Monday, November 25, 2019

That wicked air pollution again

The article below is a riot of statistics but one thing it sedulously avoids is any mention of effect sizes. The effect size in other studies of this topic is usually negligible so that may tell you why.

None of the previous studies of this topic are exactly comparable but some of them have been pretty powerful. For instance, a 2018 study included the entire Medicare population from January 1, 2000, to December 31, 2012. And their finding that only one in a million people die from particulate air pollution is pretty decisive. If you bother about that tiny risk, you should never get out of bed.

In the present study, even a probability statistic or two would have been of some help, though the large sample size would show just about any effect as statistically significant.  The text of the article does imply that effect size statistics can be found in the supplementary material but when I clicked on the heading of the relevant table there nothing happened.  Very suspicious.

There are however some indications that the effects were very weak. The authors' reliance on inter-quartile ranges is characteristic of what you do when there is no overall significance in the data. And take the sentence below:

"PM2.5 exposure was associated with excess burden of death due to cardiovascular disease (56070.1 deaths [95% uncertainty interval {UI}, 51940.2-60318.3 deaths])"

As far as I can work out the number of deaths was just about in the middle of the uncertainty interval, again suggesting that nothing much was going on. One hopes that the authors provide some real and accessible statistics about effect size soon.

The big hole in studies of this topic is failure to take account of income.  Poor people commonly have much worse health and unless income is controlled for you may be simply seeing the effects of poverty, not what you think you are seeing.

To their credit, the authors did use an expansive demographic statistic to provide some sort of control on their results.  But their procedure there was rather brain-dead -- or perhaps the procedure of someone who doesn't really want to deal with demographics.  They created an Area Deprivation Index (ADI), which ranks geographic locations by socioeconomic status disadvantage and is composed of education, employment, housing quality, and poverty measures.

One wonder exactly what "poverty measures" were.  Nothing as simple as individual income, it would seem.  And that was it:  No attempt to control for individual poverty.

So even if the ADI index was well done, that is not the end of the story. Using the characteristics of an area as a proxy for individual characteristics is quite desperate.  Any one area will include a considerable demographic range.  A poor person living in a rich are will be characterized as rich -- which is madness.

So once again the study founders on the rock of a failure to control for income.  The illnesses observed might have been effects of poverty, not air pollution.  For a variety of reasons, poor people are more exposed to air pollution, something this study does concede

And at risk of killing a dead horse, the pollution measures were also area statistics rather than individual statistics.  That assumes that everyone living in the same area breathes in the same amount of pollution.  I hope I don't have to give reasons why that may not be so

But air pollution SHOULD be bad for you, someone will say.  It probably is -- at some level. But is the level normally encountered in American cities bad for you?  That is what no-one so far has been able to establish reliably.

Given our evolutionary history of sitting around campfires for perhaps a million years, one would expect that evolution would have given us a substantial tolerance of inhaled air pollution.  That is probably what is actually revealed in studies like the present one

Burden of Cause-Specific Mortality Associated With PM2.5 Air Pollution in the United States

Benjamin Bowe et al.


Importance:  Ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution is associated with increased risk of several causes of death. However, epidemiologic evidence suggests that current knowledge does not comprehensively capture all causes of death associated with PM2.5 exposure.

Objective:  To systematically identify causes of death associated with PM2.5 pollution and estimate the burden of death for each cause in the United States.

Design, Setting, and Participants:  In a cohort study of US veterans followed up between 2006 and 2016, ensemble modeling was used to identify and characterize morphology of the association between PM2.5 and causes of death. Burden of death associated with PM2.5 exposure in the contiguous United States and for each state was then estimated by application of estimated risk functions to county-level PM2.5 estimates from the US Environmental Protection Agency and cause-specific death rate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Main Outcomes and Measures:  Nonlinear exposure-response functions of the association between PM2.5 and causes of death and burden of death associated with PM2.5.

Exposures:  Annual mean PM2.5 levels.

