Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Conservation is not the same thing as climate action

There's no such thing as a happy Greenie

Over the last few years, the U.S. has finally started making real progress on combating climate change. Battery and solar prices are falling faster than anticipated, electric cars are moving from niche to mainstream, and there has been substantial federal investment in grid modernization and clean energy research.

But as the pace of electrification picks up, new clean energy projects are facing opposition from what seems like an unlikely source: large environmental organizations.

America’s biggest green groups are over and over again lining up on the wrong side of decarbonization. The Audubon Society is suing to block California wind farms. The Natural Resources Defense Council supported closing nuclear power plants in New York and California.. The Sunrise Movement is supporting a moratorium on large solar projects in Amherst, MA. And the Sierra Club has organized opposition to solar projects in Florida, California, Maryland and elsewhere.

In Nevada, the Sierra Club and groups like it were the primary challenger to a 14-square-mile solar project. The reason? Affection for the plot of land, which also shelters endangered tortoises.

Big environmental groups frequently say they are ardent supporters of decarbonization. But all too often the groups also say that the tradeoffs needed to construct clean energy infrastructure are too great.

What’s going on here?

The core of the problem is that these groups were founded on principles of conservation—an inherently small-c conservative concept. That’s dangerous during a climate crisis that calls for radical action. Meanwhile, their structure has also made them vulnerable to NIMBYism—raising the temptation to value the fate of a few acres of land over potentially game-changing climate solutions.

Many of our largest environmental orgs gained prominence in an era when people thought the main environmental threat was development.

To understand how environmental groups became influential opponents of climate action, it’s worth going back to their renaissance during the 1960s and 70s. The U.S. was coming off of several decades of postwar prosperity. Families had bought cars and houses in the suburbs. But a growing number of folks were starting to notice and lament the negative side effects of sprawl–like smog, water pollution and the loss of wilderness areas close to cities. The cultural backlash against development in this era is captured by songs like “Little Boxes” and “Big Yellow Taxi,” with its now-famous refrain: “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

The environmentalist response was simple and effective: conservation. Slow down development. Stop sprawl. Regulate or prohibit air and water pollution. Protect open spaces.

The movement was extremely successful, both in terms of impact and popularity. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts helped improve air and water quality. Groups like the Sierra Club and Audobon Society spun up local chapters across the country to lobby local governments. And environmentalists succeeded in institutionalizing many of their concerns about local development through legislation like the California Environmental Quality Act that instituted legenthly environmental reviews of proposed construction projects.

Now, though, the problems facing the environment are wildly different–and require more development not less.

Conservation is not the same thing as climate action.

Conservation is a conservative impulse, but right now, the climate threat calls for sweeping changes to our physical environment. Our best shot at mitigating the impact of climate change is to electrify every process in our economy as quickly as possible: We need to preserve clean energy infrastructure like hydro and legacy nuclear power plants. We need to build a ton of new wind and solar fast. And we need to find and harvest the raw materials needed for batteries.

All of these projects pose tradeoffs: They’re important from a climate standpoint, but bad from a conservation standpoint. To state the obvious: If you build a solar farm in the desert, it is no longer a natural desert habitat, it’s a solar farm. Meanwhile, wind farms do kill some birds. Hydro dams (though we aren’t likely to build more since we’ve already used the best sites), do disrupt fish, and nuclear plants still scare people.

So it’s not actually surprising that conservation groups like the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and the NRDC regularly oppose specific clean energy projects, even while they acknowledge the importance of a rapid energy transition.

The tradeoffs are a hard problem for organizations to wrestle with, particularly when many of our biggest environmental groups were founded specifically with a goal of conservation. The Audubon Society was created to protect birds and the Sierra Club was founded by mountaineers. The Natural Resources Defense Council, meanwhile, grew out of opposition to a hydro-electric project on the Hudson River. Until very recently, their agendas were focused on protecting what already existed–not embracing rapid change.

For its part, the national Sierra Club leadership seems to be trying to put more emphasis on supporting clean energy projects than it did in the past. Its platform calls for 100% clean energy now, and the organization's national magazine even published a story about the threat NIMBYs pose to renewable energy. But when you have an organization that has fought for conservation for over 100 years, and whose entire playbook and tool kit is designed to stop or at least delay change, embracing clean energy development can be hard.

Many conservation groups have a structure that makes them chaotic, and vulnerable to NIMBYs.

One of the reasons the Sierra Club was so successful at advancing its agenda in the late 20th century is that it was organized as a chapter-based membership organization. Local chapters popped up across the country where the most passionate members could organize around local issues, lobby local politicians, and talk to the press, all with the credibility of the Sierra Club name behind them. The Audubon Society, and more recently the Sunrise Movement, followed a similar model.

