Friday, October 05, 2012

Another prophecy fails

Seventeen years ago, back in 1995, a book called The Dying of the Trees: The Pandemic in America’s Forests appeared. It was written by Charles E. Little, who is described on the back cover as a “veteran environmentalist.” Inside, a brief bio tells us he “worked for thirty years in the environmental field.”

The preface of the book declares:
the trees are dying everywhere, including everywhere in the United States of America. [page ix]
The back cover declares in large, uppercase text:
To what did Little attribute the apparent crisis? You guessed it, our nasty industrial society. You know, the  same material prosperity that has provided sanitation, powered medical facilities, and generally extended all of our lifespans. Here’s Little’s analysis:
We are almost certainly witnessing the accumulated consequences of some 150 years of headlong economic development and industrial expansion, with the most impressive of impacts coming into play since the 1950s – the Age of Pollution. [bold added, pages ix-x]
Also in the preface Little claims that:
One of the two oldest woodlands on earth is simply falling down – dead – the effect of a whole range of human-caused maladies, exacerbated (here as elsewhere) by the perfidies of the U.S. government. [page x]
The book talks about “a potentially catastrophic failure of global ecological balances” and “nightmarish biochemical and atmospheric feedback loops.” It frets about the consequences for future generations.

In other words, this is an eco-alarmist book. One in a long, long line of similar books promising disaster and devastation if we don’t take the author’s advice and renounce “headlong economic development.”

Within its pages experts who make dramatic, doom-and-gloom predictions are portrayed as heroes. Those who challenge them are described as “vituperative” and abusive (see page 23).

The book’s conclusions are, of course, grim. On page 231 Little writes:
What is to become of us now? Have we not crossed the threshold? Are we not dealing with nature in another zone? The endgame?
He references a 1993 article by E.O. Wilson titled Is Humanity Suicidal? He also quotes James Lovelock saying:
The human species is, in a word, an environmental abnormality.
Little tells us that we should plant billions of new trees, reduce “the pollution caused by gluttonous fossil-fuel use” back to the level of the mid-1950s, and stop “the cutting of forests” (page 232-233).

Using a tactic common to contemporary eco-activists, he tells us about his 12-year-old granddaughter who, he says:
worries constantly about the environment; sometimes she is sick with worry. [page 233]
He reports that, during the writing of the book, he suffered a
string of illnesses…so atypical that I must ascribe them, at least in part, to psychological causes. Despair. [pages 233-234]
The book’s final page contains phrases such as:
I have learned things I wish I had not learned…I have learned that we have crossed the threshold.
It warns that America’s forests are in such dire straits that they can’t possibly recover quickly. In his view, “at least a century” will be required to allow nature to begin (his italics) to “heal herself.”

Seventeen years later what can we conclude from all of the above? America obviously didn’t take Little’s advice. It continued to pursue economic prosperity for its citizens. It didn’t outlaw logging. Nor did it reduce its fossil-fuel consumption back to the level of the 1950s.

So were US forests wiped out? Were Little’s prophesies even remotely on target? Was his despair rational? Was it appropriate for his own environmental fixations to cast such a shadow over the childhood of his granddaughter?

In 2007, a mere 12 years after Little’s dismal tome appeared, the Society of American Foresters issued a glossy 76-page report titled The State of America’s Forests. The executive summary says that while the relationship between humanity and American forests has sometimes been bumpy, overall this is:
a story of regrowth, renewal, and abundance…
It further contains statements such as these (all direct quotes):
  • The number of acres of forestland in the United States has remained essentially the same during the past century.
  • Assessments of biodiversity on the nation’s forests have found that the annual rate at which species are listed as threatened or endangered has declined fivefold.
  • the standing inventory (the volume of growing stock) of hardwood and softwood tree species in US forests has grown by 49 percent between 1953 and 2006.
In other words, despite all his research and all his anxiety, Charles Little had no ability to predict the future as it would appear even 12 years later.

