Sunday, September 18, 2022

Climate Change Transformed India Into An Agricultural Superpower — Just Ask My Grandparents

By Vijay Jayaraj

My grandparents survived a nationwide famine in the 1960s that pushed many Indians into abject poverty. Little did they know then that they would go on to become farmers producing some of the best rice and coconuts on the planet.

Starting with purchases of small paddies, my grandparents supplemented income from professional occupations and other businesses with profits from rice and eventually invested in coconut farms. Their story is part of India’s agricultural revolution — a transformation partly made possible by the warmer temperatures and higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide of today’s climate.

According to researchers, poverty and a scarcity of food grains caused the famine of 1960-65, which had been preceded by many similar calamities that killed tens of millions over the centuries.

However, much changed in the 1970s when India’s government invited American agronomist Norman Borlaug to work alongside Indian scientists to introduce genetically modified crop varieties that were more resistant to diseases and produced higher yields.

Along with crops that failed less frequently and provided greater profits, the green revolution of the latter 20th century was helped by moderate increases in both temperatures and CO2 levels — the latter likely a result of emissions from human activities.

Contrary to the popular narrative of a changing climate being an “existential threat,” Earth’s green plants have been recovering from the “browning” of the Little Ice Age, which occurred from the 14th to 19th centuries. Modern warmth and CO2 levels are facilitating a greening that shows up on satellite photos and contributes to record crop harvests.

British Meteorologist Hubert Lamb, founder of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, said that the Little Ice Age devastated economies with crop losses. In a widely accepted paper, he writes that a “notably warm climate in many parts of the world” existed between A.D. 1000–1200, then was followed by a cooling that culminated with the coldest temperatures between 1500 and 1700 — “the coldest phase since the last ice age occurred.”

Lamb says these changes in climate were “undoubtedly upsetting for the human economies of those times (and perhaps of any time).”

The cold eventually gave way to rising temperatures in the 18th century, well before the modern industrial revolution in Europe and North America.

The positive of effects of the modern climate are found in arid climatic zones like those in India. NASA reports: “For rain-fed wheat grown in more arid climates, such as southern Africa and India, results show that doubled carbon dioxide levels, and their associated climate change impacts, increase yield by eight percent, an increase that’s driven by decreased crop water needs of up to 50 percent. As with rain-fed maize crops in arid climates, without the carbon dioxide boost these rain-fed wheat crops do not cope as well because of the greater water stress imposed on them, resulting in a 29 percent reduction in yield.”

Despite its population doubling to 1.3 billion since the 1960s, India can now produce enough food crops for both domestic needs and exports. In fact, since 2017, the country has been registering successive record harvests of food crops.

For the 2021-22 crop year, “a record output is estimated for rice, maize, gram, dry grains, rapeseed and mustard, oilseeds and sugarcane.” At 315.72 million tons, it is 5 million tons higher than the previous crop year.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, “India is the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses, and jute, and ranks as the second largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnut, vegetables, fruits, and cotton. It is also one of the leading producers of spices, livestock, and plantation crops.”

A recent Australian study reports that “CO2 fertilization correlated with an 11 per cent increase in foliage cover from 1982-2010 across parts of the arid areas studied in Australia, North America, the Middle East and Africa.”

Today’s warmth and CO2 levels are a boon to human civilization, not a bane. Just ask my grandparents.


Is net zero emissions the Trojan horse for society?

Well intended passions for lower emissions may be contributing to the downfall of today’s society and the products that supports the eight billion on earth.

The transition to electricity generation from breezes and sunshine has proven to be ultra-expensive for the wealthy countries of Germany, Australia, and the USA representing 6 percent of the world’s population (505 million vs 7.8 billion). Those wealthy countries now have among the highest cost for their electricity, while the poorer developing countries, currently without the usage of the 20th century products manufactured from crude oil, are experiencing about 11,000,000 child deaths every year due to the unavailability of the fossil fuel products used in wealthy countries.

High electricity costs trickle down to everything in our daily lives, from the cost of food, lumber, and services, and ultimately to the high cost of living and housing and perpetuates the rise in homelessness and poverty.

The intermittency of weather generated electricity has resulted in the “nameplate” generating capacity of wind turbines and solar panels being a farce capacity to replace continuous uninterruptible electricity generation from coal, natural gas, and nuclear.

Those with a passion to rid the world of crude oil are oblivious to the fact that crude oil is virtually useless, it’s manufactured (refineries) into something usable. Those oil derivatives manufactured from crude oil are the basis of more than 6,000 products in our daily lives that did not exist before the 1900’s, and the fuels to move the heavy-weight and long-range needs of aircraft for military, commercial, private and the President’s Air Force One, and merchant ships, and the military and space programs.

