Friday, January 15, 2016

Tories should be sued over dangerous levels of NO2 (?)

Yes. This time it is NO2, not CO2.  Gaseous oxides seem to get a bad rap.  Whether British government policy can be mandated by the courts is an interesting issue.  In the absence of a written constitution, it could be possible.  But I doubt that there are binding precedents for it.  In Britain, the Queen in parliament has always been held to be supreme.  The various EU treaties could come into play, however.

And here's an interesting comment from an academic journal article on the subject:

"Studies have not demonstrated a clear dose-dependent health risk response to increasing amounts of these pollutants except at high concentrations. In addition, a number of studies examining the effects of ambient level exposure to NO2, SO2, and CO have failed to find associations with adverse health outcomes".

So the levels of SO2 in British cities may be no problem at all -- or at least a very minor problem based on weak statistical associations.  It wouldn't be the first time that Greenies have "cried wolf"  -- like the "acid rain" scare, for instance

The barrister wife of former Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday said the Government must be sued for continuing to allow dangerous pollution levels in the UK.

Justine Thornton, who will be made a Queen's Counsel next month, said the estimated 23,500 annual deaths from nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution in the UK were `a national scandal'.

She said judges must take the government to task to take immediate action to cut pollution.

Critics, however, are likely to point out that it was the previous Labour government - in which her husband served as energy secretary - that offered tax breaks to encourage British motorists to switch to diesel engines.

Labour encouraged us to drive diesel cars because they produce less carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas which causes global warming.

Around 10million British motorists now drive diesels, but the consequences have been a rise in NO2, which damages the lungs and blood vessels and worsens asthma.

Labour's shadow environment minister Barry Gardiner has previously accepted that his party's decision was `wrong' and a `massive problem for public health.'

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled last April that the Government should `be left in no doubt as to the need for immediate action to address this issue'.

In order to tackle NO2 pollution, Ministers issued plans in mid-December to introduce clean air zones by 2020.

These schemes will see diesel vehicles charged to enter parts of Birmingham, Leeds, Derby, Nottingham and Southampton.

London will also introduce a low emission zone, charging for diesel vehicles, but under the plans it will only reach legally acceptable pollution levels by 2025.

Environmental group Clientearth, which brought the original court case against the Government, has warned it will bring a further legal challenge to Ministers within weeks for failing to do enough to tackle pollution.

The actions get the full support of Miss Thornton, who is a specialist in environmental law.

Writing in the Guardian, she said the Government has `soft-pedalled' on pollution by private motorists and `appears intent on watering down European legal limits for vehicle emissions'.

Miss Thornton added: `The stage is set for a fascinating tussle between law and politics. The UK court will have to roll up its sleeves and decide whether this Government is doing what it can to make our air as safe as possible.'

She went on: `Ten more years of dangerous air pollution in London puts a whole generation of children at risk. The quality of the air that our children breathe is too important to be decided behind closed doors by government and vehicle manufacturers.'

Alan Andrews, a lawyer for ClientEarth said he would apply for a case against the Government to be fast-tracked because people's lives were at risk.

He said: `This is such an urgent issue. The Supreme Court ordered Government to take immediate action. These plans are an outrageous statement... that the government doesn't intend to comply as soon as possible. It is an arrogant response that is simply not good enough


Warmist secrecy

Warmists make huge efforts to keep secret everything connected to their "research".  And the Climategate emails tell us why:  Their research is crooked in various ways.  Their coverup attempts do actually speak for themselves.  Why the secrecy if they have nothing to hide?  Any researcher who refuses to come clean should have his work disregarded.  

There are several ongoing attempts to breach the Warmist wall of secrecy that are being blocked -- on the ludicrous grounds that requests for information are "harassment".  Again, such a ludicrous claim speaks for itself.  Renegade climate scientist Judith Curry gives her thoughts on the matter below:

During the past year, my emails at Georgia Tech have been subject to FOIA or other requests.  The first was the request made by Rep Grijalva [link], which I interpreted as a politically motivated fishing expedition since we were identified as testifying for his political opponents, letters were sent to the university presidents, and the requests were publicized by Grijalva before obtaining any information from the requests - clearly an example of harassment.

The second request was a recent one, from reporter Timothy Cama, who requested:

I request any and all records concerning communications from January 1, 2015 to the present day between earth and atmospheric sciences professor Dr. Judith Curry or anyone on her behalf, and the following:

1. Sen. Ted Cruz or anyone on his behalf
2. Sen. Jim Inhofe or anyone on his behalf
3. Anyone with an email address from the United States Congress (containing "" or "")

In both instances, Georgia Tech Legal Affairs promptly handed over the emails; I understand that Cama was asked to pay the costs of an electronic search of my emails (the estimated cost was less than $100.)

