Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Environmentalist double standards

Environmental groups are attacking the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, claiming he has a conflict of interest because of his previous work handling water pollution matters.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, and the Florida Clean Water Network are claiming Herschel Vinyard’s work in the private sector for different businesses represents a conflict of interest and that he should be disciplined for it. The groups claim Vinyard provided false information to the Environmental Protection Agency about the matter too, prompting them to call for a “citizen’s arrest” of Vinyard.

“Mr. Vinyard is making decisions that affect our waters every day, and most if not all of his decisions over the past 15 months have reflected a pro-polluter bias,” Linda Young, the director of the Florida Clean Water Network, said in a statement. “As a regular user of our waters I am personally so unimpressed with our state and federal government’s level of concern over Vinyard’s disregard for the law that I think a citizens’ arrest is now in order.”

In response to the left-wing group’s accusations and demands, Free Market Florida executive director Ryan Houck pointed out their hypocrisy as the EPA is littered with people who are tied to advocacy groups they support. “If EPA is on the hunt for conflicts of interest they can start in their own building,” Houck said in a statement. “Many of EPA’s top brass have extensive ties to environmental litigation groups with a clear financial interest in the outcome of major permitting battles. Somehow, I doubt the Florida Clean Water Network or PEER will be calling for their firing.”

In a press release, Houck’s organization published a lengthy list of left-wing environmentalists it claims are in the same predicament as Vinyard.

Rick Manning of Americans for Limited Government told TheDC that EPA officials’ close relationships with left-wing advocacy groups is dangerous for the economy. “The revolving door between the environmental extremist groups and the EPA is shocking and sobering, when one considers the damage they continue to do to our nation’s economy.”


'Wind farms are green tokenism': British Actor Griff Rhys Jones attacks turbines and says it is not elitist to care about the countryside

Actor and comedian Griff Rhys Jones has hit out at the ‘hypocrisy’ of wind farms - labelling them ‘green tokenism.’ The 58-year-old also criticised the Government’s controversial planning reforms and the ‘indiscriminate barbarity’ of developers.

He told today’s Radio Times: ‘There is still the hypocrisy of a green tokenism. ‘Randomly deposited industrial wind farms still pop up in a fulfilment of a hectic ambition that won’t solve ten per cent of our energy needs.

‘It is not elitist to care about the countryside. It is not old-fashioned. It is not the preserve of old-age pensioners, or out-of-touch aesthetes, or little Englanders, or sentimentalists, or soppy nature worshippers or selfish nimbyists to require that this balance endures, and that our government ensures that it does. ‘It is the proper demand of a citizen.’

Mr Rhys Jones owns a home in Holbrook, Suffolk, near the proposed site of one of the world’s largest offshore wind farms.

The huge development off the Suffolk coast would cover 300 square kilometres and include 325 turbines.

A former president of heritage charity The Civic Trust, Mr Rhys Jones recently campaigned against plans to erect a line of electricity pylons across moorland near his home.

He used his article to draft planning reforms that aimed to ‘cut red tape’ and make it easier to build in the countryside.

In March, ministers altered the proposed regulations after opposition from conservation groups.
Rhys Jones feels that wind firms, like this one in Lanarkshire in Scotland, will not cure the UK's energy problems

Rhys Jones feels that wind firms, like this one in Lanarkshire in Scotland, will not cure the UK's energy problems

Mr Rhys Jones said: ‘The Government panicked. The planning regulations were torn up. Our sense of priorities warped before our very eyes.’

He added: ‘The landscape is just as much part of the urgent remit of our state as housing or transport or the National Health Service. It is our shared birthright.

‘It belongs to you and, more importantly to your great, great, great grand-children.

‘So don’t let them destroy our shared beauty in the name of a short-term economic sticking plaster.

‘Buildings never go back to fields. Cheap, shoddy solutions are never eradicated with time, Rage rage, rage against indiscriminate barbarity.’

Mr Rhys Jones presents BBC1’s Britain’s Lost Routes, a new four part series that explores forgotten transport routes across the British countryside.

While promoting his 2009 documentary River Journeys, he angered fishermen by saying they have too much access to the nation’s waterways.

He encouraged canoeists and boaters to ‘disturb as many fishermen as possible’, prompting an angry response from anglers groups.


Obama's Plan to Kill Coal

Obama will go down in history as the president who killed coal. Making no attempt to hide his disdain for one of America’s most abundant, efficient energy sources, then candidate Barack Obama said that, “if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can — it’s just that it will bankrupt them.”

Making good on that promise, President Obama charged Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Lisa Jackson with the task of regulating America’s coal industry out of existence. The EPA’s strategy is simple: impose punitive, costly regulations on existing coal plants and mandate unattainable emissions standards on future coal power plants.

This one-two punch has manifested itself in two bureaucratic sounding rules—the Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology (U-MACT) and the proposed regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Costing an estimated $10 billion annually by 2016, the U-MACT wins the EPA’s pernicious accolade of most expensive regulation ever written for power plants. The U-MACT requires coal power plants to spend millions of dollars retrofitting their facilities or shutdown entirely. Unable to afford costly upgrades, many power plants will close their doors causing electricity prices and unemployment levels to rise.

But it gets worse, last month the EPA proposed carbon limits on new coal-fired power plants. This new rule effectively ensures that no new coal-fired power plants will ever be built in America. The EPA’s new carbon mandate requires new coal plants to accomplish the unattainable: achieve emissions parity with natural gas plants. Foolishly, President Obama is leveraging America’s newfound natural gas abundance against coal companies.

By writing this rule, the EPA has decreed that future power generation will come from natural gas-fired power plants—politics have prevented more nuclear power from coming online and wind and solar energy just don’t work. Antithetical to the free market, President Obama’s policies have further distorted America’s already convoluted electricity sector.

The EPA’s assault on coal—the resource that supplies over 40 percent of all electricity to America’s homes and businesses—has huge economic and social implications. Analyzing the cumulative impact of the U-MACT and three other EPA regulations, the National Economic Research Associates (NERA) found that the four rules could cause a net loss of 1.65 million jobs by 2020. Further studies show that the Obama’s regulations will threaten grid reliability and cause electricity prices to increase nearly ten percent in some states. When candidate Obama said he wanted to “make electricity rates skyrocket,” this is what he had in mind.

As long as Obama is calling the shots from the White House, the burden to overturn EPA’s destructive rules falls on Congress. Stepping up to the plate, Senator Inhofe (R-Okla.) is utilizing the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to expunge Obama’s U-MACT rule and rein-in the out of control EPA. Only requiring 51 Senators to overturn Obama’s regulation, Inhofe’s CRA has a real chance at passing the Senate. Democrat Senators in coal intensive Midwestern states will have to decide whether they want electricity rates to “skyrocket” or blue-collar jobs to return home. In short, Senators will have to side with their constituents or Obama’s regulators.

The EPA has gone too far—unelected bureaucrats now dictate what type of energy Americans can use to power their homes and businesses. Tell your Senator to let the free market work and oppose the U-MACT.


Calming the Climate Curriculum in schools

One contributing factor to the astonishing spread of alarm over CO2 and climate may be that most of us have not given much thought to climate other than complaining about bad winters/summers/storms or recalling sunnier times in our childhoods.

So the notion that the climate is changing worldwide, which ought to be as banal an observation as you can get since it has never stopped changing over a great range of scales, can yet come as a bit of a jolt.  And when some at least of the folks in white coats tell us we're causing the change, and that it must be for the worst, we get a further jolt.  And then when the unscrupulous or the merely irresponsible spot an opportunity to scare us for their financial and/or political advantage over 'climate change', then the jolts can arrive thick and fast - from the media, from the eco-activists, from the anti-capitalists, from the fundraising NGOs, from the financiers and investors in carbon credits or in the farming of subsidies for renewables, and from the politically ambitious who spotted the bandwagon in good time to help it along or who were merely swept along by it and all the opportunities it has provided.

One result of this headlong, headstrong stampede based as it is on mere supposition that the extra CO2 must have such a powerful directional effect on climate that we should be acutely alarmed by it, is that educators at all levels have been swept along too.

Many seem to be enjoying the chance to be spreading alarm amongst the young, given the explosion of websites, books, and other media aimed at them.  A common approach is to mention greenhouses - well known as hot and uncomfortable places - or cars parked in the sunlight with all windows closes - and assert that CO2 has the same effect on atmospheric temperatures as the glass has.  Not true of course, but truth is not a key concern where supposition suits so many.

A threatened polar bear pictured on an iceflow may be accompanied by text suggesting that switching off lights, driving less often, and using 'renewable energy' more will save it.  It is not true, of course, that they are under undue threat given that their numbers have generally been increasing in recent years

Another picture might show a high wave crashing against a seafront, covering nearby houses in spray, and be accompanied by dire warnings of dramatic rises in sea level underway, even accelerating.  Not true of course, since the slow ongoing rise of sea levels seems to be paying not the slightest attention to rising CO2 levels, and may even be flattening out in recent years as it has over the past thousands of the bigger picture.