This structure enabled the groups to take on many more fights than they otherwise would have, and helped broaden their influence within state and local governments across the country. Wherever you went, there was likely a Sierra Club chapter ready to weigh in on local development projects.

Now, that structure means that the groups’ power can be high-jacked to protect members’ backyards. For example, last year, the Sierra Club of Iowa came out swinging against a solar project. The weight of its message was increased by the imprimatur of the national brand—normie voters don’t know the difference—even though the national organization has said it’s pro-solar development. The phenomenon is particularly damaging when it comes to dense, walkable housing developments, which can radically improve each residents’ energy efficiency over single-family housing–but which local nature-lovers tend to object to on aesthetic or conservation grounds.

In 2017, the California Sierra Club helped defeat a statewide upzoning bill the New York Times described as some of the most ambitious climate legislation in state history.

Last fall, the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club and the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the Audubon Society sent a joint letter (Pg. 25) to the City of Mountain View, California opposing new housing. The reason? The development would reduce the number of trees motorists could see while driving down the highway. Then there was that time the San Francisco Sierra club fought to preserve a parking garage.


Global warming has saved 500,000 lives in England and Wales in the last 20 years

Something has

Warmer weather in the UK rarely reaches temperatures that cause direct heat-related harms. While the reduction in deaths may relate to climate change, some evidence also suggests the population has reduced vulnerability to cold

This article estimates the change in deaths and hospital admissions associated with rising average temperatures in England and Wales in 2001 to 2020; the trends are relevant to climate change but may also reflect other factors such as improved healthcare and housing.

These experimental statistics are a step towards regular, transparent Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates of climate-health impacts, which are diagnosis-specific and inform policy-makers and the public. Our methods will develop over time and should be read alongside important government reports and the scientific literature on climate risk.

We found relatively little increase in deaths caused by warmer weather and a reduction in deaths caused by cold winters, leading to a net decrease in deaths; in contrast, there was a net increase in hospital admissions linked to warmer weather, especially from injuries.

Previous research has linked warmer weather to injuries from outdoor activities, increased violence and mental health problems; direct harm from extreme heat is still less common but this is likely to change over time.


Andrew Orlowski: Hydrogen can’t power the green flight revolution

A scan through the news pages of the aviation press reveals something surprising. Here we find no shortage of designs for new flying machines, from Jetson-style personal e-VTOL (electric vertical take off and landing) models to short haul aircraft. But this is not the renaissance it seems to be.

Instead, it’s a sign of how one of Silicon Valley’s most cynical cultural exports – Demo culture – has come to aviation.

In a Demo, potential investors get to clap eyes on a prototype that doesn’t have to work. Eight figure cheques have been handed over on the strength of a demonstration alone.

But since the “product” is only a mock-up intended to unlock further funding, this practice attracts grifters. Like Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos who was convicted of wire fraud two weeks ago, and who became the embodiment of the Valley’s fake-it-until-you-make-it culture. Holmes realised that a viable product was unnecessary: a good Demo was all you need.

Of the new e-VTOL concepts being unveiled today, boosted by speculative venture capital with nowhere else to go, we can be reasonably sure that few will make it to production, and none will enter commercial service. Except perhaps, in amusement parks.

Aviation is an unforgiving battleground, and when we review the physics, reality bites very quickly. Jet fuel has 70 times the energy density of a lithium battery, so compared to today’s efficient designs, an electric plane can’t go very far, or carry very much.

The forecaster Japan Aircraft Development, which produces the most detailed long-term market estimates, agrees.

It reckons that by 2040 there will be 43,028 commercial aircraft in service, of which 4,160 will be turboprops. However, only 762 will be electric vehicles with 19 seats or fewer – the regulatory category that the start-ups are targeting.

A range of 200 miles is what the most optimistic one might achieve, and in Europe, that will never be competitive with high speed rail.

Another potential fuel source is hydrogen, which is being designed for use by larger aircraft. At first glance, hydrogen has a similar energy density to aviation fuel. But hydrogen must be cryogenically frozen, requiring very cumbersome storage – too bulky to go in the wings, as kerosene does today, it takes up valuable cargo space in the fuselage.

Then it must be carefully balanced throughout the journey, so as not to destabilise the plane. Hydrogen atoms are smaller, so you need thicker pipes everywhere. And the resulting engine is far heavier. One estimate I’ve seen of converting a two engine turboprop from kerosene to hydrogen increases the engine weight from 2 tonnes to 13 tonnes – a deal breaker.

Bear in mind that in a low margin industry, cost increases of 5pc are sufficient to render your fleet uncompetitive. At this point, defenders of electric and hydrogen usually cry: “but technology improves all the time. This is only the start!”

