Monday, February 13, 2023

When Deforesting The Amazon is OK

What has the destruction of balsa trees in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest got to do with the wind power industry in Europe?

As the international commitment to renewable energy has grown in recent years, the increase in wind farms has triggered a huge demand for balsa wood, leaving a trail of deforestation in its wake.

Balsa wood is used in Europe, and also more intensively in China, as a component in the construction of the blades of wind turbines. Already-installed wind turbines, with blades that stretch to 80 metres, can cover an area of approximately 21,000 square metres, which is equivalent to about three football pitches.

More recent wind turbine designs can incorporate blades that are up to 100-metres long that consume about 150 cubic metres of balsa wood each – equivalent to several tonnes – according to calculations attributed to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

In 2018, international demand for balsa wood increased significantly. The tropical wood is flexible and yet hard, while also being both light and resilient. Ecuador, which is the main exporter of balsa, with about 75% of the global market, is home to several large exporters, such as Plantabal S.A. in Guayaquil, which dedicates up to 10,000 hectares to growing the wood for export.

Balsa Fever

The increased demand led to the deforestation of virgin balsa in the Amazon basin, in what came to be known as ‘balsa fever’. Balseros began to illegally deforest virgin balsa from the islands and banks of the Amazonian rivers in an effort to overcome the shortage of cultivated wood.

This has had a terrible impact on the Indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon, in a similarly brutal way to that caused by mining and oil extraction in recent decades, and the rubber boom at the start of the 20th century.

In 2019, the extension of a road in the Pastaza province bordering Peru through Indigenous Shuar and Achuar territory to link the community of Copataza to the western city of Puyo, caused controversy among the Achuar people.

For the most part, locals perceived the road, which was built without waiting for full Indigenous consensus, more as a threat of extractivism and deforestation than as a contribution to the potential development of their community. But it advanced like a syringe through the jungle, reaching its destination in November of that year.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the ambitious European Green Pact in Brussels. The pact, among other things, aimed to reverse ‘climate change’ by promoting the progressive replacement of ‘fossil fuels’, which contribute to ‘global warming’ through the production of ‘greenhouse gases’, with ‘cleaner’ energy sources.

As a result of the 2019 pact, the financial outlook for ‘renewables’, including wind power, boosted the number of wind farm construction projects in Europe, and added to China’s wind rush. In December 2020, President Xi Jinping declared that China would increase its installed wind and solar power capacity to more than 1,200 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, a five-fold increase from the current 243GW.

The triggering of ‘balsa fever’ has had devastating consequences for Ecuador’s Indigenous Amazonian communities. The story soon moved from the local media to the international press.

And in January this year, The Economist published an article pointing out the problems that the irregular extraction of balsa for wind turbine blades had caused in Ecuador, highlighting the negative impact on the Waorani Indigenous people, based within the Yasuní National Park.

In September, when democraciaAbierta visited the Achuar indigenous territory, travelling down the Pastaza River, one of the areas most affected by balsa fever, we found that the territory’s balsa had already been completely deforested and that the balseros, in their determination to obtain more wood, had moved onto the Peruvian Amazon.

The consequences of this rush have been especially destructive for local communities. In June, the Indigenous leaders of the Achuar Nationality of Ecuador (NAE), reacted by declaring that they would not allow the deforestation of balsa wood in their territory. “Don’t make any investment, even if you cut down balsa you won’t be able to extract it, it won’t be sold,” they posted on Facebook.

But it was a futile declaration, which came too late.


"The Nation" Flounders on Miami Sea-Level Rise Story

A recent debate in The Nation claimed Miami should either make plans to evacuate from the Florida coast or become the model of adaptation in response to rapidly rising sea levels from climate change and the refugees that will result from it. The story is not just false, it is laughably inept. There is no evidence the United States faces the loss of any major coastal city due to climate change or that climate change has or will create climate refugees.

The Nation published an exchange between by Daniel Aldana Cohen and Samantha Schuyler titled “Should We Start Preparing for the Evacuation of Miami?”

Cohen, an assistant professor of sociology at UC Berkeley, premises his whole argument for abandoning Miami on the claim that, like residents, refugees arriving there will soon have no place to live, with evacuation setting a good example for other cities, writing:

It’s urgent for governments and social movements to start planning for millions of people to land in new places. Prepping Miami’s evacuation is a perfect starting point. Its residents are a multiracial, multinational, and multigenerational assemblage that spans the class spectrum. Tragically, many of them are already climate migrants—like Puerto Ricans displaced by recent hurricanes.

If cities around the country were forced to plan how they’d integrate arriving Miamians into communities flush with public green investment, they’d get a head start on planning for climate migration generally. This would also trigger conversations about zoning for density, enshrining tenant rights, upgrading infrastructure, taxing the rich, building green banks, and battling racism and police violence.

Throughout his article, Cohen references non-scientific concerns like emancipation, the “Great Migration,” environmental injustice, and apartheid. The only thing missing from Cohen’s argument were actual facts and data providing evidence for the need to withdraw from Miami or that climate refugees are or will become a problem.

