Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Malaria and Greenhouse Gases

Every so often, a blog post captures the essence of a situation so precisely that it requires very little comment: it just needs promoting so more people read and assimilate what it is saying. Frequently, the blogger who seems to excel at encapsulating the moment is Roger Pielke,Jr. and so it is with this post about the inevitable conflict in objectives that results when we frame the challenge of global warming in terms of "reducing emissions" rather than "energy modernization." The result is inevitably a battle between mitigation and adaptation, when in reality they should be complements.

To examine this contrast in objectives, Pielke poses the question:
  • So what are the implications of eradicating malaria for future greenhouse gas emissions from Africa?
The answer:
  • If a goal of climate policy is simply to "reduce emissions" then this goal clearly conflicts with efforts to eradicate malaria, which will inevitably lead to an increase in emissions. But if the goal is to modernize the global energy system -- including the developing the capacity to provide vast quantities of carbon-free energy, then there is no conflict here.
His take home message is simple: policies on climate change do not exist in a vacuum and have severe ramifications in many areas of human sustainability. To frame issues predominantly from a perspective of suppressing change is to negate the necessary and positive impacts that change has yet to bring to so many areas where the need is far more real and acute than the potential risk posed by possible future climate change.

To attempt to deny change is the ultimate act of denial and the true imposition of a limiting ideology.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fact or belief?

Two complimentary or contrasting articles on climate change from the same journal are here and here. The first suggests that global warming is real and based on the best science we have. The second suggests the science is becoming more precise but is no more accurate and that global warming remains a belief.
The first is a well-written and accessible account of how we know global warming is real. It also contains these caveats:
  • While there are uncertainties in climate projections, it is important to realize that the climate projections are based on sound scientific principles...
  • However, climate models are not empirical, based on correlations in such records, but incorporate our best understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological processes being modeled.
And it is these aspects that the second article focuses upon. Rejection of global warming is not premised upon a denial of science, but, rather, on an adherence to scientific principles:
  • ...uncertainties in the energetic responses of Earth climate systems are more than 10 times larger than the entire energetic effect of increased CO2. If the uncertainty is larger than the effect, the effect itself becomes moot.
  • ...68% of the time (one standard deviation), the projections of the models will fall within the shaded regions. It's not saying that the shaded regions display the physical reliability of the projections. The shaded regions aren't telling us anything about the physical uncertainty of temperature predictions. They're telling us about the numerical instability of climate models. The message of the Legend is that climate models won't produce exactly the same trend twice.
  • ...the shaded regions are about the calculational imprecision of the computer models. They are not about the physical accuracy of the projections. They don't tell us anything about physical accuracy. But physical accuracy — reliability — is always what we're looking for in a prediction about future real-world events.
  • somehow the complex quintillion-watt feedbacks from the oceans, the atmosphere, the albedo, and the clouds all average out to approximately zero in the General Circulation Models. Apart from low intensity wiggles, the GCMs all predict little more than passive global warming.
  • the physical model of Earth climate in GCMs says that as CO2 increases, Earth surface temperature does little else except passively respond in a linear way to greenhouse gas forcing.
  • From clouds alone, all the IPCC projections have uncertainties that are very much larger than the projected greenhouse temperature increase. What is credible about a prediction that sports an uncertainty 20–40 times greater than itself? After only a few years, a GCM global temperature prediction is no more reliable than a random guess. That means the effect of greenhouse gasses on Earth climate is unpredictable, and therefore undetectable. And therefore moot.
  • Direct tests of climate models tell the same tale. In 2002, Matthew Collins of the UK Hadley Centre used the HadCM3 GCM to generate an artificial climate, and then tested how the HadCM3 fared predicting the very same climate it had generated. It fared poorly, even though it was the perfect model. The problem was that tiny uncertainties in the inputs — the starting conditions — rapidly expanded and quickly drove the GCM into incoherence.
  • The rapid growth of uncertainty means that GCMs cannot discern an ice age from a hothouse from 5 years away, much less 100 years away. So far as GCMs are concerned, Earth may be a winter wonderland by 2100 or a tropical paradise. No one knows.
  • So the bottom line is this: When it comes to future climate, no one knows what they're talking about. No one. Not the IPCC nor its scientists, not the US National Academy of Sciences, not the NRDC or National Geographic, not the US Congressional House leadership, not me, not you, and certainly not Mr. Albert Gore. Earth's climate is warming and no one knows exactly why. But there is no falsifiable scientific basis whatever to assert this warming is caused by human-produced greenhouse gasses because current physical theory is too grossly inadequate to establish any cause at all.
So this the heart of the matter. The best science we have uses scientific principles to develop models, that despite our best efforts, are woefully imprecise. They are not empirically based and are not physical models but mathematical ones, subject to the values that are inputted into them. In this instance, those values are both arithmetic, moral and political in form.