The parallels with climate activist Kevin Anderson, about whom I wrote recently, are eerie. Seventeen years ago Charles Little was prepared to deny his granddaughter and all of America’s other young people the rewards, experiences, and opportunities that come with a prosperous way of life.

In the name of protecting forests that were apparently never seriously threatened.

New science: Sea level rise not a problem for your children, or theirs (recurring)

A new, first-of-its-kind comprehensive scientific analysis has shown that there is little to fear from rising sea levels driven by global warming. The likelihood is that the 21st century will see rises much like those of the 20th, and even in the worst possible case sea levels in 2100 will be far below those foreseen by alarmists.

There's a catch, of course: on a timescale of many centuries, serious alarmist-type rises in sea levels are to be expected. Even if humanity ceases all carbon emissions right now, in the year 3000AD the seas will have risen by 1.1m, according to Professor Philippe Huybrechts and his team.

Nothing much doing until 2200AD at the earliest

As most Reg readers know, the various land-based ice sheets and glaciers of planet Earth today hold enormous amounts of water. As and when they melt, the potential is there for huge rises in sea level. This has led climate-alarmist campaigners to suggest in reputable peer-reviewed journals that "scientists" generally expect the seas to rise by a metre or more - flooding millions of homes - as soon as the year 2100.

In fact even the reliably alarmist Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change only forecasts 26-59cm rises in the 21st century, compared to the approximate 17cm seen in the 20th. That's because the vasty ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are so very vast that they will take a very long time indeed to melt, even under the much-elevated temperatures forecast under global warming theories.

“Ice sheets are very slow components in the climate system; they respond on time scales of thousands of years,” explains Professor Huybrechts.

According to a statement supplied to the Register:
"The researchers believe this is the first study to include glaciers, ice caps, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and the thermal expansion of the oceans into a projection of sea-level rises. They did so by using a climate modelling system called LOVECLIM, which includes components from a number of different subsystems.

The polar ice sheets are not normally included into projections due to computational constraints, whilst researchers often find it difficult to account for the 200 000 individual glaciers that are found all over the world in very different climatic settings."
Thus it is that the Professor Huybrechts and his colleagues, in new research published yesterday, estimate that even in the worst-case-possible situation the maximum rise in sea levels in 2100 will be approximately 30cm, well down at the low end of the IPCC range and less than twice the rise seen last century. More probably, the result will be lower and the 21st century will be much the same as the 20th in terms of sea levels.

Of course, if Huybrechts and his crew are right, bigger rises will still come - just not for centuries. Worst case, the 1m rise bandied about by doomsayers might be here in 2200AD: more likely, not until 2300 or even later. In the year 3000, no matter what we do, we'll have a rise of a metre or more and it could be as much as 4m or even 6.

The research is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“If climatic warming will be severe and long-lasting all ice will eventually melt," comments Professor Huybrechts.

“Mankind should limit the concentration of greenhouse gases at the lowest possible level as soon as possible. The only realistic option is a drastic reduction of the emissions. The lower the ultimate warming will be, the less severe the ultimate consequences will be.”

Comment and Background

With the greatest possible respect to Professor Huybrechts, while only a fool would fail to listen to his advice in his specialist subject - that is, how much sea level rise will there be assuming various global warming scenarios - his advice on what should be done about it (in which he is well out of his area of expertise) makes very little sense.

It should be borne in mind here that in most places the sea rises and falls every single day on a scale measured in metres, and even more during unusual events (big storms from certain directions when the moon is in certain positions etc). Existing human infrastructure that can cope with these comparatively everyday occurrences will not be much affected by rises on the 30cm scale, and it doesn't cost a lot to cope with such rises or indeed much bigger ones. (For example the Netherlands - most of which has always relied on artificial defences to keep out the sea since well back into pre-industrial times - plans to be ready for sea level rises of over a metre by 2100, and expects this to cost a relatively trivial €1bn per year, a small sum compared to any developed nation's roads budget - let alone a major cost such as health, welfare etc. Details here.)

