Monday, August 06, 2018

Deadly heatwaves that can kill people in SIX HOURS could leave a large area of China uninhabitable by 2070

You wonder if some scientists ever set foot outside their own front door.  The "MIT scientists" below are forecasting disaster if temperatures reach 31°C in humid areas of China.

Do they know nothing of the tropics?  I was born there, and lived in the coastal city of Cairns until I was 19.  And it sure was humid there.  And it was not unusual to have summer daytime temperatures of 100°F (38°C).

And strange to say, we flourished.  We were actually rather advantaged. We had zero problems in winter time.  No snowplows, no shovelling snow, no chains on our tires, no burst pipes, no need for any heating. So we had year-round convenience for work or anything else we wanted to do.  I wish it on China

Vast swathes of China could be left uninhabitable to humans towards the end of the century due to blistering climate change-driven heatwaves, scientists warn.

China's north plain is the most densely populated region of the country, and serves as a key agricultural region to provide food for the country's 1.4 billion residents.

According to new research, the 1,500 square mile region (4,000 square kilometres) will become a wasteland if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate.

Climate change will result in a fatal combination of both heat and humidity, which can cause healthy individuals to drop dead in a matter of hours.

The scientists behind the study warned that unless China – the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in the world – curbs its pollution levels, it could trigger serious consequences for its population.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists predicted the devastating effect climate change will have on the densely-populated region of China, which stretches the length of the Yellow River.

For the study, which was published in Nature Communications, the researchers looked into the 'business-as-usual' situation and modelled the effects of current greenhouse gas emission levels over the next several decades.

According to the models, fatally humid heatwaves — known as 'wet bulb temperatures' (WBT) — are set to become more common in the north plain region.

Humidity dramatically exacerbates the effects of heatwaves for humans, as it stops them being able to shed excess heat from their bodies by sweating.

Without the use of this natural cooling mechanism, even fit and healthy humans sat in the shade can be overwhelmed and die in less than six hours.

A WBT above 31°C (87.8°F) is classed by the US National Weather Service as an 'extreme danger', warning people that 'if you don’t take precautions immediately, you may become seriously ill or even die.'

Low rainfall across the region in China makes irrigation networks necessary to effectively plant in the highly fertile soil.

However, as temperatures increase these systems will cause high levels of water evaporation, making the air in the north plain incredibly humid.

The researchers found fatal WBTs of 35°C (95°F) would strike the north China plain repeatedly between 2070 and 2100, unless carbon emissions are cut.

MIT scientists found that Shanghai, for example, would exceed the fatal threshold five times and the 'extreme danger' WBTs would occur hundreds of times.

Even if China makes significant carbon cuts, the models still showed the 'extreme danger' WBT would be exceeded many times between 2070 and 2100. 

'This spot is going to be the hottest spot for deadly heatwaves in the future,' said Professor Elfatih Eltahir, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientist who led the study.

'The projections are particularly worrying because many of the region's 400 million people are farmers and have little alternative to working outside.

'China is currently the largest contributor to the emissions of greenhouse gases, with potentially serious implications to its own population.

'Continuation of current global emissions may limit the habitability of the most populous region of the most populous country on Earth.'


Comment from a reader: My summers were spent hauling hay, picking cotton and harvesting corn in the Texas southeast, humid and 120 deg F in the hay barn, 98 deg F in the shade. In the summer I dreamed of winter, in the winter I dreamed of summer. No air conditioning only a window fan.  The human body has evolved to deal with heat.

The Truth About Wildfires

The media's emotional narrative is about climate change instead of a more accurate picture.

Places like California and Greece are suffering from severe wildfires (again), which have caused numerous deaths and terrible destruction. Of course, our alarmist and narrative-driven media can’t cover these catastrophes without conveying some nebulous link to global warming climate change. For example, the Associated Press matter-of-factly declared, “Extreme heat and wildfires made worse by climate change, say scientists.” Wildfires are “part of summer,” the article admits, “but it’s all being made worse by human-caused climate change.”

California Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown likewise blamed global warming for the severity of this summer’s wildfires, committing to efforts that “will help prepare the state to deal with the increasingly extreme weather and natural disasters caused by climate change.”

