Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Against Climate Panic, for Climate Hope

We must craft a conservative, ecomodernist vision of environmental action.

Yesterday I read one of the sadder articles I’ve read in a long time. It’s in BuzzFeed, and it’s the personal story of a young woman who became a “birth striker.” That’s a person who chooses not to have children — as an act of personal autonomy, yes, but also as a statement of despair at the state and fate of the world.

It’s difficult to overstate the bleakness of her vision. When friends tell her that her children could be agents of change, she responds:

"I want to agree with them, but I can’t. Because we are in a crisis, an emergency. And my kid won’t solve it, and your kid won’t solve it. If they are empaths they will feel just as trapped as I do, just as complicit in something they cannot solve — and they will pollute and harm and gobble up the world because that is what it means to live in the 21st century."

When she had an unintended pregnancy, she tried to get an abortion but couldn’t afford the procedure. When she told her environmentalist friends that she was pregnant, “they froze. Did I know that abortion was an option? they asked. As if I did not. One friend sat silently for a long time after I told him, and then sniffed. ‘That baby will use up a lot of resources,’ he said, then got up slowly and biked away.”

She gave her child up for adoption. She loves her daughter, and she’s “glad she exists,” but she also says that “her existence — white, middle class, pampered — will make it harder, in some slippery, maddening math that is not her fault, for others to do the same.”

The author’s words echo the despair of another writer, who wrote these words last year in the pages of the New York Times:

"I cried two times when my daughter was born. First for joy, when after 27 hours of labor the little feral being we’d made came yowling into the world, and the second for sorrow, holding the earth’s newest human and looking out the window with her at the rows of cars in the hospital parking lot, the strip mall across the street, the box stores and drive-throughs and drainage ditches and asphalt and waste fields that had once been oak groves. A world of extinction and catastrophe, a world in which harmony with nature had long been foreclosed. My partner and I had, in our selfishness, doomed our daughter to life on a dystopian planet, and I could see no way to shield her from the future."

There is now such a thing as “climate-change anxiety,” and as the Washington Post reported last month, it’s filtering into pop culture. A key subplot in one episode of the HBO series Big Little Lies featured a child suffering an actual panic attack during a classroom climate-change discussion. In another HBO show, Euphoria, a character justifies her drug use by claiming that “the world’s coming to an end, and I haven’t even graduated high school yet.”

I’m reminded of the nuclear fears that haunted my generation. I grew up during intense Cold War tensions. As a young nerd, I even tried to calculate whether our house was in the blast radius if the Soviets targeted the Bluegrass Army Depot, a nearby storage facility for chemical weapons. I remember watching The Day After when I was 14 years old, and the next morning it was all anyone talked about in my Kentucky public school.

I’m not going to say that nuclear fears dominated our minds, but they certainly dominated some minds, and the anxiety could be very real.

But I think there’s a key difference between climate-change anxiety and nuclear anxiety: There is far more cause for hope for the future now than there was then. In fact, if you rewind to 1983, we were facing a recent world experience that clearly taught us that catastrophic great-power conflict wasn’t just possible but was the recent norm in human affairs. Two opposing powers faced each other, bristling with weapons, and history taught us that this was a recipe for total war. We did not have concrete reason to hope for the peace that did, in fact, come.

But what is recent history teaching us about the human condition on this planet? It gives us both cause for concern and reason for hope. One does not have to buy the doomsday scenarios — including the predictions that we have a decade (or less) to save the planet — to be concerned about humanity’s impact on the climate and the climate’s impact on humans. I am concerned, and I do believe we should take reasonable measures to mitigate that impact.

But we should not give into dystopian thinking. The same human ingenuity and industry that has extended life expectancies, slashed extreme poverty by 74 percent in 25 years, and also reduced carbon emissions in numerous advanced economies can advance the twin, interconnected goals of human flourishing and planetary flourishing.

In fact, as Tyler Cowen argued at Bloomberg in March, the reality of human ingenuity argues for having more children, not fewer. He asks, “Is the remedy for climate change, to the extent we find one, more likely to come from North America or New Zealand?” As he notes, “the wealthier and more populous America is a more likely source of technological innovation, even though it is also a more significant source of greenhouse gases.”

Earlier this week, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, my friend Ted Nordhaus, founder of the Breakthrough Institute, highlighted U.S. investments in two technologies, shale gas and nuclear power, that have generated immense benefits:

Washington may have wasted billions of dollars in the 1970s and 1980s on synthetic fuels, but during the same period, it spent a fraction of that on shale gas, which has brought such extraordinary economic benefits to the U.S. economy that it alone has probably made up for the cost of all other federal energy investments since the end of World War II. . . . U.S. investments in nuclear energy have proved similarly efficient. Over the last half-century, nuclear plants have avoided somewhere between 15 and 20 gigatons of carbon emissions, at a cost of less than $5 per ton.