It's also worth noting that by the year 2100 the USA (for instance) will on current rates have built enough new homes to replace all those that could be threatened by a 1m rise fourteen times over. By 2200 when such a rise might actually in the worst case have happened - this is assuming no economic growth and no Netherlands-style sea defence - 30-odd new homes will have appeared for every one lost to the sea.

By the year 3000, one might reasonably hope that people might be living on other planets: but even if they aren't, and provided we don't somehow permanently strangle the global economy (for instance by making energy hugely more expensive ...) it's safe to say that nobody will have noticed the costs of a few metres of sea level rise. It's more than likely that new construction materials or floating cities or flying cars or some other development will have made sea-level rises largely irrelevant: even if this doesn't happen, only a totally stagnant humanity that hadn't developed either economically or technologically from this point could really have been bothered by such sea level rises on such a timescale.

But an immediate and drastic cut in greenhouse-gas emissions, as Professor Huybrechts advocates, really would produce serious misery and hardship for billions of people - starting straight away and going on for a very long time if not forever. It is frankly bizarre advice to give, based on the results his team has produced.

Regardless of that, everyone now reading this can at least relax, happy in the knowledge that not only we but our children and our children's children (and their children even unto say the sixth generation) will not have to face so much as a metre of sea level rise.

Deutsche Bank Closes Down Climate Casino

For the last 5 years, Deutsche Bank has published an annual climate report, discussing investment opportunities in the field of climate change. The latest report, titled “Investing in Climate Change 2012″ was published in May 2012 and is available on the website of Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors. If you want, you can inform yourself on 104 pages about how you can make money with climate change.

But now the end has come for the seven-member team of the climate change analyst department in New York. On 30 September, Deutsche Bank shut down their climate department. Is Deutsche Bank chairman Anshu Jain having doubts in light of the global warming standstill now in its 14th year? On 28 September, Financial Times Germany reported the closure of DB’s climate change department:
“The New York-based department was supposed to stand for progress and perhaps also to show Deutsche Bank’s nicer side: Earning money via the mega-issue of climate change while helping to stop global warming. But under the leadership of its new  bosses Anshu Jain and Jürgen Fitschen, there is no more room for this image enhancement department. After all, what good is all this progressiveness when it isn’t reflected in profits on the balance sheets? [...]

Has Deutsche Bank said goodbye now to climate investments? Not really. The subsidiary DWS still manages around 5.3 billion Euros in existing funds. Some customers can still be enticed with the ‘Climate’ label …..”

The Importance of Long-Term Temperature and CO2 Data

While perusing a paper recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science (Drake, 2012), we read the author's account of how most of the Greek palatial centers of the Late Bronze Age were either destroyed or abandoned between the 13th and 11th centuries BCE, and how thereafter - during what has come to be known as the Greek Dark Ages - the people affected by this climatic cooling suffered significantly in multiple ways until the advent of the Roman Warm Period.

But that is not what this editorial is about. What we found to be of most interest is something that has been known (by us and many others) about earth's climate for quite some time now; and that is the long-term temperature record produced by the Greenland Ice Sheet Project (GISP2), which is depicted below, as plotted by Drake but based on data reported by Alley (2004).

Figure 1. The past 5,000 years of the GISP2 temperature history of the Greenland Ice Sheet, adapted from Drake (2012), who denoted the general locations of the Late Bronze Age (LBA), the Roman Warm Period (RWP) and the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) in their original work.

In viewing this history, it is most interesting to note (and know) that over its first 4,800 years (that's 96% of the record) - when the temperature varied all over the place - the atmosphere's CO2 concentration was extremely stable, hovering between about 275 and 285 ppm; while over the last 200 years (the remaining 4% of the record), when the temperature shows but a fraction of a degree warming, the air's CO2 concentration rose by well over an extra 100 ppm.

Clearly, the air's CO2 content is not a major driver of earth's temperature. In fact, it may not even be a minor driver. 

