See this article for more detials: Back to the Future: Can Nuclear Energy Save the World?
Christian Science Monitor: Deforestation: Brazil is a success story for conservation
"In the 1990s, tropical deforestation claimed 40 million acres each year, according to a report released in June by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Today, about 32 million acres of forests fall each year, a drop of about 19 percent. ...
... The report cites a number of efforts that have led to deforestation’s decline. The researchers looked primarily at political policies, incentive programs, and economic reforms, limiting the scope of their study to countries and regions that displayed clear, tangible successes.
“Ultimately, the report shows that every euro, dollar, peso, rupee, dong, and African franc invested in these programs and policies is money well spent,” said Doug Boucher, the lead author of the study, in a news release. “The rewards far outweigh the costs.”
Brazil has effectively employed a suite of conservation methods. ...
The Atlantic: How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Listen
Environmentalists warn us that apocalypse awaits. Economists tell us that minimal fixes will get us through. Here's how we can move beyond the impasse.
This is an exceptionally good piece by Charles Mann on how we think and talk about climate change. It is a long article. Here are a few excerpts.
"... On the one hand, the transformation of the Antarctic seems like an unfathomable disaster. On the other hand, the disaster will never affect me or anyone I know; nor, very probably, will it trouble my grandchildren. How much consideration do I owe the people it will affect, my 40-times-great-grandchildren, who, many climate researchers believe, will still be confronted by rising temperatures and seas? Americans don’t even save for their own retirement! How can we worry about such distant, hypothetical beings?
Worse, confronting climate change requires swearing off something that has been an extraordinary boon to humankind: cheap energy from fossil fuels. ..."
"... Rhetorical overreach, moral miscalculation, shouting at cross-purposes: this toxic blend is particularly evident when activists, who want to scare Americans into taking action, come up against economists, with their cool calculations of acceptable costs. Eco-advocates insist that only the radical transformation of society—the old order demolished, foundation to roof—can fend off the worst consequences of climate change. Economists argue for adapting to the most-likely consequences; cheerleaders for industrial capitalism, they propose quite different, much milder policies, and are ready to let nature take a bigger hit in the short and long terms alike. Both envelop themselves in the mantle of Science, emitting a fug of charts and graphs. (Actually, every side in the debate, including the minority who deny that humans can affect the climate at all, claims the backing of Science.) Bewildered and battered by the back-and-forth, the citizenry sits, for the most part, on its hands. For all the hot air expended on the subject, we still don’t know how to talk about climate change.
As an issue, climate change was unlucky: when nonspecialists first became aware of it, in the 1990s, environmental attitudes had already become tribal political markers. ..."
He does a great job of recounting the history of the politics that has led us to where we are today.
"As an issue, climate change is perfect for symbolic battle, because it is as yet mostly invisible. ..."
Yes! And my conviction is that most conversations I encounter are far more about symbolic identification with a particular reference group, an expression of personal identity, and a means for ideological warfare, than a genuine appreciation for the nuances and risks of the human impact on climate.
In concrete terms, Americans encounter climate change mainly in the form of three graphs, staples of environmental articles. The first shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide has been steadily increasing. Almost nobody disputes this. The second graph shows rising global temperatures. This measurement is trickier: ... The third graph typically shows the consequences such models predict, ranging from worrisome (mainly) to catastrophic (possibly). ...
... The only solution to our ecological woes, McKibben argues, is to live simpler, more local, less resource-intensive existences—something he believes is already occurring. ...
... At base, he says, ecologism seeks not to save nature but to purify humankind through self-flagellating asceticism.
To Bruckner, ecologism is both ethnocentric and counterproductive. Ethnocentric because eco-denunciations of capitalism simply give new, green garb to the long-standing Euro-American fear of losing dominance over the developing world (whose recent growth derives, irksomely, from fossil fuels). Counterproductive because ecologism induces indifference, or even hostility to environmental issues. In the quest to force humanity into a puritanical straitjacket of rural simplicity, ecologism employs what should be neutral, fact-based descriptions of a real-world problem (too much carbon dioxide raises temperatures) as bludgeons to compel people to accept modes of existence they would otherwise reject. Intuiting moral blackmail underlying the apparently objective charts and graphs, Bruckner argues, people react with suspicion, skepticism, and sighing apathy—the opposite of the reaction McKibbenites hope to evoke. ...
Does climate change, as Nordhaus claims, truly slip into the silk glove of standard economic thought? The dispute is at the center of Jamieson’s Reason in a Dark Time. Parsing logic with the care of a raccoon washing a shiny stone, Jamieson maintains that economists’ discussions of climate change are almost as problematic as those of environmentalists and politicians, though for different reasons. ...
... If the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises only slightly above its current 400 parts per million, most climatologists believe, there is (roughly) a 90 percent chance that global temperatures will eventually rise between 3 and 8 degrees Fahrenheit, with the most likely jump being between 4 and 5 degrees. Nordhaus and most other economists conclude that humankind can slowly constrain this relatively modest rise in carbon without taking extraordinary, society-transforming measures, though neither decreasing the use of fossil fuels nor offsetting their emissions will be cheap or easy. But the same estimates show (again in rough terms) a 5 percent chance that letting carbon dioxide rise much above its current level would set off a domino-style reaction leading to global devastation. (No one pays much attention to the remaining 5 percent chance that the carbon rise would have very little effect on temperature.)
In our daily lives, we typically focus on the most likely result: I decide whether to jaywalk without considering the chance that I will trip in the street and get run over. But sometimes we focus on the extreme: I lock up my gun and hide the bullets in a separate place to minimize the chance that my kids will find and play with them. For climate change, should we focus on adapting to the most probable outcome or averting the most dangerous one? Cost-benefit analyses typically ignore the most-radical outcomes: they assume that society has agreed to accept the small but real risk of catastrophe—something environmentalists, to take one particularly vehement section of society, have by no means done.
On top of this, Jamieson argues, there is a second problem in the models economists use to discus climate change. Because the payoff from carbon-dioxide reduction will occur many decades from now, Nordhausian analysis suggests that we should do the bare minimum today, even if that means saddling our descendants with a warmer world. Doing the minimum is expensive enough already, economists say. Because people tomorrow will be richer than we are, as we are richer than our grandparents were, they will be better able to pay to clean up our emissions. Unfortunately, this is an ethically problematic stance. How can we weigh the interests of someone born in 2050 against those of someone born in 1950? In this kind of trade-off between generations, Jamieson argues, “there is no plausible value” for how much we owe the future.
Given their moral problems, he concludes, economic models are much less useful as guides than their proponents believe. For all their ostensible practicality—for all their attempts to skirt the paralysis-inducing specter of the apocalypse—economists, too, don’t have a good way to talk about climate change. ...
... let’s assume that rising carbon-dioxide levels will become a problem of some magnitude at some time and that we will want to do something practical about it. Is there something we should do, no matter what technical arcanae underlie the cost-benefit analyses, no matter when we guess the bad effects from climate change will kick in, no matter how we value future generations, no matter what we think of global capitalism? Indeed, is there some course of action that makes sense even if we think that climate change isn’t much of a problem at all? ...
Read the article to see how he answers the question. I pretty much agree. But I particularly like how he has framed our problem with the problem of climate change.
I've been saying this for years but I still think the best response is one of risk management. Risk involves factoring in both the likelihood something will happen and the significance of the thing happening if it does. Apocalyptic ecologism or dismissive economism gets us nowhere.
Wall Street Journal: The World's Resources Aren't Running Out
As I listen to conversations about our economic future, I hear two visions of the future being articulated and I think both are inaccurate. First, there are what I call the Malthusians. They see a world of imminent collapse, limits to growth, exhausted resources, and such. We are warned that if we keep going the way we are, X will run out, or Y will be destroyed. And they are right ... if there "if" stays true. And that is just the point. We don't keep going they way we are presently going when challenges emerge. We innovate. We substitute better models of doing things for the old ones. We substitute more plentiful materials for ones becoming more costly or scarce. The Malthusians have been singing their chorus of collapse for 200 years and they have always been wrong. And we still at the beginning, not the end, of learning how to address a multitude of problems that have continually plagued us.
I call the second group the Cornucopians. They see a world of unprecedented technological breakthroughs that will effortlessly make the world of 2100s like a utopia compared to our day. Now I will confess that I lean toward the Cornucopian side of this continuum and I believe the world will be a much better place. But I also look back over the last 200 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and while I see unquestionable improvement in the world's standard of living that is in accelerated upward movement, I also see great wars, injustices, and waste that happened along the way. The future is likely to hold more of the same.
As someone who works continuously at integerating faith and economics, I am deeply persuaded that growth is going to happen, that innovation and substitution is going to trip up the Malthusians once again. But that doesn't mean the process change is always going to painless and without injustice. And if the church is to have a meaningful impact on shaping our coming world, it has to live in this reality. Regretably, most of my Mainline Protestant tribe has succombed to Malthusian visions, and rather than working as a force to shape the new world, equates working against its emergence as a prophetic witness. Meanwhile, more conservative Christians seem to carry on as if just implementing free markets and making America strong is all we need. Unless this changes, the church, in America at least, will find itself swept along by these economic and technological changes, not shaping them.
Matt Ridely recently wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal called The World's Resources Aren't Running Out. A very much resonate with what has written in this piece.
"Ecologists worry that the world's resources come in fixed amounts that will run out, but we have broken through such limits again and again.
"... But here's a peculiar feature of human history: We burst through such limits again and again. After all, as a Saudi oil minister once said, the Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone. Ecologists call this "niche construction"—that people (and indeed some other animals) can create new opportunities for themselves by making their habitats more productive in some way. Agriculture is the classic example of niche construction: We stopped relying on nature's bounty and substituted an artificial and much larger bounty.
Economists call the same phenomenon innovation. What frustrates them about ecologists is the latter's tendency to think in terms of static limits. Ecologists can't seem to see that when whale oil starts to run out, petroleum is discovered, or that when farm yields flatten, fertilizer comes along, or that when glass fiber is invented, demand for copper falls.
That frustration is heartily reciprocated. Ecologists think that economists espouse a sort of superstitious magic called "markets" or "prices" to avoid confronting the reality of limits to growth. The easiest way to raise a cheer in a conference of ecologists is to make a rude joke about economists. ..."
Over recent years I've posted about the messaging we typically get on climate change. (Most recently Global Warming Scare Tactics (They Usually Backfire)) The predominate approach is to hit people with dire visions of what is happening to the world, lecture on the evils of capitalism and consumerism, and then offer a few practical solutions. This resonates well with a minority of people. But effective change requires that a majority consensus be built around specific action. The lopsided attention to scare tactics over solutions tends to make many feel helpless so they chose to ignore the issue. Others are turned off by the not so subtle attacks on what they feel is a good a decent way of life, inclining them to not only reject solutions but the validity of the climate concerns at all.
Yet research shows that when the focus is solution oriented, optimistic, and seen as means of preserving a way of life, many more people warm to the cause. Upworthy recently posted a clip by Jason Silva about The Solutions Project. (I love Silva as the host of Nat Geo's Brain Games.) I think Silva has done his homework. Watch the video and see how he frames the message. Notice that he is much less interested in getting people to coalesce on ideologies of what is wrong and is far more interested in getting people energized about solutions. People can bring a variety of narratives to the project but the aim is to unite them in solutions. For the sake of this conversation, I'm not interested in whether we think climate change is a threat or if we think his solutions are realistic. I'm pointing to the messaging question.
