India. Hashmi launched an attack on sceptics, whom he accused of fuelling ‘spurious debates around false solutions’, and concluded with the not-too-subtle threat: ‘We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many but you be few.’

Welcome to a world where the term ‘sceptic’ has acquired the kind of meaning usually associated with Dark Age heresy.

Fearing a backlash against a statement which most normal readers would interpret as an incitement to violence, Greenpeace pulled the blog from its site. It defensively justified its act of self-censorship on the grounds that it was ‘easy to misconstrue’ Hashmi’s statement.

However, the use of highly charged, intemperate rhetoric has become the hallmark of the present-day crusade against scepticism. Some contend that the arguments of climate-change sceptics bear an uncanny resemblance to the statements made by pro-slavery reactionaries in the nineteenth century and by Holocaust deniers. More imaginative environmental activists have proposed establishing Nuremberg-style trials for climate-change sceptics.

It is truly astonishing that in an era that claims to uphold the pursuit of knowledge, freedom of speech and scientific inquiry, the term ‘sceptic’ is frequently used to denote immoral and corrupt behaviour. Moreover, today the practice of stigmatising scepticism is not confined to a small minority of dogmatic true believers. It is quite common for scientists, policymakers and campaigners to denounce those who do not share their beliefs as vile and contemptible sceptics.

Self-help guru Deepak Chopra writes of the ‘perils of scepticism’. John Houghton, former head of the UK Meteorological Office, warns of a ‘dangerous mood of scepticism’. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has condemned climate sceptics as ‘recycled critics of controls on tobacco and acid rain’.

Typically in the debate on climate change, sceptics are characterised as dishonest, malevolent, greedy and corrupt. ‘Environmental scepticism is a blunt weapon wielded by desperate and self-interested apologists to perpetuate an archaic system predicated on the destruction of the Earth and her communities’, says New Zealand academic William Hipwell. Scepticism today, as in the past, has a bad name because for the dogmatic believer any sign of doubt, hesitation, uncertainty, questioning and even indifference is interpreted as disbelief.

In recent centuries, disbelief was seen as being synonymous with atheism, and so the sceptic was portrayed as a moral outcast. A wide range of attitudes – ‘denial’, ‘unbelief’, ‘overly questioning’ – were often associated with the morally corrupt, and as a result the term sceptic had a highly charged, pejorative feel to it.

In reality, though, it was some individuals’ insistence on questioning received wisdom which was perceived as the real heresy by the moral crusaders targeting scepticism. The fifteenth-century witch-hunters’ manual Malleus Maleficarum claimed that those who denied the existence of witches were no less guilty of heresy than the active practitioners of witchcraft.

In the centuries to follow, scepticism was frequently treated as a particularly dangerous form of anti-Christian heresy. Thomas Edwards’s Gangraena was one of the most influential works of heresiography in the seventeenth century. Published in 1644, it warned ‘first bring in Scepticism in Doctrine and loosenesse of life, and afterwards all Atheism!’. George Hickes, in his Two Treatises on the Christian Priesthood (1707), wrote scathingly about the heretic who regales ‘his atheist-ridden, or theist-ridden, or sceptic-ridden… or devil-ridden mind’.

The idea that scepticism was the precursor to the spread of moral depravity was frequently promoted by nineteenth-century Christian thinkers who felt beleaguered by the spread of secular culture. ‘A vague kind of scepticism or agnosticism is one of the commonest spiritual diseases in this generation’, wrote John Ryle, Anglican bishop of Liverpool, in 1884.

The metaphor of moral pollution through poison and disease was frequently used to diagnose the threat of scepticism. ‘In listening to the arguments of a sceptic, you are breathing a poisonous atmosphere’, said Christian author Robert Baker Girdlestone in 1863. This was an age where the uncertainties brought on by rapid change created widespread anxieties about the future. John Stuart Mill characterised Victorian England as an ‘age devoid of faith, yet terrified of scepticism’ in his famous essay On Liberty.

Yet by the end of the nineteenth century, the moral crusade against scepticism failed to capture the public imagination. On the contrary, the nineteenth-century scientific and technological revolution created conditions that were unusually hospitable to sceptical thought. English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, who coined the term ‘agnostic’, argued that the ‘improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority as such’, and added that ‘for him scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the unpardonable sin’. Liberal American philosopher and educator John Dewey depicted scepticism as the ‘first step on the road to philosophy’.

Twentieth-century Western societies were no less committed to science than was Huxley’s Victorian England. So how do today’s moral entrepreneurs reconcile their anti-sceptical inquisition with their idealisation of climate science?

Good sceptics and evil sceptics

Recently, Justin Rowlatt, who runs the BBC News ‘Ethical Man’ blog, wrote of his concern that the word sceptic was in danger of becoming a term of abuse. He noted that, since it was ‘the foundation of good science’, scepticism should be praised.

