Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A Historical Perspective on Hysterical Rhetoric

From 1948 to the present, environmental activists have declared that the sky is falling.

Suzuki hysteria

We tend to ignore history in our daily lives. Which is too bad, because historical perspective is one of our best defenses against foolish ideas.

Once we realize that a long line of people have insisted, in recent decades, that we’re on the brink of environmental disaster, today’s climate doomsayers suddenly snap into perspective.

Absolutely nothing new is going on here. Today’s hysteria, exaggeration, and emotionally manipulative language are part of a larger pattern that stretches back decades.

Human society has always had its Chicken Littles, its risk-averse individuals, its glass-half-empty personalities, and its drama queens. Those people have every right to participate in societal discussions. But when we allow their voices to dominate, everyone loses. We end up wasting time and money pursuing illusory fixes to what may, in fact, be non-problems.

Let us, therefore, not be confused: Al Gore didn’t invent the idea of a “planetary emergency” with the publication of his 2006 book, An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It. Rather, he was repeating ideas that had been promulgated far and wide a full 60 years earlier.

In their illuminating paper, The Post War Intellectual Roots of the Population Bomb, Pierre Desrochers and Christine Hoffbauer examine two US bestsellers published in 1948. Remarkably, much of the rhetoric we hear today is contained within the pages of these books.

In Our Plundered Planet, Fairfield Osborn (who was born in 1887) talked about humanity’s “mounting destruction” of the natural world, said it posed a greater danger than the Second World War, and referred to “the day of atonement that is drawing nearer.”

Like today’s environmentalists, Osborn portrayed humanity as greedy and short-sighted. He also seemed more concerned about preserving the world for “future children” than in demonstrating empathy and compassion toward the impoverished souls who were already alive.

A few years later, he wrote a second, alarmist book, The Limits of the Earth, and then edited a third, titled Our Crowded Planet.

William Vogt, who was born in 1902, authored the other 1948 bestseller, Road to Survival. Wikipedia tells us Vogt was an ornithologist – a person who studies birds. But his involvement in conservation organizations led him to shift his focus to the environmental impact of human population growth.

Like today’s activists, Vogt was convinced we’d experience “a catastrophic crash of our civilization” if we failed to adopt drastic measures. Sixty years ago, he was talking about “the carrying capacity of the land” in a manner nearly indistinguishable from the discussions we encounter today (see here, here, and here). He, too, warned of a “day of reckoning” and insisted that “the Day of Judgment is at hand.”

In this context, David Suzuki - Canada’s environmentalist icon who wrote the 1990 It’s a Matter of Survival – hardly seems to have produced a single original idea. As I’ve previously observed,

    Suzuki has spent decades typecasting humanity as shortsighted, dangerous, and suicidal. He says we’re stubborn, blind, incapable of grasping the significance of our actions, and in denial.

What’s interesting is that these ideas were well-developed decades before either Suzuki or Gore became famous. (Suzuki was born in 1936 and Gore in 1948. This means these books first appeared when Suzuki was 12 and during the same year that Gore was born.)

Fairfield Osborn. William Vogt. David Suzuki. Al Gore. Each of them is merely another bead on a string. From 1948 onward, these men have been united by their uncharitable views of humanity, their pessimism regarding the future, and their propensity to see planetary emergencies everywhere.


Fracking – Clean and green

Hatred of hydrocarbons should not excuse frackophobes from learning facts or speaking factually

Deroy Murdock

Williamsport, PA. The only thing deeper than a natural-gas well is the ignorance of the anti-fracking crowd.

Fracking – formally called hydraulic fracturing – involves briefly pumping water, sand and chemicals into shale formations far beneath Earth’s surface and thousands of feet below the aquifers that irrigate crops and quench human thirst. This process cracks these rocks and liberates the gas within. Though employed for decades with seemingly no verified contamination of ground water, anti-fracking activists behave as if this technology were invented specifically to poison Americans.

“Fracking makes all water dirty,” declares a poster that Yoko Ono recently exhibited at a Manhattan carpet store. Rants another: “Pretty soon there will be no more water to drink.”

Reporting on an anti-fracking event starring actor Mark Ruffalo and mystic Deepak Chopra, writer Alisha Prakash warns: “If this process remains the status quo, our planet will not be able to sustain life in another 100 years.”

Matt Damon’s 2012 film Promised Land dramatizes fracking’s supposed dangers by showing a toy farm devoured by flames.