The results have uncertainties that compromise any predictive value of those models and should invalidate them as tools for policy development. Prudence suggests are far different response than ideological dogma:
  • correlation is not causation, and cause can't be assigned by an insistent ignorance.
  • The proper response to adamant certainty in the face of complete ignorance is rational skepticism.
  • And aren't we much better off accumulating resources to meet urgent needs than expending resources to service ignorant fears?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Small is not beautiful

Rob Lyons offers this excellent summation of the eco-activist view of agriculture as given expression in a recent report:
  • ...there was blatant disregard for the benefits of existing technologies, and for technology's potential to support agriculture's efforts to meet future crop needs. I think this was in part because the differences between various participants' perceptions about these technologies, and the scientific facts, were not maintained and highlighted.
  • Sadly, social science seems to have taken the place of scientific analysis.
  • Technical fixes alone will not be enough to really transform the situation of agriculture in the developing world; the various regimes of subsidies and trade barriers, for example, hurt farmers and consumers in the developing world by effectively denying them access to major markets while allowing subsidised crops from the West to undermine local markets.
  • But to reject the best available technology in favour of a romanticised view of farming - one that reflects the prejudices of Western NGOs far more than the interests of poor farmers – is even worse.
The key points of Lyons' commentary are the substitution of social science for scientific analysis and the concomitant, assertive use of eco-activist moralism as the only allowable social science in that substitution.
Generic to all contemporary eco-myths is the framing of development issues as "scientifically" derived policy options, when those options reflect a particular political and moral perspective and not full scientific nor technical assessment.  Science is used as an authoritative mechanism to both censure and discourage dialogue.  The moralism is presented as axiomatic and the only possible, reasonable response is thus the further investment in regulation and governance reflective of the eco-activism framing the report, media release or staged event. 
In this instance, the topic was agriculture.  But the same scenario exists for climate, pesticides, energy and waste management.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Global warming in not a global crisis

The Manhattan Declaration on climate realism and the list of experts who have signed and/or endorse the declaration is here:
  • there is no convincing evidence that CO2 emissions from modern industrial activity have in the past, are now, or will in the future cause catastrophic climate change.
  • attempts by governments to legislate costly regulations on industry and individual citizens to encourage CO2 reduction will slow development while having no appreciable impact on the future trajectory of global climate change.  Such policies will markedly diminish future prosperity and so reduce the ability of societies to adapt to inevitable climate change, thereby increasing, not decreasing human suffering.