(One caveat: At 1:14 he says "the smartest men in the world." He might want to include women in that statement. ;-) )
New York Times: Global Warming Scare Tactics
This article confirms what I've been arguing for some time now:
... evidence that a fear-based approach backfires has grown stronger. A frequently cited 2009 study in the journal Science Communication summed up the scholarly consensus. “Although shocking, catastrophic, and large-scale representations of the impacts of climate change may well act as an initial hook for people’s attention and concern,” the researchers wrote, “they clearly do not motivate a sense of personal engagement with the issue and indeed may act to trigger barriers to engagement such as denial.” In a controlled laboratory experiment published in Psychological Science in 2010, researchers were able to use “dire messages” about global warming to increase skepticism about the problem.
Many climate advocates ignore these findings, arguing that they have an obligation to convey the alarming facts. ...
... What works, say environmental pollsters and researchers, is focusing on popular solutions. Climate advocates often do this, arguing that solar and wind can reduce emissions while strengthening the economy. But when renewable energy technologies are offered as solutions to the exclusion of other low-carbon alternatives, they polarize rather than unite.
One recent study, published by Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project, found that conservatives become less skeptical about global warming if they first read articles suggesting nuclear energy or geoengineering as solutions. Another study, in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2012, concluded that “communication should focus on how mitigation efforts can promote a better society” rather than “on the reality of climate change and averting its risks.” ...
There is going to be substantial economic growth in coming years. Presently, the global median income is about $1,000 per year. If we were to freeze the economy as is (impossible, but work with me here) we would have two alternatives: 1) leave billions living in poverty while a minority live with much higher income, or 2) balance out global income to about $7,000 a year, meaning the standard of living of people in advanced nations would drop to a fraction of current standards. The first is immoral and the second, short of global totalitarian government, isn't going to happen. Therefore, there will be growth, growth will require energy, and present forms of energy are carbon based.
If we are serious about carbon being a problem and about the realities I just described exist, then we will pragmatically find ways to reduce carbon in ways that honor these realities, not just throw out idealistic ideas and scream "anti-science" and "denier" when people balk at them. The unwillingness of so many activists to pursue pragmatic solutions is to me one of the biggest indicators that this is more about ideological demagoguing in pursuit of other ends than it is about addressing any truly imminent threat.
My thoughts are that we need to work toward greater energy efficiency in both production and in final products. We need to ramp up use of natural gas as an intermediate energy source. It is still a fossil fuel but produces much less CO2. That would buy us more time to build more nuclear power plants and to bring renewable energy technology to a level where it will be able to make a cost-effective contribution.
Furthermore, while there is scientific certainty that humans have an impact on climate, the climate's sensitivity to human influence is not so clear. Neither are the environmental impacts clear. Buying more time allows us to improve our understanding of the climate, helping us better understand the risks and benefits involved. In essence we, are talking about prudence and risk management.
Dirty air killed an alarming 7 million people – or, one of every eight human lives lost – in 2012, according to new estimates released today by the World Health Organization (WHO).
n 2010, air pollution ranked as the fourth leading preventable health risk, behind poor diet, high blood pressure and tobacco smoke, according to a major study funded by the Gates Foundation.
Indoor air pollution, primarily caused by burning solid fuels for heating and cooking, accounted for slightly more than half – 4.3 million – of those deaths in 2012.
Outdoor air pollution accounted for the remaining 3.7 million deaths. ...
Nick Cohen has a piece in the Guardian The climate change deniers have won. He is mourning the fact the "climate deniers" seem to be winning the day and exlpores why that might be. He writes:
... Clive Hamilton, the Australian author of Requiem for a Species, made the essential point a few years ago that climate change denial was no longer just a corporate lobbying campaign. The opponents of science would say what they said unbribed. The movement was in the grip of "cognitive dissonance", a condition first defined by Leon Festinger and his colleagues in the 1950s . They examined a cult that had attached itself to a Chicago housewife called Dorothy Martin. She convinced her followers to resign from their jobs and sell their possessions because a great flood was to engulf the earth on 21 December 1954. They would be the only survivors. Aliens in a flying saucer would swoop down and save the chosen few.
When 21 December came and went, and the Earth carried on as before, the group did not despair. Martin announced that the aliens had sent her a message saying that they had decided at the last minute not to flood the planet after all. Her followers believed her. They had given up so much for their faith that they would believe anything rather than admit their sacrifices had been pointless.
Climate change deniers are as committed. Their denial fits perfectly with their support for free market economics, opposition to state intervention and hatred of all those latte-slurping, quinoa-munching liberals, with their arrogant manners and dainty hybrid cars, who presume to tell honest men and women how to live. If they admitted they were wrong on climate change, they might have to admit that they were wrong on everything else and their whole political identity would unravel. ...
Let me say at the start that I think there is considerable truth in what he says. A great many of those who reject climate change alarm do not do so because they have a detailed knowledge of science. It is because it poses a significant threat to their view of the world.
Now let me add that is also true that a great many of those who embrace climate alarm do so not because they have a detailed knowledge of science. They do so because it gives them cognitive consonance. It reinforces their view of the world.
The marriage of climate alarm to anti-market, anti-growth, pro-state ideology is powerfully real but it is not a conscious marriage. It is intuitive. It creates cognitive harmony. To campaign for one is to campaign for the other.
If the real issue is solving the climate problem, then the messaging must be realistic. Take anti-growth. The global median annual income is about $1,000 per person. If there is to be no growth, then we have one of two options. First, freeze the world as it is and billions of people continue to live indefinitely at just above subsistence levels. Second, we install a global government to equalize income across the world meaning that the average American or European family (median income approx $50,000) will see a 98% drop to $1,000 a year. (And of course the very notion that income exists independent of the economic arrangements generating the income, which would have to be disassembled to achieve this goal, is absurd, but you get my point.) The first is immoral and the second beyond unrealistic. Therefore, the economy must grow and any realistic attempt to meet a climate change challenge will incorporate this. Period! End of discussion.
Innovation, adaptation, and substitution, and the free economies these activities need in order to thrive, are critical to addressing challenges, but they are anathema to so many climate advocates that embracing them creates cognitive dissonance. There are studies that suggest that when climate change is framed a little differently ... for instance, as a threat to future prosperity and freedom ... it gets a broader hearing among more conservative populations. Take the same-sex marriage movement. Regardless of what you think of its merits, a primary reason the movement has been successful is because it was able to tap into widely shared values of freedom of choice, tolerance, and equality. So it could just as easily be argued that it is the cognitive consonance of advocates that is blocking realistic meaningful responses to climate change.
Researchers at George Mason University and Yale University bring the grave news that "belief in global warming" is at a "six year low".
I. Do You Believe?
The study [PDF] comes courtesy of principle investigator Professor Anthony Leiserowitz, an environmental scientist at Yale. Other principle investigators include Professors Edward Maibach and Connie Roser-Renouf (GMU communications professors, specializing in climate). Geoff Feinberg, a Yale university employee who lacks a Ph.D but was a private sector polling specialist on environmental issues also contributed to the work.
Another odd addition was psychopathology researcher turned climatology investigator Professor Seth Rosenthal, a member of Yale's climatology team. Rounding out the team was Professor Jennifer Marlon, a PhD expert in geography who currently teaches climate science at Yale.
The first oddity -- which you may notice -- is that there's nary a Ph.D credentialed climatologist in the field. I think this is worth noting as critics of the more alarmist brands of "global warming" rhetoric are often attacked for not holding climatology degrees, despite the fact that many of them hold master's degrees or doctorates in related fields, such as physics or civil engineering. ...
This is a rather lengthy article but it is the conclusion that caught my eye.
IV. More Science, More Debate, Less Politics
There's a need for research. But surveys on public opinion asked in shrill black and white terms offer little help to a legitimate debate.
And as much as there's a need for research, there's an equal age to push to remove this issue from a political debate. Until someone can come up with a financially sound approach to emissions control, the government needs to step back and let the private sector handle its own affairs.
Mankind is changing the climate in numerous ways, many of which surpass even strong warming on a local basis. From desertification to water cycle changes due to deforestation, many serious manmade climate changes are overlooked due to global warming's chokehold on media attention.
Instead of focusing on querying public beliefs and condemning (or praising) "nonbelievers", let us instead focus the dialogue on constructive solutions to both adopt a sensible path to alternative energy (e.g. algae, nuclear power, solar), so that when fossil fuel supplies do near exhaustion, we're prepared. And let's acknowledge that climate change -- manmade or not -- has always been occurring on planet Earth.
Last, but not least, let's not blame the media for putting things in alarmist or overly skeptical terms, when researchers themselves often resort to the same extremes for funding. After all, most members of the media have at least a bachelor's degree in a technical subject. Like many who publish climate research, we lack a Ph.D in climatology. But so long as we express our opinions respectfully, keeping an open and questioning mind, I see no reason why the media's opinions are more or less valid than non-climatologist thinking heads in academia. To suggest otherwise is simply elitist "ivory tower" type thinking.
I have no doubt the climate is changing. I don't doubt that human activity plays a role. I am not certain how big that role is. Based on significantly errant predictions about climate (temps have remained stable for 15 years and are now outside the 95% confidence level of modeled scientific predictions), I don't have confidence that scientists have a good grasp on the climate yet. Some are suggesting the 15 year hiatus in warming could last another 15 years. Furthermore, calculations about CO2 emissions all assume GDP growth and energy use are perfectly coupled. Yet, evidence is emerging that the two are decoupling and that GDP is taking less energy per dollar of GDP. That means less than predicted CO2. As with the temperature predictions, my confidence level in scientists’ ability to predict specific impacts is not high, but it is not zero. In short, I'm not greatly worried ... yet.
With all that said, there is a lot in there I could be wrong about. Maybe by a little. Maybe by a lot. There are significant unknowns. And that means we are looking at a risk management question. Rather than feeling the need to cling exclusively to one pole or another ... alarm or denial ... I'm hedging my actions against the idea the the challenges are not threatening. It doesn't hurt that there are some significant advantages to nuclear and renewable energy beyond climate concerns. That makes me willing to hedge even more in that direction. What I find most disappointing is those who think total alarm or total denial are the only strategic options that may be considered. For them, it is most often about making ideology prevail versus dealing prudently with challenges.
What I am articulating is not a "moderate" position between two extremes or some attempt to find a "third way." I see at as realism ... decision-making in the face of uncertainty and recognizing climate change remediation is more than a one dimensional challenge. I see what I'm advocating as an alternative way to todays default option, unwavering allegiance to exaggerated claims of certainty by alarmists and deniers.
Washington Post: 40 charts that explain the world
Our friend and colleague Max Fisher over at Worldviews has posted another 40 maps that explain the world, building on his original classic of the genre. But this is Wonkblog. We're about charts. And one of the great things about charts is that they show not just how things are -- but how they're changing.
So we searched for charts that would tell not just the story of how the world is -- but where it's going. Some of these charts are optimistic, like the ones showing huge gains in life expectancy in poorer nations. Some are more worryisome -- wait till you see the one on endangered species. But together they tell a story of a world that's changing faster than at arguably any other time in human history. ...
As the author notes, we have challenges but we hardly descending into some global dystopia. I think these charts give a pretty holistic view. Here are a three examples.
It was commonly believed that primitive societies were more peaceful and that modern civilization gave rise to unprecedented violence. This chart compares death rates by war in primitive societies as calculated by anthropologists to the death rates for Europe/USA in the 20th century.
And then there is this:
The graphs point to environmental protection and adaptation as the biggest problems in the days ahead. Those challenges are not insurmountable. Energy sources like natural gas and nuclear power can be used in the interim on the way to practical renewable technologies. Genetically modified crops can help to reduce water consumption, increase yield, and improve hardiness. Innovations in fields like biotechnology, nanotechnology, and 3-D printing hold the promise of revolutionizing the world economy into a less wasteful and more affordable human existence for everyone. There is work to do but there is also much reason for hope of a better world.