I didn't particularly object to Cama's request (relative to Grijalva's request) because this was a FOIA request sent through the normal channels (not a letter to Georgia Tech's President, implying I had done something `wrong'), and was targeted at a specific topic (rather than a fishing expedition).

The third instance was  a subpoena from the Florida  in the Supreme Court case on the water wars between Georgia and Florida [link] - I identified the relevant materials myself (it took a few days).  I had absolutely no concerns about this request, and the process and deposition were rather interesting.

I have been accused in the blogosphere of taking an inconsistent stance on the Grijalva request versus Lamar Smith's NOAA request regarding the Karl et al. paper [link].  I regarded Smith's request as justified,  targeted at obtaining additional information regarding judgments that went into the Karl et al. paper, and to assess whether the NCEI Director (Tom Karl) had been dancing to the tune of the Obama administration.

So, 11 months after the Grijalva inquisition, where do I stand on the subject of scientists' emails?

I have a longstanding public commitment to transparency in climate science, since my first Climategate essay [link]. Since Climategate, the situation has vastly improved - data are publicly available, as well as methods, models, and metadata.

However, given the public importance and policy relevance of much climate research, this isn't enough.  Additional transparency is needed:

    We badly need to know what the reasoning is (and debate) behind the IPCC's assessment of confidence levels.  This issue was called out in the IAC review of the IPCC [link].

    More extensive documentation of what data is ignored and why in global climate data records.

    More extensive documentation of choices regarding methods used to `fix' data biases

    More extensive documentation on the rationale for, and actual process of, climate model calibration

Formal documentation of these deliberations and the rejected data or choices would be best; in the absence of such documentation, emails provide the main source for such information.  Journal articles with their word limits, even with supplementary information, simply do not allow for adequate documentation.

There needs to be better guidelines for providing information regarding sources of conflicts - funding sources, membership on committees and boards, etc.  But as I have written elsewhere, this is not likely to be the major source of bias [link].

And finally, I am tired of scientists whining:

    that responding to FOIA requests is a burden.  Most govt agencies and universities have staff that will conduct the email search (this is certainly the case at Georgia Tech, where such requests are handled by legal affairs and the IT office).
    that making scientists emails publicly available hampers the freedom to conduct unfettered research.  Get over it - if your research is funded by the government, then your materials and emails are fair game.  Keeping this in the back of your mind might even hamper the kinds of unprofessional and even unethical actions that were made apparent in the Climategate emails.

Politicians and journalists and advocacy groups are the most likely to make such requests.  FOIA requests (at least in the U.S.) is the appropriate way to make these requests.

Scientists employed by the government (e.g. NOAA), have a greater responsibility to transparency and to responding to such requests, relative to university employed scientists who receive government funding.  And of course independent scientists have no particular obligation in this regard, although many independent scientists (e.g. Nic Lewis) go above and beyond the usual requirements, by making all code and data available, and writing blog posts that go into further detail.

FOIA requests are not prima facie harassment; however the method used by Grijalva definitely constitutes harassment: publicizing the request before he receives any information, making a request that is clearly politically motivated (targeting scientists that have testified for Republicans), writing a letter to university presidents with the implication that the researchers have done something wrong, and whose request constitutes a broad fishing expedition.

I am glad to see Paul Thacker raising this issue.   I agree with Michael Halpern's statement: "Together, we need to develop common disclosure standards and incentives to adopt them."


Germany wants to put 2 billion euros into encouraging electric cars

German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel wants to commit two billion euros ($2.17 billion) to encourage more people to buy electric cars, the newspaper Die Zeit reported on Wednesday.

Buyers of electric cars would receive a subsidy from the government, the newspaper said, giving no further details.

Gabriel also wants to expand charging stations and encourage federal offices to use electric cars - an initiative that will be funded under the current German budget without tax increases, he said.

The German government aims to put one million electric cars on the roads by 2020. Among the country's carmakers, BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen now produce all-electric cars; Audi, Mercedes and Porsche have plans to build one.

Sales of electric cars totaled some 19,000 in 2014, but at the end of 2014 Germany had only 2,400 charging stations and around 100 fast-charging points.