In contrast to all this absurd hyperventilation, consider the sworn testimony of former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. Hardly a right-wing shill for Big Oil, Jackson told the House Government Reform Committee in May 2011: “I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.” In April 2012 Jackson said, “In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”

Naturally occurring methane has tainted water since long before fracking was invented. However, environmental regulators from Pennsylvania to Arkansas to California echo Jackson. The allegation that fracking causes water pollution lacks just one thing: proof.

Beyond this, frackophobes would be astonished to see how much Anadarko, America’s third-largest natural-gas producer, obsesses over health, safety, and the environment in its Marcellus Shale operations. Anadarko and the American Petroleum Institute discussed these practices during a summer 2013 fact-finding tour that they hosted for journalists in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the thriving heart of what I call Frackistan.

“We live in this area,” says Anadarko production manager Robert Montgomery. “We love the forests here. We want to keep the environment safe for us and our kids.” He adds: “Regulatory agencies have been working with us every step of the way, as we have been developing these new technologies. There’s a whole lot of science and engineering involved, and we work side by side, so they know what’s going on.”

Montgomery explains that, before drilling, Anadarko identifies flora and fauna near production sites. In Pennsylvania, it uses outdoor cameras to determine which animals traverse the area. This helps Anadarko work with landowners after drilling and fracking are completed, to restore their property to its prior condition, or enhance it with new and different vegetation if the owners want to attract certain species.

For example, a large pond on a small hill belonging to the Elbow Fish and Game Club temporarily holds production-related water for an adjacent development site. After 50 to 100 days of drilling and well construction, and two to five days of fracking, about six to twelve wells will quietly begin to collect natural gas from this field. At that point, the soil excavated for the pond will be removed from storage and returned from whence it came. Anadarko will plant local grasses and flowers and, except for a few unobtrusive wellheads, the place will look largely untouched, as the wells yield gas for 20 to 40 years.

A few minutes away by car, several wells are being fracked on acreage owned by a farmer named Landon. The bonuses, rents and royalties he receives for gas exploration and production on his property enable him to put a new roof on his house and barn, buy new equipment, and save money for retirement. But he wants his fields and wildlife habitats protected. To that end, a thick felt-and-rubber pad, surrounded by a large berm, prevents potential spills from contaminating Landon’s soil.

“We even collect rainwater that falls on the pad,” says a production worker fittingly named Anthony Waters. “It’s pumped down the well, not put onto land.”

It would be far cheaper to let rainwater wash over fracking gear and then drain into the soil or roll downhill into a creek. But that’s not Anadarko’s style.

As mentioned, fracking does not involve constant injection and extraction of water throughout a well’s two- to four-decade lifespan, but only for the five days or less it usually takes to frack a well. This is the rough equivalent of getting a vaccination for five seconds, rather than living with a constant intravenous drip. For all its supposed evils, in this analogy, fracking is like a flu shot.

The amount of water involved here is microscopic, compared to other, thirstier fuels. According to the U.S. Energy Department, it typically takes about three gallons of water to generate 1 million British thermal units of energy from deep-shale natural gas. For conventional oil: 14 gallons. Coal: 22.5. Tar sands: 47.5. Corn ethanol: 15,805. Soy biodiesel: 44,500 gallons. Cultivating corn and soybeans requires irrigation, fertilizer and pesticides, which highlights just how stupid it is to turn food into fuel.

Fracking the Marcellus Shale happens some 6,000 feet underground. That is about 5,000 feet (more than three Empire State Buildings) below groundwater supplies. Drills and pipes penetrate aquifers, but all the way through more than a mile of rock they are encased in multiple layers of steel and concrete designed to separate drinking water from fracking fluids (which are 99 percent water and sand and less than 1 percent chemicals).

An old-fashioned well was like a vertical straw that sucked up gas just from the bottom tip. Horizontal wells start from one small spot at the surface and then fan out far underground. They then draw in gas from across a wide area of gas-bearing shale, as if through small holes in vacuum hoses laid flat on the floor. Having multiple wells drilled through a limited space on the surface means reduced impact on farmland and habitats, as well as fewer roads and trucks.

Is there risk in all of this? Of course. If not, Anadarko would not take these precautions. However, risk encircles us. Seat belts are not a reason to ban automobiles. Instead, they are evidence that managing risk lets people live their lives rather than hide at home – which is perfectly safe . . . until fires, floods, tornadoes and burglars come knocking.

Rather than peddle ill-informed nonsense and crazy lies about fracking, Yoko Ono and company should learn what Anadarko is doing and encourage other producers to adopt its standards as best practices. And if another company is cleaner and safer, challenge Anadarko and its competitors to learn that producer’s lessons. The frackophobes’ hatred of hydrocarbons should not prevent them from learning nor excuse them from speaking factually.

Unlike Pennsylvania, New York State is sitting on its adjacent portion of the Marcellus Shale and studying its collective navel, while farmers and their loved ones live on the edge of poverty and approach bankruptcy. The Empire State and the rest of the U.S. should harness fracking’s surprisingly clean technology and develop this country’s bountiful natural-gas reserves – carefully, responsibly and for everyone’s benefit.

What’s not to like? This fuel is all-American, and the revenues stay here – not in the hands of people who want to kill us.

Via email

The Keystone saga

Even Ed Schultz says it "Makes Sense" to Build the Keystone Pipeline

Remember, a Pew Research Center survey conducted last year showed that the preponderance of respondents -- including more than half of all Democrats -- wanted the Keystone Pipeline completed. And more recently, as Christine reported last week, the U.S. State Department’s own internal study concluded that building it would not “greatly increase” carbon emissions or "greatly worsen" climate change.

Granted, this is just one government study, but considering the fact that the president did say he would not approve the pipeline if it “significantly exacerbate[s] the problem of carbon pollution,” it seems his list of grievances with the project is growing shorter by the day:

The president and his Democratic allies in Congress have not seen eye to eye on this issue. In truth, Pew called the debate raging over Keystone “perhaps the most politically contentious energy issue in Barack Obama’s second term.” Even Ed Schultz isn't on board with the White House.

I believe Schultz’s argument in favor of building the pipeline is two-fold: One, the United States runs on oil. It drives our economy. And even though “climate change” does exist, he concedes, “we’re not getting out of the oil business” any time soon. Two, building the pipeline “makes sense” in part because it’s safer than continuing to use old and obsolete rail cars to transport oil across large tracts of land. Indeed, that same State Department report noted above concluded that without building Keystone, on average, the rail-related death toll in this country could rise by six every year.

That’s not an argument in favor of building the Keystone XL pipeline in and of itself, of course, but it certainly puts additional pressure on the White House to finally approve the measure. So we'll wait and see if the study meaningfully tips the scale in supporters' favor.

The president is expected to announce his decision sometime before the 2014 midterm elections.


EPA ban on wood stoves is freezing out rural America

Greenies are all in favour of "sustainable" use of resources -- but not when it's actually practical

It seems that even wood isn’t green or renewable enough anymore. The EPA has recently banned the production and sale of 80 percent of America’s current wood-burning stoves, the oldest heating method known to mankind and mainstay of rural homes and many of our nation’s poorest residents. The agency’s stringent one-size-fits-all rules apply equally to heavily air-polluted cities and far cleaner plus typically colder off-grid wilderness areas such as large regions of Alaska and the American West.

While the EPA’s most recent regulations aren’t altogether new, their impacts will nonetheless be severe. Whereas restrictions had previously banned wood-burning stoves that didn’t limit fine airborne particulate emissions to 15 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) of air, the change will impose a maximum 12 μg/m3 limit. To put this amount in context, the EPA estimates that secondhand tobacco smoke in a closed car can expose a person to 3,000-4,000 μg/m3 of particulates.

Most wood stoves that warm cabin and home residents from coast to coast cannot meet that standard. Older stoves that don’t cannot be traded in for updated types, but instead must be rendered inoperable, destroyed, or recycled as scrap metal.

The impacts of the EPA ruling will affect many families. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 survey statistics, 2.4 million American housing units (12 percent of all homes) burned wood as their primary heating fuel, compared with 7 percent that depended upon fuel oil.

Local governments in some states have gone even further than the EPA, banning not only the sale of noncompliant stoves, but even their use as fireplaces. As a result, owners face fines for infractions. Puget Sound, Washington, is one such location. Montréal, Canada, proposes to eliminate all fireplaces within its city limits.

Only weeks after the EPA enacted its new stove rules, attorneys general of seven states sued the agency to crack down on wood-burning water heaters as well. The lawsuit was filed by Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont, all predominantly Democrat states. Claiming that the new EPA regulations didn’t go far enough to decrease particle pollution levels, the plaintiffs cited agency estimates that outdoor wood boilers will produce more than 20 percent of wood-burning emissions by 2017. A related suit was filed by the environmental group EarthJustice.

Did EPA require a motivational incentive to tighten its restrictions? Sure, about as much as Br’er Rabbit needed to persuade Br’er Fox to throw him into the briar patch. This is but another example of EPA and other government agencies working with activist environmental groups to sue and settle on claims that afford leverage to enact new regulations which they lack statutory authority to otherwise accomplish.

