Friday, July 04, 2014

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Hoax

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences could mean bad news for environmental doomsayers. Forget all those warnings about the million tons of plastic debris floating in the ocean. Ignore the photos that you think show the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Andres Cozar of the University of Cadiz in Spain is the man who once extrapolated the 1 million-ton estimate. Since then, however, he has led research that collected samples at 141 ocean sites. Cozar's new estimate: Between 7,000 and 35,000 tons of plastic are floating in the ocean.

Cozar's team didn't find country-sized islands of plastic bags strangling baby birds and sea turtles. It found "micro plastics." What people think of as a dump doesn't look like floating junk. Instead, ocean current "convergence zones" are swirling with flecks of plastic -- like a snow globe a half-minute after you shake it -- and with considerably less plastic trash than expected.

Not that plastic in the ocean is a good thing, but it's looking to be less of a peril to the planet than once suggested.

As I read about the Cozar study, I could not help but think of California state Sen. Alex Padilla and his Senate Bill 270, which would ban single-use plastic bags. San Francisco started the plastic bag ban craze in 2007. More than 100 cities in the state have followed as bag ban proponents have shopped two images -- of bags in the ocean and of dead marine life.

The thing is that you don't find whole shopping bags in convergence zones. Peter Davison, an oceanographer with California's Farallon Institute for Advanced Ecosystem Research, told me he frequently has seen plastic bags littering harbors, but in the ocean, one is likelier to come across debris from a fishing fleet and bits of plastic from many sources.

In support of bag bans, the Surfrider Foundation has posted a video that asserts, "Plastics kill 1.5 million marine animals each year."

"I have no idea where they got that number," Joel Baker, environmental science professor at the University of Washington, Tacoma, told me. He has assigned students to track down that number, and "the trail goes cold."

Surfrider now uses a different number -- 100,000 marine animals. As for the 1.5 million figure, Surfrider senior staff scientist Rick Wilson referred me to a United Nations paper with no specific sourcing. Then he said, "I will admit it's difficult to track down a definitive scientific study source for it."

Factoids are almost as indestructible as plastic.

Both Davison and Baker can think of animals that have died from plastic; you can see photos on the Internet. But from bags? Davison found chunks of plastic in about 10 percent of 150 ocean fish he dissected. "We don't know if it kills them or not."

Neither Davison nor Baker likes the idea of plastic in the ocean, and neither would say it is not a problem. As Baker put it, "we don't know what effect it's having on organisms."

We do know, however, that single-use plastic bags require fewer resources than reusable bags -- which you have to wash -- and paper bags. Plastic bags litter harbors but also represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. municipal waste stream. It's a mistake to believe that what might replace them would have no downside.


BBC spends £500k to ask 33,000 Asians 5,000 miles from UK what they think of climate change

The BBC has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money asking 33,000 people in Asian countries how climate change is affecting them.

The £519,000 campaigning survey by little-known BBC Media Action is designed to persuade the world to adopt more hard-line policies to combat global warming.

It was immediately condemned yesterday as a flagrant abuse of the Corporation’s rules on impartiality and ‘a spectacular waste of money’ by a top academic expert.

Every year, BBC Media Action gets £22.2 million from the taxpayer via the Foreign Office and Department for International Development.

Its climate survey, published this month, is called From The Ground Up: Changing The Conversation On Climate Change. In it, farmers and villagers in India, China, Vietnam, Nepal, Pakistan and Indonesia were asked how climate change was ‘affecting their lives already’ and about their future concerns.

They described less predictable rainfall, droughts, declining harvests and an increase in respiratory disease caused by dustier soil, and blamed them on global warming.

The survey does not clarify whether these descriptions are supported by data, nor whether climate change is indeed the cause. It also includes graphs showing a steep rise in global temperatures – but they end abruptly in 2000, when temperatures stopped rising at all.

The report ends with advice, apparently written for climate activists: ‘Do not talk about scientific or technical abstractions. Talk about the problems they face in their daily lives… Speak in language that makes sense to people in terms of how they experience climate change.’

Its website states it ‘belongs to the BBC’, and ‘builds on the fundamental values of the BBC  to guide its work’. Its chairman is Peter Horrocks, director of the BBC World Service Group. Trustees include newsreader George Alagiah.

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Media and Culture, said last night he was ‘astonished’ to see the BBC involved with a survey of this kind.

He added: ‘The BBC brand carries with it a huge reputation for impartiality and objectivity. Even though this is not a mainstream, licence-fee-funded activity, for the BBC to attach its label to something which is so politically controversial is unwise.

The BBC has already been attacked for paying too little attention to climate change sceptics, and this bears those criticisms out.’

Richard Tol, professor of economics at Sussex University and a leading authority on climate change impacts, said the BBC ‘would have been better advised to invest this money in proper research’.

He said the survey’s assertions are often contradicted by more reliable sources. He said: ‘Objective data  do not corroborate the survey’s reported impacts on health, droughts, predictability of rainfall, and crop yields. Attribution of any of these effects to climate change  is by and large beyond the current level of scientific knowledge.’

Prof Tol was one of the ‘co-ordinating lead authors’ of a report on the consequences of warming by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in March.

UN figures show harvests have been rising across Asia for decades. The March IPCC report stated: ‘The worldwide burden of ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors and is not well quantified.’

On rainfall, it stated: ‘There is now low confidence in the attribution of changes in drought since the mid-20th Century to human influence.’

Prof Tol said the survey results were academically worthless: ‘Interviewing 30,000 people across six countries is expensive, and cannot tell us much – previous research has shown people’s recollection of past weather and climate is very unreliable, and people’s attribution of observations to causes is worse.’

The BBC survey’s campaigning intention is suggested by a chapter entitled The Policy Context which tells readers that next year, world leaders will meet at a UN summit in Paris to hammer out a new treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

‘2015 is a propitious moment for reorienting the way that we talk about climate change,’ the survey report says. The Paris talks will ‘open a window of opportunity… to articulate a climate change perspective rooted in people’s needs’.

Dr Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which argues that the threat from climate change is overblown, said it seemed Media Action was ‘the campaigning arm of the BBC, [its] propaganda bureau’ and the survey is ‘a blatant abuse of the BBC charter’.

A spokesman for BBC Media Action confirmed the survey’s £519,000 cost but declined to comment on its alleged lack of impartiality.


Death by Delay

by Viv Forbes

There was a time, before the baby-boom generation took over, when we took pride in the achievements of our builders, producers and innovators. There was always great celebration when settler families got a phone, a tractor, a bitumen road or electric power. An oil strike or a gold discovery made headlines, and people welcomed new businesses, new railways and new inventions. Science and engineering were revered and the wealth delivered by these human achievements enabled the builders and their children to live more rewarding lives, with more leisure, more time for culture and crusades, and greater interest in taking more care of their environment.

Then a green snake entered the Garden of Eden.

Many of the genuine conservationists from the original environmental societies were replaced by political extremists who felt lost after the Comrade Societies collapsed and China joined the trading world. These zealots were mainly interested in promoting environmental alarms in order to push a consistent agenda of world control of production, distribution and exchange – a new global utopia run by unelected all-knowing people just like them.

The old Reds became the new Greens.

They used every credible-sounding scare to recruit support – peak resources, acid rain, ozone holes, global cooling, species extinction, food security, Barrier Reef threats, global warming or extreme weather to justify global controls, no-go areas and international taxes to limit all human activities. However the public became disenchanted with their politics of denial, and their opposition to human progress, so they have adopted a new tactic – death by delay.

“We are not opposed to all development, but we want to ensure all environmental concerns are fully investigated before new developments get approval.”

In fact, their goal is to kill projects with costly regulations, investigations and delay. Their technique is to grab control of bureaucratic bodies like the US EPA which, since 2009, has issued 2,827 new regulations totalling 24,915,000 words. A current example of death by delay is the Keystone Oil pipeline proposal which would have taken crude oil from Alberta in Canada to refineries on the US Gulf Coast – far better than sending it by rail tankers. It was first proposed in 2005, and immediately opposed by the anti-industry, anti-carbon zealots who control the EPA and other arms of the US federal government. The proposal was studied to death by US officials and green busybodies for nine long years.

This week the Canadians lost patience and approved an alternative proposal to take a pipeline to the west coast of Canada, allowing more Albertan oil to be exported to Asia. Jobs and resources that would have benefitted Americans will now go to Asia. Naturally the Green delayers will also attempt to throttle this proposal. Over in Europe, shale gas exploration is also being subject to death by delay. In Britain, the pioneering company, Caudrilla, has been waiting for seven long years for approvals to explore. In France, all such exploration is banned.

No wonder India recently accused Greenpeace and other delayers of being “a threat to national economic security”.


Turning off street lights to save money blamed for six deaths

Switching off street lights to save money has contributed to at least six deaths in five years, the AA has warned.

Five pedestrians and one cyclist have been knocked over and killed on roads where councils turned off the lights, according to the motoring group.

It said accident investigators at the inquests ruled drivers had little or no chance of avoiding the collisions on unlit streets with speed limits of 40mph or higher. And it  predicted the problem would ‘get worse’ as councils continued to black out lights.

Road safety campaigners have long warned of the dangers of unlit streets as councils continue to dim or turn off their lights to make savings and meet climate change targets. The AA said some town halls were failing to ‘recognise the dangers’.

In one of the most alarming cases, a coroner blasted a council over its trial of switching off street lights following the death of a 76-year-old widow.

Margaret Beeson was hit by a car on the A40 between Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, in the early evening of January 21, 2009.

The inquest exonerated driver Phillip Galligan, who was travelling below the speed limit, as the darkness meant he had ‘no chance at all’ of avoiding her.

In another case, father-of-five Dr John Bendor-Samuel, 81, died after being hit by a car while crossing the road in Studley Green, Buckinghamshire, on January 6, 2011.

Collision investigators told his inquest the vehicle appeared to be travelling within the speed limit.

Police said street lighting, which had been turned off along the 40mph stretch of road by Buckinghamshire County Council as part of a cost-cutting exercise, could have saved his life.

AA president Edmund King said: ‘There is growing evidence that cost savings from councils turning off street lights are being paid for with lives. Inquests point to a particular danger on roads with speed limits of 40mph or higher.

‘For that reason, drivers have no choice but to slow down and switch to full beam on faster town roads where late-night street lighting used to make roads and streets safer places to travel.

‘Many of these inquests clear the drivers of blame, which means these tragic deaths are accidents waiting to happen. With many more councils switching off their street lights for at least part of the night, the tragedy will just get worse.

‘At what point will the Government take action or help councils to finance the switch to energy-saving street lights: 10, 15, 20 inquests later?’

The AA investigation followed research in April which showed there were fewer accident reductions between 2007 and 2012 on 40mph roads where street lights had been switched off.

Last year, a survey found that a third of councils have switched off street lights to save money, while nearly half are making streets darker by dimming bulbs.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England found that of 71 local authorities which responded, 23 switched off street lights - typically between midnight and 5am - and 32 dimmed lights.

Councils were mainly motivated by a desire to save energy and money, with the reduction of light pollution ‘an additional benefit’.

Bradford council is running a dimming scheme designed to save £400,000 a year and reduce power consumption by 25 per cent. Essex County Council expects to save £1million per year by introducing a part-night lighting scheme.

A Local Government Association spokesman said: ‘Councils always consider the safety implications before turning off street lights, monitor subsequent safety statistics and act if presented with evidence of a public safety risk.’


UK green taxes hit record high of £43 billion

UK households and businesses paid a record £43 billion in green taxes last year, new official figures show.  The Treasury’s revenues from environmental levies increased by £1.7 billion last year, from £41.3 billion in 2012. They have soared from £30.4 billion in 2003.

The total green tax revenues for 2013 are the equivalent of £1,629 for every household - up from £1,564 in 2012 and £1,221 per household in 2003.

However, the ONS said that the majority of the bill was paid by businesses, not domestic consumers.

More than £500 million of the increase in the green taxes last year was due to rising renewable energy levies to subsidise the construction of wind and solar farms and other green technologies

These levies accounted for £2.4 billion of the total last year, up from just £382 million a decade ago, reflecting the huge expansion of heavily-subsidised green technologies to meet climate change targets.