In truth, this oft-repeated claim lacks congruence. “Scenes of Californians fleeing their homes and Greeks swimming out to sea have fueled alarm about climate change fueling deadly wildfires,” The Washington Times says, “but recent studies show that such destructive blazes are on the decline worldwide. A September 2017 report in the journal Science found that global burned area dropped by about 25 percent over the previous 18 years, a finding consistent with a May 2016 paper published by the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. … Even in California, which for years has wrestled with fire devastation, a study in the International Journal of Wildland Fire found that the number of wildfires burning more than 300 acres per year has been tailing off since a peak in 1980.”

Speaking of California, meteorologist Joe Bastardi, in a May column for The Patriot Post titled “Before the Fact: Why Another Big Wildfire Season May Be on the Way,” explained that a soggy March and April in California set the stage for a bad wildfire season. Similar past patterns that preceded the development of El NiƱo indicated that drier conditions would follow — which they have — thereby aiding the wildfire season in the West. The opposite is true of Florida and the Northeast.

Regarding the seemingly worsening wildfire conditions, Bastardi offered this insight: “Quite frankly, the buildup in California means residents simply put themselves in positions where nature causes them problems. … As an environmentalist, I think the abuse of nature is not from excess CO2 but from man thumbing his nose at nature and building and paving ill-suited areas and then turning around and blaming something other than the actual cause. When you build houses on beaches that have been shifting forever, what do you think should happen? When you build houses in places that for years were forested, what do you think has to happen?” He added, “Look, it’s your choice if you wish to do that. But don’t go blaming nature when she simply does what she does.”

There may very well be a man-made component here — just not the one we keep hearing about through the media. But what is perhaps most remarkable is the fact that, despite this particular year’s wildfire season being especially severe and despite the increased risk that comes with city buildup, destructive wildfires are actually waning overall. Whether that trend continues remains to be seen, but it should at least make anyone question the prevailing narrative, which focuses solely on the immediate emotional impact of 24/7 televised destruction and human suffering instead of a reasonable view of the bigger picture.


Young people are about to utterly transform climate politics

Another stupid prophecy.  No numbers. Just hand-waving generalization

Inter-generational justice demands bold, rapid climate action; real climate action demands a giant building boom.

We speak, for the sake of brevity, of “the climate movement.” But there is not one climate movement, but several different movements of people who want climate action, and the tensions between them are rising as younger people get more engaged.

We can see this best, right now, in the U.S. where there is, first, the old mainline environmental movement, which has done the bulk of climate advocacy work for decades.

Largely, this advocacy work has focused on cap-n-trade/CO2 tax policies and support for clean energy.

Mainline enviro groups have tended to treat climate as an environmental issue, indeed, often as one that must be weighed against others (we see this for instance in opposition to windfarms out of concerns for potential bird kills).

And their approach has tended to be technocratic, removed from contact with other social issues and at least overtly bipartisan.

In contrast to these big green groups, we have the older grassroots environmental groups, some of which treat climate seriously. These groups tend to be focused on greenery and lifestyles — local habitat preservation/restoration, recycling programs, etc

Much of the work of older local groups, though, has been to block bad things, like polluting factories, landfills, new freeways and what they see as greedy developers. Local enviros are a core of NIMBY opposition to change.

More recently, we’ve had the rise of what many progressives mean when they say “the climate movement”: a network of NGOs that primarily focus on fighting fossil fuel infrastructure (like pipelines) and pushing for divestment from coal and oil. This is the movement lead by

The blockade-and-divest climate movement has been greatly magnified by the rise of a group of investors and regulators who see the dangers of the Carbon Bubble and have been nudging huge funds to divest for practical reasons (e.g. @CarbonBubble, @cdp)

At least as effective in actually driving down emissions, though, has been the urbanist climate movement. These are the newer local movements pushing for green building, transit and walkability, and dense, affordable housing. The YIMBYs.

(Here let me put my own cards on the table: I think there’s absolutely no way that the US can meet real carbon goals without fundamentally reforming urban planning and rebuilding urban/metro infrastructure.

Cities are the key to climate action, as I’ve said for 20 years.)

More recently, we’ve seen the rise of conflicting ideas about justice and the climate movement, which tend to get lumped under “climate justice” — from building local resilience to redistribution — but often have very different goals and aims. That’s worth unpacking another time.

Right now, as well, we’re seeing the rapid rise of business interests who see climate action not as a burden (much less a danger) but as a once-in-a-generation economic opportunity to participate in a huge boom. An iconic example is Tesla.

