Thursday, October 25, 2012

UN climate change body worse than a delinquent teen

Talk about a case of mistaken identity.  Most people, if they know anything at all about the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), believe that it is made up of “the world’s leading scientists” at the peak of their careers.

Indeed, Donna Laframboise, an Ontario-based investigative journalist who wrote for the Toronto Star and was a member of the National Post’s editorial board, said she too had once assumed that the IPCC’s reports into climate change were written by the personification of “a meticulous, upstanding professional in business attire.”

Instead, after spending more than two years investigating just who is behind the IPCC, she came to the conclusion that the world’s “Climate Bible” is “produced by a slapdash, slovenly teenager who has trouble distinguishing right from wrong.”

That’s how she came up with the title for her book, The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert.

During a luncheon hosted by the Friends of Science and co-sponsored by the Frontier Centre on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Centre, Laframbois told the crowd of 300 that when she began the journey of writing her book, she set out intending to “examine arguments for and against dangerous, human-caused climate change.

“What I learned along the way turned me into a climate skeptic or — as I like to call myself these days — a climate rebel.”

And this rebel has a cause — to expose the real IPCC — to pull back the curtain, if you will, on this Wizard of Oz and expose — well, a phoney.

When she started looking into the IPCC, she was told repeatedly by august scientific publications, newspapers and the chairman of the IPCC himself, Rajendra Pachauri, that the IPCC is made up of the world’s top scientists and best experts and that any information that is not peer reviewed is discarded from the report.

Most people just accept these statements as fact.

So what did Laframbois find? Yes, “a number of talented and experienced scientists have indeed helped to write IPCC reports over the years. The problem is that many other IPCC authors don’t come close to being leading scientists at the top of their profession,” said Laframbois to the crowd made up of many geologists, geophysicists and astrophysicists.

On the screen, Laframbois flashed the photos of three “20-somethings,” who were lead authors and even co-ordinating lead authors of entire chapters of the IPCC Climate Bible that directs the governments of 185 countries into actions like raising gasoline prices, imposing carbon taxes and the like.

Richard Klein, for instance, was 23 in 1992 when he completed his master’s degree in geography and worked as a Greenpeace campaigner. Two years later, he was a lead author for the IPCC. Since 1994, he has been a lead author for six IPCC reports, and beginning in 1997, he was promoted to co-ordinating lead author — the IPCC’s most senior author role — at the age of 28. “That’s six years prior to him completing his PhD. Neither his youth nor his thin academic credentials prevented the IPCC from regarding him as one of the world’s top experts,” she said.

Laurens Bouwer was a lead author for the IPCC in 1999-2000, BEFORE earning his master’s degree in 2001.

The most egregious example is Sari Kovats. In 1994, Kovats was one of 21 people “in the entire world selected to work on the first IPCC chapter” looking into the affects of climate change on human health.

But she wasn’t anywhere near being one of the world’s top scientists or experts in her field. Indeed, she didn’t publish her first academic paper until three years after she acted as an “expert” and she didn’t earn her PhD until 2010 — a whopping 16 years after being tagged as one of the top 21 experts in the world.

And it gets worse. The IPCC is filled with environmental activists, not objective scientists measuring data and coming to conclusions.

Among a list of people she cites, Laframbois notes that Jennifer Morgan spent several years as the World Wildlife Fund’s chief spokesperson on climate change and then in 2010 the IPCC appointed her “to work on a report it describes as objective, rigorous and balanced.”

Indeed, two-thirds of the chapters of the IPCC’s Assessment Report 4 included at least one WWF affiliated scientist. Two-thirds! Laframbois calls that a “full-scale invasion.”

“This is the equivalent of a judge in a murder trial — a judge who’s supposed to be neutral and impartial — partying with the prosecution team in the evening while the trial’s going on during the day,” said Laframbois.

It’s important to note here that while a columnist with the Toronto Star, it was Laframbois who questioned the science that convicted Guy Paul Morin of murder. Years later, she was proved right when DNA evidence exonerated the innocent man in 1995 of killing a child.

Pachauri has often claimed that the IPCC relies only on peer-reviewed research and material and says all non-peer reviewed work should be thrown “into the dust bin.” Laframbois conducted an audit to see if that’s indeed the case. It is not. Laframbois found that 21 out of 44 chapters in the 2007 IPCC report used less than 60 per cent peer reviewed material. Pachauri should follow up and throw the entire report into the dustbin. So should the world.