Britain in 2030

The following piece of fiction was inspired by these two news items: a local council in Britain prosecuting a father of four for exceeding the allowable garbage total by 4 inches in his bin (one bin fits all); and, this post on the likelihood that the world could experience a rapid decline of temperatures as a prelude to the next Ice Age (scientifically more certain than Gore's global warming prophesy).
World News, April 2030
  • Court fines Briton for refusing delivery of car
A British court fined a man in Britain today for refusing to take delivery of his government-issued luxury car.  The man claimed that although he was married, he did not have children and did not need a car because he "bikes" everywhere.  Jazeera Smith told World News " I don't need it.  I don't work, I get my hemp using my bicycle and I shop locally.  I have no where to park the car and I don't even know how to drive!".
The Oxford-London Council prosecuted the man under provision of the 2028 Carbon Emissions Act which mandates that each British citizen receive a state-issued luxury vehicle every five years as part of their contribution to stem global cooling.  Spokesperson for the Council, Suzi Airhead stated "This is just disgraceful.  I mean the man hardly consumes anything!  Its very un-British.  Doesn't he appreciate the crisis we are facing.  The cars are lovely and despite some early problems, Leyland has assured us they will last the full five years.  Besides, now that there are no more cows left, we really have to pull our weight and generate lots more carbon emissions if we are to keep the ice at bay -- or at least stop it at the Scotland freedom fence.  People like this are an embarrassment."
In its ruling, the Court stated that not knowing nor wanting to drive was not an acceptable reason for refusing delivery of the car.
see also:
  • Branson comes out of retirement: offers to drive a Leyland to France "to show it can be done!"
  • Latest ice surge threatens vital oil sands in Canada: OPEC to meet next week
  • President Chelsea Clinton to accept Nobel Video Prize for "Death of an Iceman"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Good news for Earth Day

Signs are apparent that all is not routine and business as usual for eco-zealotry this Earth Day.

In a decision that shows planning procedures and processes for impact assessment can work, a large wind farm proposed for the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland has been denied planning permission.

And, in other good news, Philip Stott notes that a series of high-profile comments have recently been published in Britain expressing anger about the continued promotion of the climate change agenda in the absence of sound deliberation. As he summarizes:
  • it is time for some uncompromising anger on the part of those of us who see the whole 'global warming' green gobbledygook for what it is - a danger to the poor, to developing countries, and to the world economy at a fragile time.
  • We have surely had enough of what the Oxford economist, Paul Collier, has called "befuddled romanticism". The green self-indulgence of the rich is becoming a danger to us all.

A world of hemp lingerie? No thanks | Melanie Reid

As expected, lots of material the past couple of days in all media around Earth Day, a symbolic event that has steadily become institutionalized into another Hallmark day.

This year, it appears the number of comments questioning Earth Day and its role seem more prominent than ever. The pick of the bunch for me was this pithy comment from Melanie Reid. She writes:
  • Long before we are extinguished by global food shortages or raised sea levels, I predict, we are fated to die of boredom, struck down in our prime by the devastating virus 0157eco-smugness.
  • This is the terrible paradox of the environmental movement...that, if society proceeds down the true path of eco-purity, we may well save the planet; but will simultaneously discover that life is too dull to be worth living on it any more.
  • What is becoming so fascinating about the new puritanism is not just that we are all being brainwashed to accept the inevitability of hair shirts, but also their unquestioned moral worth.
  • We should not be surprised when global-warming policy officers and climate-change academics rush to declare that the evidence for pending disaster is "overwhelming"....These people have, after all, to justify their job titles; the industry of which they are part is worth billions of pounds a year....Just as the makers of aspirin wish you had a headache, the eco-alarmists rather love high temperatures.
  • My real problem with the eco-alarmists is the pleasure they take in austerity; their evident desire to strip away pleasure.
  • The environmental movement has become, if not quite a man-made hoax, then at the very least a fashionable bandwagon for very dodgy facts and sharp marketing.
  • Frankly the thought of life in this smug, dull, joyless, labour-intensive, recycled, fair trade, waste-free world makes a woman yearn to be already dead and buried in her eco-friendly coffin, fertilising some field for methane-free cows. At least that way one can be sure of a rest.
And elsewhere, more reports on the frailty of climate models, here related to the effects of the black carbon component of soot; here on the cause and effect relationship(s) between temperature and carbon dioxide; here on the lack of scientific value; and, in this realistic assessment of the state of government climate plans: long on political correctness, short on precise science and economics.

A last word on Earth Day goes to commentator Phil Valentine who writes:
  • There's a phrase that's entered the American vernacular in recent years. It's called "jumping the shark." It's taken from the episode of Happy Days when Fonzie jumped a shark on water skis. It started out to specifically reference television shows but it now applies to anything that passes the point of absurdity into the realm of the ridiculous. The environmental movement "jumped the shark" when it began trying to convince us that CO2 is a poison. Carbon dioxide is what we exhale with every breath. It's what plants take in and convert to oxygen. It's an essential part of our planet, yet it has been demonized to the point of absurdity.
  • This Earth Day, let's try to keep things in perspective, shall we? The prophets of doom of the '70s were just as hysterical — and just as wrong — as the prophets of doom of today.

And then there is:
  • this commentary on the erosion of science within eco-activism and its concomitant replacement with political and moral agendas, and
  • this observation of why climate models are non-falsifiable (and thus, inherently non-scientific).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Partisan View and Rational Thinking

Facts don't change how people think or what they think. For people to process new data, alternate data and/or data that conflicts with their prevailing ideology, they must first be open to changing some aspect of their dominant constructs, belief system and/or ideology.

As this post explains:
  • You have to let your thinking be influenced by the best evidence you can find. Unfortunately, most people are unaccustomed to that way of thinking.
  • ...your thinking should always be based on the best evidence, not on your strong, pre-determined partisan views. If you can't accept that fact, you are in a fairly primitive stage of intellectual development.
  • (however)...even the best evidence can be wrong. This is another concept that people have trouble assimilating.
  • ...the truth is far more interesting than the partisan theory that prevents you from being rational when it comes to thinking about politically charged issues.
Taking one aspect of the truth, and making it your whole truth, means you are no longer dealing with the truth. Taking contextual information and framing it within the context of your ideological perspective may make the information more "newsworthy" or sensational, may grab people's attention and serve to raise their awareness, but ultimately, removed from its proper context, that information is of limited utility as it has lost its vitality, its robustness, the context that defines its truth.

Ecomyths invariably involve aspects of the truth that have become the whole truth to a particular advocate or advocacy group. They are difficult to curtail because was they have escalated to prominence, the data that would refute them are themselves rejected as contrary to people's beliefs.

People want to do well. They want to act in a moral fashion. Framing ecomyths as morally correct behavior firmly roots environmental advocacy in a dominant position within people's construct hierarchy.
The challenge to those not agreement with the myth is how to dis-lodge that construct once it is vested. To get people to view information rationally and not on the basis of their pre-disposition.

Conversely, the challenge for activists, is translating moral pre-disposition into action if and when an ecomyth runs contrary to a more dominant belief or construct -- like economic well-being or personal happiness. Hence, people will embrace eco-activity that sounds green but does not involve major lifestyle change far more easily than they will substantive change. (Earth Hour was easy. Recycling is easy. Lifestyle change and zero consumption are undesirable). Which is why environment always polls well with voters but is never a key determinant in come election time.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Samizdata quote of the day

It is not the level of wealth that makes us happy. Instead, it is the process of betterment - the pursuit of it - that makes us happy. Whether we are twice as rich today as in 1971 has little bearing on our happiness, because it is in the past. Whether people can see their lives improving in the future is what counts. That is why economic growth remains a key component in happiness, despite what the happiness researchers might tell us.

- Alex Singleton, Comment is Free

This was the quote of the day on Samizdata which I present with very little commentary other than it is my rebuttal to those new readers who felt so vehemently offended by what I had written on other posts that they wrote comments I found offensive (WITH ABUSUVE LANGUAGE IN CAPITALS) so much so I have suspended comments until I feel disposed to tackle the abuse once more.

Meanwhile, here is the prevailing ideology for this site: if you like it and are open minded, please do read on, if not, don't let the browser hit you on the way out. Some will, some won't, so what...next!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Authoritarian Politics

I never cease to be amazed at how un-democratic environmental zealots can be. Their cause is so just that any means are justified in ramming it through the policy agenda, down people's throats and into public life. For people espousing such a nominally liberal concept as environmentalism, environmental advocates are often the most closed minded and authoritarian in their approach.