Nordhaus is a coauthor the “Ecomodernist Manifesto,” an environmentalist document that utterly contradicts the modern conservative caricature of environmentalism and rebuts the bleak vision of “birth strikers” and other dystopian doomsayers. It’s not a new document — it was written in 2015 — but it’s one that too few conservatives (not too mention too few Christians) have read.

It leaves ample room for political disagreement about costs, approach, and policy, but it holds that human well-being can be increasingly decoupled from the destruction of nature. It begins, “To say that the Earth is a human planet becomes truer every day. Humans are made from the Earth, and the Earth is remade by human hands. Many earth scientists express this by stating that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. As scholars, scientists, campaigners, and citizens, we write with the conviction that knowledge and technology, applied with wisdom, might allow for a good, or even great, Anthropocene.”

Amen to that.

When I read the despair evident on the virtual pages of BuzzFeed and the New York Times — and portrayed on HBO — it grieves me not because there isn’t cause for concern but because there is no need for panic. It transmits the mistaken view that care for the environment means that we must minimize the inherent worth of humanity or hold back development from those countless millions of souls who seek the same bounty and opportunity that’s now baked into the our world’s advanced economies.

In his Foreign Policy essay, Nordhaus seeks to shift the “climate debate from one in which one party posits an existential threat demanding solutions that serve its own interests and the other denies that the problem even exists for similar reasons.” His alternative is what he calls a “quiet climate policy.” This he defines as “the art of the possible, focused on reducing the costs of action, disentangling climate policy from the ideological disputes and electoral calculations, . . . and lowering the political threshold for meaningful action.”

Amen to that as well. Quiet climate policy depends on understanding not only that a challenge exists but also that panic is counterproductive and polarization should be shunned. It also depends on a few fundamental assertions — we are not doomed, human beings should flourish, and our God-given ingenuity and creativity can craft the instruments of our own environmental rescue.


An interesting BBC interview from the year 2010

Phil Jones is director of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA), which has been at the centre of the row over hacked e-mails.

The BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin put questions to Professor Jones, including several gathered from climate sceptics. The questions were put to Professor Jones with the co-operation of UEA's press office.

A - Do you agree that according to the global temperature record used by the IPCC, the rates of global warming from 1860-1880, 1910-1940 and 1975-1998 were identical?

An initial point to make is that in the responses to these questions I've assumed that when you talk about the global temperature record, you mean the record that combines the estimates from land regions with those from the marine regions of the world. CRU produces the land component, with the Met Office Hadley Centre producing the marine component.

Temperature data for the period 1860-1880 are more uncertain, because of sparser coverage, than for later periods in the 20th Century. The 1860-1880 period is also only 21 years in length. As for the two periods 1910-40 and 1975-1998 the warming rates are not statistically significantly different (see numbers below).

I have also included the trend over the period 1975 to 2009, which has a very similar trend to the period 1975-1998.

So, in answer to the question, the warming rates for all 4 periods are similar and not statistically significantly different from each other.

B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

C - Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?

No. This period is even shorter than 1995-2009. The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant.

D - Do you agree that natural influences could have contributed significantly to the global warming observed from 1975-1998, and, if so, please could you specify each natural influence and express its radiative forcing over the period in Watts per square metre.

This area is slightly outside my area of expertise. When considering changes over this period we need to consider all possible factors (so human and natural influences as well as natural internal variability of the climate system). Natural influences (from volcanoes and the Sun) over this period could have contributed to the change over this period. Volcanic influences from the two large eruptions (El Chichon in 1982 and Pinatubo in 1991) would exert a negative influence. Solar influence was about flat over this period. Combining only these two natural influences, therefore, we might have expected some cooling over this period.

More HERE 

What It Will Take for the Wind and Solar Industries to Collapse?

The solar electricity industry is dependent on federal government subsidies for building new capacity.  The subsidy consists of a 30% tax credit and the use of a tax scheme called tax equity finance.  These subsidies are delivered during the first five years.

For wind, there is subsidy during the first five to ten years resulting from tax equity finance.  There is also a production subsidy that lasts for the first ten years.