The business of building a carbon zero economy is about to become by far the most powerful part of the entire climate movement. That alone is going to kick up a lot of conflict, especially among those who consider anti-capitalist aims part of their climate advocacy.

Economic policy and development interests at state and regional levels are also huge players here, and work by yet another set of rules. CA’s climate policies are without a doubt the most important climate policies in America, for instance, but they work with their own dynamics.

On top of this, you have those who are advocating not (just) for reducing emissions but for readiness for disaster: People who want to ruggedize cities and infrastructure; restore ecosystems into the future; even attempt geoengineering and/or “geotherapy.”

On top of all that, you have those who are seeking to support the social stabilization work the planetary crisis will soon demand at massive scales: Folks concerned with forced migration and failed states; food supply and epidemic disease; conflict and recovery.

Take all this (and a few other major interest groups) and now add youth.

Climate change and the planetary crisis it drives are, above all else, generational in their politics. We olds may individually be doing amazing kick-ass work; the interests of the old and the young on the whole are still in obvious and direct conflict on a number of issues.

First, and foremost, there’s the issue of speed. Every day we delay, climate risks worsen & the costs of inevitable change rise.

If we care about intergenerational justice, moving at the most disruptive speed we can on cutting emissions is a clear ethical imperative.

That’s because while those risks and costs will fall almost entirely on the younger two-thirds of the population (and future generations) the money from climate destruction is being mostly accumulated by the older third.

Delay is, in this sense, predatory. On top of speed, though, there’s access.

The reality of American life is not only that younger people are being preyed upon by climate delay, but also that they’re largely shut out from building the lives they want.

We see this in myriad ways, from the housing shortage caused by anti-housing planning policies, to the death grip of car commuting on transportation planning, to the massive costs of education for the young (and its out-dated lack of focus on the tools they really need on a changing planet).

Almost everywhere in America, it’s hard to build the low-carbon new, even though younger people have shown that the low-carbon new is exactly what they want, from car-free neighborhoods to clean energy, bike infrastructure to green multifamily buildings…

So, if you’re a younger person, what you want is a) fast action, b) the chance to build a new low-carbon life and c) a good and meaningful job.

It’s the jobs part that’s going to really jack up the tension in the climate movement. Because for all our enthusiasm for “green jobs,” young people installing solar panels is just the tip of the iceberg, and most of the submerged ice is going to be far more controversial as it rises.

See, many older people have this idea that climate action will be a “transition.” That it’ll be slow, incremental, based on personal choices, largely about small behavioral changes and retrofitting today’s lifestyles with cleantech gadgets — composting food waster and driving a hybrid.

 It’s not. Real climate action is disruptive af.

To get the speed of the emissions cuts we need, we’re going to need to build the new on an unprecedented scale, in ways that intentionally alter the fundamental workings of older systems, foreclose high emissions choices and tilt the economics of pollution everywhere.

That build of the new is not a trend that will influence the economy of the future, it IS the economy of the future.

A giant building boom is what successful climate action looks like. That means jobs. Jobs younger people want and will be better prepared to take up.

Young people have a massive self-interest in pushing that boom to happen as fast as possible — a self-interest every bit as strong (and far more ethical) as the self-interest that older people pursue through gradualism and delay.

As young people become more and more powerful in the climate movement, fault lines are going to open. Those cracks are visible now. Older leaders are just in the habit of ignoring them.

The climate movement of the 2020s will be fierce and focused on building the new world we need.

The conflict between old movement interest groups and that new call for action at scale and speed is going to be a — maybe the — major climate story in the coming decade.


No, Vertical Farms Won’t Feed the World

While they are well-intentioned, new indoor “farms” won’t help feed the world or reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture. We would be better to focus our efforts elsewhere

We’re beginning to see a new fad in agriculture — so-called “vertical farms” that grow food indoors with energy-intensive, artificial life support systems.

In the last few years, a number of tech companies have designed “farms” that utilize artificial lights, heaters, water pumps, and computer controls to grow crops inside. These systems glow with a fantastic magenta light — from LEDs that are specially tuned to provide optimal light for photosynthesis — often with stacked trays of plants, one on top of the other. Some of this technology is new, especially the LEDs, although pot growers have used tools like this for years.