“Sue and Settle “ practices, sometimes referred to as “friendly lawsuits,” are cozy deals through which far-left radical environmental groups file lawsuits against federal agencies wherein court-ordered “consent decrees” are issued based upon a prearranged settlement agreement they collaboratively craft together in advance behind closed doors. Then, rather than allowing the entire process to play out, the agency being sued settles the lawsuit by agreeing to move forward with the requested action both they and the litigants want.

And who pays for this litigation? All too often we taxpayers are put on the hook for legal fees of both colluding parties. According to a 2011 GAO report, this amounted to millions of dollars awarded to environmental organizations for EPA litigations between 1995 and 2010. Three “Big Green” groups received 41 percent of this payback, with Earthjustice accounting for 30 percent ($4,655,425). Two other organizations with histories of lobbying for regulations EPA wants while also receiving agency fundng are the American Lung Association (ALA) and the Sierra Club.

In addition, the Department of Justice forked over at least $43 million of our money defending the EPA in court between 1998 and 2010. This didn’t include money spent by the EPA for its legal costs in connection with those ripoffs, because the EPA doesn’t keep track of its attorneys’ time on a case-by-case basis.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has concluded that Sue and Settle rulemaking is responsible for many of EPA’s “most controversial, economically significant regulations that have plagued the business community for the past few years.”  Included are regulations on power plants, refineries, mining operations, cement plants, chemical manufacturers, and a host of other industries. Such consent decree-based rulemaking enables EPA to argue to Congress: “The court made us do it.”

Directing special attention to these congressional end run practices, Louisiana Senator David Vitter, top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has launched an investigation. Last year he asked his Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to join with AG’s of 13 other states who filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking all correspondence between EPA and a list of 80 environmental, labor union, and public interest organizations that have been party to litigation since the start of the Obama Administration.

Other concerned and impacted parties have little influence over such court procedures and decisions. While the environmental group is given a seat at the table, outsiders who are most impacted are excluded, with no opportunity to object to the settlements. No public notice about the settlement is released until the agreement is filed in court…after the damage has been done.

In a letter to Caldwell, Senator Vitter wrote: “The collusion between federal bureaucrats and the organizations entering consent agreements under a shroud of secrecy represents the antithesis of a transparent government, and your participation in the FOIA request will help Louisianans understand the process by which these settlements were reached.”

Fewer citizens would challenge the EPA’s regulatory determinations were it not for its lack of accountability and transparency in accomplishing through a renegade pattern of actions what they cannot achieve through democratic legislative processes.

A recent example sets unachievable CO2 emission limits for new power plants. As I reported in my January 14 column, a group within the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board (SAB) determined that the studies upon which that regulation was based had never been responsibly peer reviewed, and that there was no evidence that those limits can be accomplished using available technology.

Compared with huge consequences of the EPA’s regulatory war on coal, the fuel source that provides more than 40 percent of America’s electricity, a clamp-down on humble residential wood-burning stoves and future water heaters may seem to many people as a merely a trifling or inconsequential matter. That is, unless it happens to significantly affect your personal life.

As a Washington Times editorial emphasized, the ban is of great concern to many families in cold remote off-grid locations. It noted, for example, that “Alaska’s 663,000 square miles is mostly forestland, offering residents and abundant source of affordable firewood. When county officials floated a plan to regulate the burning of wood, residents were understandably inflamed.”

Quoting Representative Tammie Wilson speaking to the Associated Press, the Times reported: “Everyone wants clean air. We just want to make sure that we can also heat our homes.” Wilson continued: “Rather than fret over the EPA’s computer–model–based warning about the dangers of inhaling soot from wood smoke, residents have more pressing concerns on their minds as the immediate risk of freezing when the mercury plunges.”

And speaking of theoretical computer model-based warnings, where’s that global warming when we really need it?


Congress needs to act before California’s drought destroys farms

California is in a severe drought as the rainy season never came this year.  With seventeen towns in the state in such dire straits that they may run out of water within two months, emergency measures are being taken to avoid drought ghost towns.

The House of Representatives is considering action to help deal with this emergency by considering a measure that would provide for alternative ways of protecting the Delta smelt – a fish that a federal Court has ruled must be protected even at the cost of the state’s vast food production capacity.

Even without the current crisis, California already faced a “government-imposed dust bowl” due to Endangered Species Act requirements that fresh water be flushed out to sea in an unproven hope that this would help save the endangered Delta smelt.  This diversion of what long-time Californian’s consider their most precious resource has already choked large portions of the state’s agricultural salad bowl.

Now, with the drought worsening and snow packs in the Sierra Nevada range at critically low levels, it is time to put partisan wrangling aside and pass legislation that stops the waste of water while still protecting the fish.

