Monday, October 15, 2018

Huge reduction in meat-eating ‘essential’ to avoid climate breakdown

"It is not a coincidence that climate change appeals to the people who most desire, not to save the world from climate change, but to manage people's private lives and habits. A bit like the Taliban or some other religious police." Apt comment by Ben Pile

Huge reductions in meat-eating are essential to avoid dangerous climate change, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of the food system’s impact on the environment. In western countries, beef consumption needs to fall by 90% and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses. [But don't beans produce a lot of gas?]

The research also finds that enormous changes to farming are needed to avoid destroying the planet’s ability to feed the 10 billion people expected to be on the planet in a few decades.

Food production already causes great damage to the environment, via greenhouse gases from livestock, deforestation and water shortages from farming, and vast ocean dead zones from agricultural pollution. But without action, its impact will get far worse as the world population rises by 2.3 billion people by 2050 and global income triples, enabling more people to eat meat-rich western diets. [But the population will FALL in developed countries.  It will mostly rise in Africa, where they mostly eat mealie pap (corn porridge).  They can rarely afford meat]

This trajectory would smash critical environmental limits beyond which humanity will struggle to live, the new research indicates. “It is pretty shocking,” said Marco Springmann at the University of Oxford, who led the research team. “We are really risking the sustainability of the whole system. If we are interested in people being able to farm and eat, then we better not do that.”

“Feeding a world population of 10 billion is possible, but only if we change the way we eat and the way we produce food,” said Prof Johan Rockström at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who was part of the research team. “Greening the food sector or eating up our planet: this is what is on the menu today.”

The new study follows the publication of a landmark UN report on Monday in which the world’s leading scientists warned there are just a dozen years in which to keep global warming under 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods and extreme heat. The report said eating less meat and dairy was important but said current trends were in the opposite direction.

The new research, published in the journal Nature, is the most thorough to date and combined data from every country to assess the impact of food production on the global environment. It then looked at what could be done to stop the looming food crisis.

“There is no magic bullet,” said Springmann. “But dietary and technological change [on farms] are the two essential things, and hopefully they can be complemented by reduction in food loss and waste.” About a third of food produced today never reaches the table.


America now has TOO MANY trees

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Over the past hundred years, the George family’s farm has been sharecropped, grazed by cattle and planted with cotton. By the late 1980s, Clayton George was growing soybeans and struggling to make ends meet.

A new federal program offered farmers money to reforest depleted land. Pine trees appealed to Mr. George. He bought loblolly seedlings and pulled his pickup into a parking lot where hands-for-hire congregated.

“We figured we’d plant trees and come back and harvest it in 30 years and in the meantime go into town to make a living doing something else,” he said.

Three decades later the trees are ready to cut, and Mr. George is learning how many other Southerners had the same idea.

A glut of timber has piled up in the Southeast. There are far more ready-to-cut trees than the region’s mills can saw or pulp. The surfeit has crushed timber prices in Mississippi, Alabama and several other states.

The volume of Southern yellow pine, used in housing and to make paper, has surged in recent decades as farmers replaced cropland with trees and as clear-cut forests were replanted. By 2020, the amount of wood growing per acre of timberland in many counties will have more than quadrupled since 1980, U.S. forestry officials estimate.

It has been a big loser for some financial investors, among them the country’s largest pension fund. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System spent more than $2 billion on Southern timberland, and harvested trees at depressed prices to pay interest on money borrowed to buy. Calpers sold much of its land this summer at a loss. A spokeswoman for the pension fund declined to comment.

It’s also been tough for the individuals and families who own much of the South’s forestland, and who had banked on its operating as a college fund or retirement account. The region has more than six million owners of at least 10 wooded acres, say academics and forestry consultants. Many of the owners were counting on forests as a long-term investment that could be replenished and passed on to heirs.

“If you work and you didn’t want to put all your money in the stock market, you’d buy 40 acres and plant trees and they’d be ready to cut by the time your kid went to college,” said Skip Stead, a timber broker in Lincoln, Ala. “It’s like a 401(k).”