By the end of her talk, Laframbois was shown to be understated by calling the IPCC a delinquent teenager. More like a dangerous mob boss with a knack for fraud and hijacking. Time to lock him up.


Obama Washington Wink-Winking like crazy at EPA

President Obama is among the slickest practitioners ever of the Washington Wink-Wink -- what professional politicians in both parties do when they say one thing while planning to do something else entirely.

There was, for example, Obama's 2008 campaign promise to "cut the federal deficit in half." And that "net federal spending cut" he would achieve by the end of his first term? Anybody think he didn't know then that his first term would explode the deficit and spending to historic highs?

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sees more of the same from Obama on the Environmental Protection Agency front, which the Oklahoma Republican described in a detailed report he issued yesterday.

Here's the first wink: "Obama has spent the past year punting on a slew of job-killing EPA regulations that will destroy millions of American jobs and cause energy prices to skyrocket even more," Inhofe said. "From greenhouse gas regulations to water guidance to the tightening of the ozone standard, the Obama-EPA has delayed the implementation of rule after rule because they don't want all those pink slips and price spikes to hit until after the election."

For the second wink, Inhofe quotes Obama's former White House environmental czar Carol Browner, who recently reassured impatient environmentalists with these words: "I can tell you, having spent two years in the White House with the president, that this is not a fad. The president believes deeply in these issues ... there is no doubt in my mind this will be a big part of his to-do list and he will remain committed in the next four years."

In other words, Browner was saying, just wait, because Obama fears he might not get re-elected if he went ahead with his EPA plans before the election.

Here are just a few of many examples cited by Inhofe of costly new Obama-inspired regulations that EPA will impose on the economy after Nov. 6:

 *  Greenhouse gas regulations, including the infamous "cow tax." The EPA will finalize proposed regulations that will virtually eliminate coal use in electricity generation, thus driving consumer electric bills sky-high. This cluster of new regulations will also impose an annual fee on farmers for every ton of greenhouse gases emitted by their animals. The EPA estimates that 37,000 farms and ranches will have to pay on average a $23,000 annual "cow tax."

 *  New regulations will so severely reduce permissible ozone emissions that the EPA estimates the cost to the economy will be $90 billion per year. Other studies put the cost as high as $1 trillion. Split the difference between the estimates, and the result still means the loss of millions of jobs.

 *  New Tier III regulations will cut permissible sulfur emissions by two-thirds. That will add as much as 9 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas, according to Inhofe.

 *  The EPA's new coal ash regulation will cost as much as $110 billion over two decades and destroy more than 300,000 jobs, mostly in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Missouri.

This week, the Columbia Journalism Review and Pro Publica released a report stating that Obama has proved more secretive in some respects than his immediate predecessor in the Oval Office, George W. Bush. One of those quoted by CJR/PP is Society of Environmental Journalists President Ken Ward Jr., a staff reporter for the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, who tweeted this yesterday: "The Obama EPA is the most difficult to get information and answers out of that I've covered in 20 years."

That's the kind of transparency we get from politicians who do the Washington Wink-Wink.


Recycled water raises safety concerns

This winter, an Arizona ski resort, Snowbowl, will be the first to use treated sewage water, and sewage water alone, to make manmade snow. Recycling’s usually a good thing, but opponents of the plan worry about chemicals left in the snow, and an August report by a civil and environmental engineer says that the recycled water, already used for irrigation in Flagstaff green spaces, may contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

As Virginia Tech’s Amy Pruden describes in an unpublished report, covered by The New York Times Green blog, her group tested reclaimed water from various green spaces irrigated by Flagstaff’s recycled water and found five of the eight antibiotic resistance genes that they were testing for. These genes allow disease-causing bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, to flourish despite antibiotic treatments. It’s unclear whether the bacteria in the wastewater that contain these genes are disease-causing, but growing them in a dish to find out is the next step, Pruden told the Times. Finding antibiotic-resistant bugs in the water would shift concern to alarm, she said.

Pruden is not the first researcher to be concerned about the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in effluent from wastewater treatment plants. A University of Michigan lab previously found that wastewater treatment plants were a source of antibiotic-resistant bugs. The plants foster bacterial growth to break down organic matter, then treat the effluent with ultraviolet light or chlorine to kill bacteria before discharging the wastewater, but the treatment doesn’t kill all microorganisms.