Addressing Cohen’s climate refugee concerns first, as explored here and here, neither hurricane frequency nor intensity have increased during the period of modern warming. So worsening hurricanes won’t drive people to abandon Miami, or drive people from islands near Miami to the U.S. mainland. As to the climate refugees Cohen believes are already trickling into to Miami, which he believes will soon become a flood, it turns out he is wrong again. Not a single climate refugee has been proven, as discussed at Climate Realism, here, nor is there reason to believe the United States or any other country is about to be swamped by climate refugees, as discussed here and here.

To The Nation’s credit, Cohen’s article has a counterpoint response from Samantha Schuyler, The Nation’s own research director. Unfortunately Schuyler’s response is only slightly less alarmist.

“At some point, if South Florida doesn’t change its approach to navigating climate change, evacuation will be necessary,” Schuyler writes. “But by withdrawing from Miami too soon, we will lose a vibrant city that could have become a training ground for learning how to adapt to the planet’s future.”

As discussed in numerous Climate Realism articles, here and here, for instance, there is no evidence whatsoever seas are rising at an usually rapid rate.

NASA satellite instruments, measuring sea-level since 1993, show global sea level rising at a pace of 1.2 inches per decade. As shown in Climate at a Glance: Sea Level Rise, this is approximately the same pace of sea-level rise that has occurred since at least the mid-1800s. Moreover, there has been little or no acceleration in sea-level rise during recent years.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintains a tidal gauge just offshore from Miami on Virginia Key. The NOAA Virginia Key tidal gauge shows sea level at Miami is rising even more slowly than the global average of 1.2 inches per decade, as seen in Figure 1 below. Miami, shows no signs of acceleration in sea level rise.

So, if sea-level rise is slower that the global average, showing no signs of acceleration, what is driving Cohen’s and Schuyler worry that Miami may soon be uninhabitable?

At the core of Cohen’s and, to a lesser extent, Schuyler’s concern about climate change swamping Miami are flawed computer models and actual land subsidence.

Cohen and Schuyler have seemingly joined other pop-culture climate analysts to embrace worst-case scenarios generated by computer climate models about the future. However, in a recent report, some climate scientists are putting the brakes on future warming and say other researchers should avoid suspect climate models. This research confirms what Climate Realism first reported in August 2021, the climate model Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) produces “implausibly hot forecasts of future warming.”

Without the worst-case scenario, sea-level rise predictions are dialed back. The one piece of evidence that Cohen did cite to make his case for rapidly rising seas is the Miami-Dade County Flooding Vulnerability Viewer, a computer mapping tool for Miami showing what the future might look like with sea-level rise. Yet even this evidence fails to support Cohen’s claims. By doing a side-by side comparison, shown in Figure 2 you can see for yourself that Miami isn’t in need of “evacuation” at all.

Miami’s real problem isn’t rising seas as much as land subsidence. Much of Miami was built on reclaimed swamp land, and then built up with modern infrastructure. That extra weight causes a sinking of the land, known as subsidence, allowing seawater to seep in when the surfaces sink to near sea-level. It also means that during strong rainfall events, and hurricane storm surge, areas that have subsided don’t drain as they did years before.

This is clearly covered in the scientific paper Land subsidence contribution to coastal flooding hazard in southeast Florida, published in Proceedings of IAHS in 2020. The paper clearly states:

Preliminary results reveal that subsidence occurs in localized patches (< 0.02 km2) with magnitude of up to 3 mm yr−1, in urban areas built on reclaimed marshland. These results suggest that contribution of local land subsidence affect only small areas along the southeast Florida coast, but in those areas coastal flooding hazard is significantly higher compared to non-subsiding areas.

Subsidence is also driven by freshwater withdrawals from the region’s groundwater reserves to satisfy the Miami metro area’s growing population.

So, just as the Figure 2 comparison shows, “only small areas along the southeast Florida coast” are affected, and Miami itself is hardly in need of evacuation.

Climate activists such as Cohen and his media regurgitators at The Nation are simply making up claims and counting on nobody fact-checking them to point out their lies as has been done here. It is an indictment of the shoddy state of journalism today.


L.A. City Council Votes Unanimously to Replace Natural Gas with Unproven Hydrogen Power

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to convert a natural gas power plant to a new hydrogen system that critics say may not provide enough power and could cause more environmental damage.

The proposal is part of a “Green New Deal” adopted by former mayor Eric Garcetti to shutter three natural gas plants in favor of “renewable” energy — over objections that solar and wind power would not be sufficient, and that the move would cost thousands of union jobs.

Garcetti stuck with his plan even after the state suffered electricity shortages in 2020 and after Democrats lost a local special election in which the plan was a key issue.

The city council voted to take the first steps to implement Garcetti’s plan, according to the Los Angeles Times:

The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to move forward with an $800-million plan to convert the city’s largest gas-fired power plant to green hydrogen — a first-of-its-kind project that was hailed by supporters as an important step to solve the climate crisis but slammed by critics as a greenwashing boondoggle that will harm vulnerable communities.