Call from the German Left:   Comrades, Throw Out The Tree-Huggers!

The muesli cake milieu of green high earners is courted by all German parties – but many ordinary people no longer feel represented. The Social Democrats (SPD) in particular often try to be greener than the greens. But the comrades can only win elections if they get rid of their green obsession.

The SPD was once a party of progress and growth. You know it because at the end of a SPD party conference, everybody stands up and sings the old songs of the labour movement: “From the dark past bright light shines forth towards the future,” they sing, and “With us a new era is arriving”. The lyrics are about awakening and confidence, about new “housing blocks” and “hammer blows”.

Alas, all this has become folklore. In wide parts of the SPD, the idea of progress, awakening and heavy industry are quite out of fashion. Instead, the green Zeitgeist has gripped Social Democrats. Everything must be organic, must be resource-efficient and sustainable. Once, the comrades supported worker participation in board rooms and  Labour Day. Today, many support the ecological transformation of the industrial society and Veggie Day.

The parliamentary commission on “Growth, Prosperity and Quality of Life” of the Bundestag (German Parliament) is dominated by ideologues like the former SPD environment secretary Michael Müller. Red and green apostles work here hand in hand. 30 years after former SPD Prime Minister of Hesse, Holger Börner, said that he would like to hit green riot thugs “in the face” with a batten, Social Democrats and Greens are using the intimate “Du”. They praise the meaningful sufficiency and work together to accustom citizens to a “culture of less”.

New technologies? Oh, there “greened” social democratic politicians wag considerably seriously with their fingers and apply the precautionary principle. They could be harmful to the environment after all. With regards genetically modified crops they are sceptical or hostile altogether. Stem cell research? Rather not. Nanotechnology? Only with caution. Shale gas development by means of fracking: only under the strictest conditions.

The so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, with which carbon dioxide could be stored in underground landfills, has been met with resistance by SPD-governed German states in the Bundesrat (the upper house of the German parliament) after Greenpeace warned of possible “outgassing”.

“The SPD has turned from the party of technological progress into the party of technology rejection,” the former SPD chairman Franz Müntefering once complained, only proving, however, that he is a man of the past, according to his ecologically committed party colleagues.

Those who rent homes are financing the solar roofs of homeowners

The change in attitude shows itself most clearly in the debate about the rising cost of electricity. German citizens are forced to pay about 15 billion Euros this year to subsidise renewable energy, half of which for particularly inefficient photovoltaic. Next year this amount is likely to reach 20 billion Euros, which corresponds to 175 Euros per  household. The money flows from the bottom up, i.e. from the poor to the rich. Those who rent flats finance the solar roofs of homeowners, a whole new interpretation of the solidarity principle to which Germans have to get used to. Consumer advocates are outraged. They estimate that already up to 600,000 people sit in the dark because they can no longer pay their electric bills. A windfall for the SPD, you might think.

But instead of getting upset about rising fuel poverty, some comrades are rather upset about the consumer advocates. An SPD’s spokesperson for the environment, Ulrich Kelber, accuses them of having a “short-term approach”. He supports solar subsidies; he has always fought significant subsidy cuts in past years. No wonder that the solar lobby considers Kelber a reliable ally. According to Kelbers’s website, photovoltaic companies donated total of 90,000 Euros to his local party group from 2007 to 2009.

The question is whether the green obsession is benefiting the Social Democrats politically. Manfred Güllner, head of the polling institute Forsa and long-time adviser to ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, does not think so. Güllner believes it is a political error to pay tribute to the supposedly green Zeitgeist: “The greener the entire political class becomes and the more unilaterally the vested interests of the green movement are implemented, the more the great majority of non-green, ordinary people feel neglected”, he writes in his new book The Greens – boom or crash?

Güllner, an SPD member since 1964, shows how his party has chummed up more and more with green high-income earners, driving away their former core voters. Instead of promoting social housing, the SPD watched how former residents in historical neighbourhoods were displaced by ecological restoration and beautification measures. Tempo 30 zones and local arts centres have been planned over the needs of ordinary people. With regards energy policy, the SPD has also made the mistake of plagiarizing the greens.