Results:  A cohort of 4 522 160 US veterans (4 243 462 [93.8%] male; median [interquartile range] age, 64.1 [55.7-75.5] years; 3 702 942 [82.0%] white, 667 550 [14.8%] black, and 145 593 [3.2%] other race) was followed up for a median (interquartile range) of 10.0 (6.8-10.2) years. In the contiguous United States, PM2.5 exposure was associated with excess burden of death due to cardiovascular disease (56 070.1 deaths [95% uncertainty interval {UI}, 51 940.2-60 318.3 deaths]), cerebrovascular disease (40 466.1 deaths [95% UI, 21 770.1-46 487.9 deaths]), chronic kidney disease (7175.2 deaths [95% UI, 5910.2-8371.9 deaths]), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (645.7 deaths [95% UI, 300.2-2490.9 deaths]), dementia (19 851.5 deaths [95% UI, 14 420.6-31 621.4 deaths]), type 2 diabetes (501.3 deaths [95% UI, 447.5-561.1 deaths]), hypertension (30 696.9 deaths [95% UI, 27 518.1-33 881.9 deaths]), lung cancer (17 545.3 deaths [95% UI, 15 055.3-20 464.5 deaths]), and pneumonia (8854.9 deaths [95% UI, 7696.2-10 710.6 deaths]). Burden exhibited substantial geographic variation. Estimated burden of death due to nonaccidental causes was 197 905.1 deaths (95% UI, 183 463.3-213 644.9 deaths); mean age-standardized death rates (per 100 000) due to nonaccidental causes were higher among black individuals (55.2 [95% UI, 50.5-60.6]) than nonblack individuals (51.0 [95% UI, 46.4-56.1]) and higher among those living in counties with high (65.3 [95% UI, 56.2-75.4]) vs low (46.1 [95% UI, 42.3-50.4]) socioeconomic deprivation; 99.0% of the burden of death due to nonaccidental causes was associated with PM2.5 levels below standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Conclusions and Relevance:  In this study, 9 causes of death were associated with PM2.5 exposure. The burden of death associated with PM2.5 was disproportionally borne by black individuals and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. Effort toward cleaner air might reduce the burden of PM2.5-associated deaths.

JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(11):e1915834. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.15834

Greta Thunberg and her handlers run from questions in Edmonton

Baltimore’s Answer to High Homicide Rates and Low School Performance? Ban Plastic Bags

What do you do when your community faces crushing poverty, failing schools, and disturbing homicide rates?

In Baltimore, the answer is: Ban plastic bags, of course. Yes, Charm City is saving the world, one plastic bag at a time.

The Baltimore City Council passed a citywide ban on retailers’ use of plastic bags at checkout on a 13-to-1 vote Monday. If that weren’t enough, the city will now put a 5-cent charge on paper bags.

The legislation now awaits signature by Mayor Bernard Young. If he signs it, it wouldn’t take effect until late next year.

Councilwoman Danielle McCray was the sole vote against the measure. Though she supported the ban on plastic bags, McCray opposed the new 5-cent tax on paper bags.

“I know that pennies add up,” she said on Baltimore’s WJZ-TV Channel 13. “I know that dollars add up, and my vote will be a consistent ‘no’ when it comes to unnecessary taxes on my constituents.”

The problem is, bag bans are not just annoying and inconvenient, they also add up to little more than virtue-signaling of being “environmentally conscious.”

There’s even evidence that they end up being worse for the environment.

A study by University of Sydney economist Rebecca Taylor in Australia found that banning plastic bags certainly caused customers to use fewer plastic shopping bags.

However, people began to use other kinds of plastic bags to make up for the lost supply.

Many customers actually reuse plastic bags for lining wastebaskets, among many other secondary uses. The study found that in areas that had plastic bag bans, there was a surge in the use of the thicker 4-gallon bags, which use more plastic.

The laws also create a huge uptick in the use of paper bags, which—according to some research—are actually worse for the environment than plastic bags.

The bottom line is, the bag bans have marginal or dubious value.

It’s notable that while Baltimore wages war on bags, the city has very real—and far worse—problems.

When one considers all of those problems, and then we see that the priority of Baltimore’s political leadership is getting rid of bags and tearing down Confederate statues, it’s no wonder the city is trapped in a cycle of despair.

As I wrote in August, when President Donald Trump harshly criticized the city in a tweet, Baltimore is dealing with a number of genuine crises.

Violent crime has spun out of control in recent years.

There were 342 homicides in Baltimore in 2017, the highest homicide count in the nation. The city recently hit 300 homicides, the fifth year in a row that has happened, with more than a month remaining in 2019.

In fact, the number of homicides is climbing in Baltimore while it’s falling around the rest of the country.

If that’s not bad enough, the city has an astounding amount of poverty to go along with crushingly high taxes.

Baltimore isn’t offering much hope for future generations, either. It has some of the lowest-performing public schools in the country, despite the fact that the city annually spends about $16,000 per student.

“In fourth- and eighth-grade reading, only 13 percent of city students are considered proficient or advanced,” according to The Baltimore Sun. “In fourth-grade math, 14 percent were proficient, and in eighth-grade math, 11 percent met the mark, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federally mandated test from the U.S. Department of Education.”

To top it all off, the city is contending with a heaping helping of corruption. The past three Baltimore mayors have resigned in disgrace.

Former Mayor Catherine Pugh, who at one time was billed as a “reformer,” resigned in May and has been charged with “conspiracy to commit wire fraud, seven counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of tax evasion,” Fox News reported.

Pugh was originally caught in a scheme allegedly involving kickbacks for selling her children’s books to hospitals, in which she was able to pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Rather than addressing these serious problems, Baltimore’s politicians opt for empty virtue-signaling. The residents of Baltimore are the ones left holding the bag, literally and figuratively.


New York's Burgeoning Electricity Crisis

Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo's regime is causing major headaches for New Yorkers. 

What happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object? When both are personified by Democrat New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, one gets an eco-radical whose “carbon neutral” policies may end up leaving thousands of business owners, residents, and builders in Brooklyn, Queens, and on Long Island without reliable energy service.

“Cuomo is a proud opponent of fossil fuels,” the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board explains. “But now that the consequences of his policies are harming people in the real world — those who can’t afford to escape to Florida — the Governor is blaming others.”

Because the governor has blocked shale fracking upstate, as well as several pipelines that would deliver natural gas from Pennsylvania, upstate New Yorkers are paying some of the highest electric bills in the country — as in 40% more for electricity than the people of Pennsylvania, and 15% more than those in in New Jersey. Moreover, 25% of them still use heating oil, which costs about $1,000 more per year than natural gas — and emits 40% more CO2, the “greenhouse gas” that is the bane of those who believe mankind is the ultimate culprit on a planet headed for extinction, unless we kowtow to the will of our internationalist overlords.

Overlords whose own commitment to eco-purity is overshadowed by a deeper commitment to mansions, limousines, private jets.

Last March, as a result of the aforementioned pipeline constraint championed by the governor, New York utility Con Edison halted natural-gas connections north of New York City. Last May, another power provider, the British-owned National Grid, announced a moratorium on new gas hook-ups following a decision by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to nix a proposed pipeline known as the Northeast Supply Enhancement project.

National Grid insisted its gas capacity is maxed out, and without construction of the pipeline, it couldn’t guarantee uninterrupted service to existing customers. By contrast, Cuomo, other elected officials, and eco-advocates insist the utility company is holding its customers hostage to its demands for approval of the pipeline, and that the company never seriously investigated alternative methods of delivering energy.

Last month, Cuomo played both ends against the middle in an effort to escape the consequences of his policies. Earlier in the month, his administration ordered National Grid to provide electricity to 1,157 customers who had been denied service because of the moratorium on new hookups. The Public Service Commission (PSC), which licenses and oversees public utility companies, warned National Grid that a failure to do so would precipitate “millions of dollars in penalties.”

National Grid pledged to deliver the gas, but once again explained the obvious problem of meeting demand when supply is artificially constrained. “We stand by our analysis and there are very real gas supply constraints in the northeast,” stated said National Grid spokeswoman Karen Young in an email.

A little less than two weeks later, in the midst of further attacks on National Grid, Cuomo directed his animus at the PSC, despite the reality that the PSC is, as Politico put it, “a quasi-independent commission he effectively controls.” The governor wrote a letter to PSC Chairman John Rhodes in which he admitted that National Grid’s assertion of supply issues “was not a startling insight.” He excoriated Rhodes and his agency’s failure “to adequately anticipate, respond, or prevent this harm which was your regulatory duty.”

Cuomo persisted. “I also want to know when and how we eliminate an abusive utility from the state to protect consumers,” he added. “To that end, I want the specific explanation of potential grounds for revocation of National Grid’s license and its liability for the damage that has already been incurred and future damages which will be incurred over the following 12 to 18 months as development is delayed for additional projects is needed.”

On Nov. 12, Cuomo sent a letter to National Grid, giving the utility 14 days notice “of my intention to revoke National Grid’s certificate to operate its downstate gas franchise.” He also ordered the utility to explore “short-term options” he alleged the utility “either deliberately, negligently or incompetently refused to secure” to increase supply. They included transporting natural gas by tanker or truck, the proposal of other infrastructure, and the installation of additional unloading facilities, which he considered viable alternatives, courtesy of a company that he finds “grossly negligent” or one that “deliberately defrauded” the people of New York.

Yet as the Journal notes, several inconvenient realities intrude. “Building barges would require environmental permitting and is opposed by green groups in any case. National Grid already plans to deliver compressed natural gas by truck during the winter, but what if a snow storm closes roads?” The Journal’s editorial board further notes the irony of Cuomo’s pipeline veto below New York Harbor that “could reduce annual CO2 emissions by the equivalent of 500,000 cars on the road,” as opposed to his embargo, which “is raising state emissions.”

“National Grid is in receipt of the letter from Governor Cuomo and will review and respond accordingly within the timeframe outlined in the letter,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “We continue to work with all parties on these critical natural gas supply issues on behalf of all our customers in downstate New York.”

