Thursday, August 28, 2008

Another abstract environmental concept

Environmentalism is rife with good theoretical constructs that sound fine in the abstract but have no practical utility. Examples include carrying capacity, the ecological footprint, its cousin the carbon footprint and, of course, carbon neutrality. All invoke a measure of fear, concern and guilt but none are useful management tools, none are predictive and none empower individuals.

To this litany, there now can be added the concept of water neutrality.

As this excellent commentary by Brendan O'Neill shows, water neutrality suffers from the same over-bearing morality and shortage of common sense that constrain the utility of parallel constructs:
  • Water is life. There is no living creature known to man that can survive without water.
  • To feel guilty about using water is to feel guilty about being alive, to be ashamed of humanity's very presence on planet Earth.
  • Do you know what 'water neutrality' really means? Death.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Problems are blowing in the wind

As attention gradually shifts away from climate change and towards the more progressive topic of diversified energy policy, more and more basic questions are being asked.

For example, this post highlights three fundamental issues that renewable energy sources must address:
  1. neither wind nor solar can supply of continuous power
  2. lack of power concentration: both wind and solar are useful for individual, dispersed dwellings (see Amish communities, recreational cottages) but inefficient for large urban communities in terms of the amount of land required and transmission efficiencies
  3. only a select number of places are suitable for wind and/or solar power generation (from the brief amount I saw of the Beijing Olympics, the ambient conditions did not look conducive to either wind nor solar: why is China investing so heavily in coal generating power stations? for all the reasons renewables are not suitable to their situation).
So O.K., no wind nor solar safety net for China nor India: countries still developing, with large urban populations and access to cheap coal supplies and little to no inducement to worry about their carbon emissions -- poverty being a more rampant problem.

But what about developed, prosperous, not to say, green-aware countries like Canada? Well, even in politically tame Canada, questions about the suitability of more wind farms is being raised -- even by green politicians.

Not only are wind and solar still expensive options, they remain very limited in their ability to displace existing sources of energy production. And, here, as with all aspects of sustainability, economics is a key component of policy determination. Economics are not more important than social or environmental concerns: but sustainability requires the integration of economics with social and environmental imperatives, not an ignorance of, or a failure to consider, any economics that green ideology finds distasteful.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Some Inconvenient Questions for Climate Fear Promoters

Two complementary posts to bring to your attention today. The first is a series of questions that give rise to skepticism about AGW theory.

The second, provides a synopsis of common constructs that many skeptics would subscribe to as the basis for their rejection of AGW.

Both posts presume the climate change is fundamentally a question of science. It is not. It is fundamentally an organizing construct for green ideology:
  • When the issue of global warming emerged nearly 20 years ago, it offered the environmental movement -- perversely -- a kind of hope, or at the least, a much tighter focus. This was because its implications were wide-ranging in a way that those of whaling, say, or industrial pollution, were not.
  • The threat of the warming atmosphere was a threat us all; the imperative to do something drastic about it therefore a universal one.
  • For the idealists of the green movement, this meant change, which was what they had always wanted -- change in human behavior, to a more caring, less exploitative and less wasteful way of life. The climate threat seemed to mean that this would have to happen, now. People would be obliged to live in respectful harmony with the Earth. They would be obliged to alter their ways: swap their cars for bikes and public transport; substitute renewable energy systems for coal-fired electricity; and consume less of everything.
  • The alternative was catastrophe. It was go green, or die.
The problem for green ideology is that has lacked a coherent politics of hope, one with vision that empowers both individuals and communities. Rather, contemporary environmentalism is stuck in the protest, consciousness-raising mode of the Woodstock era and as a politics of reform offers nothing but constraint and regression.

What is needed is a politics with vision for positive change and fulfillment: that vision requires much more articulation and a decision by the green movement to revamp the basis for environmental ideology away from limits and towards empowerment.

It will not be an easy transition for many people, particularly those heavily invested emotionally in the existing paradigm, despite its ongoing unsustainability.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Wire

Art is a reflection of the culture that spawns it. Aside from my favourite sports, there is not much on TV that compels my viewing. HBO has stretched the envelop for North American viewers and produced a range of original series that show that TV can be an effective media for art that both reflects the dominant culture and provokes thought about the prevailing mores of that society.

Whereas The Sopranos was a series that (rightly) garnered much publicity, another HBO series ran for only five seasons but was equally compelling: The Wire.

The final season has just become available on DVD and many commentators are paying belated but deserved attention to a gritty drama set in Baltimore that examined the economics, politics and education behind the city, the drug trade and the limited options facing
inner-city youth.

The wider message of The Wire is summarized by its creator, David Simon:
  • This year, our drama asked its last thematic question: Why, if there is any truth to anything presented in The Wire over the last four seasons, does that truth go unaddressed by our political culture, by most of our mass media, and by our society in general?
  • We are a culture without the will to seriously examine our own problems. We eschew that which is complex, contradictory or confusing. As a culture, we seek simple solutions. We enjoy being provoked and titillated, but resist the rigorous, painstaking examination of issues that might, in the end, bring us to the point of recognizing our problems, which is the essential first step to solving any of them.
  • The true stories that The Wire traded in are out there, waiting for anyone willing to take the time. And it is, of course, vaguely disturbing to us that our unlikely little television drama is making arguments that were once the prerogative of more serious mediums.
The point here is this: real problems exist. They are not hard to find, but they are challenging to resolve.

Rather than address these real issues, the political culture appears to want cardboard cut-out heroes for politicians, sound-bites rather than analysis for media coverage and symbolism rather than reasoned solutions for action.