Nothing has changed in response to the findings yet, but Pruden has been appointed to an advisory panel in Flagstaff that will decide how to respond to the possibility of having antibiotic resistant bacteria in water already used for irrigation. Snowbowl plans to start spraying manmade snow around Thanksgiving


Get orf our land! (or how my village blew away a 140ft turbine)

By James Delingpole

Two months ago my family and I finally moved out of the Big City and into paradise – a pretty rented cottage on a 2,500-acre estate in Northamptonshire with lakes, Capability Brown parkland, a 12th Century church, a ruined Elizabethan haunted house, an 18th Century walled garden and an ancient bluebell wood teeming with badgers, bats, deer and rare birds.

But what we didn’t know was that there was a snake in the garden: a planning application for an ugly 140ft wind turbine on the hill overlooking our new idyll.

The first I heard of it was when a woman called Sue accosted me at the Fawsley village fayre. ‘We’re so glad you’re here,’ she said. ‘Now you can help lead our fight against the wind turbine!’

Flattering though this was, I had  to explain that I’m a troublemaker not an organiser. Sure, I could help out with an angry article, but if she wanted a leader she’d have to look elsewhere. Run a campaign? I can scarcely run a bath.

But from that moment on our paradise felt lost. Every time I went for a walk I couldn’t help glancing up at that hill, wondering how it would look when the wind turbine came. I thought of the sunrises it would blight, the low-frequency noise, the birds and bats it would slice and dice, and the hundreds of thousands of pounds going into the landowner’s pocket while the neighbours had their landscape ruined.

A fortnight ago, our worst fears came true. Sue emailed me to say the turbine had been recommended for approval by the planning officer. With only a week before the meeting when a decision would be made, we had left it too late. Only 12 people had written to object and planning approval was surely now a formality. ‘If only we’d put up more resistance earlier,’ said Sue.

At this point something in me snapped. There are things worth fighting for, and for me this was one of them. Come what may, the dragon must be slain.

What you don’t realise until you’ve fought one of these wind applications is just how grotesquely rigged the system is in favour of the developer.

Apply to your council’s planning department for a slightly bigger than normal conservatory and they’ll likely turn you down flat. On the other hand, propose to erect a noisy, gleaming white industrial wind turbine twice the height of the tallest oak tree.....

Incredibly, it’s the developer (not the council) who gets to commission all the expert environmental, architectural, acoustic and ecological surveys assessing the proposed turbine’s impact. Is it any surprise that these surveys generally tend to find in favour of the person who has paid for them – of course there won’t be any noise, the bats will do fine, and the turbine will meld   perfectly into the landscape.

Worse still, under current planning law, the presumption is in favour of renewable energy schemes. In other words, unless you can prove that the adverse effects of a turbine will ‘significantly and demonstrably’ outweigh its supposed carbon-reduction benefits, then the application is likely to be approved regardless of how strongly the local community objects.

This cruel injustice is spreading heartbreak, misery and fear across our land. The length of Britain – from the Stopit Meddon campaign in North Devon to once-wild and unspoilt Orrin in Ross-shire, Scotland – small groups are engaged in desperate battles to spare their cherished patch of the countryside from ruin.

All they want is peace. Instead, they’re having their nerves shredded, their spare time eaten up, and their savings exhausted in a frantic guerrilla war against ruthless, powerful developers with bottomless pockets and an insatiable appetite for the vast subsidies wind farms attract.

How to win against so mighty a foe? Simple. You have to call on the same reserves of courage, ingenuity, determination and raw cunning that in the past helped us see off the Spanish Armada, Napoleon’s navy and  Hitler’s Luftwaffe. I’m not exaggerating. Truly, the Blitz spirit is alive and well in your nearest anti-wind-farm campaign group.

A few urgent phone calls later and our entire community was mobilised. From the lord of the manor to the lowliest tenant, from the village’s two resident hot-shot barristers to the former bass guitarist from Echo And The Bunnymen, from the children at the village school to the woodsman on the estate, everyone was determined to do their bit.

By the weekend before the hearing our position had changed from totally hopeless to not-entirely futile. Our crack team had spotted any number of serious flaws in the planning application. Nearly every conservation body going had raised objections, including  English Heritage.

Quite why the planning officer had decided to override these objections – and in a protected landscape area too – was a mystery.

A mystery, it turned out, that the council’s planning committee found as baffling as we did. At a packed meeting  – preceded by a demonstration  by the village’s placard-wielding children – we were first astonished, then almost tearful with gratitude, as one by one the members of the planning committee at Daventry District Council stood up to say how appalled they were that such a blight was even being considered  in an area so beautiful and unspoilt. They rejected the idea by nine votes to one.