The city’s ultimate goal is burning 100% green hydrogen — but [Department of Water and Power] officials have acknowledged the technology might not be ready right away. That means the initial fuel mix at Scattergood might include more planet-warming natural gas than hydrogen.

In public comments before the vote, critics from groups including Communities for a Better Environment, Pacoima Beautiful and the Sierra Club noted that although hydrogen doesn’t produce planet-warming carbon emissions when burned, it does generate lung-damaging nitrogen oxide pollution — much more than gas, at least using current technology.

The city’s goal is to produce 100% “clean” electricity by 2035 — an even more aggressive goal than the state’s target of 100% renewable by 2045, though a recent state analysis suggested there is no plan to achieve it.


Climate czar Biden spiked heat, electricity bills

The price of gasoline is ticking higher now that President Biden has depleted our emergency strategic oil supply to artificially bring down sticker shock and help Democrats in the midterm elections.

But it’s the other gas — natural gas — that is surging in price, ballooning not just home and business heating and operations costs but also electricity rates. Gas is the U.S.’s lead energy source to power the plants that feed electric grids that light our way of life. Natural gas makes electric vehicles, like the $100,000 model Mr. Biden tweeted on Jan. 30, run.

Natural gas used to be thought of as “clean energy.” Not anymore. Mr. Biden and his climate warrior campaign donors have declared war. It’s as odious to them as oil, the most hated substance since Fritz Haber developed Germany’s World War I poison gas arsenal.

The dynamo tandem of petroleum/natural gas fueled the world’s great advances last century in wealth, technology, health care, transportation, space exploration, life expectancy and nutrition.

But Mr. Biden is sidelining Earth’s bounty, without which we would live and die in physical and mental darkness.

The president’s allies are pressing financial institutions to stop funding fossil fuel production, though the banks would have to shut down without it, making 1929 look like a wonderful life. I don’t think there is one banker rising high on the virtue pedestal who has any idea how the firm would operate without them. But the climate warrior status is too good to resist — and you get the all-important positive press.

Mr. Biden says the answer to filling the natural gas gap is to put thousands of windmills out to sea. We are finding out they may well be killing sea life. We know they shred birds and beneficial insects. The carnage used to drive environmentalists to protest and block and burn. But now, they say, windmills kill far fewer birds than house cats, so who cares.

In 2006, Sen. Ted Kennedy blocked windmills off Cape Cod that would spoil his vacation home view. Whale watchers need a new champion.

From the starting gate, Mr. Biden targeted the natural gas industry. In January 2021, giddy over the thought of more campaign donors after spending over $1 billion to win the election, he signed executive orders making public land off-limits to exploration.

When the president high-fives the death of fossil fuels, its price sat at $2.71 per million BTUs, according to U.S. government stats. By year’s end, the cost nearly doubled to $5.05. In 2022, the spot-check price reached $8.81 in August before falling back to $5.53.

Washington Gas, the supplier for “swamp” creatures, has raised the per-therm, or TH, consumer costs by 50%.

This goes unnoticed by the super-rich lobbyists, PR types, federal contractors and lawyers who encircle our government.

But regular people are noticing.

In San Diego, for example, KUSI News reported on a diner that saw its gas bill shoot up from $2,200 to over $8,000. KUSI said that climate warriors are to blame.

“State and city politicians move to ban natural gas, and suddenly small businesses are choking on their energy bills,” said the report, filmed while fired-up stoves cooked diner fare.

According to government figures, the average price of natural gas per “therm” rose from $2 in December 2021 to $2.38 a year later.

In 2021, the average annual price at the Henry Hub trading site in Louisiana for wholesale natural gas was $3.91 for 1 million BTUs. The average in 2022: $6.48, a 66% increase.

In 2019-20, when Donald Trump was president, the average price was $2.08. Post-Biden throttling, the price sat at $4.51 in 2021-22 — more than doubling.

For natural gas-powered electricity, the kilowatt-hour (KWH) rate paid by homeowners and businesses was 0.136 cents in January 2021, when Mr. Biden began his energy magic.

By next January, the price was .147 cents, and by the end of the year .165 cents.

Higher gas-electric bills all around.

Washington Gas gives these reasons for price increases: “This year, natural gas market prices are higher based on many factors such as the economic recovery from COVID-19, increased natural gas demand from last winter, and slower than anticipated production.”

Got that. “Slower than anticipated production.”

I asked the Natural Gas Supply Association, the people keeping us warm as climate change failed to stop what we call “winter,” if the drilling ban hinders production.

A spokesperson said the big drawback right now: pipelines. As stated earlier, Mr. Biden doesn’t want them. Deep-blue states who like banning stuff followed his lead.

“The greater challenge by far for the industry is a lack of sufficient pipeline capacity in specific regions of the country, Northeast; California,” the association says. “Boston/NYC area — we need more pipeline capacity up in that area, but New York keeps canceling and stalling natural gas pipeline permits.”




No comments: