Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Garbage: the burning question

Waste is one of life's more problematic challenges. By definition, garbage comprises items that have no value. In truth, value can be found within all garbage within all societies and the wealthier the society the greater the chance that some residual value can be found by sifting through the detritus of daily life. However, all the reduction, re-use and recycling in the world can not alter the basic fact that garbage runs counter to the foundational principle of economics: supply and demand. With garbage, they will always be an excess of supply and too little demand. It is garbage precisely because it has little to no value.

What does this mean for waste management? It means that wealthy societies with available land have disposed of their garbage using sanitary landfills. Lately, however, pressures for alternate land uses and the desire to dispose of garbage within (or at least close to) the community generating the waste is leading to a reconsideration of waste management options, particularly incineration.

Ontario finds itself in this position. The Metro Toronto area has run out of its own landfilling capacity, has been denied by provincial legislation (don't ask!) the option to bury waste in an abandoned mine near Kirkland Lake, has seen its export of garbage to willing hosts in Michigan curtailed by State fiat and has now purchased an existing landfill in a rural county with enough capacity for the next 10 to 20 years. In short, Toronto is living on borrowed time and successive provincial and municipal governments have sought to avoid tackling the long-term resolution to the issue (well other than the enforced adoption of a province-wide reduce, re-use and recylce program that successfully sorts the garbage using bright blue boxes but still sees over 80% of that blue box material eventually find itself being landfilled because the market is not there for recycled materials and/or the capacity to recycle material does not exist).

At long last, public attention is being drawn to Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan where incineration is successfully used to resolve the garbage question. Proponents of incineration in the Canadian context face challenges from environmental precautionists who worry about air emissions (despite the successfully technology and accompanying environmental standards in those other jurisdictions) and from the ideologues who cling to the notion that somehow a yet more aggressive waste reduction program could yet result in a zero waste society (well if it takes zero consumption to do that, that just the price we should pay).

Incineration works. But it also transfers waste from garbage into fuel: a huge shift in dominant construct. Is Ontario ready?

Statistics, science and sociology

The first in a series of articles by Lawrence Solomon, this article offers a few well-written gems that reveal much about the sociology of the global warming debate. Juxtaposing "science is settled" proponents with skeptics, Solomon offers a quick synopsis of why global warming advocates lose support in the wider context of the scientific community.
The fact that incorrect data were analyzed using incorrect statistical methods is thought to be irrelevant by promoters of global warming because the "right answer" resulted. Science does not progress this way. Statistics are not about accuracy, they are a measure of precision. That climate data are imprecise is the point. Failing this test, their accuracy can be assumed and no vociferous assertion otherwise can make them so. And that is the inconvenient truth.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Four big, fat myths

The latest in a series of articles by John Luik on the obesity myth, this one in the Daily Telegraph is written with Patrick Basham and it outlines that the obesity epidemic is a myth with four key propositions:
  • that we and our children are fat
  • that being fat is a certain recipe for early death
  • that our fatness stems from the manufacturing and marketing practices of the food industry, and
  • that we will lengthen our lives if only we eat less and lose weight.
However, as Basham and Luik explain 'there is no scientific evidence to support these myths'.

What is interesting is to argue these points as they are taken as axiomatic gospel by so many. The knee-jerk response is to suggest that if you disagree with any of the four key propositions you are, in effect, arguing for obesity, heart attacks and general lack of fitness. The difficulty is to point out that being fit, longevity of life and positive body image are not being promoted by the obesity myth and, in particular, by its incessant social engineering of children.

But if there is no scientific evidence to support the myth, why are so many agencies and people out there promoting it? Look to see who gains from adherence to the myth and its embedded constructs: then you see why it is perpetuated. As Luik has written elsewhere, it is far easier for health officials to rail against imaginary risks than it is to grapple with finding cures to systemic problems and the global reality of wealth translating into better health. Once you have a wealthy society, what is left for government agencies to manage?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gore gored

Live by the sword, die by the sword. Al Gore recently took his global warming crusade to the Daily Telegraph when he wrote a response to Chistopher Monckton's two article on the political and scientific dimensions of climate change. Restating many of the claims he made in his film, Gore also mixed in a healthy dose of personal attacks on Viscount Monkton's credibility and on any and all other skeptics -- defined as those who don't agree with Al Gore's rather dramatic view of global warming.