The housing crash 10 years ago worsened the developing timber glut by depressing lumber demand and prompting woodland owners to postpone harvests. Mills closed.

Housing has come back in much of the country, pushing prices for finished forest products such as two-by-fours and plywood to historic highs during the spring and summer building season. Prices for logs, as well, have moved up in the U.S.’s other big timber-producing region, the Pacific Northwest, where supply is kept in check by wood-boring beetles and periodic wildfires.

In the South, timber prices haven’t stopped sliding. Adjusted for inflation, the price of Southern pine is down about 45% since 2007, according to Daowei Zhang, an Auburn University professor of forest economics. So-called saw timber, for making lumber, is at a 50-year low, adjusted for inflation.

Corporate owners of far-flung timber tracts can concentrate logging in regional markets where prices are healthier, such as Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., which have access to ocean shipping. Timber companies that own saw mills, such as PotlatchDeltic Corp. , can buy local logs on the cheap.

Most Southern woodland owners are stuck with whatever the nearest mill is paying. Hauling logs cross-country chasing better prices isn’t an option. It doesn’t take many tree trunks to fill a truck to its 80,000-pound limit on interstate highways

Some timber harvests are barely worth the effort after the expense of logging, hauling, taxes and replanting. In some areas, there is hardly any margin for the imperfect pines that are pulped for paper and particleboard.


"Drowning in Plastic": a load of rubbish

BBC One’s "Drowning in Plastic", a documentary about the problem of plastic waste in the sea, provoked a predictable flood of environmentalist emotionalism.

No doubt, Liz Bonnin’s journey through rivers of plastic was a visual feast for those inclined to submit themselves to 90 minutes of eco-misery. It would certainly be hard-hearted not to find the images disturbing. There is nothing good about the discovery of plastic detritus in a bird’s digestive tracts. And there is nothing to celebrate about mountains of waste piling up on shorelines. Even if these images and the issues they portray have been exaggerated, nobody is against the proper disposal of plastic waste.

But the programme had barely even started before Twitter was awash with calls for more action to follow the plastic-bag tax and the abolition of single-use plastic items. Some tweeters shared tips on reducing household waste, others openly expressed their disgust for humanity. Yet rather than shedding light on the plastics problem, the documentary and the reactions to it revealed the paucity of green thinking on this issue.

The abolition of plastic in Britain has become a cause célèbre, championed by vapid celebrities and politicians alike, including the prime minister. This is all despite the fact that very little waste from Britain finds its way into the ocean. Drowning in Plastic even alluded to this at one point. But blink and you might have missed it.

It was clearly missed or ignored by the tens of thousands of tweeters who commented while the programme was being broadcast. Most plastic waste finds its way into the oceans when it is disposed of in places where poverty is the norm and local governments lack the resources to provide basic services like refuse collection and processing. In these places, waste of all forms is simply dumped in waterways.

This should be a spur to argue for more development – there are many people in the world who lack the basic services that we should be able to take for granted. Instead, the film appealed to green misanthropy, finding fault with greedy, dirty humans. Rather than making the case for more resources to deal with the problem, the images of animals suffering led to demands for material restraint – for less development and less stuff.

For places that can afford it, waste is very easy to deal with. The cleanest and most effective way of disposing of most waste is incineration, especially when it comes to plastic, which has a high energy content. The controlled burning of waste allows toxic elements to be captured and the useful energy component to be recycled as heat and electricity.

But this simple solution does not appeal to eco-miserablists. Indeed, the group most likely to raise spurious health and environmental objections to waste incineration is, of course, greens. It was greens that objected to the use of landfill and emphasised recycling. The consequences of this have been a substantial rise in fly-tipping and fires at recycling centres that spew thousands of tonnes of toxic smoke into the atmosphere, which are now a near daily occurrence in the UK. Meanwhile, we have to export a great deal of non-recyclable waste to be incinerated in parts of the world where environmental standards are lower.