Calls for supporting electric cars grew at the end of last year after the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Both Gabriel and his fellow Social Democrat Environment Minster Barbara Hendricks have called for a quota for electric cars


Coal Monolith Tumbles; Obama largely to Blame

This is what Barack Obama's regulations do in the real world. The nation's second largest coal company, Arch Coal, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday, seeking to strike $4.5 billion in debt from its ledgers. In an industry struggling and bleeding jobs, one of the monoliths has fallen.

The cause of death was in part the rise of natural gas. The energy source has overtaken coal and become the nation's go-to source of energy and China's coal industry has been a stiff competitor (no thanks to Obama's climate change agenda).

But the Obama administration has also played a direct hand in the coal industry's demise. His Environmental "Protection" Agency has rocked the industry with round after round of regulation in its war on coal. Of course, the markets go round and round. Arch Coal, which went into debt in 2011 acquiring another coal company, might have been able to ride out this economic slump.

But as The Wall Street Journal's editorial board notes, Obama regulations will exist until - by slender chance - a future administration realizes the economic harm they have on the nation. Even now, that economic harm will be felt.

WSJ's editorial board says, "Even after recent declines in market share, coal-fired plants still provide roughly a third or more of American electricity. So utility customers will notice the coal carnage when they see their monthly bills - or perhaps when the lights don't go on.

But for now the pain is concentrated among those who used to work in the coal fields. They are still waiting for all those new green jobs Mr. Obama has been promising since he arrived in Washington."


SolarCity and the Silver Spoon

If you own a business - maybe a taco stand, a dress shop, or an insurance agency - you know it takes a lot of hard work, good market analysis, a better product or service than your competition, and advertising. Add in a bit of luck, and you hope to grow your business - though vacant storefronts and boarded up buildings in towns and cities across America show that isn't always enough. Each going-out-of-business sale represents the death of someone's dream.

If, however, you are a politically favored business - say solar - your story is different. Your growth is dependent on government generosity. And, when people, who may never buy your product or use your service, balk at underwriting your venture and convince their Congressmen to take away the taxpayer largesse, like a badly behaved toddler, you threaten to take your marbles and go home-leaving former staffers unemployed and customers without service.

Such is the story of SolarCity - which has taken advantage of the favored status and bilked government programs to grow into being the nation's largest installer of rooftop solar panels. Despite that distinction, SolarCity still loses millions of dollars. SolarCity doesn't manufacturer solar panels - though, thanks to $750 million in funding from New York's taxpayers - that will soon change.

Despite "major changes and growing competition in an already competitive industry," as The Associated Press called it, Governor Andrew Cuomo is, essentially, giving SolarCity a state-owned, rent-free factory - a decision that Michael Hicks, a professor of economics and director for the Center for Business Research at Ball State University, says is "an eye-popping deal, a very questionable use of state funds, but a huge windfall for the investors of SolarCity."

In return, SolarCity promises to "create 1,460 high-tech jobs" at the Buffalo, NY, factory scheduled to begin operations late this year. The company also expects to have 1,440 "manufacturing support and service provider jobs," as well as at least 2,000 other jobs in the state - which Hicks claims is "small, given the investment."

The New York "gigafactory" will manufacture a "radically new type of solar technology" that is, according to MIT Technology Review, "a huge risk" and "a big gamble." About SolarCity's new move to manufacturing, the Review states: "scaling up the production processes quickly and doing so while maintaining the efficiencies of the modules and without increasing costs could be difficult. And there are no guarantees that by the time the modules are commercially available they will still be the best on the planet."

SolarCity has no qualms about throwing a tantrum and leaving a state that doesn't play by its rules  - as it has done in Arizona, Nevada, and, even in the UK. Even uber-green California is being threatened by an exodus and states such as Washington and New Hampshire received warnings that SolarCity won't come to the state if subsidies don't favor its operational model.

Last week, Nevada became the latest state to "roll back" its "net-metering electricity scam," as the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) calls it. As a result, "SolarCity reacted by announcing that it would cease sales and installations in the state."  Back in 2013, with great fanfare, SolarCity announced that it was coming to Nevada "after securing incentives worth up to $1.2 million from the state's Governor's Office of Economic Development," reported the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Like in New York, SolarCity claimed it would create "hundreds of jobs" near Las Vegas. But times have changed.

Nevada is just one of many states considering changes to the subsidies offered to encourage rooftop solar installations. Arizona already made the change, causing SolarCity to shift resources to other states where the profit margins are higher. In April, the Arizona Republic announced that SolarCity was relocating 85 workers out of state. SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive called the changes: "Too restrictive." He declared that they "eliminate the potential to save money with solar for nearly all customers." The changes made Arizona "the most challenging for his company."