The other subsidy for wind and solar, not often characterized as a subsidy, is state renewable portfolio laws, or quotas, that require that an increasing portion of a state's electricity come from renewable sources.  Those state mandates result in wind and solar electricity being sold via profitable 25-year power purchase contracts.  The buyer is generally a utility with good credit.  The utilities are forced to offer these terms in order to cause sufficient supply to emerge to satisfy the renewable energy quotas.

The rate of return from a wind or solar investment can be low and credit terms favorable because the investors see the 25-year contract by a creditworthy utility as a guarantee of a low risk of default.  If the risk were to be perceived as higher, then a higher rate of return and a higher interest rate on loans would be demanded.  That in turn would increase the price of the electricity generated.

The bankruptcy of PG&E, the largest California utility, has created some cracks in the façade.  A bankruptcy judge has ruled that cancelation of up to $40 billion in long-term energy contracts is a possibility.  These contracts are not essential or needed to preserve the supply of electricity because they are mostly for wind or solar electricity supply that varies with the weather and can't be counted on.  As a consequence, there has to exist and does exist the necessary infrastructure to supply the electricity needs without the wind or solar energy.

Probably the judge will be overruled for political reasons, or the state will step in with a bailout.  Utilities have to keep operating, no matter what.  Ditching wind and solar contracts would make California politicians look foolish because they have long touted wind and solar as the future of energy.

PG&E is in bankruptcy because California applies strict liability for damages from forest fires started by electric lines, no matter who is really at fault.  Almost certainly the government is at fault for not anticipating the danger of massive fires and for not enforcing strict fire prevention and protection.  Massive fire damage should be protected by insurance, not by the utility, even if the fire was started by a power line.  The fire in question could just as well have been started by lightning or a homeless person.  PG&E previously filed bankruptcy in 2001, also a consequence of abuse of the utility by the state government.

By far the most important subsidy is the renewable portfolio laws.  Even if the federal subsidies are reduced, the quota for renewable energy will force price increases to keep the renewable energy industry in business, because it has to stay in business to supply energy to meet the quota.  Other plausible methods of meeting the quota have been outlawed by the industry's friends in the state governments.  Nuclear and hydro, neither of which generates CO2 emissions, are not allowed.  Hydro is not strictly prohibited — only hydro that involves dams and diversions.  That is very close to all hydro.  Another reason hydro is banned is that environmental groups don't like dams.

For technical reasons, an electrical grid cannot run on wind or solar much more than 50% of the time.  The fleet of backup plants must be online to provide adjustable output to compensate for erratic variations in wind or solar.  Output has to be ramped up to meet early-evening peaks.  Wind suffers from a cube power law, meaning that if the wind drops by 10%, the electricity drops by 30%.  Solar suffers from too much generation in the middle of the day and not enough generation to meet early evening peaks in consumption.

When a "too much generation" situation happens, the wind or solar has to be curtailed.  That means that the operators are told to stop delivering electricity.  In many cases, they are not paid for the electricity they could have delivered.  Some contracts require that they be paid according to a model that figures out how much they could have generated according to the recorded weather conditions. The more wind and solar, the more curtailments as the amount of erratic electricity approaches the allowable limits.  Curtailment is an increasing threat, as quotas increase, to the financial health of wind and solar.

There is a movement to include batteries with solar installations to move excessive middle-of-the-day generation to the early evening.  This is a palliative to extend the time before solar runs into the curtailment wall.  The batteries are extremely expensive and wear out every five years.

Neither wind nor solar is competitive without subsidies.  If the subsidies and quotas were taken away, no wind or solar operation outside very special situations would be built.  Further, the existing installations would continue only as long as their contracts are honored and they are cash flow–positive.  In order to be competitive, without subsidies, wind or solar would have to supply electricity for less than $20 per megawatt-hour, the marginal cost of generating the electricity with gas or coal.  Only the marginal cost counts, because the fossil fuel plants have to be there whether or not there is wind or solar.  Without the subsidies, quotas, and 25-year contracts, wind or solar would have to get about $100 per megawatt-hour for its electricity.  That gap, between $100 and $20, is a wide chasm only bridged by subsidies and mandates.

The cost of using wind and solar for reducing CO2 emissions is very high.  The most authoritative and sincere promoters of global warming loudly advocate using nuclear, a source that is not erratic, does not emit CO2 or pollution, and uses the cheapest fuel.  One can buy carbon offsets for 10 or 20 times less than the cost of reducing CO2 emissions with wind or solar.  A carbon offset is a scheme where the buyer pays the seller to reduce world emissions of CO2.  This is done in a variety of ways by the sellers.