Jan 16, 2014 in Demography, Economic Development, Economics, Environment, Generations & Trends, Globalization, Health, Poverty, Religion, Science, Sociology, Technology (Biotech & Health), Technology (Digital, Telecom, & Web), Technology (Energy), Technology (Food & Water), Technology (Manufacturing & Construction)), Technology (Transportation & Distribution), Weatlh and Income Distribution | Permalink | Comments (0)
Conversation: Fewer people won’t save the planet, behaving better will
"... Does the earth have too many people for its own good? Can another three or four billion be added (the current United Nations projection for 2100) without fatally harming the planet?
The issue is not one of how many people the planet can support, but how wastefully and aggressively those people act.
Ten thousand years ago, with less than five million people on the Earth, large animals were already being hunted to extinction by aggressive humans. It was the domestication of plants and animals that filled the world with both humans and large herbivores. Today, with seven billion people, these herds of pigs and cattle satisfy our ever-growing demand for meat.
Untouched wilderness seems scarcer (although national parks in the US remain much as they were a century ago, once you leave the concession stands and roadside attractions). But true wilderness, untouched by humans, on Amazon rainforest and American plains ceased to exist thousands of years ago when human populations were a tiny fraction of what they are today. Native Americans burned, dug, and reshaped the forests and plains to suit their needslong before Columbus brought guns and horses to the New World.
Won’t too many people drain food supplies, produce poverty and damage the climate? Again, it is not the number of people but how they act that matters. Food supplies are fine – it is food distribution that is the problem. ...
... Fears of climate change now reverberate widely. But again, the problem is not too many people. ...
... People who fear overpopulation commit the fallacy of simply multiplying faults – they take the most harmful and wasteful actions of any set of people today and multiply it by the growing number of people in the world. ...
... Doing away with billions of people is no substitute for doing away with the vices in people’s behaviour. Instead we need to pursue cleaner, healthier, and more ecologically sound lifestyles and ways of satisfying our needs. For that we need more, not less, creative and passionate people to guide us to a better future. The planet can handle it, if we improve how we handle ourselves. ...
What an excellent essay!
Forty-one years after publication of the infamous Limits to Growth, Bjorn Lomborg offers this excellent piece, The Limits to Panic:
... But the report’s fundamental legacy remains: we have inherited a tendency to obsess over misguided remedies for largely trivial problems, while often ignoring big problems and sensible remedies.
In the early 1970’s, the flush of technological optimism was over, the Vietnam War was a disaster, societies were in turmoil, and economies were stagnating. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring had raised fears about pollution and launched the modern environmental movement; Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 title The Population Bomb said it all. The first Earth Day, in 1970, was deeply pessimistic.
The genius of The Limits to Growth was to fuse these worries with fears of running out of stuff. We were doomed, because too many people would consume too much. Even if our ingenuity bought us some time, we would end up killing the planet and ourselves with pollution. The only hope was to stop economic growth itself, cut consumption, recycle, and force people to have fewer children, stabilizing society at a significantly poorer level.
That message still resonates today, though it was spectacularly wrong. For example, the authors of The Limits to Growth predicted that before 2013, the world would have run out of aluminum, copper, gold, lead, mercury, molybdenum, natural gas, oil, silver, tin, tungsten, and zinc.
Instead, despite recent increases, commodity prices have generally fallen to about a third of their level 150 years ago. Technological innovations have replaced mercury in batteries, dental fillings, and thermometers: mercury consumption is down 98% and, by 2000, the price was down 90%. More broadly, since 1946, supplies of copper, aluminum, iron, and zinc have outstripped consumption, owing to the discovery of additional reserves and new technologies to extract them economically.
Similarly, oil and natural gas were to run out in 1990 and 1992, respectively; today, reserves of both are larger than they were in 1970, although we consume dramatically more. Within the past six years, shale gas alone has doubled potential gas resources in the United States and halved the price.
As for economic collapse, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global GDP per capita will increase 14-fold over this century and 24-fold in the developing world.
The Limits of Growth got it so wrong because its authors overlooked the greatest resource of all: our own resourcefulness. Population growth has been slowing since the late 1960’s. Food supply has not collapsed (1.5 billion hectares of arable land are being used, but another 2.7 billion hectares are in reserve). Malnourishment has dropped by more than half, from 35% of the world’s population to under 16%.
Nor are we choking on pollution. Whereas the Club of Rome imagined an idyllic past with no particulate air pollution and happy farmers, and a future strangled by belching smokestacks, reality is entirely the reverse.
In 1900, when the global human population was 1.5 billion, almost three million people – roughly one in 500 – died each year from air pollution, mostly from wretched indoor air. Today, the risk has receded to one death per 2,000 people. While pollution still kills more people than malaria does, the mortality rate is falling, not rising.
Nonetheless, the mindset nurtured by The Limits to Growth continues to shape popular and elite thinking. ...
... Obsession with doom-and-gloom scenarios distracts us from the real global threats. Poverty is one of the greatest killers of all, while easily curable diseases still claim 15 million lives every year – 25% of all deaths.CommentsThe solution is economic growth. When lifted out of poverty, most people can afford to avoid infectious diseases. China has pulled more than 680 million people out of poverty in the last three decades, leading a worldwide poverty decline of almost a billion people. This has created massive improvements in health, longevity, and quality of life. ...
The key issue here is innovation. Think in terms of a continuum. At one end is the ape from the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The first human ancestor discovers the idea of using a large bone as a tool for manipulating his environment.
Further along the continuum might be simple tools like hammers and plows. They are extensions of the human body. Then come machines. Human beings are no longer wielding tools but are directing and servicing machines. Next there is artificial intelligence, where computers are able to make some decisions for us, as well as doing repetitive dehumanizing work. Finally, at the other end, might be something like the replicator in Star Trek, where you simply state your wish and a device rearranges atoms to create the desired object.
The problem with the Limits to Growth mentality is that it is locked into a current point along the continuum. It correctly observes that there is a fixed amount of resources in the world but it incorrectly assumes that economic growth means increased use of a materials at rate proportional to the rate of economic growth. To get the depletion date for a resource you calculate the quantity of a material known to exist, calculate annual present usage of the material, project a rate of economic growth, and subtract the projected annual usages from the total.
Total Resource/Current Annual Resource Usage = Years to Depletion (Increase economic growth and the years to depletion shrinks.)
Since the material quantities are fixed, the only variable is economic demand. Consequently, economic growth … whether the result of escalating wants and needs per capita or from increasing population … is unsustainable. (Similarly, take the current level of pollution and multiply it times the rate of economic growth to see how polluted the world will be.) Human innovation is nowhere in sight!
But we are not frozen at a point on the continuum. Human creativity is constantly changing the equation. Here is how.
First, in the short run, there is productivity. As demand for a natural grows it becomes more profitable to go after previously unconsidered deposits of that resource. For example, copper is everywhere but it varies in its accessibility and quality. Quality accessible cooper is the first to be used. But as demand increases, new techniques are invented for finding cooper, accessing deposits, and processing cooper. The Limits to Growth report estimated available cooper in the world in 1972 and projected we would run out of cooper by 2000. Today, not only have we not run out, but we are using more annually and the amount of available cooper has grown magnitudes larger.
Second, economizing. Figuring out how to do twice as much (sometimes much more) with the same resource changes the equation. Household appliances today use less than half the power they did forty years ago and often have features that were not imagined then.
Third, substitution of less plentiful resources with more plentiful resources, especially renewable resources. It is true that over a long time horizon that cooper would one day be depleted barring changes in consumption. But as productivity and economizing gradually lose their ability to keep cooper plentiful, the price of cooper will begin to rise. Recycling cooper will become more attractive. But even more likely is replacement of cooper by other alternatives. Think how much of our communication now is done with sand (fiber optics are made from silica) versus cooper (our old phone lines.) Furthermore, virtually everything made of nonrenewable resources can eventually be made using renewable resources.
Fourth, nanotechnology. We are in the beginning stages of manipulating matter at the molecular level. Nanorobots, about fifteen times the size of an atom, that can disassemble molecules and assemble atoms into new molecules. 3-D printers are already “printing” a range of items, including human tissue and organs. Scientists are developing printed food for long-term space voyages. Something akin to a replicator is not that unthinkable. The range of materials we can use for particular applications, our ability to manipulate matter at the molecular level, and our flexibility at forming matter into useful forms continues to evolve.
A finite stock of materials is not a limit to economic growth. That is not to say to we are without challenges. While many resources can be made more plentiful over time it is true that the very near term there can be shortages and injustices. Extraction of raw materials without adequate consideration for environmental impact could lead to horrific consequences. I’m not making the case that everything will magically take care of itself. I’m making the case that opposition to economic growth based on static zero-sum perceptions of the world that sees inevitable depletion of resources or over-pollution is groundless.
"... Last year, CO2 emissions in the US fell to an 18-year low, the lowest level since 1994, and C02 emissions from coal fell to a 26-year low, the lowest since 1986. Further, as the WSJ reported this week (“Rise in U.S. Gas Production Fuels Unexpected Plunge in Emissions“) the US now leads the world in reducing CO2 emissions thanks to the shale revolution. At the same time that America is using less coal and more shale gas and reducing C02 emissions, Europe and Asia are becoming more coal-dependent for electricity generation, and increasing C02 emissions.
Compared to the last time that CO2 emissions were at 2012′s levels — back in 1994 — real GDP in 2012 was 55% higher and the US population was 17.5% larger, making the drop in greenhouse gas emissions to an 18-year low in 2012 even more impressive. Adjusted for the population, CO2 emissions per capita last year were the lowest since 1964, almost 50 years ago (see chart above, data here and here). According to Department of Energy forecasts, the decline in per capita CO2 emissions is expected to continue so consistently that within about 20 years, greenhouse gas emissions per person in the US will be below the level in 1949! ..."
Climate change may be happening more slowly than scientists thought. But the world still needs to deal with it.
IT MAY come as a surprise to a walrus wondering where all the Arctic’s summer sea ice has gone. It could be news to a Staten Islander still coming to terms with what he lost to Hurricane Sandy. But some scientists are arguing that man-made climate change is not quite so bad a threat as it appeared to be a few years ago. They point to various reasons for thinking that the planet’s “climate sensitivity”—the amount of warming that can be expected for a doubling in the carbon-dioxide level—may not be as high as was previously thought. The most obvious reason is that, despite a marked warming over the course of the 20th century, temperatures have not really risen over the past ten years.
It is not clear why climate change has “plateaued” (see article). It could be because of greater natural variability in the climate, because clouds dampen warming or because of some other little-understood mechanism in the almost infinitely complex climate system. But whatever the reason, some of the really ghastly scenarios—where the planet heated up by 4°C or more this century—are coming to look mercifully unlikely. Does that mean the world no longer has to worry?
No, for two reasons. ...
Here is a graph from the article:
Here is a another chart from The Mail Online showing actual temps versus the forecasted temps based on computer models. The article is written in the publications typical bombastic style but graph is nevertheless helpful:
I'm glad to see reputable publications like the Economist addressing this development. It is clear to even the most casual observer that a plateau is happening. To keep behaving as if it isn't there and that people who are drawing attention to it are sinister does not help the public discourse. In fact, embracing anomalies that are particularly problematic for a narrative you want to communicate is key to making winning broad public support. As I've said before, I don't question scientific thought that human behavior has an impact on the environment. I do question our ability, to date, to appreciate the complexity involved or the sensitivity to human behavior. Prudence is an important value here.
Scientific American: Are climate change models becoming more accurate and less reliable?