The paradox of demonising scepticism in an age when science enjoys significant cultural status has not escaped the attention of some of the advocates of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consensus on climate change. Recently David Marsh, style-guide editor of British newspaper the Guardian, wrote that he and some of his colleagues were not sure whether to call critics of this consensus sceptics or deniers. His article appeared to suggest that perhaps a new word that could convey a sense of moral condemnation was needed.

But most supporters of the IPCC consensus are wedded to a language that stigmatises precisely the sort of questioning associated with scepticism. Some of them use the word scepticism in a way that exposes a tension between the aspiration to demonise the sceptic while appearing to uphold the convention of openness that is usually associated with scientific inquiry. Writing in this vein, Bob Ward, of the London School of Economics-based Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, notes that despite all the ‘compelling evidence… there are some who reject or deny the scientific evidence on the grounds of so-called scepticism’.

More specifically, his anger is directed at the refusal of Britain’s Science Museum to take a position on the climate-change debate. Since scepticism is usually associated with the act of suspending judgment – precisely what characterises the response of the Science Museum – Ward’s use of the prefix ‘so-called’ before scepticism suggests that he regards anything other than the acceptance of his ‘compelling evidence’ as morally reprehensible.

Johann Hari, a columnist for the UK Independent, wrote that he would not ‘use the word sceptic to describe the people who deny the link between releasing warming gases and the planet getting warmer’. Why? Because he considers himself to be a sceptic who has been convinced by the evidence offered by the science of climate change. ‘Any properly sceptical analysis leads to the conclusion that manmade global warming is real’, he writes.

From this standpoint, a critic of the IPCC consensus cannot be a real or good sceptic, but a charlatan. James Lovelock, the well-known environmentalist, also makes a distinction between good and bad sceptics. While claiming to value the sceptical ideal, he denounces the bad ones. ‘The good sceptics have done a good service, but some of the mad ones, I think, have not done anyone favours’, he says. Continuing in this vein, Lovelock insists that some of the ‘mad ones’ are of course ‘corrupted and employed by oil companies and things like that’. Moreover, ‘some even work for governments’, he warns.

For Lovelock and his colleagues, a good sceptic is someone who accepts the consensus of environmental science. Questioning such a consensus is deemed irresponsible and dangerous. In truth, Lovelock’s praise for ‘good sceptics’ is entirely rhetorical. Which is why, in a typical anti-sceptical fashion, he calls for a ‘more authoritative world’, where a few people ‘with authority who you trust’ can get on with the job of implementing science-led policies. His lament that ‘of course’ this ‘can’t happen in a modern democracy’ sounds even more ominous than the threat issued by Greenpeace’s Indian communication director.

Even the author of a book titled Empires of Belief: Why We Need More Scepticism and Doubt in the Twentieth Century is committed to routing the bad sceptics. Author Stuart Sim insists that ‘there are many so-called scepticisms around at present which do not deserve our support’. His ‘Who’s Who’ of bad sceptics includes ‘Euroscepticism, global warming scepticism and the scepticism towards modern science that goes under the heading of intelligent design’. Apparently such ‘scepticism is not really scepticism’ since ‘it is in the service of an authoritarian cause’.

A question worth posing is: why denounce individuals for their scepticism if they are not really sceptics? The confusion that surrounds the rhetorical strategy adopted by the moral crusade against critics of the IPCC consensus should not obscure the fact that it is motivated by a genuine hatred for the spirit of scepticism. To understand this process, it is necessary to go beyond the opportunist distinction that is made today between good and bad sceptics, and establish the actual meaning of the term scepticism.

What is scepticism?

Although there are numerous variants of scepticism, as a philosophical orientation it represents a challenge to the all-too human proclivity for embracing dogma. For the Ancient Greeks, scepticism was not about not believing or denying a particular proposition. The genuine sceptic rarely claims to know that a particular proposition is wrong and therefore could not counsel disbelief. No, to the Ancient Greeks, scepticism meant inquiry. Scepticism is motivated by a complex range of motives, but it is underpinned by a belief that the truth is difficult to discover.

When Socrates explained that he was the wisest man in Athens because he knew he was ignorant, he pointed to the need to understand that one’s ignorance is the point of departure for a rigorous search for the truth. The defining attitude of the sceptic is the suspension of judgment. A sceptic is someone who has not decided or is not in a position to decide.

The act of suspending judgment need not mean a commitment not to judge. It can mean the postponement of judgment while the sceptic continues to inquire into the problem. Unlike doubt, which involves a negative judgment, scepticism represents a form of prejudgment. It is opposed to dogma and the attitude of unquestioned certainty.

In some cases, of course, the suspension of judgment can be an act of evasion. But the suspension of judgment also can be a prelude to a commitment to explore further in pursuit of clarity and truth. This is important for the development of science – and it is essential for the flourishing of a democratic public life. There can be no freedom of thought without the right to be sceptical. Which is why the demonisation of the sceptic today does not simply reflect a tendency towards polemical excess – it is also an attack on human inquiry itself.



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 are mirrors of this site here and here


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