Each UK household paid a £30 levy on their energy bill to subsidise such large-scale renewable energy projects through the Renewable Obligation in 2013, according to energy department figures.

The cost to consumers of such green taxes has become increasingly controversial. Ministers have pledged to roll back green levies on bills to help ease the burden for consumers.

However, the Treasury has already approved a significant increase in such levies, to £7.6 billion in 2020. By that point subsidies for large green energy projects could cost £71 per household.

Of the £43 billion green tax revenues last year, the biggest chunk was £26.7 billion paid in taxes on fuels such as petrol and diesel. Revenues from this kind of tax have risen from £22.5 billion in 2003.

Over the decade, tax revenues from petrol decreased, as rising prices prompted motorists to economise or switch to diesel vehicles. Takings from diesel rose significantly.

Motoring groups have long complained that takes on fuels in the UK are some of the highest Europe.

Other transport taxes have also soared from £5.6 billion a decade ago to £10.3 billion.

The introduction of a banding system for vehicle excise duty in the mid-2000s contributed to this increase, as did a big increase in revenues from air passenger duty - reflecting both a higher levy and rising passenger numbers.

The ONS was unable to say how much of the £43 billion each household would pay but said that “commercial and industrial revenue would account for the majority of this total”.

“This doesn’t mean each household is paying £1,629,” they said.

“Revenue from environmentally related taxes (in current prices) has gradually increased over the past two decades, peaking at £43.0 billion in 2013.

“This represented 7.5 per cent of total revenue from taxes and social contributions in the UK and was equivalent to 2.7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” it said.

The figures are all expressed in today’s prices, which strip out the impact of inflation.


Australian Greens in turmoil over fuel tax

You would think that Greens would welcome a fuel tax increase but this lot show their complete lack of principle by opposing it.  To them hate of the conservative government comes first

Continuing anger within the Greens over the party's "perverse" decision to block inflation-based adjustments to the federal petrol tax rate could spell fresh trouble for its leader, Christine Milne.

The Abbott government wants to restore indexation to the excise, which has been frozen at 38¢ a litre for 12 years.

The move would add between 40¢ and 60¢ a week to the average household fuel bill.

Senator Milne, who first flagged supporting the change and then announced her party's opposition after losing the debate in her party room, could now face pressure for a second U-turn, this time led by a grassroots members' revolt.

NSW senator Lee Rhiannon is pushing to overturn the stance amid what one Greens member called "despair" across the green base.

A meeting has been called for Saturday at the Sydney Mechanics Institute, where NSW branch members are expected to advocate a return to the party's original position in the interests of policy integrity.

In a sign of the intense divisions over the issue, Senator Rhiannon has invited members to have their say, even though the policy has been finalised, setting up a situation in which the party room has one policy and the membership another.

The Greens' constitution in NSW means Senator Rhiannon could be compelled by the membership to vote contrary to her leader, although that would have to come from a formal council meeting.

Despite that risk, Senator Rhiannon used a party-wide email to declare she was "interested to hear from members" about the issue.

Last week Senator Milne said the party would block the increase because the government would not use the money raised to invest in public transport, or to cut fuel subsidies for large mining companies.

But Greens inside the party room and in the broader movement conceded that the main reason for opposing the increase was "political".

The main advocates of the change were Deputy Leader Adam Bandt, Ms Milne's fellow Tasmanian senator Peter Whish-Wilson, and West Australian senator Scott Ludlam.

A senior Greens source called it politics over policy.  "They just can't come at giving Tony Abbott a win, even where it is consistent with our own policy," the exasperated member complained.

The decision appears to have doomed the $4 billion budget measure because the Coalition had been relying on support from the Greens to get it through the Senate.

It was not an unreasonable expectation. Historically, the Greens have favoured higher relative prices for polluting fossil fuels.

Greens senators have received "stacks" of emails from disappointed constituents over the reversal, as well as official correspondence from at least one state branch protesting against the decision.

The fight over petrol comes as some in the renewable energy sector expressed concerns over the Greens' handling of the Clive Palmer compromise to ditch the carbon tax but keep the renewable energy target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and the Climate Change Authority



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  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 or here


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