Reducing the use of plastic, either as a personal choice or a policy goal, is about the emptiest possible gesture one can make. And yet Drowning in Plastic presented this as a profound act. In doing so, it problematised the most basic goods in developed economies and skirted over the need for economic development in the rest of the world. It is a grotesque distortion of priorities that does nothing to solve even the problems it highlights.

The BBC filmmakers were clearly more offended by plastic waste than the miserable conditions endured by millions of people. They offered a shallow, emotional exposition of the horrors of plastic waste when they could have explored the exciting possibility of technical solutions. But to argue that there are simple and effective solutions to the problem of waste would undermine the moral demands made by greens for austerity and restraint.


More Misplaced Environmentalist Outrage

How we long for the good old days! That’s the tone of some environmental industry leaders who are screaming bloody murder (literally, not figuratively) about Department of the Interior actions under President Trump.

The Department’s re-interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a case in point.

One Washington Post writer carped that “cruelty without consequence” is at “the heart of the Trump era.”

The new rule, she wrote, is “harmful to the weak … but also to the strong, who in the exercise of cruelty become less humane, less human.”

To be clear, for these advocates, the “good old days” under one specific rule were from January 10 to February 6, 2017. That is how long an Obama rule from the Department’s lawyer was in effect: 27 days.

President Obama’s Interior Department Solicitor General had written something called “Opinion M-37041,” which radically changed the way federal officials were to enforce the migratory bird law.

Issued just ten days before the Obama Administration ended, it was suspended less than a month later, pending review by the new Trump Administration.

That review, completed earlier this year, found that Opinion M-37041 was inconsistent with the law. The opinion needed review because M-37041 presumed that all killing of all migratory birds in all places at all times was illegal, and could result in fines or even jail.

It no longer mattered whether birds were killed accidentally or intentionally, by negligence or through no fault. It no longer mattered whether birds inadvertently died as a result of entirely legal activity, or if they died from their own poor navigation skills by flying into man-made structures.

Businesses that built such structures could be fined anyway.

The law was never intended to be used that way. But that interpretation had a clear purpose for environmental activists who dominated the Obama Interior Department.

Migratory birds could be used as a weapon in their ongoing battle against coal and metals mining, oil and gas exploration and production, fossil fuel electricity generation, and even ranching and other despised industries.

Meanwhile, officials could grant waivers to their powerful friends in the wind and solar industries.

Thus, administrators could fine industries they disliked up to $15,000 per bird – but look away when wind generators chopped up eagles, or solar panels in the Mohave Desert fried birds in mid-air.

In fact, the Audubon Society says, 90% of all prosecutions under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act had been against oil companies, though nobody ever claimed they cause anywhere near 90% of all bird deaths.

Indeed, a 2011 million-dollar 45-day helicopter search for dead birds across North Dakota oil fields by the Fish & Wildlife Service found only 28 mallard ducks, flycatchers, and other common birds that were inadvertently killed when they landed in uncovered oilfield waste pits.

Ironically, the Post illustrated its “sky is falling” column with a Gerald Herbert (AP) photo of an oil-soaked bird – but his picture was taken during the Obama era. By definition then, the picture had nothing to do with the issue of reversing M-37041 by the current Administration.

By contrast, studies by wildlife biologists have concluded that US wind turbines are killing hundreds of thousands – and some experts say millions – of raptors and other birds every year, along with numerous bats.

Many of these creatures are threatened or endangered or have been made so by the wind turbines. And yet few environmentalists ever voiced concerns about those deaths.

All the current Administration did was withdraw Opinion M-37041 and return to the previous interpretation, which allowed the use of common sense in determining whether negligence resulted in preventable bird deaths.

The text of the law itself prohibits “pursuing, hunting, taking, capturing, killing, or attempting to do the same” – meaning actions whose purpose is taking or killing migratory birds, their nests, or their eggs. It does not criminalize accidental deaths that happen in the course of otherwise legal and productive activity.