The special situations where wind and solar can be competitive are remote locations using imported oil to generate electricity.  In those situations, the marginal cost of the electricity may be $200 per megawatt-hour or more.  Newfoundland comes to mind — for wind, not solar.

Maintenance costs for solar are low.  For wind, maintenance costs are high, and major components, such as propeller blades and gearboxes, may fail, especially as the turbines age.  These heavy and awkward objects are located hundreds of feet above ground.  There exists a danger that wind farms will fail once the inflation-protected subsidy of $24 per megawatt-hour runs out after ten years.  At that point, turbines that need expensive repairs may be abandoned.  Wind turbine graveyards from the first wind fad in the 1970s can be seen near Palm Springs, California.  Wind farms can't receive the production subsidy unless they can sell the electricity.  That has resulted paying customers to "buy" the electricity.

A significant financial risk is that the global warming narrative may collapse.  If belief in the reality of the global warming threat collapses, then the major intellectual support for renewable energy will collapse.  It is ironic that the promoters of global warming are campaigning to require companies to take into account the threat of global warming in their financial projections.  If the companies do this in an honest manner, they also have to take into account the possibility that the threat will evaporate.  My own best guess, after considerable technical study, is that it is near a sure thing that the threat of global warming is imaginary and largely invented by the people who benefit.  Adding CO2 to the atmosphere has well understood positive effects for the growth of crops and the greening of deserts.

The conservative investors who make long-term investments in wind or solar may be underestimating the risks involved.  For example, an article in Chief Investment Officer magazine stated that CalPERS, the giant California public employees retirement fund, is planning to expand investments in renewable energy, characterized as "stable cash flowing assets."  That article was written before the bankruptcy of PG&E.  The article also stated that competition among institutional investors for top yielding investments in the alternative energy space is fierce.

Wind and solar are not competitive and never will be.  They have been pumped up into supposedly solid investments by means of ill advised subsidies and mandates.  At some point, the governments will wake up to the waste and foolishness involved.  At that point, the value of these investments will collapse.  It won't be the first time that investment experts made bad investments because they don't really understand what is going on.


Offshore Wind Fiascos Illustrate the Absurdity of Climate Change Policies

Offshore wind projects make little environmental and no economic sense. They are boondoggles and reflect the rent-seeking corporatism behind climate policy.

Despite its high cost, states along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Virginia are planning to invest in offshore wind. Massachusetts is preparing to obtain power from more than a score of huge wind turbines off its coast, carried to the mainland by underwater cables, with the cost passed through to households and businesses.

New Jersey regulators just selected Ørsted, a Danish energy company, to build giant wind turbines 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic City that will generate 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind. Connecticut is set to start its initial offshore wind solicitation with the aim of getting 2,000 megawatts by 2030. Maryland has plans for two wind farms off the coast of Ocean City with a 328-foot meteorological tower to be installed in July about 17 miles off the coast in advance of the US Wind offshore wind farm project. New York has plans for wind farms off the coast of Long Island.

Offshore wind

To date, the nation’s only offshore wind turbines are located off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. The Block Island Wind Farm went into operation in late 2016, costing $300 million—$10,000 per kilowatt—for five wind turbines totaling 30 megawatts of capacity. Operating and maintenance expenses for offshore wind farms currently add about $80,000 per megawatt each year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Despite its high cost, this wind farm is perhaps the only project made at least some sense since Block Island had relied on high-cost electricity generated by diesel generators that obtained their fuel from floating tankers ferried across 18 miles of water. Meanwhile, though, Rhode Island is planning another offshore wind project—an 84-wind turbine farm in waters south of Martha’s Vineyard, costing $2 billion-plus $16.7 million to compensate companies that lost access to fishing grounds.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the levelized cost of a new offshore wind turbine is more than double the cost of an onshore wind turbine and over three times the cost of a new combined-cycle unit.


Virginia’s State Corporation Commission approved a project to construct 12-megawatts of wind turbines 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach in federal waters. The plan is to have the wind turbines operating by the end of 2020, making that project a steppingstone to the state’s goal of 2 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2028. The project is intended to determine how the technology works and performs in the Atlantic Ocean, with its potential for hurricane-force winds.

New Jersey

New Jersey’s Ocean Wind project is expected to begin construction in early 2020. The Ocean Wind project offered a first-year Offshore Wind Renewable Energy Certificate price of $98.10 per megawatt-hour—which represents costs paid by ratepayers before they are refunded for energy and capacity revenues generated from the wind project. That price is two to three times more than the cost of generating power from existing coal, nuclear, and natural gas resources. The Ocean Wind project is expected to result in an estimated monthly increase on utility bills of $1.46 for residential customers, $13.05 for commercial customers, and $110.10 for industrial customers. It is estimated that the project will create over 15,000 direct jobs during its 25-year expected life and generate $1.17 billion in economic benefits.