I’d love to end the story at the glorious pub celebration where  jubilant villagers – many of whom had never met until we were united through struggle – toasted the wisdom of those councillors and the power of local democracy. But sadly I can’t.

Since then I’ve heard the landowner is going to appeal against the decision and try to force through a wind turbine that no one (except him) wants and which will disfigure our neighbourhood.

Our community’s plight is by no means an unusual one.  Something has gone badly awry with both our energy policy and our planning laws. Is anyone at Westminster listening?


Shooting down the locovores

Is locally grown produce as green as its proponents think it is?  Or are they just loco?

Today we're going to be politically incorrect again and point our skeptical eye at another sacred cow: Locally grown produce. Particularly in the United States, but in many other countries as well, one of the newest and fastest growing market segments is locally grown produce. The claims are that locally grown produce is less wasteful of fuel because it doesn't need to be delivered over long distances; it's fresher for the same reason; and it supports a small local organic farmer instead of an immoral megacorporation that sources food from cheap overseas producers.

I discussed one of these claims, about local delivery burning less fuel, in a May 2009 entry on It must have been pretty inflammatory, because it generated a huge number of comments. Most of them followed this pattern: The commenter begrudgingly agreed with the mathematics of the delivery question, but then claimed that I missed the point completely because the real reason to like locally grown produce has nothing to do with a low carbon footprint of minimal delivery miles. I'm not sure I buy that — virtually everyone I've ever asked says that's what locally grown is all about — but hey, I'm fair, we'll give them all a voice here.

First, let's give a brief overview of the mathematics of local delivery. Think of the traveling salesman problem. This is where you speckle a map with all sorts of random locations. The traveling salesman's problem is to find the shortest possible driving route, called a tour, that visits each of the locations. It's among the most computationally difficult problems in mathematics. But there's a cool piece of free software by Michael LaLena that finds one efficient solution using a genetic algorithm. Try to stump it with a pattern of hundreds of dots that you think will be hard to connect, and the software blows your mind with a surprisingly simple tour that visits all the locations.

Many years ago I did some consulting for a company that was then called Henry's Marketplace, a produce retailer built on the founding principles of locally grown food. Henry's had evolved from a single family fruit stand into a chain of stores throughout southern California and Arizona that sold produce from small, local farmers. Part of what I helped them with was the management of product at distribution centers. This sparked a question: I had assumed that their "locally grown produce" model meant that they used no distribution centers. What followed was a fascinating lesson where I learned part of the economics of locally grown produce.

In their early days, they did indeed follow a true farmers' market model. Farmers would either deliver their product directly to the store, or they would send a truck out to each farmer. As they added store locations, they continued practicing direct delivery between farmer and store. Adding a store in a new town meant finding a new local farmer for each type of produce in that town. Usually this was impossible: Customers don't live in farming areas. Farms are usually located between towns. So Henry's ended up sending a number of trucks from different stores to the same farm.

Soon, Henry's found that the model of minimal driving distance between each farm and each store resulted in a rat's nest of redundant driving routes crisscrossing everywhere. What was intended to be efficient, local, and friendly, turned out to be not just inefficient, but grossly inefficient. Henry's was burning huge amounts of diesel that they didn't need to burn. So, they began combining routes. This meant fewer, larger trucks, and less diesel burned. They experimented with a distribution center to serve some of their closely clustered stores. The distribution center added a certain amount of time and labor to the process, but it still accomplished same-day morning delivery from farm to store, and cut down on mileage tremendously. Henry's added larger distribution centers, and realized even better efficiency. Today their model of distributing locally grown produce, on the same day it comes from the farm, is hardly distinguishable from the model of any large retailer.

Compare the traveling salesman's simplified tour to a tangle of crisscrossing bicycle spokes, and the inefficiency of direct delivery between farm and store becomes acutely clear. If we want to minimize the carbon footprint of the entire food cycle, eliminating direct delivery is the easiest place to make the biggest gains. So, right off the bat, the main reason most people prefer locally grown produce is shot down, and shot down in big flames. But let's turn to the SkepticBlog commenters and see what people had to say.

As did a number of readers, Ian pointed out that you have to consider the total price. Not just the cost of distribution, but also the cost of the retailer's wholesale purchase. Total them all up, and in some cases it might be cheaper to buy from ridiculously far away:

"...Wal-Mart [buys] fruit from South Africa, coffee from Kenya, etc. Flying this produce around the world is clearly using more fuel than even an inefficient model for distributing food locally. The efficiency comes not from reducing fuel usage, but from paying significantly less for the produce."