In the meantime, Cuomo boasted about his leverage: “This would be one of the most lucrative franchises in the country.”

Perhaps, but one might think if the governor makes good on his promise to end National Grid’s franchise, getting another utility willing to be browbeaten by the governor, hamstrung by the PSC, and very likely sued by a number of the state’s eco-warriors for any attempt to provide power that doesn’t comport with the state’s agenda to be “carbon neutral” by 2050, might prove problematic.

It is worth remembering that New York also sued energy giant Exxon for alleged securities fraud related to global warming. “Additionally, more than a dozen ‘public nuisance’ lawsuits seek to hold energy companies responsible for billions of taxpayer dollars spent on acclimating to a warming world, or picking up the pieces following unprecedented hurricanes, floods and wildfires,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “Rhode Island filed such a complaint last year, while a dozen city governments from California, Washington, Colorado, Maryland and New York have also sued.”

What they haven’t done? They haven’t given up using fossil fuels. Gas stations are still open, homes are still being heated and cooled, and the numerous products — many of which are critical to maintaining a modern society — are still being sold.

In other words, eco-talk is cheap. Moreover, what is happening in New York is a great harbinger in miniature of the devastating real-world consequences that the Democrat Party’s Green New Deal would engender.

Everyone wants a clean planet. But magic solutions, whereby reliance on fossil fuels can simply be mandated away by eco-warriors — many of whom will buy “carbon offsets” in a self-serving effort to preserve their own greenhouse gas-spewing lifestyles — and their overwhelming hypocrisy — aren’t part of the equation.


The politicians are responsible for Australia's big fires, says the NYT

The NYT has noticed Australia's bushfires.  Bushfires suit their agenda a lot better than the punishing cold that is gripping most of America at the moment. On the U.S. data they would have to be talking about global cooling!

As was to be expected from the NYT, the fires are said to be all due to global warming.  Global warming explains everything, it seems.  

It would be good if we DID have warming at the moment.  Ocean warming would evaporate off more water vapor, which comes back down as rain, which would tend to put the fires out.  A warmer world would be a wetter world, much less conducive to fires.  Bring on that elusive warming!

Excerpt only below

As was to be expected from the NYT, the fires are said to be all due to global warming.  Global warming explains everything, it seems.

It would be good if we DID have warming at the moment.  Ocean warming would evaporate off more water vapor, which comes back down as rain, which would tend to put the fires out.  A warmer world would be a wetter world, much less conducive to fires.  Bring on that elusive warming!

Excerpt only below

When a mass shooting shattered Australia in 1996, the country banned automatic weapons. In its first years of independence, it enacted a living-wage law. Stable retirement savings, national health care, affordable college education — Australia solved all these issues decades ago.

But climate change is Australia’s labyrinth without an exit, where its pragmatism disappears.

The wildfires that continued raging on Wednesday along the country’s eastern coast have revealed that the politics of climate in Australia resist even the severe pressure that comes from natural disaster.

Instead of common-sense debate, there are culture war insults. The deputy prime minister calls people who care about climate change “raving inner-city lunatics.” Another top official suggests that supporting the Greens party can be fatal. And while the government is working to meet the immediate need — fighting fires, delivering assistance — citizens are left asking why more wasn’t done earlier as they demand solutions.

“We still don’t have an energy policy, we don’t have effective climate policy — it’s really very depressing,” said Susan Harris Rimmer, an associate professor at Griffith Law School. [LAW school?]

But in Australia, where coal is king and water is scarce, the country’s citizens have spent the week simmering with fear, shame and alarm. As a 500-mile stretch from Sydney to Byron Bay continued to face catastrophic fire conditions, with 80 separate blazes burning and at least four deaths reported, Australians have watched, awe-struck, as life-changing destruction has been met with political sniping.

Michael McCormack, the No. 2 official in the conservative government, kicked it off on Monday, telling listeners of the country’s most popular morning radio programs that fire victims needed assistance, not “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies.”

Barnaby Joyce, the government’s special envoy for drought assistance, followed up by suggesting that two people killed by fires near a town called Glen Innes over the weekend might have contributed to their own deaths if they supported the Greens.

The victims’ neighbors called his comments “absolutely disgraceful.”

But a Greens party senator responded with his own outrage: He said the major parties were “no better than arsonists,” an insult carrying special weight for the world’s most arid inhabited continent....

Just a few days before the fires, for example, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a mining group that new laws were needed to crack down on climate activists and progressives who “want to tell you where to live, what job you can have, what you can say and what you can think.”

What’s galling for many scientists is that the public wants the federal government to do more; polls consistently show that Australians see climate change as a major threat requiring aggressive intervention.



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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