Those so-called renewables of wind turbines and solar panels cannot manufacture fuels for the:

50,000 heavy-weight and long-range merchant ships that are moving products throughout the world.

50,000 heavy-weight and long-range jets used by commercial airlines, private usage, and the military.

The 290 million registered vehicles in the U.S. as of 2021, that were comprised of about 56 percent trucks, 40 percent cars, and 4 percent motorcycles.

The cruise ships that now move twenty-five million passengers around the world.

The space program.

Advocates of a carbon-free world underestimate not only how many products and fuels manufactured from crude oil the world already uses, but how much more the world will yet demand. In America, there are nearly as many vehicles as people, while in most of the world, fewer than 1 in 20 people have a car. More than 80 percent of the world population has yet to take a single flight.

The few wealthy countries have short memories of petrochemical products and human ingenuity being the reasons for the world populating from 1 to 8 billion in less than two hundred years. Efforts to cease the use of crude oil will be the greatest threat to civilization, not climate change, and lead the world to an era of guaranteed extreme shortages of fossil fuel products like we had in the decarbonized world in the 1800’s. It can only lead back to shorter life spans, diseases, malnutrition, and weather-related deaths resulting from the elimination of fossil fuels that are benefiting society.

The reasons why subsidized wind and solar electricity are not replacing fossil fuels, is that they can only generate electricity intermittently. Wind turbines and solar panels cannot manufacture anything for society. In fact, all the parts for wind and solar are made from the oil derivatives manufactured from crude oil. Ridding the world of crude oil would eliminate wind turbines and solar panels!


California Governor Signs ‘Most Aggressive’ Package of Green Laws

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday announced a sweeping package of what he called the country’s “most aggressive” climate measures to “accelerate the state’s transition” to non-conventional energy sources.

The package includes 40 bills that appear to provide new green rules on laws related to things ranging from large-scale industry to the family home and private and public transportation.

The Democratic governor’s office said in a statement the package of climate change-focused measures aims to cut pollution and target “big polluters.”

It comes as America’s most populous state has struggled to provide stable electricity for residents amid a heat wave, which saw the state asking residents to use less power and suggest the best times to use air conditioners or charge electric cars.

“This month has been a wake-up call for all of us that later is too late to act on climate change. California isn’t waiting any more,” Newsom said in a statement. “Together with the Legislature, California is taking the most aggressive action on climate our nation has ever seen.”

“We’re cleaning the air we breathe, holding the big polluters accountable, and ushering in a new era for clean energy,” he continued. “That’s climate action done the California Way—and we’re not only doubling down, we’re just getting started.”

In July, Newsom called for “bold actions” to combat climate change. He declared his climate-focused vision for California involves a push to achieve 90 percent “clean energy” by 2035, “carbon neutrality” by 2045, “setback measures” to target oil drilling, carbon capture programs, and to “advance nature-based solutions” to remove carbon from “natural and working lands.”

40 Green Bills

Newsom’s office said his sweeping package of measures will create four million new jobs over the next 20 years, cut air pollution by 60 percent, and reduce state oil consumption by 91 percent.

How this would be achieved was not explained in the governor’s news release.

The package of measures, the governor’s office said, will save the state $23 billion by avoiding damage from pollution. It further aims to cut fossil fuel use in buildings and transportation by 92 percent and refinery pollution by 94 percent.

The governor named a list of the 40 new green bills, which touch on things from the broad scope of the climate to more everyday matters such as community air quality, electricity supply, vehicle permits, and gas pricing.

Some of the bills, which were all named in the governor’s news release, include:

AB 1279: “The California Climate Crisis Act”
AB 1389: “Clean Transportation Program: project funding preferences”
AB 1749: “Community emissions reduction programs: toxic air contaminants and criteria air pollutants”
AB 1857: “Solid waste”
AB 1909: “Vehicles: bicycle omnibus bill”
AB 2075: “Energy: electric vehicle charging standards”
AB 2622: “Sales and use taxes: exemptions: California Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project: transit buses”
AB 2836: “Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program: vehicle registration fees: California tire fee”
SB 529: “Electricity: electrical transmission facilities”
SB 1063: “Energy: appliance standards and cost-effective measures”
SB 1205: “Water rights: appropriation”
SB 1230: “Zero-emission and near-zero-emission vehicle incentive programs: requirements”
SB 1322: “Energy: petroleum pricing”
SB 1382: “Air pollution: Clean Cars 4 All Program: Sales and Use Tax Law: zero emissions vehicle exemption”

How the package of new green laws and regulations might impact, for example, standards required for cars to be permitted on Californian roads; how and when homes can be cooled; the source of electricity allowed to be supplied to homes; the manufacturing of everyday appliances and products, etc., were not outlined in the governor’s news release.

This latest pronouncement comes on the heels of Newsom enacting regulation to phase out sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035.