It doesn't matter if the action they are promoting doesn't actually do anything -- it raises awareness! -- so it must be good. Everything is justified on the basis on the founding ideology which is premised on a set of constructs that are both faulty and morally derived:
  • that consuming resources is wrong
  • that consumption is bad
  • that over-consumption of resources is the cause of environmental decline
  • that the environment is in decline
  • that world is over-populated
  • that a world without people would be pristine and harmonious
So Earth Hour, although it didn't actually affect climate, is good because it realizes awareness; Inconvenient Truth is good, despite its factual errors, because it raises awareness; hybrid cars are good, even if they are more expensive and less fuel efficient than diesel, because they raise awareness; carbon taxes are good, even though they will be ineffectual, because they raise awareness.

Hang on, what's that bit about carbon taxes? Ah, and now we come to the rest of the story.

What happens when this assertive orthodoxy of dogma is refuted? What happens when evidence and logic are used to challenge the prevailing environmental morality? Well environmentalism reveals how undemocratic a movement it is: freedom of speech and freedom of though only as long as you come up with the right answers, the moral choices asserted by environmentalism -- otherwise its a witch hunt!

Some examples. Two posts from Climate Resistance, here and here, on attempts to use authority to sanction education and political discussion.

And while some are seeking to suppress education, others are vilifying studies that challenge the dominant paradigm: see this post on the reaction to a published article in Nature on the need for adaptation to climate change, not its regulation, and this one in the UK press on the same topic.

Notice, the article in question doesn't say climate change is not a problem, only that the command and control, authoritarian reaction being pushed is both flawed and incapable of resolving the issue. If we really want to make a difference and not just raise awareness, a different approach is required. A good starting point for discussion you would think. But not to environmental zealots who have derided the article and ex-communicated its authors, who are now cast as "deniers" along with all the other heathens questioning the high church of environmental conformity.

A great danger is only to read what you agree with, what resonates because it is familiar and comforting, and only to read commentary that is sweeping, simplistic and derisive in its dismissal of other perspectives.

Often people are well-intentioned -- mostly they are. But there is a big difference for me between the lay citizen with an opinion, and professional educators, lobbyists, agency officials and activists for whom ideas, science, public policy and politics are their business.

When the former are exclusionary it is by accident and ignorance. When the latter group are exclusionary and dogmatic, it is both by design and targeted at those who would break with the magisterium. No matter that it is also the prevailing ethos, it is no less reprehensible and obnoxious.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Government intervention in the economy

What happens when government intervenes in the economy? Three examples from different sectors illustrate why government intervention in the economy frequently does more harm than good.

First is an excellent essay on the economics of resource pricing, particularly oil, and how politics interferes with the market to articificially drive prices higher. Second, is the example of deficit spending in Canada and how the ramifications are still being felt in the economy today of the twenty year experiment with full Keynesian intervention in the economy. Last, there is the realization that the current fad for biofuels at the behest of government policy has created a global food shortage that has drastically raised the price of grain worldwide. Ironic that the fight against possible global warming may result in more actual, real-life deaths than would result if government's had not intervened.

There is a theme running through all three articles: that government intervention has cost more than it has gained. History is resplendent with examples of state interference in the economy devastating that economy: if Mugabe didn't exist in Zimbabwe, we only have to look at North Korea or Castro's Cuba, or back to Pol Pot's Cambodia, Mao's China and Russia under Stalin, to see the effects of full centralized, government economic planning.

So why in the face of such overwhelming contradictory empirical evidence, is state intervention in the economy still the default policy option advocated by studies, especially those relating to resources?

Maybe it is because the majority of studies owe their existence to government funding. First rule of academia: generate further research. Never bite the hand that feeds you. And the hand that feeds most academic studies and most advocacy groups are government agencies, using third party analysis to generate public support for increased intervention by the agency that sponsored and/or initiated the study the third party so carefully summarized for the media to use as a soundbite.

Is all government research tainted, bad or biased? No, government funding is very useful for primary data collection and purely scientific enquiry. The problem is when scientific enquiry becomes enmeshed with larger public policy objectives and dogma, when science is funded in order to supply the justification for government economic or social intervention. By default, most (if not all) environmental research has some relevance to government policy, economic policy or social engineering. As the example of climate change shows, even the most esoteric of intellectual pursuit can have its day in the media spotlight.