Well Viscount Monckton has replied to Mr. Gore. His commentary is available here and it is a much more comprehensive, substantiated and carefully nuanced response than Monckton was able to provide within the space confines of his newspaper articles.

Too many people still uncritically accept the global warming myth. Monckton's reply to Gore provides an excellent point by point deconstruction of the myth and the basis for both scientific and ideological skepticism of its claims to veracity.

Apparently not all skeptics are hired oil company lackeys: many are thoughtful sensible people who can actually read for themselves and distinguish truth from hype, fact from fiction and the abuse/misuse of science from real scholarship.

Science often becomes politicized. The trick is to be able to recognize what is science from that which is politics.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Every silver lining has a cloud

However, the environmentalist case against engineering fixes for global warming does not rest on the underlying science. It has more to do with a view of science as the cause of the world’s problems, and not something that might provide a solution.
This quote comes from a provocative discussion on environmentalism and its reaction to potential technical solutions to climate change.

The article reviews some suggestions for cloud seeding to augment the feedback properties of clouds and other possibilities low-risk, cheap technical strategies for temperature stabilisation. Each of the techniques has funded, peer-reviewed research to support its claims. Would they work? We don't know. But that is not necessarily the point. What is instructive is the reaction of environmental groups to the possibility of such methods being used. Disinterest is an under-statement. In a reaction that reveals the true agenda of many groups, such technical suggestions are given short-shrift as they do not fit the prescribed anti-technology, anti-growth and anti-capitalist ideology such groups see as the paramount potential in their campaign on global warming.

So quick review: climate changes, always has, always will. Only now its not just changing, it is warming due to human interference that can only be suppressed by a non-carbon using society with no advertising (except for approved propaganda), no marketing (except prescribed social reform education), minimal consumption (except for important people who need to get to meetings), zero ecological footprint, and planning that is regulated, centralised and prescribed to conform to perfect equality, respect for all living things and harmonic balance.

We should all see this vision and accept its unquestioned correctness. Any science that counters this perspective is to be ignored and discounted as corrupt. No technical answers are to be considered as technology is the source of all the planet's clearly established ills that the suppression of global warming will eradicate.

I exaggerate (but not by much). Luckily, I remember enough of Orwell's 1984 to recognize doublespeak when it surfaces and hypocrisy when it manifests itself in the public arena.

Maybe the Emperor doesn't have new clothes?

A useful discussion on Prometheus on the reluctance of "experts" to speak up and correct misrepresentation of science, especially in the media and by vested political interests. This article was particularly timely as it appears the day after the CBC in Canada aired a segment on its Fifth Estate program that "exposed" climate skeptics and the supposedly large amounts of money paid them by the oil industry. The implication being, of course, that one could only be skeptical of global warming if one's viewpoint had been bought and paid for by industry.

It occurs to me that if the much vaunted "consensus" on global warming existed, there would be no hysteria nor inquisition to expose those still not obeying the various missives to conform. Moreover, to impune the motives of independent thinkers and suggest anyone who speaks against global warming has had their opinion prostituted is ridiculous. Lastly, global warming is now funded to the tune of over $5 billion per year but I guess experts bellying up to that trough are still intellectually pure as these are "official" funds and subject to "peer-review".

This view of intellectualism by which the morality of the research is adjudicated by its conformity with prescribed outcomes is the truly offensive aspect of this whole debate.

The ends never justify the means. And usually those who seek to claim otherwise are merely seeking to justify their own power, status or prescription for reform. Authoritarianism is a sure sign of fear: why is it, exactly, that skeptics scare proponents of global warming so profoundly?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rethinking climate change

Finally it appears the tide may be turning: the media are no longer falling off the global warming cliff like trained lemmings. Instead, journalists are beginning to exercise some personal integrity, check the numbers and ask awkward questions, no longer accepting the propaganda fed them by advocates of anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

In a wonderfully reasonable, accessible and accurate summary in the Sunday Telegraph Christopher Monkton describes the extent to which the science of climate change has been compromised in the efforts to project a "consensus" on AGW. In an affirmation of the truth will out, his summary reveals that those promoting AGW have stepped a long way out on a limb that can no longer support the hot air they are trying to foist on the public.

Yes, the metaphors are mixed and the language is full of jargon, but the topic is global warming and I am trying to fit in. Not.