But these untruths are helpful when you are making the case that humans are disrupting a fragile nature, heretofore in balance.  And of course, nature is neither fragile overall nor has it ever been 'in balance'.

No matter, we humans must be a bad lot, our inventions, our achievements in engineering and in food production, our tremendous victories over poverty and starvation, and over the vagaries of a variable climate, are to be decried in so far as they produce CO2.  That gas which does not act to raise temperatures like the glass in a greenhouse does, which does not appear to have ever been a driver of climate - in recent years or over millions of years, and whose recent rises coincide with both rising and declining temperatures, and with essentially business as usual as far as other weather or weather-related phenomena such as ice extents are concerned.

The madness over CO2 will surely continue to subside, and as it does, a calmer curriculum on climate will have to be found.  What might it look like?  Here are three items which caught my attention recently and which may be just the sort of thing that could inspire sensible and informative teaching on climate topics.

Item 1.  A simple display to help put CO2 in its proper context as one of many factors influencing climate in interacting ways:

 This diagram is due to Kiminori Itoh who used it in a guest post on the blog Climate Science: Robert Pielke Sr.  Such a diagram is not too complex.  It uses the idea of rivers flowing into each other, with many sources, and more than one outlet - to show more effects than just temperature changes.  CO2 can thus be seen as just one of several contributions, and we can readily imagine there may be many more.  Just as we could imagine a great river system as having innumerable sources or springs.  Feedbacks are not shown, but could be mentioned to appropriate classes by noting, for example, what regional climate changes could lead to more aerosols, or what temperature changes might produce more or less vegetation, or more or less de-gassing of CO2 from the sea.  Contrast the more complex river system with the one above it - which is of course the nearer analogy to the worldview pushed by the leaders of the IPCC.

Item 2.  Many, I'm tempted to say all, of those scientists most agitated by CO2 do not possess much by way of the gravitas associated with great achievement in physics.  Many are more like geographers than scientists in so far as they are documenting and describing and modelling what they believe is taking place rather than deriving results from hard theories which they rigorously test with new data.  There is a video showing an easy-paced talk on climate given in 2010 by a very accomplished physicist, William Happer of Princeton University, reported by LuboŇ° Motl who also provides a summary of the contents.  As Motl notes, it is instructive to listen to the list of achievements of Prof Happer (given by the lady introducing his presentation) and wonder how they might compare with those of physicists on the agitated side of the CO2 debate!

 The video can be downloaded from here:  (I watched it using Quicktime, but to get the soundtrack to work properly when Happer comes on,  I had to mess around a bit.  In the end, I got it to work by adjusting the 'Wave Balance' to the left - a control option which appeared via 'Volume Control' in Windows XP).

Motl is himself a theoretical physicist, a subject about which he blogs as well as on climate.  His views are often expressed quite strongly.  Here is the last paragraph of his above-linked post on this video:

'It's too bad that all the arrogant yet uninformed folks who want to talk about the climate – all these Gores, Hansens, Manns, and similar jerks – can't be forced to learn the basic physics of these physical systems, at least at the level of Prof Happer's talk.'

I commend the presentation because it brings back memories for me of the very high quality of professors I was lucky enough to listen to many decades ago, and who would all, I like to think, have had no truck with the facile and irresponsible alarmism of so many of their counterparts today.  The presentation is calm, the discussion session frank and amiable, and there are no grandiose appeals to authority  nor scaremongering.  It is not perfect - stronger answers would be possible for some of the questions and points made, but it is honest and straightforward.  I think there are videos of Prof Lindzen which convey the same sense and sensibility, and these too could be used to help inspire better materials for schools.

Item 3.  This is a report of a school field trip led by staff from a school in Maryland, USA.  I only saw this today, and am relying on a single report re-published here. (hat-tip Tom Nelson)

The report is on one of the many 'climate alarm' websites (e.g. 'The climate crisis isn’t just some far-off threat: it’s a clear and present danger. Galvanized by this sobering reality, Climate Central has created a unique form of public outreach, informed by our own original research, targeted to local markets, and designed to make Americans feel the power of what’s really happening to the climate. Our goal is not just to inform people, but to inspire them to support the actions needed to keep the crisis from getting worse.) so I hope I am not being misled by it, but I found it encouraging.

The teachers involved do not seem to have set out to scare their pupils, and have also made a point of discussing positive and negative effects of particular changes in climate, or policy options such as oil pipelines.  They also looked at real data, asking 'how do we know?' and 'where is the proof?'  Finally, they were out in the field, not in a laboratory, not in a computer room, not watching a DVD, and doing measurements of their own.  I like to think the teachers will have helped the children feel we are not feeble victims of climate, but rather we can do and have done many things to protect ourselves from its variations.  A sensible level of confidence and optimism about the future would be good results from a calm curriculum on climate.


Global warming demoted in importance

Climate change is the environmental problem that obsesses us, the one that's the focus of high-flying international summits and hardcore national politics. But it's not the only environmental problem — and it's not even the biggest one. That happens to be the crisis in agriculture and land use, the subject of what Jon Foley — the head of the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment — calls the "other inconvenient truth." Put simply, the act of feeding 7 billion plus human beings already puts more stress on the planet than any other single activity — and with both population and global wealth continuing to grow, we're going to need to figure out a way to produce more food without further damaging the environment. Otherwise we may end up running out of both food and the planet.

Of course, exactly how we should address these problems is the subject of fierce debate in the U.S. and beyond. Is the solution to go organic as much as possible, or should we focus on trying to extend the fertilizer and irrigation of the Green Revolution to underperforming agricultural areas in Africa and Asia? Do we need to change our diet and reduce meat consumption, or is it simply unrealistic to expect more of us to become semi-vegetarians — especially among the rising global middle class just getting a chance to eat like Americans? How much value do intact forests and wildlife habitat have as we struggle to feed the 1 billion people who go to bed hungry each night? And is it really food production we need to improve, or distribution?

I've had a chance to hear Foley ponder his inconvenient truth a couple of times recently — first at a panel I moderated at the New York Academy of Sciences, and then at the Cooking for Solutions conference at the Monterey Aquarium in California. I like Foley because he can distill the big questions facing the human race in a handful of striking facts or images, but also because he approaches those same questions with a resolute pragmatism you don't always find in the environmental field — especially when it comes to food. "Can we feed the world and sustain the planet?" asks Foley. "Yes it's possible. But not with business as usual."

It's important to understand just how massive global agriculture's footprint really is. First there's simply the matter of land: 6.2 million sq. mi (16 million sq. km) are currently used to grow crops — an amount of land about equal to the size of South America — while 11.6 million sq. mi (30 million sq. km) has been set aside for pastureland, an area equal to the entire African continent. Altogether that's more than 40% of the dry land on the planet. We use 60 times more land to grow and raise food than we do to live on. Farming takes half the world's available freshwater, much of which is used for irrigation. And all that activity — plus the deforestation and degradation that tends to go hand in hand with farming — helps make agriculture the single biggest source of manmade greenhouse gases, more than industry or transportation or electricity generation. "We are running out of everything," says Foley. "We are running out of planet."

That's worrying enough today, given the fact that so many human beings remain hungry even in this moment of unprecedented abundance. But depending on population growth and global diets, we may need to produce twice as much food by mid-century as we do now. The simplest way to grow more food is to farm on more land, but that would come with major environmental consequences. The arable territory that we haven't transformed into cropland or pastureland tends to be forest, including the great rainforests of South America and Asia. Cutting those forests down — as we're already doing now — might help produce more food, but it would come with a major environmental cost. We'd be wiping out the most important wildlife habitats left on this crowded planet, even as we add more carbon to the atmosphere through deforestation. "We need to freeze the footprint of agriculture," says Foley. "We need to farm the land we do farm better."


Green-Left climate change bias easy as ABC


MALE climate-change deniers are like terrorists, pedophiles and slave owners, claimed a contributor on BBC Radio 4's religious affairs slot Thought for the Day last week. By the BBC's lamentable standards, I'm afraid, this is what constitutes reasonable, fair and balanced commentary on the climate-change debate.

But as I've only now begun to appreciate after a month's tour of Australia, the greenie-lefty bias of your own ABC is, if anything, even worse.

In Melbourne, I had a run-in with prickly ABC talk radio host Jon Faine, who kept insisting how "professional" he was being during the course of a brusque, hugely unsympathetic interview in which he interrupted my every answer and tried to tar me as a card-carrying agent of Satan in the pay of Big Oil. Why? Because I have had the temerity to suggest that there is no strong scientific evidence to support the theory of man-made global warming. (Which there isn't).

My reception at Brisbane's local ABC branch was only marginally less frosty. Before I went on, the host actually felt compelled to apologise to his audience for having a "contrarian" such as me on the show. He was doing so in the interests of "balance", he cringeingly explained. "Gee, thanks, mate!" I thought. "With an intro like that anyone would think I was a kiddie-fiddler or a Nazi, not a climate sceptic!"

Now it's not that I'm afraid of tough interviews. Actually -- as I hope I showed to my new best mate Fainey -- I find them rather fun. Rather, my objection to the ABC, as it is to my own country's BBC, is that it acts clearly and persistently in violation of its obligations as a publicly funded national broadcaster. It's supposed to be fair and balanced -- and it is. But only so long as your definition of "fair and balanced" is greener than Christine Milne and further left than Julia Gillard. Which, in my book, isn't very.

Shortly before my interview with the ABC in Brisbane, I had the contrasting pleasure of a live encounter on 2GB with Australia's most popular talk radio host Alan Jones. Well, obviously I was going to enjoy it more: Jones, like me, like most of his listeners, is a climate-change sceptic. Of course, I realise that for some Australians Jones is more toxic than a blue-ringed octopus. But here's the difference between Jones and his ABC counterparts: if you don't like him you don't have to pay for him, not one cent.

Whereas with all the ABC's vast battery of presenters, of course, you do -- no matter how much you may dislike their almost uniformly green-left-progressive politics. (The single exception, as far as I'm aware, is Paul Comrie-Thomson's consistently superb Counterpoint: the ABC's equivalent of one of those Potemkin villages the Soviets used to build to impress visitors with just how free and lovely their country was.)

And you don't only pay for the presenters (and their battalions of support staff), either. You also pay -- out of the $1 billion-plus of your money spent by the government on the ABC each year -- for their lavishly appointed work environments. The studios in which I met the ABC's Steve Austin and 2GB's Jones couldn't have been more different. Austin's was spacious and state-of-the-art in an office building you could have mistaken for that of a law firm or a bank; Jones was squeezed into a shoebox like the Black Hole of Calcutta at the back of an anonymous industrial estate.

Does this reflect their audience size and reach? Of course not: Jones's show is many times more popular than Austin's. Rather, what this illustrates is the massive difference between public and private-sector budgeting. As the ABC shows, if it's coming out of the taxpayer's pocket then money is no object. In the real commercial world, on the other hand, not even the mighty Jones gets the gold star treatment because profligacy is the enemy of profit.

But the fact the ABC offers relatively poor value for money to its shareholders -- Australian taxpayers -- should be the least of your worries. What's of far more concern is the way that for years this fatly overindulged organisation, with its stranglehold on the Australian broadcast media, has been given carte blanche to skew the political debate in a relentlessly leftwards direction.

It's the same in Britain with the ABC's ugly elder sister, the BBC: on any given subject you know what the organisation's position is going to be -- anti-business, pro-regulation, credulous and uncritical on all green issues, slavish in its endorsement of politically correct pieties, always in favour of ever-expanding government.

Which is fine if you believe in that sort of thing but if you don't you have a problem: here you are, forced to dig into your pocket every year to help people whose politics you violently disagree with campaign for all the things you hate. Not only that, but people who are actively seeking to close down alternative points of view.

In Britain we've seen this with the Leveson inquiry, in Australia you've had a (bitter) taste of it with the Finkelstein report, and in the US it's evident in the ongoing attempts by the Left to hamstring (mostly conservative-leaning) talk shows with the Fairness Doctrine. Whatever their professed aims, each one of these represents a bullying attempt by the statist establishment -- fully endorsed and often orchestrated by its friends in the left-leaning mainstream media -- to gag any broadcast organisations that dare dissent from the prevailing politically correct orthodoxy.

One of the things that has always puzzled me about the Left is that for all its fine talk about the virtues of free speech, it's often at least as eager as any authoritarian Right regime to close it down.

Nowhere is this tendency better exemplified than by the behaviour of those two gruesome siblings, the BBC and the ABC: despite their pretensions of even-handedness and social responsibility, the way they abuse their near-monopolistic domination of their country's broadcast media owes more to statist tyrannies than free democracies.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, 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


1 comment:

slktac said...

The problem with growing food is made far worse by wanting organic and non chemical cleaners, etc. Instead of growing food, we grow "plant-based" ingredients for "natural" cleaners, corn for ethanol, bamboo for flooring, etc and tell people it's sustainable. Yes, it is as long as you are willing to give up eating or to starve people in a country you will never have to visit. (In reality, hungary people are usually so do to politics--in the US, it's redefining words. Now we have "famine' in the US, so charities can guilt people out.) Chemicals had the advantage of working well and not taking agricultural land out of use. Then there's "reforesting"--don't even get me started on that one............