What makes it deficient, is that government funded research has an inherent bias towards increased government intervention as the primary (if not the only) solution that is justified by the research. And, as we have seen, rarely is increased centralised, government planning, a good answer to complex issues of sustainability.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

IPCC inflation of climate feedbacks

In a post on Climate Science, Christopher Monkton examines:
  • The trend that caught the IPCC by surprise: Since late 2001, the trend of global surface temperatures has been downward. "Global warming" stopped in 1998; and, though it may resume in future years, the rate of warming is self-evidently less than that which the IPCC had expected, and is very likely to be harmless.
  • Given the stability of the climate over the past half billion years, there is little danger that current anthropogenic perturbation of the climate will cause a "runaway greenhouse effect". It is likely, therefore, that the IPCC's current estimates of the magnitude of climate feedbacks have been substantially exaggerated.
AGW advocates often seek to dismiss Monkton as a dilettante (a label they never seem to hang on Gore, where it would be appropriate), but this paper shows both his insight into climate change and the extent to which he understands the underlying theory.

Here is a summary of his post for those less mathematically literate.

What the two posts show is how much of the official IPCC estimate of climate change is a function of positive feedback within the climate system. Since 1995:
  • the proportion of the warming estimate driven by positive feedback estimates has risen from 44% to 68%: the overwhelming majority of the IPCC's basis for predicted warming and dire consequence is an estimation of positive feedback effects within the climate system
  • it is not clear that all feedbacks are positive or can all be positive concurrently
  • indeed, the overall climate feedback may instead be a negative response within the system: i.e. acting to stabilize and neutralize increased greenhouse gasses, the very opposite of the assumption built into modelling projections and scenarios
  • the values used for positive feedback within the latest IPCC report are drawn from a single paper.
Again, the science is clearly not settled, not cut and dried and not based on an overwhelming body of literature. Moreover, the absence of positive feedbacks is in accordance with the empirical data from the past 10 years which seem to indicate that neither the clouds nor the oceans are responding as predicted by climate models. As one recent comment summarized: climate change is confirmed but global warming is cancelled.

But, as William Briggs shows, the fact that the climate models routinely over-predict is positive evidence of something: that some of the suppositions of the models are wrong.

Moreover, as large parts of the world continue to "enjoy" unseasonable weather, it is clear that the world is more endangered by AGW zealotry than any actual climate change.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Background to the Deniers

Lawrence Solomon has this rationale and background to his series the Deniers, which he has now collated into a book.

What may both surprise and frustrate many who wish he either hadn't written the series and /or wish to dismiss the subsequent book, is that Solomon is not some PR flunkey for big oil or some self-promoting climate guru. He is an active and well-known member of one of Canada's oldest and most respected environmental activist groups, Pollution Probe, founded out of the University of Toronto in the flush of 1960s environmental awareness.

Just as the findings of Bjorn Lomborg were hard for eco-activists to dismiss and refute because of his green credentials, so are the words of Solomon, who wrote the Deniers to answer the friendly challenge of one of his colleagues at Pollution Probe. His basic point: to examine the view of climate skeptics and realists to see if they were industry scientists twisting the truth to suit their paymaster (as often alleged), or if they represented a coterie of scientists with integrity holding unconventional and unpopular views.

As he writes:
  • I have been asked many times why I titled my series and now this book The Deniers, in effect adopting their enemies' terminology. Many of the scientists in this book hate the term and deny it applies to them.
  • I could give several reasons, but here is the most important. The scientists are not alone in having their credibility on trial in the global warming debate. They are not the only "authorities" in the argument, and not even the most important "authorities." Most laymen, most citizens, owe most of what we think we know about global warming not to science directly, but to science as mediated by the media and by political bodies, especially the UN and our governments. We citizens, trying to discern what to do about global warming, must judge not only the credibility of the scientists but of those who claim to tell us what the scientists say.
  • To that end, as you read through this book, judge for yourself the credibility of those who dismiss these scientists as cranks or crooks, and call them The Deniers.
Agree. Disagree. Decide for yourself. What an excellent piece of journalism, quite unlike the standard being practiced by the BBC and the climate magisterium.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The answer, apparently, is not blowing in the wind

The favorite answer of AGW advocates for future energy supply is wind. Supposedly, windmills will offer bountiful, renewable and low impact energy, negating the need for any further coal-fired power stations and especially nuclear power stations (which although they have no carbon footprint are still despised by AGW zealots, because its really about climate and not anti-capitalism, anti-growth and the suppression of consumption).

So wind power has become the new environmental savior. In Britain, the situation has become so politically correct that the Industry Secretary recently announced a major government commitment to several massive wind farms. Suddenly, local planning permission that has been so restrictive in most rural areas that even the color and shape of each brick has been subject to official authorization, will either be ignored or exempted to permit massive amounts of aesthetic impacts on the British landscape.

Only, there's a few problems:
  • wind power is proving to generate power only about 20% of the time -- well below the efficiency needed to integrate power into the distribution grid
  • turbines are expensive, way more expensive than alternative sources, and
  • they are suffering from debilitating engineering deficiencies.
Consequently, no one is willing to invest their money in the industry and in wind farm construction. As with wind power the world over, the only rationale for their being is a healthy government subsidy that underwrites the economic disaster that wind power represents.

So quick review.Wind farms are ugly. They may or may not decimate bat and bird populations. They don't work up to 80% of the time and when they do, the electricity they generate is three times the cost of other sources. Yep, sustainability in action, or is that inaction.

Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the silent majority that tolerates most environmental lunacy will step up and say enough is enough and stop the madness before too many areas are despoiled. Perhaps wind farms will initiate the study of a new phenomena: eco-pollution.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Resources are not limited: political will is

One of the most challenging concepts for people to grasp is that resources are not finite. Long before their absolute limits are reached, scarcity elevates the price of the resource past the point at which the resource supply switches to a better, cheaper, alternative resource. This has happened all through history. Long before any resource was ever exhausted, it was replaced by an alternative provided by technological advancement in production, in manufacturing, or both.

The latest example of this phenomenon is oil, long projected to be running out, reaching the limits of absolute viability and frequently a topic of discussions framed around the construct of "peak oil". Except, the latest data do not substantiate the fears:
  • In contrast to a widely discussed theory that world oil production will soon reach a peak and go into sharp decline, a new analysis of the subject by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) finds that the remaining global oil resource base is actually 3.74 trillion barrels -- three times as large as the 1.2 trillion barrels estimated by the theory's proponents -- and that the "peak oil" argument is based on faulty analysis which could, if accepted, distort critical policy and investment decisions and cloud the debate over the energy future.
  • This is the fifth time that the world is said to be running out of oil....Each time -- whether it was the 'gasoline famine' at the end of WWI or the 'permanent shortage' of the 1970s -- technology and the opening of new frontier areas has banished the spectre of decline. There's no reason to think that technology is finished this time.
Resources are not limited. Resources are not: they become.

Resources do not exist unless they meet four conditions:
  • a demand exists for them
  • they are known
  • they are spatially delineated, and
  • they are economically viable
All of these characteristics change with advancing technology, as does the nature of what constitutes a resource for future generations. Thus, long before the world ran out of coal, its utility was supplanted in large part by oil. Oil had existed throughout human history, but it is only since the late nineteenth century that the technology existed to harness it as a resource. And, as technology has advanced, areas that were thought to be dry and empty of oil, have once more become productive sources for oil supply.

This was, of course, the main contention of the late Julian Simon, whose original focus was the link between population and development. In the 1960s it was erroneously believed by many that the source of poverty was over-population. Simon showed this to be an incorrect belief. Not willing to give up their myth, advocates claimed that Simon had not accounted for the other impacts of over-population, which everyone knew was the main source of pollution and environmental degradation. Not so said Simon, who spent the rest of his career documenting that over-population was the original ecomyth and a non-problem: population has no bearing on pollution, species loss, habitat loss nor a wide myriad of other ecomyths. Much maligned during his lifetime, Simon received posthumous confirmation of his work when Lomborg's attempt to refute his findings merely acted to re-confirm their resiliency and accuracy (but not without considerable continued abuse to the messenger and angst by enviro-zealots).