Some of the more notable efforts to build indoor “farms” include Freight Farms in Boston. And there is a group at MIT that is trying to create new high-tech platforms for growing food inside, including “food computers”. These folks are very smart, and have done a lot to perfect the technology.

At first blush, these “farms” sound great. Why not completely eliminate food miles, and grow food right next to restaurants, cafeterias, or supermarkets? And why not grow crops inside closed systems, where water can be recycled, and pests can (in theory) be managed without chemicals.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? But there are many challenges.

First, these systems are really expensive to build. The shipping container systems developed by Freight Farms, for example, cost between $82,000 and $85,000 per container — an astonishing sum for a box that just grows greens and herbs. Just one container costs as much as 10 entire acres of prime American farmland — which is a far better investment, both in terms of food production and future economic value. Just remember: farmland has the benefit of generally appreciating in value over time, whereas a big metal box is likely to only decrease in value.

Second, food produced this way is very expensive. For example, the Wall Street Journal reports that mini-lettuces grown by Green Line Growers costs more than twice as much as organic lettuce available in most stores. And this is typical for other indoor growers around the country: it’s very, very expensive, even compared to organic food. Instead of making food moreavailable, especially to poorer families on limited budgets, these indoor crops are only available to the affluent. It might be fine for gourmet lettuce, or fancy greens for expensive restaurants, but regular folks may find it out of reach.

Finally, indoor farms use a lot of energy and materials to operate. The container farms from Freight Farms, for example, use about 80 kilowatt-hours of electricity a day to power the lights and pumps. That’s nearly 2–3 times as much electricity as a typical (and still very inefficient) American home, or about 8 times the electricity used by an average San Francisco apartment. And on the average American electrical grid, this translates to emitting 44,000 pounds of CO2 per container per year, from electricity alone, not counting any additional heating costs. This is vastly more than the emissions it would take to ship the food from someplace else.

And none of it is necessary.

But, Wait, Can’t Indoor Farms Use Renewable Energy?

Proponents of indoor techno-farms often say that they can offset the enormous sums of electricity they use, by powering them with renewable energy — especially solar panels — to make the whole thing carbon neutral.

But just stop and think about this for a second.

These indoor “farms” would use solar panels to harvest naturally occurring sunlight, and convert it into electricity, so that they can power…artificial sunlight? In other words, they’re trying to use the sun to replace the sun.

But we don’t need to replace the sun. Of all of the things we should worry about in agriculture, the availability of free sunlight is not one of them. Any system that seeks to replace the sun to grow food is probably a bad idea.

Besides, “Food Miles” Aren’t a Big Climate Problem

Sometimes we hear that vertical farms help the environment by reducing “food miles” — the distance food items travel from farm to table — and thereby reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

This sounds logical, but it turns out to be a red herring.

Strange as it might seem, local food typically uses about the same amount of energy — per pound — to transport as food grown far away. Why? Short answer: volume and method of transport. A larger food operator can ship food more efficiently — even if it travels longer distances — because of the gigantic volumes they work in. Plus, ships, trains, and even large trucks driving on Interstate highways use less fuel, per pound per mile, than small trucks driving around town.

Plus it turns out that “food miles” aren’t a very big source of CO2 emissions anyway, whether they’re local or not. In fact, they pale in comparison to emissions from deforestation, methane from cattle and rice fields, and nitrous oxide from over-fertilized fields. And local food systems — especially organic farms that use fewer fertilizers, and grass fed beef that sequesters carbon in the soil — can reduce these more critical emissions. At the end of the day, local food systems are generally better for the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions. Just don’t worry about emissions from food miles too much.

And These Vertical “Farms” Can’t Grow Much

A further problem with indoor farms is that a lot of crops could never develop properly in these artificial conditions. While LED lights provide the light needed for photosynthesis to occur, they don’t provide the proper mix of light and heat to trigger plant development stages — like those that tell plants when to put on fruit or seed. Moreover, a lot of crops need a bit of wind to develop tall, strong stalks, needed later when they are carrying heavy loads before harvest. As a result, indoor farms are severely limited, and have a hard time growing things besides simple greens.

Indoor farms might be able to provide some garnish and salads to the world, but forget about them as a means of growing much other food.

A Better Way?

I’m not the only critic of indoor, high-tech, energy-intensive agriculture. Other authors are starting to point out the problems with these systems too (read very good critiques here, here, here, and here).