One of the perpetual challenges in my career as a modeler of biochemical systems has been the need to balance accuracy with reliability. This paradox is not as strange as it seems. Typically when you build a model you include a lot of approximations supposed to make the modeling process easier; ideally you want a model to be as simple as possible and contain as few parameters as possible. But this strategy does not work all the time since sometimes it turns out that in your drive for simplicity you have left a crucial factor out. So now you include this crucial factor, only to find that the uncertainties in your model go through the roof. What’s happening in such unfortunate cases is that along with including the signal from the previously excluded factors, you have also inevitably included a large amount of noise. This noise can typically result from an incomplete knowledge of the factor, either from calculation or from measurement. Modelers of every stripe thus have to tread a fine balance between including as much of reality as possibility as possible and making the model accurate enough for quantitative explanation and prediction.
It seems that this is exactly the problem that has started bedeviling climate change models. A recent issue of Nature had a very interesting article on what seems to be a wholly paradoxical feature of models used in climate science; as the models are becoming increasingly realistic, they are also becoming less accurate and predictive because of growing uncertainties. I can only imagine this to be an excruciatingly painful fact for climate modelers who seem to be facing the equivalent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle for their field. It’s an especially worrisome time to deal with such issues since the modelers need to include their predictions in the next IPCC report on climate change which is due to be published this year. ...
A very interesting piece showing the challenges of forecasting the future with mathematical models. I liked this paragraph.
... But the lesson to take away from this dilemma is that crude models sometimes work better than more realistic ones. My favorite quote about models comes from the statistician George Box who said that “all models are wrong, but some are useful”. It is a worthy endeavor to try to make models more realistic, but it is even more important to make them useful.
New Geography: How Green Are Millennials?
"... President Obama was also right, from a Millennials’ perspective, to emphasize the need for America to become a leader in sustainable energy technologies. Seventy-one percent of Millennials believe America’s energy policy should focus on developing “alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and hydrogen technology; only a quarter believes that it should focus on “expanding exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas.” Similarly, the RICN’s “Blueprint for a Millennial America,” a report prepared by thousands of Millennials who participated in their “Think 2040” project, placed the development and usage of renewable sources of energy at the top of all other environmental initiatives.
The participants’ proposed solutions to the challenge, however, were not focused on the kind of top-down change so common to Boomers. .Instead the proposals emphasized taking action at the community level. No one, the RICN blueprint said , should be asked to “make sacrifices without fully considering the cost to communities” whose “texture” is most likely to be impacted dealing with the challenge.
Many politicians fail to notice this unique Millennial perspective. Members of the generation disagree sharply with their elders on the best way to address environmental challenges, preferring to tackle them through individual initiative and grassroots action rather than a heavy-handed top down bureaucratic approach. ..."
That last sentence gives me hope for the future. ;-)
Wall Street Journal: Bjorn Lomborg: Climate-Change Misdirection
Fear-mongering exaggeration about effects of global warming distracts us from finding affordable and effective energy alternatives.
In his second inaugural address on Monday, President Obama laudably promised to "respond to the threat of climate change." Unfortunately, when the president described the urgent nature of the threat—the "devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms"—the scary examples suggested that he is contemplating poor policies that don't point to any real, let alone smart, solutions. Global warming is a problem that needs fixing, but exaggeration doesn't help, and it often distracts us from simple, cheaper and smarter solutions.
For starters, let's address the three horsemen of the climate apocalypse that Mr. Obama mentioned.
Historical analysis of wildfires around the world shows that since 1950 their numbers have decreased globally by 15%. Estimates published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that even with global warming proceeding uninterrupted, the level of wildfires will continue to decline until around midcentury and won't resume on the level of 1950—the worst for fire—before the end of the century.
Claiming that droughts are a consequence of global warming is also wrong. The world has not seen a general increase in drought. A study published in Nature in November shows globally that "there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years." The U.N. Climate Panel in 2012 concluded: "Some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, in particular in southern Europe and West Africa, but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, in central North America and northwestern Australia."
As for one of the favorites of alarmism, hurricanes in recent years don't indicate that storms are getting worse. Measured by total energy (Accumulated Cyclone Energy), hurricane activity is at a low not encountered since the 1970s. The U.S. is currently experiencing the longest absence of severe landfall hurricanes in over a century—the last Category 3 or stronger storm was Wilma, more than seven years ago. ...
... In the long run, the world needs to cut carbon dioxide because it causes global warming. But if the main effort to cut emissions is through subsidies for chic renewables like wind and solar power, virtually no good will be achieved—at very high cost.
Instead of pouring money into subsidies and direct production support of existing, inefficient green energy, President Obama should focus on dramatically ramping up investments into the research and development of green energy. Put another way, it is the difference between supporting an inexpensive researcher who will discover more efficient, future solar panels—and supporting a Solyndra at great expense to produce lots of inefficient, present-technology solar panels.
When innovation eventually makes green energy cheaper, everyone will implement it, including the Chinese. Such a policy would likely do 500 times more good per dollar invested than current subsidy schemes. But first let's drop the fear-mongering exaggeration—and then focus on innovation.
Reuters: Climate change doesn’t have to be all bad - Zachary Krabell
... But what if climate change isn’t the disaster we fear but instead one more obstacle that humans can meet, one that may spur innovation and creativity as well as demand ever more resilience? What if it ultimately improves life as we know it? ...
... It does not, however, follow that the future arc of these changes is disastrous. Unwanted, unwelcome and uneasy? For sure. Potentially lethal? Yes. But so much of the debate over the past 30 years has been over what is causing climate change, and how to prevent more change from happening, that comparatively less energy has been spent on adapting to it. In part, those most focused on these issues, from Green parties in Europe to environmentalists in the United States, have often believed that any discussion of mitigating the effects of climate change is tantamount to giving up on preventing it. That has led to a jeremiad mentality, epitomized by Al Gore and the scathing warnings of what lies ahead in his hugely influential 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth.
The advantage of that approach was that it alerted many to the dangers of climate change; the disadvantage was that it scared people into passivity and closed fruitful avenues to policies focused on mitigating the effects rather than halting the trend. And while halting the trend might have been feasible (just) 20 years ago, the most we can achieve now is to reduce the rate and intensity of climate change until the world’s population levels off sometime in the middle of the 21st century. Activists can and should still focus on reducing global emissions, but not at the expense of answering how we will live with the change.
Perhaps in recognition of the need of a new paradigm, “resilience” has quietly become a buzzword. The ever provocative Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his recent book Antifragile argues that only organizations capable of meeting crises can survive crises. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, counties and cities in the Northeast have been contemplating how best to prepare for future weather shocks. That has led to renewed appreciation for cities, such as Rotterdam, that have long undertaken environmental planning organized around the notion that floods will happen no matter what humans do. The challenge isn’t to find a way to prevent floods; it’s to find a way to live with them.
The two approaches could not be more distinct: One warns of catastrophe and attempts to steer away from it. One pragmatically accepts that some undesirable things will happen no matter what. Rotterdam has thus focused both on preventing as much flooding as possible (floodgates) and on urban infrastructure that is as flood-resistant as possible: power grids that have dispersed nodes, waterproof insulation, even floating parts of the city in case of truly severe inundation.
Far from signaling a resignation to climate change, resilience, adaption and mitigation all shift energy away from holding back the tide and toward innovation and creativity in meeting it. ...
I especially like the bolded portion below in thinking about complex human systems
... That approach is imperative not just for climate change but for multiple areas that generate such anxiety about the future. The imbalance of the financial system? Those are only made worse by the false belief that a system could be created where such risks don’t exist; better to find ways to mitigate the risks of a global interconnected financial system than seek, Don Quixote-like, ways to eliminate risk. ...
Some provoactive stuff! I may not entirely agree with his assessment of particular risks but I think his strategy for addressing risk is right on.
I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.
As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.
So I guess you’ll be wondering – what happened between 1995 and now that made me not only change my mind but come here and admit it? Well, the answer is fairly simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.
When I first heard about Monsanto’s GM soya I knew exactly what I thought. Here was a big American corporation with a nasty track record, putting something new and experimental into our food without telling us. Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.
These fears spread like wildfire, and within a few years GM was essentially banned in Europe, and our worries were exported by NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to Africa, India and the rest of Asia, where GM is still banned today. This was the most successful campaign I have ever been involved with.
This was also explicitly an anti-science movement. We employed a lot of imagery about scientists in their labs cackling demonically as they tinkered with the very building blocks of life. Hence the Frankenstein food tag – this absolutely was about deep-seated fears of scientific powers being used secretly for unnatural ends. What we didn’t realise at the time was that the real Frankenstein’s monster was not GM technology, but our reaction against it.
For me this anti-science environmentalism became increasingly inconsistent with my pro-science environmentalism with regard to climate change. I published my first book on global warming in 2004, and I was determined to make it scientifically credible rather than just a collection of anecdotes. ...
A few days ago, Matt Ridley had a piece in the Wall Street Journal, Cooling Down the Fears of Climate Change, in which he writes:
... In short: We can now estimate, based on observations, how sensitive the temperature is to carbon dioxide. We do not need to rely heavily on unproven models. Comparing the trend in global temperature over the past 100-150 years with the change in "radiative forcing" (heating or cooling power) from carbon dioxide, aerosols and other sources, minus ocean heat uptake, can now give a good estimate of climate sensitivity.
The conclusion—taking the best observational estimates of the change in decadal-average global temperature between 1871-80 and 2002-11, and of the corresponding changes in forcing and ocean heat uptake—is this: A doubling of CO2 will lead to a warming of 1.6°-1.7°C (2.9°-3.1°F).
This is much lower than the IPCC's current best estimate, 3°C (5.4°F).
Mr. Lewis is an expert reviewer of the recently leaked draft of the IPCC's WG1 Scientific Report. The IPCC forbids him to quote from it, but he is privy to all the observational best estimates and uncertainty ranges the draft report gives. What he has told me is dynamite.
Tim Worstall at Forbes writes in Maybe Climate Change Just Really Isn't A Problem After All?
... That is an extraordinary claim and clearly requires extraordinary evidence to support it. Much as I like Ridley (we swap stories and information regularly) I’m not going to accept it on the basis of one newspaper column. And Ridley wouldn’t expect me or you to either.
But if it is true then climate change stops being a looming diaster threatening all we hold dear and becomes instead just a minor background effect. One that we really don’t have to do anything particularly active about at all: the advancing technologies of low or non-carbon energy generation will take care of it all for us. ...
I share Worstall's caution but I also think that to acknowledge that the earth is warming and humans play a contributing role, something for which there seems to be strong agreement, doesn't tell you the magnitude of the impact or what policy options are optimal. As I've pointed out in early posts, the global average temperature has plateaued for more than a decade. Violent hurricane activity has not increased. Arctic ice is melting, although, as I understand it, it is summer ice not winter ice where the change is being observed. Dueling scientists publish studies with partisans cherry-picking the elements that are most supportive of their narrative. I do not doubt that human behavior is having impact on the climate. But I am uncertain of how robust climate models are and how serious the challenges are likely to be.
One thing I do like is the following quote from Bryan Walsh, senior editor at Time. I take issues with some aspects of his article, Anthropocene: Do We Need a New Environmentalism for a New Age?, but I did like this.
... But Kloor isn’t really talking about politics. Rather, I think, it’s how we conceive of the environment and environmentalism. The message of the modernist greens is: in a world of 7 billion plus people, all of whom want (and deserve) to live modern, consuming lives, we need to be pragmatic about how we use—and how much we protect—nature. We don’t have any other choice, so we’d better start dealing with the realities on the ground.
The realist in me thinks the modernist greens are right. There are simply too many of us, and we want too much, for our footprint on the Earth to get anything but bigger. And I’m cheered by the scientists and thinkers who suggest that we might be able to have it all—a huge, thriving human population, and an environment that can support it—as long as we plan right. What’s more, I’m very conscious that industrialization and globalization have largely been forces for good, expanding human access to wealth, health and longevity. There’s no better time in history to be human being. Industrialization is not going to be rolled back—and it shouldn’t be.
There’s also a larger social shift at work that’s altering our concept of nature. Today more human beings live in cities than live in the countryside, and that proportion will only grow in the future: by 2050, as many as three-quarters of the estimated 10 billion people on Earth will live in urban areas. This is a historic change—as recently as 1800 just 2% of the world’s population lived in cities—and it’s a sign that humanity, inevitably, is decoupling from nature. I suspect that’s true even of environmentalists, who are just as likely as anyone else to come into contact with what passes for wilderness these days more in a managed park than untrammeled rainforest or woodland. For a lot of us, “environmental issues” increasingly have to do with improving urban life—think cleaner mass transit or access to organic food in farmer’s markets. As the writer Emma Marris argued in her book Rambunctious Garden, environmentalism needs to stop drawing simplistic lines between what’s natural and what’s manmade—with the former always good and the latter always bad—and learn to celebrate the biodiversity that’s in our backyards. ...
(Reuters) - The amount of land needed to grow crops worldwide is at a peak, and a geographical area more than twice the size of France will be able to return to its natural state by 2060 as a result of rising yields and slower population growth, a group of experts said on Monday.
Their report, conflicting with United Nations studies that say more cropland will be needed in coming decades to avert hunger and price spikes as the world population rises above 7 billion, said humanity had reached what it called "Peak Farmland".
More crops for use as biofuels and increased meat consumption in emerging economies such as China and India, demanding more cropland to feed livestock, would not offset a fall from the peak driven by improved yields, it calculated.
If the report is accurate, the land freed up from crop farming would be some 10 percent of what is currently in use - equivalent to 2.5 times the size of France, Europe's biggest country bar Russia, or more than all the arable land now utilized in China.
"We believe that humanity has reached Peak Farmland, and that a large net global restoration of land to nature is ready to begin," said Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at the Rockefeller University in New York.
"Happily, the cause is not exhaustion of arable land, as many had feared, but rather moderation of population and tastes and ingenuity of farmers," he wrote in a speech about the study he led in the journal Population and Development Review. ...
Results of an Associated Press – GfK poll about climate change was reported on last Thursday (AP-GfK Poll: Science doubters say world is warming):
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A growing majority of Americans think global warming is occurring, that it will become a serious problem and that the U.S. government should do something about it, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds. …
… The poll found 4 out of every 5 Americans said climate change will be a serious problem for the United States if nothing is done about it. That's up from 73 percent when the same question was asked in 2009. …
“Good news! People are finally coming around to believing what scientists have been telling us all along!” I can just hear some folks declaring. Hold that thought for a moment. The article goes on to say:
… The biggest change in the polling is among people who trust scientists only a little or not at all. About 1 in 3 of the people surveyed fell into that category. …
… [John] Krosnick [Stanford social psychologist], who consulted with The Associated Press on the poll questions, said the changes the poll shows aren't in the hard-core "anti-warming" deniers, but in the next group, who had serious doubts.
"They don't believe what the scientists say, they believe what the thermometers say," Krosnick said. "Events are helping these people see what scientists thought they had been seeing all along." …
The rise in belief in global warming does not stem from science, but inductive reasoning based on heuristics … relying on personal experience as evidence of a broader reality. It is possible this will be the warmest year on record in the United States but more moderate globally. People in the United States look at their thermometers and see warmer temperatures. The news shows super-storm Sandy. Therefore, from experience in our particular context it is reasoned that there is a global trend.
The irony is that average global temperatures haven’t changed much for more than a decade. Global hurricanes and cyclones that make landfall are not more prevalent, as has been predicted. In fact, the last four years have been quite mild. I’m not making the case that climate change isn’t happening. Climate models don’t necessarily preclude plateaus in change. Rather I’m saying that if you are a skeptic, then recent trends should bolster skeptical interpretations. Yet, because of personal experience, some science skeptics are extrapolating from their narrow context to global realities. Furthermore, another survey finds that One in three Americans see extreme weather as a sign of biblical end times. This is not good news for science.
But I want to suggest that there is more to the story than this. Many true believers in climate change insist that the science is settled on this matter and no further dissent may be tolerated. Yet, as I have written about earlier, some of these folks are staunch skeptics about the safety of genetically modified crops and nuclear power, despite what the scientific community says. (see Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions? and The Anti-Science Left) The issue is not so much that they are persuaded by science, as it is that claiming scientific authority for conclusions reached by other means (heuristics? ideology?) is rhetorically useful. This is not good news for science either.
Any number of futurists have written about this challenge. For our entire human history, individual lives were consumed with challenges that were immediately present to us … like shelter from the elements and not becoming prey for some animal. But with the recent explosion in knowledge, technology, and economics, many of the imminent threats we face have been tamed and the new challenges we face are vastly more complex. Over reliance on heuristic models and rigid ideological sense-making strategies, once essential, can become obstacles to good decisions. The challenge for the next several generations is going to be learning how to develop social institutions that effectively reflect on and address complex challenges.
Kansas City Star: Conservationists team up with ranchers, loggers
... Across the nation, conservation groups in partnership with ranchers are using cattle to restore native plant species by grazing invasive grasses. Other groups are working with fishermen to fish sustainably, and using logging and mining profits to pave way for forest and salmon restoration.
"There's been a shift to working more with industries," said Lynn Huntsinger, professor of rangeland ecology at the University of California, Berkeley. "This is a human landscape. We need food, we need wood, people are crazy about eating salmon. Working closely with those who produce on the land offers opportunities for ... teaching them about conservation."
In the past, conservationists relied on purchasing land and setting it aside, away from human activity. Logging, ranching or mining were seen as harmful and incompatible with preservation.
But in recent years, the use of conservation easements to retire development rights on private land has exploded. The easements, which cost a fraction of what it would cost to buy the property, allow landowners to continue working the land. ...
Business Insider: There's Been An Incredible Drop In Projected US Carbon-Dioxide Emissions
... From 2009 to 2013, key changes in the AEO [Annual Energy Outlook] include:
Power sector transformation, based on decarbonization of the generation mix, occurs because natural gas and renewables gain market share at the expense of coal, reflecting:
AP has a story summarizing Global Trends 2030, a report put out by the U.S. Intelligence community.
... The study said that in a best-case scenario, Americans, together with nearly two-thirds of the world's population, will be middle class, mostly living in cities, connected by advanced technology, protected by advanced health care and linked by countries that work together, perhaps with the United States and China cooperating to lead the way.
Violent acts of terrorism will also be less frequent as the U.S. drawdown in troops from Iraq and Afghanistan robs extremist ideologies of a rallying cry to spur attacks. But that will likely be replaced by acts like cyber-terrorism, wreaking havoc on an economy with a keystroke, the study's authors say.
In countries where there are declining birth rates and an aging population like the U.S., economic growth may slow.
"Aging countries will face an uphill battle in maintaining living standards," Kojm said. "So too will China, because its median age will be higher than the U.S. by 2030."
The rising populations of disenfranchised youth in places like Nigeria and Pakistan may lead to conflict over water and food, with "nearly half of the world's population ... experiencing severe water stress," the report said. Africa and the Middle East will be most at risk, but China and India are also vulnerable.
That instability could lead to conflict and contribute to global economic collapse, especially if combined with rapid climate change that could make it harder for governments to feed global populations, the authors warn.
That's the grimmest among the "Potential Worlds" the report sketches for 2030. Under the heading "Stalled Engines," in the "most plausible worst-case scenario, the risks of interstate conflict increase," the report said. "The U.S. draws inward and globalization stalls." ...
Here is the overview from the report:
Over the next two decades, the relative power of major international actors will shift markedly. Around 2030, after nearly a century as the preeminent global economic power, the United States will be surpassed by China as the world’s largest economy. With its trade in goods expected to nearly double that of the U.S. and Europe, China’s international economic clout will reach new heights. By 2030, India will become the world’s most populous country and third-largest economy, while Brazil’s economy will rank fourth in size. India and Brazil will join China at the high table of 21st century international politics alongside the United States, even as the relative weight of Russia and Japan diminishes. The European economy will remain in the top tier, but it is not clear whether Europe will be able to act with common purpose to leverage this source of strength.
With its enhanced economic base, Beijing could rival Washington in overall military spending, even as a slowing Chinese economy and internal political conflict complicate China’s ability to lead internationally. The United States will remain primus inter pares in light of its continued advantages across the full spectrum of national power and the legacy benefits of its leadership. It will, however, be operating in a post-Western world in which the bulk of global economic power is held by countries whose per capita incomes are far below those of the traditional great powers. This reality will leave China, India, Brazil, and other players focused on internal development and domestic challenges, torn between their desire to be global powers and their interest in free-riding on Western management of the international system.
How will the rise of the rest impact the international system? The National Intelligence Council’s draft Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds maps out three broad scenarios:
Reverse Engines. Under this scenario, the international system would consist of several powerful countries — but no single state or bloc of states would have the political or economic leverage to drive the international community toward collective action. Such a world, characterized by a global vacuum of power, assumes that the United States will no longer be willing or capable of sustaining the predominant leadership role it has assumed since 1945. With no other country able to step in to replace the U.S. as a global leader, the resulting divergence of interests would lead to fragmentation and the inability of great powers to work cooperatively to solve global issues. Mercantilism and protectionism could lead economic globalization to go into reverse, constraining technological breakthroughs required to manage scarce global resources. Conflict and disorder would follow.
Great Power Convergence. An alternative scenario is what the NIC calls a “fusion” world, in which major powers work together to adopt and enforce a set of globally accepted rules and norms. As U.S. predominance over the international system recedes, other emerging powers would step in to assume greater responsibility for the management of international affairs commensurate with their swelling economic might. Emerging powers emerge as full stakeholders in a global order that is transformed by power shifts but remains liberal and pluralistic. Great power concert (perhaps enabled by democratization in China) to meet global challenges increases the stability of the international system even as power is diffused within it. U.S. resilience enables it to create enduring partnerships with rising powers to sustain the basis of liberal order. Technological advances create new possibilities for joint management of key global challenges, rewarding positive-sum behavior by the great powers.
Multipolar Divergence—U.S. Primacy. A third scenario, one the NIC calls “fragmentation,” involves a multipolar system characterized by a divergence of views among great powers that challenges global governance. The United States would continue to maintain disproportionate global influence and leverage that influence to address global challenges by working through coalitions of like-minded states. A multispeed global economy accelerates the diffusion of power but an alternative coalition to the West does not form, with developing giants consumed by their domestic challenges – even as the global middle class explodes in ways that transform politics within the rising powers. With inclusive global institutions effectively stalemated, the United States instead turns to its old and new allies in Europe and Asia, who would continue to see Washington as their partner of choice in advancing the norms and rules of a liberal order. The risk of conflict increases with the continued rise of new powers like China and the rapid pace of technological change.
One key conclusion of the NIC study is that the future role of the United States in the international system is a decisive variable in determining what kind of “alternative world” will exist in 2030. The choices U.S. leaders make – about how to marshal (and preserve) domestic resources, how vigorously to assert U.S. military and economic leadership overseas, and how much to invest in alliances old and new – will be central to determining which of the above pathways the international system will follow over the coming 20 years. To a certain extent, the answer to the question of how the “rise of the rest” impacts the U.S.-led international system is that it is not up to them… so much as it is up to us.
Conservation Magazine: Are There Too Many People on the Planet?
... Here’s what I bet goes on when this question is posed—and I want to say up front that I think this way myself. I do not like long lines and traffic jams. I do not like that I have to drive 60 minutes to get to a decent natural area or that when I get to the Cascades for my hike, I’m likely to run into dozens of others on the same trail. I do not like how built up our coastline has become and how hard it is to get access to beaches. And so on.
In other words, I do not like the impact of “too many people” on my personal happiness. Rarely do we admit that this is the basis of our concerns about human population. Instead, we couch them in terms of “exceeding the Earth’s carrying capacity” or “causing the extinction of species.” ...
... And when we so easily jump to the conclusion there are too many people on the planet, what solutions does it suggest? Who should be eliminated? Who should not be allowed to have children? And who gets to decide? Is it really that there are too many people on the planet? Or is it more about the kinds of settlements and economies we have built?
Lastly, the entire notion of too many people neglects those studies showing that large numbers of people, especially concentrations of people in cities, are engines for innovation and cultural advances. (4) For example, new patents and inventions overwhelmingly come from cities—and the larger the city, the more patents and inventions are produced. ...
... More importantly, the question of whether there are too many people is the wrong one for conservationists to ask. The right questions are: What quality of life do we want all people on the planet to share? And how can we achieve that quality of life while preserving as many species and ecosystems as possible?
Conservation of nature has a lot to contribute to answering those questions and to enhancing that quality of life. So don’t automatically nod in agreement when a colleague says: “The problem is, there are too many people on the planet.” People can be the solution as well as the problem.
It is popular these days to decry consumerism ... and rightly so. Voices in our world tell us that our life consists of the products we buy and the things we own. It is materialism.
But the irony is that many consumerism critics fall prey to is their own form of materialism. They see human beings primarily as subtracting from a fixed stock of resources. Human beings are parasitic, adding nothing. Reduce the number of humans and you save the planet.
Human beings do not just consume, though that is part of our reality. All forms of life consume. But human beings also add to the world in a way that other beings in the created order do not. They add creativity and intelligence to the world. With creativity and intelligence come beauty, ingenuity, community, and flourishing.
There are challenges. Through unlocking powers of productivity and exchange we have found we can radically improve the material status of people around the world. But we find we have to adapt our methods and perspectives to sustain the changes we have made ... doing more and more with less and less, as we minimize our destructive impact. We have to find ways to be stewards of the world that recognize more than just our material quality of life. As Christians, we know that sin often twists our creativity and intelligence toward destructive behavior. The answer to these challenges is not to dehumanize people by framing them in materialistic terms as consumption units. Rather it is to work toward unlocking and unleashing the creativity and intelligence of everyone as we work for a flourishing shalom-filled world.
Worldwatch Blogs: Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production
This [United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization] report, Innovations in Sustainable Agriculture: Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production, discusses six sustainable approaches to land and water use, in both rural and urban areas, that are helping farmers and other food producers mitigate or adapt to climate change—and often both. They are:
By tapping into the multitude of climate-friendly farming practices that already exist, agriculture can continue to provide food for the world’s population, as well as be a source of livelihood for the 1.3 billion people who rely on farming for income and sustenance. If agriculture is to play a positive role in the global fight against climate change, however, agricultural practices that mitigate or adapt to climate change will need to receive increased research, attention, and investment in the coming years.
Christian Science Monitor: Global water crisis: too little, too much, or lack of a plan?
This is a good piece about the growing challenges of fresh water supplies around the world. After detialing at length the challenges the article concludes:
... But the picture may not be as bad as it seems. While the projections about the growing global water crisis drastically underestimate how bad things really are, says Upmanu Lall, director of the Water Center at Columbia University, they also underestimate the scale of waste and the water efficiency improvements that could make adaptation easier.
"Things could actually be worse than what these guys are putting out," says Professor Lall. "They are too optimistic about the current situation compared to what it actually is. And they're too pessimistic about the situation for the future ... I do see a way to get there."
That's what he's learned from much of his work on water issues in India, which he calls "a basket case for water." He adds: "You could actually eliminate water stress in India if you were just a little bit smarter about which places you were procuring which crops from."
Science, he says, is part of the solution: Agricultural efficiency can be drastically improved with a better mix of what is grown where, accounting for geography, water constraints, and income; governments will have a role to play in setting economic signals to promote conservation and the right mix of crops, and regulation to ensure access in urban and rural areas; cheap soil-moisture sensors could improve agricultural water efficiency by 10 to 15 percent by reducing waste in irrigation systems; recycled waste water could save in the billions of dollars that the US spends purifying water up to drinking quality even though only 10 percent is used for drinking and cooking; flood-control systems can be repurposed to store water.
But most important, says Lall, "the economics of it has to be sorted out." Water allocations for personal consumption and ecological preservation should be protected, he said, but about 75 percent of water consumed globally should be subject to more competitive pricing. In a sense, he argues, water should be treated like oil, allowing developers a guaranteed allocation as an incentive to develop it. About a quarter of water supplies should be protected to ensure people have water for drinking and to preserve ecology, he says. But everyone – from the home-owner watering the lawn to big industry and agriculture – should pay more for water.
Instability, conflict, and economic stagnation may be the prod societies need before they adapt, says Lall.
He deems the US system for allocating water rights as "not too bad." Where those rights were not tradable, he says, "things are a mess."
Some states – Arizona, California, Idaho, and Texas – have water banks that facilitate leases between rights-holders and users. But since these water banks don't incorporate forecasting, they fail to make deals until a drought begins. What the US needs, says Lall, is a national water policy that incorporates forecasts, trading mechanisms, options, and the coordinated use of both surface and ground-water resources.
While the tools and strategies exist to cope with the impending pressures of a warmer and more populous planet, Lall says, "the question is, will we do it right?"
I think another possibility as that as water prices rise, desalinization technologies beceome more attractive. A high percentage of the world population lives withing 100 miles of an ocean. The technology is not capable of addressing our present challenges but as technology advances and water costs rise, I suspect this will become part of the solution as well.
The first crack in a firewall that has protected big coal for decades.
Since the 1990s, small bands of Appalachian residents, regional environmental groups, and more recently the EPA have fought what often seemed like a futile battle against mountaintop-removal mining, the radical practice of blowing the tops off mountains to get at the coal seams underneath. The coal companies, backed by local political establishments and conservative jurists skeptical of possible regulatory overreach, have fended off multiple attempts to shut down mountaintop operations. As a result, an ever-widening swath of Appalachian peaks and valleys has been obliterated: approximately 2,200 square miles, according to the EPA, in what is likely a conservative estimate because the footprint often extends beyond the permit zones. That’s an area almost the size of Delaware.
That expanse kept growing as the battles mostly went in coal’s favor. Until this month, that is, when environmental groups won a decisive legal victory over a coal company. It may prove to be turning point in the war over the mountaintops, and for the future of coal.
On Nov. 15, St. Louis-based Patriot Coal agreed to phase out its mountaintop excavations and redirect its efforts back to underground mining. Adding a symbolic punch, Patriot agreed to decommission its two draglines—enormous boom excavators that do the actual mountaintop demolitions—and can sell them only on the condition that they’re never used in the Appalachian coalfields again. Coal executives usually shrug off complaints about mountaintop-removal impacts as the grumbling of dilettantes and naysayers who don’t understand the need for mining jobs. Yet here was the practically unheard-of spectacle of Patriot’s CEO, Ben Hatfield, acknowledging that mountaintop removal affected both people and ecology: “Patriot Coal recognizes that our mining operations impact the communities in which we operate in significant ways, and we are committed to maximizing the benefits of this agreement for our stakeholders, including our employees and neighbors," Hatfield said in court. "We believe the proposed settlement will result in a reduction of our environmental footprint." ...
Two weeks ago I posted this graph in my post Divergent Life Expectancies in the U. S.
As you can see, some of the worst declines in life expectancy are in moutain top mining areas of Kentucky and West Virginia. Allen Johnson of Christians for the Mountains makes the, as does this article, that this strongly connected to the mining operations.
Finally, the United States is beginning to take energy efficiency seriously. ...
... The Negawatt is the general principle of cutting electricity consumption without necessarily reducing energy usage through things like energy efficiency. Lovins first introduced it in the keynote address to the 1989 Green Energy Conference in Montreal:
Imagine being able to save half the electricity for free and still get the same or better services! … You get the same amount of light as before, with 8 percent as much energy overall—but it looks better and you can see better. … In the space conditioning case—heating and cooling—you get improved comfort. ... It is doing more with less.
The Negawatt itself is a theoretical unit of power measuring energy saved—Lovins came up with the idea after seeing megawatt misspelled with an n and deciding that this was a potentially useful conceptualization. It sounds self-evident now that you could reduce electricity consumption not by cutting back on energy usage but by improving energy efficiency standards and modernizing antiquated power sources. But the concept was revolutionary at the time. A major problem with getting people to understand the environmental and cost-savings benefits of energy efficiency was a perverse incentives structure that rewarded power companies based on amount of electricity sold, not for how much of a needed service it was providing. Lovins described the dilemma as such:
There isn't any demand for electricity for its own sake. What people want is the services it provides. … Nonetheless, most of our utilities have gotten into the habit of thinking they're in the kilowatt-hour business, so they should sell more. … For some reason, it's hard for them to get used to the idea that it's perfectly all right to sell less electricity, and so bring in less revenue, as long as costs go down more than revenues do.
Though Lovins brought the idea to the fore of the environmental policy discussion, he wasn’t the first to articulate the issue: In 1982, California devised an inspired solution, called decoupling, to this problem. The idea was that the state would reverse the incentive structure by establishing the revenue rate that the power company would need to meet in order to return a profit, along with a separate target for electricity production needed. Any revenue over the target amount would be returned to customers, while anything below would be added on to the following year’s bills. This meant that greater efficiency could actually return greater profit.
Decoupling is largely credited with making California the most energy efficient and environmentally friendly state in the country. But a mere disincentive to keep utilities companies from pegging profits to electricity usage was not enough, so the state launched a second program called “decoupling plus” in 2007 in order to incentivize power companies to lower their electricity production. Through this program, regulators set savings targets, and customers are asked to pay fees to help provide the down payment for power companies to meet these targets. Regulators then calculate long-term economic savings of this efficiency. If the utilities meet or surpass their targeted electricity savings, they get a cut of the projected savings. If they don’t meet the targets, the utilities pay a fine.
In 2007, California was still the only state in the union to have even a basic decoupling system in place. In the last five years, though, there has been a decoupling revolution across the country. By the start of 2011, 27 states and the District of Columbia had adopted gas decoupling, electric decoupling, or both. While the incentive programs are not yet in place in the vast majority of these states, at least the initial roadblock of the bad incentive structure has been largely removed.
The Telegraph has an article today, Doha: Global warming is slowing down, says Met Office, which contains this graph:
The article explains:
Dr Peter Stott, Head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the Met Office, said the past decade has been the warmest on record.
But he pointed out that warming has slowed down since 2000, in comparison to the rapid warming of the world since the 1970s.
“Although the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record, warming has not been as rapid since 2000 as over the longer period since the 1970s,” he said.
Scott is hedging with "... has not been as rapid ..." In short, the warming trend line from 2001 to 2012 is negligible to none. So if by "global warming" we mean a more or less relentess upward trendline over a period of a few years ...a decade in this case ..., then there was no global warming.
However, Scott also reminds us:
“Dr Stott warned that global warming could speed up again at any time, and insisted that the general pattern of warming is not in doubt."
A momentary plateau of a few years does not negate a long-term trend. So if by "global warming" we mean a more or less relentess upward trendline over a period of more than a few years, then there is global warming. So is there global warming? No and yes.
But this raises an important question? When does a short-term trend become a long-term trend, prompting a rethink about climate models? Ten years? Twenty years? Fifty years? Last month, Judith Curry, in response to constroversial reports about the global warming plateau, explained that climate models typically do not predict decade long stalls in global warming. (See: ‘Pause’ : Waving the Italian Flag) She reports that prominent scientists have said that a plateau or decline in global temperatures of fifteen or more years would be grounds for rethinking climate models. The last eleven years have been flat, and even going back fifteen years to 1997, the rate of warming is much slower than models suggested they would be. She is not disputing long-term warming but she is suggesting that climate models may not be as robust as advertised. It will be interesting to see how the climate science community responds if the trend of the past decade continues for three or four more years, or how skeptics respond if temperatures begin to soar in the same timeframe.
Orange County Register: Anti-nuclear madness grips developed world
Gwynn Dyer, an independent journalist, writes:
After the loss of 10 million American lives in the Three-Mile Island calamity in 1979, the death of 2 billion in the Chernobyl holocaust in 1986 and, now, the abandonment of all of northern Japan following the death of millions in last year's Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, it is hardly surprising that the world's biggest users of nuclear power are shutting their plants down.
Oh, wait a minute. Nobody died in the Three-Mile Island calamity, 28 plant workers were killed, and 15 other people subsequently died of thyroid cancer in the Chernobyl holocaust, and nobody died in the Fukushima catastrophe. In fact, northern Japan has not been evacuated after all. But never mind all that. Governments really are shutting down their nuclear plants. ...
She explains that Japan has closed their 50 nuclear reactors for inspections and the government promises to close them permanently by 2040, replacing them with renewable energy. Angela Merkel wants to close German plants by 2022. France is proposing to scale back their nuclear sector.
The Greens prattle about replacing nuclear power with renewables, which might happen in the distant future. But the brutal truth for now is that closing down the nuclear plants will lead to a sharp rise in greenhouse gas emissions.
Fortunately, their superstitious fears are largely absent in more sophisticated parts of the world. Only four new nuclear reactors are under construction in the European Union, and only one in the United States, but there are 61 being built elsewhere. Over two-thirds of them are being built in the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), where economies are growing fast.
But it's not enough to outweigh the closure of so many nuclear plants in the developed world, at least in the short run. India may be aiming at getting 50 percent of its energy from nuclear power by 2050, for example, but the fact is that only 3.7 percent of its electricity is nuclear right now. So the price of nuclear fuel has collapsed in the past four years, and uranium mine openings and expansions have been cancelled.
More people die from coal pollution each day than have been killed by 50 years of nuclear power operations – and that's just from lung disease. If you include future deaths from burning fossil fuels, closing down nuclear power stations is sheer madness. Welcome to the Middle Ages.
Many of the existing plants, like Fukushima, are second generation nuclear power. Third generation nuclear power is much safer. Fourth generation, projected to come online in about twenty years will be even safer, more efficient, and generate wasted that must be protected a few hundred years instead of millennia. There is reason to believe that even better methods are in the offing. What an irony that those countries that have been the most adamant about reducing greenhouse gas emissions may become the biggest stumbling block to curbing them.
In recent months, I've linked a graph that shows that CO2 emissions from energy production have dropped to 1990 levels in the United States, mostly because of natural gas replacing coal power. That's the good news if you want to reduce CO2. But here is the challenge presented in the two graphs by Jordan Wiessmann.
Two weeks ago I published a post Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions? referencing an article written by envrionmentalist Fred Pearce. I read this book review in Forbes over the weekend.
A polemical new book, Science Left Behind, argues persuasively that there is less than meets the eye in self-righteous claims by Democrats that they represent the “pro-science party.” Jon Entine, Director of the Genetic Literacy Project, reports:
The debate over which political party, Democrat or Republican, is more faithful to science has been a hot button topic since the 1990s. ...
... A slew of books and articles from left-leaning science writers—which means most of the science journalism establishment—has elevated the popular narrative that Democrats adhere faithfully to the inspiration of Newton, Galileo, Bacon and Darwin while Republicans look more to ethereal authorities for their application of the scientific method.
But now, Alex Berezow and Hank Campbell, co-authors of Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left, make a nuanced and convincing counter argument: Ludditism is not a partisan issue. In fact, on many of the most critical issues of our time, the “progressive” perspective is often rooted in out-dated, anti-empirical, junk science paradigms that threaten innovation—and are beginning to unnerve the most scientifically minded thinkers on the left. ...
... The central thesis of Science Left Behind—that the left’s view of science has drifted decisively from empiricism into ideology—has now emerged as a genuine debate within the left community. This contentiousness became very public over the past month as “progressives” debated the merits of California Proposition 37, which would have mandated labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.
For the political left, suspicion of biotechnology in general and more specifically the rejection of genetically modified crops as environmentally hazardous and GM foods as health hazards are now canonical. Almost every major activist environmental NGO supported Prop 37. But their contention that biotech crops and foods posted unusual environmental or health hazards is not based on science. In fact, fanning fears about biotech crops and foods has become a scandalous leftwing obsession. It’s an anti-science mindset, argues Keith Kloor, a frequent contributor to the Washington Post-owned, liberal online magazine Slate:
“[F]ears are stoked by prominent environmental groups, supposed food-safety watchdogs, and influential food columnists; that dodgy science is laundered by well-respected scholars and propaganda is treated credulously by legendary journalists; and that progressive media outlets, which often decry the scurrilous rhetoric that warps the climate debate, serve up a comparable agitprop when it comes to GMOs,” Kloors wrote. “In short, I’ve learned that the emotionally charged, politicized discourse on GMOs is mired in the kind of fever swamps that have polluted climate science beyond recognition.”
This soft conspiracy, promoted by mainstream Democrats, infects a broad array of science issues and highlights the religious-like iconic beliefs of the left (as Kloor has noted): Nature is sacred, big business is dangerous and corrupt, technology can cause more problems than it helps solve, the world is on the verge of an eco-apocalypse, and we need more precaution, regulation and legislation. I call it enviro-romanticism, a criticism documented in distressing detail in Science Left Behind. ...
... As George Monbiot, one of the United Kingdom’s most prominent environmental writers recently concluded when discussing the left’s contradictory and increasingly anti-environmental energy policy, “[T]he environmental movement to which I belong has done more harm to the planet’s living systems than climate change deniers have ever achieved.” We could all benefit from the emergence of what I call “science independents”—those who base their views on data and evidence rather than partisan leanings and litmus tests. ...
I think the challenge is that all of us tend to latch on to science that confirms our experience and ideology. We are dismissive when it doesn't. We need better models for incorporating science into discussions in the public square.
TG Daily: Ancient flood path triggered Big Freeze
After 30 years of debate, scientists believe they've discovered the trigger for the last great freeze of the Earth, some 12,900 years ago.
They say they've established that the flood waters from the melting of the enormous Laurentide Ice Sheet flowed northwest into the Arctic first, weakening ocean thermohaline circulation and cooling global climate.
If instead it had flowed east into the St Lawrence River valley, they say, Earth's climate would have remained relatively unchanged.
"This episode was the last time the Earth underwent a major cooling, so understanding exactly what caused it is very important for understanding how our modern-day climate might change in the future," says University of Massachusetts Amherst geoscientist Alan Condron. ...
... "Our results are particularly relevant for how we model the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice sheets now and in the future. It is apparent from our results that climate scientists are artificially introducing fresh water into their models over large parts of the ocean that freshwater would never have reached," says Condron. ...
Environment360: Why Are Environmentalists Taking Anti-Science Positions?
On issues ranging from genetically modified crops to nuclear power, environmentalists are increasingly refusing to listen to scientific arguments that challenge standard green positions. This approach risks weakening the environmental movement and empowering climate contrarians.
From Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
to James Hansen’s modern-day tales of climate apocalypse,
environmentalists have long looked to good science and good scientists
and embraced their findings. Often we have had to run hard to keep up
with the crescendo of warnings coming out of academia about the perils
facing the world. A generation ago, biologist Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb and systems analysts Dennis and Donella Meadows’ The Limits to Growth
shocked us with their stark visions of where the world was headed. No
wide-eyed greenie had predicted the opening of an ozone hole before the
pipe-smoking boffins of the British Antarctic Survey spotted it when
looking skyward back in 1985. On issues ranging from ocean acidification
and tipping points in the Arctic to the dangers of nanotechnology, the
scientists have always gotten there first — and the environmentalists
And yet, recently, the environment movement seems to have been turning up on the wrong side of the scientific argument. We have been making claims that simply do not stand up. We are accused of being anti-science — and not without reason. A few, even close friends, have begun to compare this casual contempt for science with the tactics of climate contrarians.
That should hurt.
Three current issues suggest that the risks of myopic adherence to ideology over rational debate are real: genetically modified (GM) crops, nuclear power, and shale gas development. The conventional green position is that we should be opposed to all three. Yet the voices of those with genuine environmental credentials, but who take a different view, are being drowned out by sometimes abusive and irrational argument. ...
The environmental movement is a diverse coalition of people. You can't make a blanket statement about any movement this large. There are two significant groups that make up this coalition that I expect explain this inconsistency between embracing science on some things and not on others.
First, I think there is a segment that is simply anti-technological, anti-21st Century living. They have a natural aversion to much of 21st Century existence and want to return to a far less technological (read "natural") existence. That climate science (and the frequently attached moralism about the evils of consumerism) would dovetail with their ideology of bucolic bliss is a welcomed happenstance. It gives legitimization to their cause against those who embrace the modern socio-economic order. GM crops and nuclear power do just the opposite. These would enable the current despised structures to continue and grow. Thus, their embrace of climate change science has little to do with a rigorous understanding and commitment to science.
Second, there is another segment that sees economic freedom as unjust and destructive and wants more centralized control over the global economy. Climate science can be effectively be used to support that vision. The case is made that our current competing economies are leading us to global catastrophe. Political and economic freedom need to be curtailed on a global scale by centralized authorities who will rationally manage world affairs. GM crops and nuclear power offer the opportunity to adapt to current challenges without a significant reordering of the world order. Once again, the commitment is not so much to science as it is to using science as debate tool to achieve an ideological end.
I'm not saying that these are by any means the only two groups backing environmental measures. I am saying that these are two groups that do have meaningful influence on what happens within the environmental movement.
An author who makes a case in book length form, similar to what Fred Pearce is making here, is Seymour Garte in Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of Our Planet. He is another scientist who is fully persuaded about anthropogenic global warming. He is optimistic about solutions but sees the anti-science, anti-technology, crowd as a real problem.
Technorati Tags: anti-science, climate change, climate science, environment, environmentalism, Fred Pearce, global warming, GM Crops, james hansen, limits to growth, nuclear power, science, science, seymour garte, silent spring, the population bomb, where we stand
Christian Science Monitor: Obama, Romney ignore climate change, but so do voters (+video)
Energy and green energy were hot topics during the presidential debates, but climate change didn't come up once. The candidates may be avoiding the issue because voters don't want to hear a difficult message.
... "National elections should be a time when our nation considers the great challenges and opportunities the next President will face," opines the website ClimateSilence.org, a project of Forecast the Facts and Friends of the Earth Action aimed at pushing the issue into campaigns. "But the climate conversation of 2012 has been defined by a deafening silence."
The candidates talked about energy and green energy, but always with regard to jobs, never about the climate. Why?
The easy answer is that it's not good politics. What candidate wants to talk about emissions when voters are worried about jobs? Who wants to tackle carbon taxes when many Americans are struggling to pay the taxes they already owe?
The deeper question is: Do Americans want their candidates to talk about climate change? The answer seems to be: No.
It's probably not climate skepticism that's the main barrier here. Polls show that over time Americans are increasingly convinced by the science showing that the climate is warming, and they do see a link with human activity. The ranks of the "climate deniers" are thinning, albeit slowly.
The bigger challenge may be that to many voters the problem seems all too real and unsolvable – something to fear because we can't fix it. ...
Two other factors may also point to why, despite a growing number of people believing climate change is a problem, they are not motivated. First, recent reports that there has been no significant warming in the past sixteen years (The REALLY inconvenient truths about global warming) decreases a sense of urgency. A plateau doesn't necessarily invalidate climate change models (as models have never predicted a linear ascent) but it can dissipate a sense of urgency. Second, is this graph:
Source: Carpe Diem
This wasn’t anticipated. A purpose of the Kyoto Accords was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. We are there with the biggest contributor to the problem. All that is to say, the dynamics have shifted. Finding the sweet spot between apathy and overwhelming citizens to the point of demoralization has been a challenge for those who champion the need for changes.