So, if over-population is not the problem, what is?

Poverty. Poverty always had been and continues to be the singular state of non-sustainability for the human race.
Poverty makes people vulnerable to natural disasters, prone to famines, susceptible to disease, less able to care for their environment, incapable of investing in environmental improvements (such as sanitation) and significantly shortens life expectancy.

Today the least sustainable continent continues to be the planet's poorest: Africa. But environmentalism continues to deprive Africa of economic opportunity on the basis of false ecomyths.

First it was DDT, now its GM foods. We sell guns to arm African kids, but not the means for self-sustaining agriculture or tariff-free trade. We show angst about Dafur (not so much about Rwanda), say the right things about Aids but watch while Mugabe destroys Zimbabwe. Then the UN appoints Zimbabwe to head its commission on Sustainable Development.

No its not population that's the problem. Its not even resources. Its human will and the political decision to commit to human welfare, and not to the politics of their welfare.

It's so simple really: a person is a person, however small they are.

Think about it

One of the joys of cruising the blogosphere is you come across articles that catch the essence of an idea or a question, and phrase it just so, that it causes you to stop and contemplate and realize the deceptive simplicity of the insight they present. Two examples from my perusing today.

First up is this framing of the non-event that was earth hour. Not only was earth hour an example of eco-hype (see here, here and here), it was an example of inaction:
  • The environmental unmovement is not only confused about what is action and what is inaction, but also what is progressive, and what is retrogressive. A consequence - could it ever been realised - of dragging the developed world back to primitive technologies and basic lifestyles is that the expression of political action will also be limited. The environmental unmovement is against mass movements .
Second, are a couple of links from Coyote Blog, which ask simple but profound questions: is global warming hysteria killing environmentalism? and, is government necessary to solve problems? As the blog states:
  • ...this was back in the days when environmental groups actually spent their money on the environment. Today, they spend their money instead on lobbying. The more modern approach is not to spend your own money on the environment, but to lobby the government to force other people to spend their money on the environment.
  • There are still real issues to be dealt with ..which can have far more of a positive impact on health and quality of living than CO2 abatement, but they are being suffocated by global warming hype.
So much of contemporary environmentalism is focussed on lobbying and creating awareness. It seems that most environmentalists are stuck in the 1960s, when awareness needed to be raised. Today's generation have never not known sustainability. The mantra of environmentalism has been force-fed through the school system and is now the very mainstream political dogma 1960s activists campaigned against.

So why stunts like earth hour? Why is it all still protest and get government to act?
Because its easy.

And because the ideology is guided by intellectuals, who as we know, don't actually do anything but do like to hear themselves pontificate. Which is why it is very much a non-movement full of hot air.

Change is difficult and requires active intervention. It also tends to be community based. Lots of people have ideas: there is a shortage of people who can successfully transform those ideas into effective action, and most of them are in business, not government.

Think of the last committee you were involved with. Good intentions, lots of ideas. Shortage of people willing to act, even smaller list of people who acted effectively. Now try to think of a productive, successful business that uses committees as its management structure. Teams, yes. Committees, no.

By definition, committees specialize in talking, organizing more meetings, seeking more funds to secure their continued existence and extolling the need for others to act in accordance with their pronouncements, but they themselves do nothing practical.

Which, of course, is the reason committees are used so much by government: they give the appearance of action but don't actually achieve anything, nor are they capable of achieving anything. In fact, committees are the ideal approach to inaction for policy areas characterized by unmovement such as environment, especially climate change:
  • Just two countries, Somalia and Haiti, are currently living a lifestyle compatible with an 80% reduction in per capita CO2 emissions.

Now there is an advertising campaign:
  • If you liked earth hour, come to North Korea, we live deprivation 24/7!
  • Reduce your carbon footprint: come live poor in Haiti or Somalia!
Think about it.