While I appreciate the enthusiasm and innovation put into developing indoor farms, I think these efforts are, at the end of the day, counterproductive.

Instead, I think we should use the same investment of dollars, incredible technology, and amazing brains to solve other agricultural problems — like developing new methods for drip irrigation, better grazing systems that lock up soil carbon, and ways of recycling on-farm nutrients. Organic farming and high-precision agriculture are doing promising things, and need more help. We also need innovation and capital to help other parts of the food system, especially in tackling food waste, and getting people to shift their diets towards more sustainable directions.

An interconnected network of good farms —real farms that provide nutritious food, with social and environmental benefits to their communities — is the kind of innovation we really need.


The Renewable Fuel Standard is the Obamacare of the energy industry

By Printus LeBlanc

After Scott Pruitt resigned as EPA Administrator, the cheers from K street could be heard around the country. The lobbyist camp led the fight against Pruitt because since coming into the position, Pruitt set his sights on one of the biggest sacred cows in D.C., the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Just because he is gone, that doesn’t mean the fight over the RFS should end.

The RFS was created in 2005 as a result of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The RFS mandates a certain amount of renewable fuel is blended with gasoline. The renewable fuel is mostly corn ethanol.

The regulation was further updated in 2007 with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). This bill was another gift to the renewable fuel industry as it increased the amount of renewable fuel to be blended. EISA had the goal of increasing the amount of renewable fuel by well over 300 percent from 11.1 billion gallons in 2009 to 36 billion gallons in 2022. A windfall for King Corn.

However, when Scott Pruitt came to the swamp, he sought to change the RFS. Pruitt knew the RFS did not do what it promised and was nothing more than the Obamacare mandate for the energy industry.

The RFS was intended to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and reduce the number of pollutants released into the environment. When looking at the data the U.S. is less dependent on foreign oil and pollutants have been reduced, but it has nothing to do with the RFS. In fact, a study released in 2014 showed corn ethanol actually did more damage to the quality of the air than regular gasoline.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America released a report titled, “Life cycle air quality impacts of conventional and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States.” The scientific report came to some startling conclusions. The report stated, “Scenarios with substantially decreased air quality-related health impacts compared with gasoline include gasoline hybrid vehicles (30% decrease) and EVs powered by natural gas or by WWS (50% and 70% decrease, respectively); scenarios with substantially higher damages than gasoline include corn ethanol (80% increase).”

Wasn’t the purpose of the RFS to reduce the pollutants in the air? How is that possible if it is almost twice as bad as gasoline?

Ask anyone in the energy industry, and it will become clear quickly the RFS also had nothing to do with the reduction of foreign oil imports either. That miracle was thanks to fracking. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) clearly shows the introduction of fracking had more to do with the reduction in imported oil than anything else.

It gets worse for the RFS. Not only does it not reduce foreign dependence on oil, but it also reduces fuel economy, causing more consumption of petroleum. A quick search of the EIA website and any researcher can find the agency admitting the RFS does not do what it is advertised to do. The EIA states, “The energy content of ethanol is about 33 percent less than pure gasoline. The impact of fuel ethanol on vehicle fuel economy varies depending on the amount of denaturant that is added to the ethanol. The energy content of denaturant is about equal to the energy content of pure gasoline. In general, vehicle fuel economy may decrease by about 3 percent when using E10 relative to gasoline that does not contain fuel ethanol.”

Ok, so the RFS is not as advertised. At least the taxpayers are saving money, right?

No, not even close. Aside from the billions in subsidies from the farm bill, the RFS adds additional costs to fuel prices. A 2014 study by the Congressional Budget Office found the RFS adds between $0.13 and $0.26 per gallon of regular gasoline and $0.30 to $0.51 for diesel.

Considering in 2017 the U.S. consumed about 142.85 billion gallons of gasoline, according to the EIA, the RFS forced Americans to spend at least an extra $18.57 billion.

The utter failure that is the RFS is in place for two reasons and only two reasons. The first is money. King Corn spends millions on lobbying in D.C., and the second and probably most important is the Iowa primary. Almost no politician that wants to be President has the desire to tackle King Corn in its backyard with momentum in the Presidential nomination at stake. However, the evidence is overwhelming that the RFS does not help the environment, does not increase fuel efficiency, and does not reduce foreign dependence on oil. It does one thing and one thing only, transfer wealth. It is time to end the Obamacare of the energy industry.




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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