What states have found, is that the increasing implementation of solar, results in higher costs for non-solar customers - who as the WSJ states: "tend to be lower income."

The net-metering policies are at the center of the debate. In short, net metering compensates solar customers for the excess solar power they generate. The problem is that these individual generators get paid retail for the power, rather than the wholesale rate utilities pay for typical power supplies. As a result, customers with solar panels can completely avoid paying the utility - even though they still use power, transmission lines, and services from the company. States are seeing costs shifted from solar customers to those who can least afford it. As a result, several states, including Nevada, California, and Washington have mandated policy changes. Generally, the changes reduce the payment to wholesale and add a grid connection fee or demand fee.

The WSJ called net metering "regressive political income redistribution in support of a putatively progressive cause." Frank O'Sullivan, director of research and analysis at MIT Energy Initiative explains it: "Net metering, in its most plain, vanilla form, is certainly a subsidy to rooftop solar owners. Obviously there has to be a cost transfer to others who don't have solar on their roofs."

In response to SolarCity subsidiary Zep Solar's closure in the UK, due to cuts in solar subsidies, energy and climate secretary Amber Rudd said she was "concerned at job losses" but "she had to control costs to consumers."

Nevada's Governor, Brian Sandoval, stated: "Nevada has provided tremendous support to the solar industry" but the government must ensure that "families who consume traditional energy sources are not paying more just to finance the rooftop solar marketplace."

In Arizona, the changes to the net-metering policies grandfathered in current users, but added grid usage/demand fees. In Nevada, payments to existing customers have been slashed and connection fees have been raised. The current proposal in California would cut payments for excess electricity almost in half and solar customers would pay a monthly fee. In Washington, utilities are pushing for a charge on solar customers.

The solar industry is filing legal action as, admittedly, these "proposals threaten to undermine the economics of their systems." WSJ explains: "corporate welfare encourages dependency and entitlement that's difficult to break."

Despite being the largest installer of rooftop solar in the country, SolarCity has not been profitable - with losses of $56 million in one year and $293 million cumulatively. As more and more states look toward revising the generous solar subsidies as a way to rein in exploding costs and balance budgets, companies like SolarCity become a bad investment. When Congress extended the tax credits for solar as part of the 2015 omnibus budget deal, Solar City "saw its share price skyrocket." The rich get richer and the poor get soaked.

Explaining the industry's reaction to changing policy, Rep. Jeff Morris, the sponsor of proposed legislation in Washington, HB 2045, said: "The reason they are going off the rails on this is because they are afraid that it's going to sweep across the 50 states."

It is the state and federal incentives, not free markets, which have created a burgeoning solar industry. Congress foolishly extended the federal credits. But with "recent improvements in solar costs and efficiencies," as Lori Christian, president of Solar Installers of Washington says: "it is time for all states to reassess the outdated incentive structure currently in place."

When even California is proposing policy changes that would result in solar power being less-cost effective for homeowners and businesses, it is time to realize this business model has to change. And, that includes taking the silver spoon out of the mouth of SolarCity. Although they'll likely throw a temper tantrum, take their marbles and go home, it will save taxpayers millions and force solar to operate on a level playing field like other businesses have to do.


Australia: The evils of land clearing

Humanity has been clearing native vegetation for thousands of years to make way for crops and grazing animals.  But that is now all WRONG, apparently.  There is a great shriek about it below.  It's "environmental destruction" apparently.  

Human modification of the landscape has been pervasive in Europe and yet Europe has a lot of very nice places to be.  Try Austria's
Salzkammergut, for instance, centered around an old salt mine (as the name implies).  I can hear the shrieks now:  A MINE?  Mines can never be good to a Greenie.  Yet people take vacations in the Salzkammergut to enjoy the beautiful environment.  People have been modifying the environment there since ancient times in fact.  Hallstatt is in the Salzkammergut, if you know your archaeology.

Hallstatt -- a site of ecocide?

And what about Italy?  People have been marching to and fro and modifying the environment there for around 3,000 years.  Yet many places in Italy -- such as Umbria -- are regarded as places of great beauty.  Tourists flock to Italy in large numbers to see its beautiful landscapes and its modified environments.  But they are just cattle to Greenie elitists, of course.  Greenie elitists have THE TRUTH -- or they think they do.

Umbria -- Some of that awful farmland, no less

Why should Australia be different?  Why can we not modify our environment into something we like better?  Let us CHOOSE our environment rather than stay stuck with the native environment.