“When it comes to energy, what the majority of people are really interested in is whether or not, in the future, there will be enough and affordable energy for the public and businesses. This concern has been shoved into the background,” said the pollster.

Fight the Greens instead of chasing them

Indeed, there are a number of Social Democrats who share his analysis in principle. North Rhine Westphalia (NRW) economics minister Garrelt Duin, together with the  chairman of the Young Socialists, Sascha Vogt, recently published a book titled Windmill meets Reality. It is a celebration of industry and technology. It is obvioius that Duin does not trust the Green Economy, and not just since German solar manufacturers are going bankrupt one by one.

The same is true for Hubertus Heil, the former SPD General Secretary, and the NRW state premier Hannelore Kraft. And the SPD’s party leader, Sigmar Gabriel, recently made the point that one should not forget that wind turbines could not be produced without steel, plastic, mechanical and electrical engineering.

Güllner’s advice to the SPD is to fight the greens, rather than to chase them. According to him, the green Zeitgeist is an elite phenomenon, a “narrow segment” as he sees it from the perspective of the pollsters. The green wave has never arrived among the vast majority of ordinary families, in contradiction to repeated claims. But while the ecologically correct muesli cake milieu is courted by all parties, many ordinary people feel poorly represented and have been turned off voting altogether. Güllner sees this as a threat to Germany’s political system.
According to him, it would be a blessing for German democracy if the comrades threw out the tree huggers

Al Gore Walks Away From Green Energy

Do as I say, not as I do?

When Al Gore talks, people listen. Just ask the folks who hand out Academy Awards and Nobel Peace Prizes.

Al Gore also talks to investors. Since 2007, the former Vice President in Bill Clinton's administration has been preaching the benefits of putting your money where his mouth is: Alternative energy.

But if Al Gore has any message for investors today, it might very well be this: "Stay the hell away from alternative energy!"

Not that he would say so. At least out loud.

Reading through the promotional materials he puts out through his company, Generation Investment, it is hard to tell whether his "Client Update" is selling investments in his Climate Solutions Fund or memberships in the Sierra Club.

"Scientific fundamentals continue to point to a need for urgent action on climate," Gore says. Just like his Oscar-winning movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," it has lots of cool charts and graphics.
Climate policy is still firmly on the political agenda and corporate climate-related activity is increasingly strategic. Innovation is driving costs down and improving the business case for low carbon and high efficiency solutions.
This goes on for 20 pages. But even Gore does not seem to be listening anymore.

Gore's company files a quarterly report with the SEC that tells a different story about the 30 stocks in its portfolio. His company's public investments in wind, solar, biomass and other alternative energy to combat climate change are practically non-existent.

But his portfolio is top-heavy in high-tech, medical instruments, and even more pedestrian investments in companies such as Amazon (AMZN), eBay (EBAY), Colgate Palmolive (CL), Nielsen (NLSN), Strayer University (STRA), and Qualcomm (QCOM).

He is also big in China, with stakes in a big Chinese travel agency, CTrip, and China's largest medical equipment manufacturer, Mindray Medical.

And if you want a piece of the natural gas pipeline game -- heavily dependent on the environmentally suspect fracking -- you can find that in Gore's portfolio as well with Quanta Services (PWR).

Generation Investment even had a piece of Staples (SPLS) at one point -- but that was before anyone realized that was Mitt Romney's love child.

Not an Apple (AAPL) to be found, despite the fact that Gore sits on its board of directors. But Generation Investment at one time did have a piece of General Electric (GE) and Procter & Gamble (PG) and that global warming game-changer, PayChex (PAYX).


Preserving the graphics:  Graphics hotlinked to this site sometimes have only a short life and if I host graphics with blogspot, the graphics sometimes get shrunk down to illegibility.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here and here


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