New Jersey’s Ocean Wind project is a major step toward fulfilling Governor Phil Murphy’s promise to install 3,500 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030. Governor Murphy has directed the state’s regulators to solicit 1,200 megawatts in 2020 and 2022. New Jersey’s offshore wind will be subsidized through charges on ratepayers’ utility bills.


The 328-foot tall meteorological tower, in roughly the middle of US Wind’s approved Wind Energy Area, will be used to collect wind resource data within the Maryland lease area before the 32 huge offshore wind turbines are installed. The installation of the met tower will begin in mid-July with a construction schedule of about 10 days. The tower will have a braced caisson foundation sunk at a water depth of 88 feet, a steel deck, and a galvanized steel mast. The construction area will include a lift barge, cargo barge, a tow tug, and several crew boats. US Wind requested a 500-meter safety buffer during the tower construction. The project is expected to create roughly 7,000 direct and indirect jobs in Maryland including an in-state investment of nearly $1.5 billion.

Ocean City wants the turbines to be sited 26 miles offshore where they should not be visible by tourists on the coast. The town council believes visible turbines would have a detrimental impact on the views from the Ocean City shore and on property values. The council is also not happy with the timing of the meteorological tower installation because it is so close to the White Marlin Open held in early August. Commercial fishermen are concerned about losing equipment and that the construction and noise will scare fish and other seafood away.


State politicians and regulators are going ahead with offshore wind farms despite their cost, impact on ratepayers, and concerns of fishermen and city councils. The tourist industry is a major contributor to the economies of Virginia Beach, Atlantic City, and Ocean City where the wind turbines are to be located. Increasing the cost of power, disrupting views, and scaring away sea life will not help those economies continue to flourish.


Australia: One in five solar units ‘defective’

More than one in five rooftop solar installations on Australian homes were found to be substandard in 2018 amid a boom in the renewable energy source driven by cheaper costs and government rebates.

More than 20 per cent or 748 of the 3678 solar units inspected last year were found to be substandard, meaning defects were found such as incorrect wiring that could lead to “premature” equipment failure, Clean Energy Regulator data shows.

The government’s renewables regulator has been conducting random inspections of rooftop solar units across the nation since 2011, with the average number of substandard systems recorded at 17.7 per cent as of July 2018. Last year’s figure of 20.3 per cent marked a jump and was also a slight increase on the 19.8 per cent of systems labelled substandard in 2017.

The number of unsafe systems, defined as a possible safety hazard, also grew slightly with 80 out of 3678 solar units receiving the rating, equating to a rate of 2.2 per cent compared with 1.9 per cent in 2017. Common issues included water found in electrical components and products subject to recalls.

The growth of solar continues to accelerate in Australia with 2.15 million households now owning rooftop systems spurred by the falling cost of kit and subsidies at federal and state level.

The technology’s rampant growth is helping to reset the generation mix of the nation’s power grid while the growth of rooftop solar contributed to prices hitting zero across the entire national electricity market last Sunday, underlining new-found volatility for electricity generators in the market.

Growth in solar will continue over the next decade even as subsidies are retired, the regulator said.

“We continue to see growth in rooftop photovoltaic for households and businesses, even as the level of the support from subsidies under the Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme gradually decreases between now and when the scheme ends in 2030,” Clean Energy Regulator chairman David Parker said.

The number of accredited installers working in Australia and New Zealand surged by more than 1000 to 5922 by the end of 2018 with the Clean Energy Council taking action against 590 installers or roughly 10 per cent of the entire workforce, the report found.

New guidelines to improve safety and quality effective July 1 will cut the number of jobs an installer can sign off on to two from three while ongoing work with product manufacturers and safety regulators is being conducted to improve safety concerns.

In Victoria, the Andrews government’s solar subsidy was plunged into disarray this week with the staggered nature of the $2225 subsidy leading to a boom and bust cycle and forcing some businesses to the brink.

The $1.3 billion Solar Homes program — launched last year in the lead-up to the election — was designed to help 770,000 households invest in solar while creating 5500 new jobs and slashing carbon emissions.

However, the Smart Energy Council, which organised a mass protest on Thursday over the rollout of the scheme, yesterday urged those affected to meet with their local MPs to try and reset the system.



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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