The outcry from some eco-activists has been over the top. They wail that the “new” ruling (which merely reinstates the original understanding) will lead to the wanton destruction of wildlife.

“So many more birds will die now,” the Post writer asserted. Officials will simply no longer care about the destruction of our feathered friends.

Under that twisted reasoning, Woodrow Wilson didn’t care about birds, since he signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act into law in 1918.

Franklin Roosevelt didn’t care about birds, nor did Ike, Kennedy or even Nixon, who signed the Endangered Species Act into law.

Jimmy Carter didn’t care, nor Bill Clinton and Al Gore. None of them applied Opinion M-37041 reasoning to the law.

It was selective enforcement by the Obama Administration that resulted in conflicting judicial rulings.

Previous Administrations all understood the difference between birds dying accidentally or on purpose. That distinction matters, because birds accidentally die all the time. In fact, a study of albatrosses in the Pacific suggests that the lifespan of many birds is actually unknown because they almost always die of unnatural causes.

One analysis said as many as six billion birds die in the USA every year by flying into things – houses, office buildings, power lines, and other structures – or are killed by animals, especially cats. Does that make every cat or homeowner a criminal?

In judging the inhumanity of our society by the way we treat birds, the Washington Post columnist condescendingly pointed out that “people are a part of the natural world, not distinct from it.” No kidding.

Day-to-day human activities affect our environment in numerous ways, sometimes for the better, occasionally for the worse. That doesn’t mean someone must be punished every time a bird dies.

Most of us abhor deliberate animal cruelty. That’s why it is a crime, and accidents are not.

It’s nice to see our government bringing a little common sense back to our laws and regulations. That shouldn’t be a crime either.


Australian chief scientist Alan Finkel has said he does not necessarily agree with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report’s call to phase out coal power by 2050

He also said the government will need a whole of economy emissions reduction strategy in order to meet the set target of reducing emissions to 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

The IPCC report was written by over 90 scientists and said global emissions of greenhouse gas pollution must reach zero by about 2050 in order to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The scientists recommended that the use of coal for electricity generation would have to drop to between 0 and 2 per cent of current usage.

Dr Finkel said instead the focus should purely be on emissions, as if carbon capture and storage is possible coal power will not produce emissions.

“I actually don’t agree on two basics. I’m not sure the report specifically says that. It says that we need to look at things like coal fired power with carbon capture and storage associated with it,” Dr Finkel told Sky News. “But the main reason for my statement is I feel we’ve got to focus on outcomes. The outcome is atmospheric emissions.”

“We should us whatever underlying technology are suitable for that.” “People paint themselves into an anti-coal corner or a pro-coal corner but the only question of relevance is to look at the atmospheric emissions.”

 Dr Finkel said Australia should be looking to natural gas as a transition fuel. “In the Finkel review we devote a whole chapter and a lot of discussion to the importance of natural gas as a transition fuel. If we use natural gas for the next 20-30 years a lot of it will make it so much easier to use more wind and solar.”

“But we deny ourselves natural gas it makes it more difficult to use wind and solar, so the pursuit of perfection gets in the way of the very good.”

Pressed on his argument that Australia could become the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied hydrogen gas — which was combustible and therefore equivalent to natural gas — Dr Finkel said it was because we have “fabulous resources” here.

The Coalition has struggled with energy policy and has effectively abandoned the emissions reduction component of the national energy guarantee, which was the government’s policy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the country will be able to meet its Paris climate agreement targets of reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 “in a canter”.

Dr Finkel said the government would need a whole new emissions reduction policy in order for that to happen.

“If you go back to the Finkel review where 49 out of the 50 recommendations were accepted, if all of that is done then I think there is a good chance,” he said.

“So one of the recommendations which was accepted by the government was that by the end of 2020 the government should develop a whole of economy emissions reduction strategy. So if you count that as part of the policy development then I think we can.”

Dr Finkel said small modular reactors might reinvigorate the debate about nuclear power in the future.

He also restated his interest in hydrogen as an alternative energy source - which can be produced with hardly any emissions.




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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