Why should we not?  They offer two arguments below:  The first is that land clearing will increase global warming -- but if that were a serious argument they would have offered some figure for the climate sensitivity to CO2.  They do not.  And they would find themselves in a morass if they did.

The second argument is that clearing reduces biodiversity.  But it may or may not, depending on how the clearing is managed. And the reduced biodiversity in Europe seems to have done nobody any harm.

But even if we accept that all biodiversity is good and needed, it can be managed without blanket bans on all change.  Farmers often leave a bit of the native vegetation alone for various reasons.  The big disincentive to doing so is the fear of future Greenie blanket bans.  Farmers clear everything while they can.  So a program to reward farmers for setting aside pockets of native vegetation would do a whole lot more good than trying to stop clearing altogether.

NSW is set to join Queensland in tearing up key environmental legislation. The likely result will be widespread land-clearing and a greater contribution to climate change, writes Dr Mehreen Faruqi.

Imagine you were the NSW Premier in possession of a crystal ball, gazing into which you could see the consequences of your own policies. Suppose what you saw was what you were warned of all along: widespread land clearing and environmental destruction. Well, for Premier Mike Baird, a glimpse of the future is just north of the border, in Queensland.

Two years ago, the Queensland Newman government severely undermined native vegetation rules, resulting in the doubling of land clearing, the removal of almost 300,000 hectares of bushland (20 times the size of the Royal National Park in Sydney) and the release of 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, further exacerbating climate change.

Despite this damning evidence, the Baird Government is green lighting land clearing by pushing ahead with abolishing native vegetation protection laws in New South Wales. This is nothing less than attempting ecocide.

The NSW Native Vegetation Act 2003 has generally been credited with ending broad-scale land clearing in a state where 61 per cent of the original native vegetation has been cleared, thinned or significantly disturbed since European colonisation, most of it in the last 50 years.

According to a WWF report, the introduction of this Act saw an 88-fold decrease of felling, as well as preventing the deaths of thousands of native animals.

Not only is native vegetation crucial for biodiversity protection, it also improves farm land value and increases production outcomes. However, native vegetation management on private land has long been perceived as a battleground between landholders and conservationists, stirring up controversy between private property rights and the public interest.

Politically, the National Party has been a key opponent of biodiversity laws that require some form of permission and oversight before landholders can clear native vegetation. Not surprisingly, the unravelling of the Native Vegetation Act commenced in the first term of the Liberal National Government taking power in NSW.

In 2013, the then-Deputy Premier and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner foreshadowed the comprehensive overhaul of all biodiversity protection legislation. A range of new regulations soon followed, which allowed the removal of paddock trees and thinning of native vegetation to go ahead without the need for vegetation management plans.

Since these changes, more than 6,000 trees have been chopped. Even the Shooters & Fishers - key Upper House votes - have waded into this conflict, with a bill that, if enacted, would have done irreparable damage to biodiversity and native vegetation in NSW.

The next and perhaps most disastrous move is the report of the so-called `Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review'.

Even though more than 80 per cent of the submissions to the review called for retaining or strengthening protections, the recommendations call for the wholesale repeal of the Native Vegetation Act. It will also repeal the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and parts of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 Act, and include only parts of them in a mooted new Act.

This will be coupled with an expansion of the flawed biodiversity offsets policy. Once biodiversity is lost, it is often permanent.

The Review recommended that the Native Vegetation Act should be repealed because it had not stopped biodiversity loss. This unsophisticated approach completely ignores the huge reduction of broad-scale clearing as a result of strong laws (despite inadequate resourcing for their enforcement). Moreover, it has turned a blind eye to the multitude of government policies that result in major biodiversity losses, for example, mining approvals that clear swathes of forest and habitat.

The new regime proposed by the Biodiversity Legislation Review is set up to fail. Clearing will be allowed even if it does not improve or maintain environmental outcomes. Under the brave new world of environmental (mis)management, already under-resourced local councils will be lumped with an unprecedented workload to deal with land clearing on a case-by-case basis, with no overarching state-wide environmental oversight.

While the anti-environment Nationals and the Shooters and Fishers are looking forward to ripping up the Native Vegetation Act this year, environment groups, conservationists and the Greens are gearing up for a vigorous fight to stop this destruction of native vegetation and wildlife.

It doesn't need to be this way. There is enough evidence to prove that weakening biodiversity protections will lead to an increase in land clearing leading to further fragmentation of precious ecosystems. At a time when climate change is taking bite we need more, not less preservation.



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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