Some technologies do indeed improve, such as the existing aviation technologies we use today, which are dramatically more efficient than they were in the 1960s.

But there’s no bet hydrogen energy will improve – for in 40 years time, hydrogen atoms will still be the same size as they are today, will still need to be generated (as the “fuel” does not occur anywhere in nature in useful quantities, except inside stars). I’ll hazard a guess that the freezing point of hydrogen will be the same as it is today too.

It’s worth noting that not every country is as hydrogen-bonkers as the UK. Others are placing smarter bets on advances in biology, and the potential for microbes to produce sustainable aviation fuel much more efficiently than is possible now.

Given recent advances in gene editing and synthetic biology, it seems more likely that we’ll be able to produce zero carbon fuel that’s a ready replacement for kerosene than we’ll be able to defy physics to make hydrogen commercially competitive.

Last week, Air France-KLM imposed a new levy to fund sustainable aviation fuel research. A bold politician would argue that aviation enriches us so much at so little cost – barely over 1pc of global CO2 emissions – it should be left completely alone. But Europe and the UK have a unique handicap: something I call the “innovation blob”.

Seemingly oblivious to physical reality, we now have an army of civil servants, quangos and academics lobbying for low carbon technologies regardless of their drawbacks, and taxpayers fund this circus. State-funded research competitions are the equivalent of the Demo, allowing officials to dress up as a venture capitalist for a day, but everyone gets a prize.

I wonder if this elite is actually the real target market for e-VTOL vehicles: just as Soviet-era Moscow had Zil Lanes, lanes reserved for the party elite, perhaps we’ll be able to look up one day soon and see an electric vehicle zoom by overhead, conveying an innovation quangocrat and to a very important “work event” – one that’s not too far away, of course.

But how ironic that the flying car – once the most extravagant expression of capitalism, technological innovation and supreme individualism – would become such a vehicle of green grift.


Hysterical Warmists predict a climate Armageddon

It is a bleak forecast even by the Met Office’s standards – the complete collapse of society leaving armed militias and criminal gangs to roam the land unchallenged.

That is one of the doomsday scenarios set out in a report commissioned by the UK’s weather service to model the potential consequences of climate change.

The extraordinary report, called Shared Socio-economic Pathways and developed for the Government-funded UK Climate Resilience Programme, sets out supposedly ‘plausible futures’ as a result of global warming.

One of those scenarios described by the authors is a surge in ‘Right-wing populism’, resulting in the collapse of ‘political and governance systems’. After that ‘a tipping point is reached when the police and justice system (as known in the past) cease to exist’. Due to ‘past investments in military and defence... without an effective central government, different military groups (militias, criminal groups, etc) rise to de facto power’.

Under a different scenario in the report, a ‘rich elite’ imposes conscription. ‘Society is more divided than ever,’ the report suggests, ‘with the majority of the population having low incomes and poor health, contrasting with a rich ruling elite. Social unrest increases and the prison population skyrockets. To keep the general population in line, governments introduce military conscription by the end of the century.’

The report makes another ‘woke’ political point by claiming that climate change would lead to the privatisation of the NHS.

It says: ‘Because of the high costs associated with reforming the NHS, the preferred solution is to increase privatisation of general and specialised health services and medication provision.

‘Citizens are encouraged to purchase private insurance policies in order to receive better healthcare. This transitional period worsens care for the poorest in society.’

The Meteorological Office report, which was carried out by Cambridge Econometrics, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and the universities of Edinburgh and Exeter, does however suggest a way of averting this future – by rejoining the EU.

It advances the thesis that the most ‘sustainable’ scenario for surviving global warming would be the ‘establishment of a federal UK, with citizens’ assemblies becoming the “primary” decision-making mode’ and the UK re-entering ‘a progressive and expanded European Union’.

The report says that creating such scenarios ‘are important to climate risk and resilience studies’.

It argues that physical climate change and continued socio-economic change are highly interrelated – and that socio-economic factors determine greenhouse gas emissions and land use changes that cause climate change.

Those factors also determine the ‘levels of vulnerability and capacity to adapt to climate change’ and are ‘plausible socio-economic future outlooks up to 2100 that provide the challenging context within which future decisions... must be determined and implemented’.

A spokesman for the Met Office, a Government agency overseen by the Department for Business, said: ‘The Shared Socio-Economic Pathways project is important in order to understand climate risk and resilience as climate change and socio-economic factors are highly linked.

‘It is just one project as part of a wider programme of science research funded by the UK Government’s Strategic Priorities Fund on UK climate resilience. These include research programmes to protect the environment and communities from the effects of climate change and to support a move to a low carbon economy.’


My other blogs. Main ones below

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM )

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)


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