If you’re told ESG is the next big thing, beware of greenwashing

Joe Kennedy famously said that when the shoeshine boy gives stock tips, it’s time to get out of the market. The story goes that the investor exited the market just ahead of the great Wall Street crash of 1929, clued in to a bubble created by dilettantes piling in.

More recently, an ad popped up in Australian bus shelters, which read “this is the sign you’ve been looking for to get into crypto”. Shortly after, cryptocurrency tanked.

So when a public relations conference told me this week that ESG is the next big thing, I took it as a warning that it’s about to be over.

In the last few years, environmental, social and (corporate) governance, or ESG, has become an increasing concern for companies which realise that securing their long-term profitability depends on the wellbeing of the environment and the societies in which they operate. The “governance” part is monitoring that the organisation isn’t making decisions which deliver profit right now but run counter to actual laws or implicit norms. Banks turning a blind eye to the money trail leading to paedophiles, for instance, or casinos knowingly participating in money laundering.

ESG can seem simple: commit to reducing emissions, develop a modern slavery statement and, above all, become a values-led organisation. Only, anyone who believes it’s that simple is almost certainly doing it wrong.

That has always been the case, but the war in Ukraine and growing concerns over China’s activities at home and abroad are making it more obvious how just how wrong the simplistic approach is.

Germany is the poster child of half-baked ESG. Under former Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s largest economy began shutting down its nuclear power plants, planning to use gas as a “bridge” while transitioning entirely to renewables. Many analysts warned against the move, pointing out the strategic dangers of relying on Russian gas. But Merkel persisted and many German investors fell in line, in the name of ESG.

Of course, we now know how that turned out. The ESG value of the nuclear shutdown was one-dimensional: it failed to balance the pros and cons of nuclear against other potential fuel sources, or take into account the geopolitical context. As a result, when Putin invaded Ukraine, Germany continued to pay for Russian gas and, in doing so, funded a war it opposes. In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of September, when President Putin retaliated against NATO sanctions by shutting off gas supply to Europe, that many European countries, Germany included, stopped handing hard currency to Putin.

Now it can no longer rely on hypocrisy to keep the lights on, the power crisis is sending the German economy into recession. Companies face insolvency due to soaring energy prices and people are facing huge bills for heating their homes. “Warming centres”, or heated community halls, are being established across Europe to prevent people freezing to death in their apartments. If a new strain of COVID appears, these could also become hubs of transmission. The poor, naturally, will be hardest hit. If this is environmentally and socially responsible, what on earth is not?

In another ESG complication, building greater renewable energy capacity can lead to an increase in slavery and child labor. That’s because 80 per cent of solar panels are manufactured in China and a significant share of the materials for them comes from companies in Xinjiang Province, using forced Uighur labour. Climate change versus slavery – is there an acceptable trade-off? And if so, who decides what it is?

Even the fashionable expressions of organisational “values” can quickly lead from sublime intention to ridiculous action. Late last year, the legal faculty of a major Australian university proposed that the academics make a public resolution of support for the Indigenous Voice to parliament. While personally in favour of a Voice, my legal academic friend recalls her acute discomfort at being called on to make a public statement of this kind despite her lack of constitutional expertise. Expressing her values in this way forced her to breach a professional ethic.

Real ESG is as complex and layered as the world it is practised in.

The result of overly superficial ESG action is sometimes called greenwashing. “Greenwashing businesses routinely underinvest in their ESG reporting, using corporate spin as a proxy for a real strategy and progress against it,” according to Luke Heilbuth, CEO of BWD Strategic, a consultancy focused on helping businesses navigate the complexities of ESG.

Company regulator ASIC defines greenwashing as “the practice of misrepresenting the extent to which a financial product or investment strategy is environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical” and has issued advice that the practice falls under its ban on misleading or deceptive statements. Given the current fashion for ESG-as-advertising, it seems almost inevitable that an increasing number of companies boasting of their ESG credentials will find themselves in breach.

Heilbuth, a former diplomat, believes companies serious about ESG need to appreciate the geopolitical context, but can realise opportunities in doing so. As the world splits into two major powers, responsible countries will focus on building green manufacturing in Australia to take advantage of our minerals and other natural resources. We must.

“Beijing also controls much of the infrastructure required to refine the minerals critical to the energy transition,” he says. “Chinese refineries supply 50 to 70 per cent of the world’s cobalt and lithium and over 90 per cent of rare-earth minerals.”

While the far-sighted Chinese look to harness the commodities of developing nations connected to the Belt and Road, and export expensive services to them, it will be strategically and ethically necessary to ensure we aren’t reliant on them.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Putin grandly this week that we must “play a guiding role to inject stability and positive energy into a world rocked by social turmoil”. See, it’s easy to make war and unethical practices sound good. It’s harder to actually practice ESG. The spin is no longer enough.




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