The House of Representatives is likely to consider HR 3964 in the next two weeks, which accomplishes this very fete.  By focusing upon allowing fisherman unlimited takes of natural predators of the endangered smelt, the endangered fish should thrive, allowing the life giving freshwater that is currently being wasted to be returned to the hundreds of miles of aquaducts that feed the irrigation systems in the state’s fertile San Joaquin Valley.

But this is not just a common sense issue, it is also a life saving one.  As small central valley agriculture towns have suffered with unemployment rates above 40 percent due to the lack of water to grow crops.

Rebekah Rast, a central California native, reported in on this issue last year writing,

“Agricultural production in the Central Valley of California accounts for $26 billion in total sales and 38 percent of the Valley’s labor force.  Farmers in this area grow more than half the nation’s vegetables, fruits and nuts.  In fact, if you buy domestic artichokes, pistachios, walnuts or almonds, there is about a 99 percent chance that they were all grown in California.

“But in order for these products to grow, the Central Valley needs water — and the past few years the government has been withholding that vital resource.

“Much of California’s water is pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the federally owned Central Valley Project (CVP) and the California State Water Project (SWP).  To understand the size, scope and capacity of these water systems, with California boasting a population of roughly 37 million people, these two projects deliver water to more than 27 million people.  The CVP alone provides water to more than 600 family-owned farms, which produce more than 60 high-quality commercial food and fiber crops sold for the fresh, dry, canned and frozen food markets.”

Without Congressional action to allow the water to return to irrigate crops, the current drought puts the  agricultural infrastructure in California at risk.   The consequences of Washington, D.C. failing to pass legislation to stop dumping the states water into the Pacific Ocean will affect both the cost and availability for consumers around the nation of the food that will not be produced.

Now is the time to act before this water crisis becomes catastrophic for those who lose their jobs working on farms and for those who consume the food they produce.  It is time for the environmental lobby that has blocked similar measures in the past to embrace the taking of the Delta smelt predators and allow the water to flow around the state.

The House of Representatives is expected to take the necessary steps to throw a lifeline to California.

With two Senators from the San Francisco Bay area, who knows if they will tell their cocktail party environmentalist friends to stop obstructing this needed water bill, or if instead they will tell the rest of the state to pound sand.

The choice seems obvious, but they are San Francisco Bay area liberals, so who knows what they might do?


Great Barrier Reef: Governments say world heritage site not in danger from development

Australia has argued it is making substantial progress on the United Nations' requests for better protection of the Great Barrier Reef and that it should not be listed among world heritage sites "in danger".

In a progress report to the UN World Heritage Committee, the federal and Queensland governments say the natural values the reef was protected for are still largely intact, although in parts - such as inshore areas south of Cooktown - they are declining.

The report was delivered to the UN on Saturday, a day after final approval was granted to dump in the reef's waters 3 million cubic metres of dredging sludge from the expansion of coal export terminals at Abbot Point.

The World Heritage Committee has threatened to put the reef on a list of world heritage sites considered "in danger" after becoming concerned in 2012 about the effect of numerous resource projects slated for the reef's coast.

Australia needs to show significant progress on UN recommendations for better reef management to avoid a downgrade. Tourism operators warn an "in danger" listing will damage the reef's international reputation and their businesses.

The governments' report points to several programs to reduce threats, including a sustainability strategy, water quality measures and a draft Queensland ports strategy.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said there was genuine improvement in reef indicators in regard to dugongs, turtles, seagrass and coral. The Coalition had rejected Labor's multiple new-port strategy and was containing development to five existing port areas, he said.

"It is a permanent task for every Australian government to protect and maintain the reef. Nobody can ever rest on that, but there should be no way the reef can and should be considered 'in danger'," Mr Hunt said.

Australian Coral Reef Society president Peter Mumby said many people had argued convincingly that the reef was in the worst shape since monitoring began. He said the progress report downplayed industrial development threats, including port and agriculture expansion, that could add as much as another 14 million tonnes a year of damaging sediment to reef waters.

University of Queensland coral reef ecologist Selina Ward said the Abbot Point decision was dangerous because the best modelling showed dumped sediment would drift to outer areas, damaging coral and seagrass.

The government progress report said extreme weather and climate change were the biggest threats to the reef. It also pointed to nutrient and sediment run-off from land clearing and agriculture, and associated spikes in crown-of-thorns starfish numbers.

It said pollution from other sources, including port development and dredging, "is minor but may be highly significant locally and over short time periods".

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the governments' progress report had identified the port development impacts as being minor and temporary.



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1 comment:

Joseph said...

Some of the "doomsday" books included the doomsday date in their titles such as "Famine 1975!" or "1989: Population Doomsday".