This was underscored by another poster, "Old White Guy":

"As someone who spent a good chunk of his life controlling distribution for several large companies, I can say the only thing that matters is getting the product to the point of sale as inexpensively as possible. If that [means] the cheapest wine in the store comes from another continent, so be it."

This suggests that it some cases, huge container-sized purchases might still be cheaper for the large retailer, even though their delivery produces a lot of wasteful emissions, and their production might be with some god-awful third-world high-pollution child-labor dogs-and-cats-living-together environmental disaster. That might be true in some cases, but those would be the exception, not the rule.

Most of the time, produce is cheaper from those countries because the native growing conditions are much better for that particular crop. Tomatoes flourish in Spain but require heated greenhouses in the United Kingdom, and so the overall energy efficiency of growing them in Spain and transporting them overseas to the UK is actually better.

A number of people who disagreed with my article repeatedly referenced Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma. Pollan devotes one of the book's four sections to the practices of holistic cattle farmer Joel Salatin. One of Salatin's rules is that, in the interest of a minimum carbon footprint, he won't ship his beef at all; customers have to drive to him to pick it up. While I applaud Salatin for having the right idea and the right motivations, I don't believe he thought through this particular point very critically.

Salatin should instead design practices that more directly address his desire: He should allow only shipments that use a minimum amount of fuel per pound of beef delivered. Instead, he adopts a rule that might put hundreds of cars and vans on the road, each delivering only a few pounds of beef. Salatin's solution is emotionally satisfying and makes for a fine sound bite, but its underlying science is flawed and counterproductive to his stated goals.

The elephant in the room on Joel Salatin's farm is that his near-total self-sufficiency methods require an outrageous 550 acres to support only 100 head of cattle and a herd of pigs, plus some turkeys and chickens.


LA Times confirms: Environmental regulations killing Californians at the pump

Last week, we editorialized:
There has not been a major new oil refinery built in the United States since the Marathon Garyville Refinery was built in Louisiana in 1977. True, our existing refinery capacity is higher today than it was 30 years ago, but all that refining is being done at 137 refineries today, versus 254 refineries 30 years ago.

Fewer refineries means more miles of pipe must be built and maintained, and it also means bigger problems whenever a key refinery goes down. That is exactly what happened this fall in California, when the Richmond Exxon refinery caught fire and the Kettleman-Los Medanos pipeline was contaminated. With two key delivery system points at reduced capacity, and without other refineries and pipelines to back them up, gas prices shot up almost a full dollar from $3.73 in the first week of July to $4.65 today.

In other words, Californians are now suffering at the pump because they have let their energy infrastructure become too fragile. Instead of developing the resources closest to them (including the more than 300 million barrels of oil sitting off of California’s coast in the Pacific Ocean), California has chosen to become dependent on other states for its oil supply. And instead of building a diverse group of smaller refineries and shorter pipelines, California relies on a big dog that can suddenly take ill.
Today, The Los Angeles Times reports:
The Golden State’s gasoline market is essentially closed. The state’s strict clean-air rules mandate a specially formulated blend used nowhere else in the country. Producers in places such as Louisiana or Texas could make it, but there are no pipelines to get it to the West Coast quickly and cheaply....

Shielded from outside competition, these refiners benefit from keeping supplies tight. Even as gasoline consumption has declined in California in recent years because of high unemployment and increased vehicle fuel efficiency, refiners have been able to keep prices about 35 cents a gallon higher than the rest of the country. At the same time, the number of refineries operating in California has declined to just 14 today from 27 in the early 1980s....

In other states, such as Texas, independent, non-branded stations make up as much as 50% of the market, creating more competition. But California’s independent stations are the first to suffer when there’s a hiccup in the state’s fragile supply chain...

As the number of refineries shrinks, the chances that an outage could create disruptive shortages and painful price hikes increases.

“The fragility of the refining system makes California really vulnerable to spikes,” said Carl Larry, president of consulting firm Oil Outlooks & Opinions. “What happened this month looks like the result of a hurricane. But there are no hurricanes in California.”
Back to our editorial:
Americans will face a choice this November. They can go down the path California has chosen, a path of less oil development, fewer refineries and higher gas prices. Or they can let the market build a robust energy infrastructure that will create thousands of construction jobs now and keep energy prices low for decades. Depending on the choice they make, $7 gas could really be just four more years away.




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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