What do you think? Why was the topic not debated? Do you think CSM article is offering a good analysis?
(And, by the way, since this is a controversial topic, let me highlight my newly minted comment policy you now see linked at the top of the column to the right. Long-time commenters here do such a great job. I'm hoping we can preserve that tradition as new folks join in.)
The Hill's Congress Blog: Small modular reactors provide path forward for nuclear power
... So, what do we do? One path forward for the nuclear industry is through the construction of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). SMRs are nuclear reactors that are intentionally designed to be less than 300-megawatts, or about one-third of the size of conventional large reactor. By making them small, they have several key benefits not available to large reactors. These issues are discussed at length in a new American Security Project (ASP) report, “Small Modular Reactors: A Possible Path Forward for Nuclear Power.”
First, SMRs offer flexibility. Since they are small, they can be added to the electric grid incrementally. Slow incremental additions better match the slow energy demand growth in the United States, which is projected to be less than 1% per year. Utilities have little interest in building a huge nuclear reactor when demand is not rising quickly enough to justify the investment.
Second, SMRs are designed with several safety features that are an improvement over large reactors. By using simpler designs with fewer coolant pipes and components, the risk of a safety accident declines.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, SMRs have an advantage in cost over large reactors. While a typical large reactor can cost between $6 and $9 billion, an SMR has an estimated price tag of only $250 million for a 100-megawatt reactor. With smaller upfront costs and shorter construction timeframes, utilities can get loans with lower interest rates.
Despite these advantages, no SMR has been constructed to date. Why isn’t the industry building SMRs right now? The biggest obstacle for SMRs is that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has licensed no SMR design.
A second impediment is the lack of a track record on performance. Without an example to point to, the burden is on the nuclear industry to prove that the advantages of SMRs discussed above are indeed an improvement over conventional reactors. Until the first plant moves ahead, uncertainty remains.
A third problem is low natural gas prices. The nuclear industry remains bullish on their prospects over the long-term, and with assets that last 60 years, it is essential to not get swept up in the latest hype. However, low natural gas prices present real problems for industry, at least in the near-term. ...
National Science Foundation: Osorb: Absorbent Nanomaterial Cleans up Toxic Water
"Science is full of surprises. Chemist Paul Edmiston's search for a new way to detect explosives at airports, instead, led to the creation of what's now called "Osorb," swellable, organically-modified silica, or glass, capable of absorbing oil and other contaminants from water. Osorb has become the principal product of a company in Wooster called ABSMaterials, where Edmiston is now chief scientist. With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Edmiston and his colleagues at ABSMaterials are developing water remediation technologies for cities and industries -- everything from storm water to agricultural runoff. Municipal water systems and companies in several U.S. states and Canadian provinces are using Osorb. ABSMaterials is creating formulas to address various contaminants, including hydrocarbons, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, chlorinated solvents and endocrine disruptors."
Wall Street Journal: The Future of Agriculture May Be Up
Advocates of 'vertical farming' say growing crops in urban high-rises will eventually be both greener and cheaper.
Want to see where your food might come from in the future? Look up.
The seeds of an agricultural revolution are taking root in cities around the world—a movement that boosters say will change the way that urbanites get their produce and solve some of the world's biggest environmental problems along the way.
It's called vertical farming, and it's based on one simple principle: Instead of trucking food from farms into cities, grow it as close to home as possible—in urban greenhouses that stretch upward instead of sprawling outward.
The idea is flowering in many forms. There's the 12-story triangular building going up in Sweden, where plants will travel on tracks from the top floor to the bottom to take advantage of sunlight and make harvesting easier. Then there's the onetime meatpacking plant in Chicago where vegetables are grown on floating rafts, nourished by waste from nearby fish tanks. And the farms dotted across the U.S. that hang their crops in the air, spraying the roots with nutrients, so they don't have to bring in soil or water tanks for the plants.
However vertical farming is implemented, advocates say the immediate benefits will be easy to see. There won't be as many delivery trucks guzzling fuel and belching out exhaust, and city dwellers will get easier access to fresh, healthy food.
Looking further, proponents say vertical farming could bring even bigger and more sweeping changes. Farming indoors could reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides, which pollute the environment in agricultural runoff. Preserving or reclaiming more natural ecosystems like forests could help slow climate change. And the more food we produce indoors, the less susceptible we are to environmental crises that disrupt crops and send prices skyrocketing, like the drought that devastated this year's U.S. corn crop. ...
Project Syndicate: Bjorn Lomborg on Scaring People Into Action
PRAGUE – Campaigners on important but complex issues, annoyed by the length of time required for public deliberations, often react by exaggerating their claims, hoping to force a single solution to the forefront of public debate. But, however well intentioned, scaring the public into a predetermined solution often backfires: when people eventually realize that they have been misled, they lose confidence and interest.
Last month, there were two examples of this in a single week. On September 19, the French researcher Gilles-Eric Séralini attempted to fuel public opposition to genetically modified foods by showing the public how GM corn, with and without the pesticide Roundup, caused huge tumors and early death in 200 rats that had consumed it over two years. ...
Lomborg highlights the throughly bogus nature of the study and it funding and notes:
Moreover, Séralini’s results contradict the latest meta-study of 24 long-term studies (up to two years and five generations), which found that the data do “not suggest any health hazards” and display “no statistically significant differences” between GM and conventional food.
Why is this important?
This debacle matters because many GM crops provide tangible benefits for people and the environment. They enable farmers to produce higher yields with fewer inputs (such as pesticides), so that more food can be produced from existing farmland. That, in turn, implies less human encroachment into natural ecosystems, enabling greater biodiversity. But, of course, Séralini’s pictures of cancer-addled rats munching GM corn have instead been burned into the public imagination.
Then there was a climate change report:
The Séralini fiasco was only a week old when, on September 26, the Climate Vulnerability Forum, a group of countries led by Bangladesh, launched the second edition of its Global Vulnerability Monitor. Headlines about the launch were truly alarming: Over the next 18 years, global warming would kill 100 million people and cost the economy upwards of $6.7 trillion annually.
These public messages were highly misleading – and clearly intended to shock and disturb. The vast majority of deaths discussed in the report did not actually result from global warming. Outdoor air pollution – caused by fossil-fuel combustion, not by global warming – contributed to 30% of all deaths cited in the study. And 60% of the total deaths reflect the burning of biomass (such as animal dung and crop residues) for cooking and heating, which has no relation to either fossil fuels or global warming.
In total, the study exaggerated more than 12-fold the number of deaths that could possibly be attributed to climate change, and it more than quadrupled the potential economic costs, simply to grab attention. ...
He goes on:
Likewise, overcoming the burden of indoor air pollution will happen only when people can use kerosene, propane, and grid-based electricity. If the Global Vulnerability Monitor’s recommendation to cut back on fossil fuels were taken seriously, the result would be slower economic growth and continued reliance on dung, cardboard, and other low-grade fuels, thereby prolonging the suffering that results from indoor air pollution.
When confronted with their exaggerations, the authors claimed that “if you reduce hazardous air pollution, it is difficult to not also reduce warming emissions.” But, for both indoor and outdoor air pollution, the opposite is more likely true: lower carbon emissions would mean more air pollution deaths.
When scare tactics replace scientific debate, whether about GM crops or climate change, nothing good can come of it. We all deserve better.
Ridley leads of this piece noting:
Generally, technologies are judged on their net benefits, not on the claim that they are harmless: The good effects of, say, the automobile and aspirin outweigh their dangers. ...
He goes on to explain that despite sensationalist stories about the negative impact of GM foods, the scientific peer-reviewed scientific data doesn't support it. The substantial benefits get short shrift:
... So to redress the balance [of negative coverage], I thought I'd look up the estimated benefits of genetically modified crops. After 15 years of GM planting, there's ample opportunity-with 17 million farmers on almost 400 million acres in 29 countries on six continents-to count the gains from genetic modification of crop plants. A recent comprehensive report by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot for a British firm, PG Economics, gives some rough numbers. (The study was funded by Monsanto, which has major operations in biotech, but the authors say the research was independent of the company and published in two peer-reviewed journals.)
The most obvious benefit is yield increase. In 2010, the report estimates, the world's corn crop was 31 million tons larger and the soybean crop 14 million tons larger than it would have been without the use of biotech crops. The direct effect on farm incomes was an increase of $14 billion, more than half of which went to farmers in developing countries (especially those growing insect-resistant cotton). ...
He goes on to note benefits like less fuel usage, better health and safety for workers, shorter growing cycles, better quality of food, and nearly 1 billion less pounds of pesticide being used. Furthermore, because of several factors, there is less carbon-diosice emission. His final paragraph is the kicker.
There is a rich irony here. The rapidly growing use of shale gas in the U.S. has also driven down carbon-dioxide emissions by replacing coal in the generation of electricity. U.S. carbon emissions are falling so fast they are now back to levels last seen in the 1990s. So the two technologies most reliably and stridently opposed by the environmental movement-genetic modification and fracking-have been the two technologies that most reliably cut carbon emissions.
And to that final paragraph I might add the observation that many of those who are the most adamant about catastrophic anthropogenic climate change being unassailable science are most resistant to science that points the great benefits and relatively small downsides of things like GM crops and fourth generation nuclear power.
Climate scientists will tell you droughts and other extreme weather events is the new normal. One way or another, farming needs to adapt to a new reality. A possible solution is vertical farming. Imagine taking a bunch of greenhouses, stacking them one on top of each other, and plunking it down in a city. Once dismissed as an expensive and unrealistic idea, vertical farms are now cropping up around the world, but huge challenges still face the young industry. Day 6 producer Dominic Girard looks into this growing food trend. Click "Read More" for all kinds of info related to this story.
Go to the site to listen to the radio piece. Here is a short video about vertical farming.
Slate: A Fracking Good Story
Carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. are at their lowest level in 20 years. It’s not because of wind or solar power.
... But, beyond this well-trodden battlefield, something amazing has happened: Carbon-dioxide emissions in the United States have dropped to their lowest level in 20 years. Estimating on the basis of data from the US Energy Information Agency from the first five months of 2012, this year’s expected CO2 emissions have declined by more than 800 million tons, or 14 percent from their peak in 2007.
The cause is an unprecedented switch to natural gas, which emits 45 percent less carbon per energy unit. The U.S. used to generate about half its electricity from coal, and roughly 20 percent from gas. Over the past five years, those numbers have changed, first slowly and now dramatically: In April of this year, coal’s share in power generation plummeted to just 32 percent, on par with gas. ...
... The reduction is even more impressive when one considers that 57 million additional energy consumers were added to the U.S. population over the past two decades. Indeed, U.S. carbon emissions have dropped about 20 percent per capita, and are now at their lowest level since Dwight D. Eisenhower left the White House in 1961. ...
... This flies in the face of conventional thinking, which continues to claim that mandating carbon reductions—through cap-and-trade or a carbon tax—is the only way to combat climate change.
But, based on Europe’s experience, such policies are precisely the wrong way to address global warming. Since 1990, the EU has heavily subsidized solar and wind energy at a cost of more than $20 billion annually. Yet its per capita CO2 emissions have fallen by less than half of the reduction achieved in the U.S.—even in percentage terms, the U.S. is now doing better. ...
... Climate economists repeatedly have pointed out that such energy innovation is the most effective climate solution, because it is the surest way to drive the price of future green energy sources below that of fossil fuels. By contrast, subsidizing current, ineffective solar power or ethanol mostly wastes money while benefiting special interests. ...