In large part, the function of ecomyths within this dynamic is to distract and deflect public attention from the real issues and to replace them with angst over unlikely scares that appear to require intervention, even if it is symbolic rather than practical. Climate change isn't real, nor can it be "solved" -- but it is a compelling drama within which the political system can appear to be relevant, while all the time remaining totally irrelevant to the realities of planetary life.

Poverty. Famine. Human rights. World peace. Real issues. But difficult and certainly not close to resolution within the existing bureaucratic structure ostensibly in place to address such issues.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Presentism and world events

It's always a pleasure to read Phillip Stott. He is of a generation of academics who not only understand their subject matter well but can place it within a broader context that encompasses a thorough grounding in the humanities, politics and real life -- in great contrast with the new generation who are encouraged by the system to narrowly focus and eschew the wider joys of intellectual freedom.

Here is a recent post by Stott, which focuses on the curse of presentism: viewing everything that might be happening today in isolation from the history and circumstances that pre-date the current situation.

Viewing constructs in isolation can constitute bias and could be construed as lying. But who could suspect today's political candidate's or even the government of that? Or today's media?

Because if the state lies and the central apparatus of the state lies, we'd be left with authoritarianism, and who would want to condone that?

What's next? Lip-syncing? Fake fireworks?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Spotless days: 400 and counting

An update from Anthony Watts on the continued, ongoing (and lengthy) absence of sunspot activity, that has meant the start of this decade has been marked by steady declines in temperatures.

While ongoing temperature decreases may make belief in AGW increasingly tenuous (hopefully), the long-term need for alternative energy sources will survive as a worthwhile legacy of the AGW myth.

Gradually, more and more focus is being paid to energy policy and energy futures. Not surprisingly, different ideologies lead to different perspectives on the need for future energy supplies to be variously:
  • cheap
  • efficient
  • cost-effective
  • renewable
  • practical
  • dispersed
  • non-corporate. etc.
Clearly, some of these desires can be conflicting and/or incompatible, but at least there is the vestige of reasonable debate being shown by various posts from all ideological perspectives: e.g. here, here and here.

And here is where it gets difficult.

All environmental issues pass through an issue-attention cycle, wherein an issue is discovered, passes through a period of euphoric recognition, becomes adopted as a mainstream construct and then waxes as the impacts and realities of action, intervention and implementation become apparent.

Traditionally, environmentalism has been at its strongest in raising awareness, instilling fear and identifying issues for concern. Many activists have been somewhat less diligent, and applied, in any efforts to develop and implement practical changes and development alternatives as issues transcend the earlier euphoria of discovery and pass into the practicalities of real life.

So, irrespective of climate and climate change, continued sustainable globalization requires the ongoing provision of low-cost energy. Expensive energy is not conducive to sustained development: not for the developed world nor for developing countries. Subsequently, energy is likely to remain a central factor in global geopolitics and, in the real world of politics, environmental concerns are likely to remain a ubiquitous statement of piety more than a defining characteristic of any specific energy policy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Explaining the Hockey Stick simply

As regular readers to this blog will know, the Climate Audit website has been instrumental in deconstructing and exposing the scientific fraud known as the Hockey Stick. Much of the discussion can be nuanced and technical. Some understand, some grasp the gist of it but I suspect many check out the discussions and leave, intimidated and unconvinced -- the great strength of Gore's message was to simplify things for the non-scientist.

Now a Bishop Hill has posted an easily understood explanation of the hockey stick story and his version of events is enabling many non-experts to appreciate have devastating the work done over at Climate Audit has been to the claims of scientific veracity in support of AGW.

In 2007 Climate Audit was recognized with an award as the best science blog. In 2008, it has continued to provide high quality discussion, exposure of errors and a perspective on excellence in scientific practice.


The Hockey Stick controversy also can be seen as systemic of a wider problem within the climate debate and, by extension, the whole area of environmentalism: an over-reliance upon peer review as a metric.

Which, in turn, reflects an even wider trend: reliance upon authority as indicated by credentials of their education, rather than the substance of their intellect.

There also is this very useful posting on Prometheus that puts the debate into the context of scince and policy.

Climate update from Greenie Watch

Here is a post from Greenie Watch, reproduced in its entirety and unedited:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

APS, A thought-free zone

Below is the substance of a communication received from The Right Honourable The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley

The American Physical Society ceased to be a scientific body and became a mere pressure-group when, in 2007, it adopted "National Policy 07.1" on climate change, reproduced in full below. The "policy" cites not a single scientific authority: it is a purely political manifesto whose tendentious conclusions are materially at odds with scientific theory and with observed reality.
"Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth's climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.

"The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth's physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.

"Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth's climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases."

A scientifically accurate revision of the APS' "National Policy" on "Climate Change" is below
Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities have increased the proportion of the atmosphere occupied by carbon dioxide by one-ten-thousandth part since 1750 (Keeling & Whorf, 2004, updated). This minuscule perturbation may cause a small, harmless, and beneficial warming (Monckton, 2008). Greenhouse gases also include water vapor, the most significant greenhouse gas because of its volume, and methane, of which the atmospheric concentration ceased to increase in 2000 and is now declining (IPCC, 2007). Greenhouse gases are not pollutants, but occur naturally in quantities greater than those emitted from fossil fuel combustion and industrial and agricultural processes.

The evidence is incontrovertible: global cooling is occurring (GISStemp, HadCRU, RSS, UAH, NCDC). Though a natural warming trend of ~0.5 øC per century began in 1700, long before humankind could possibly have had any significant effect on global temperature (Akasofu, 2008), there has been no new record year for global temperature since 1998 and, since late 2001, there has been a downtrend. The cooling between January 2007 and January 2008 was the sharpest since records began in 1880.

Therefore no action need be taken to mitigate "global warming", for there is no evidence in the instrumental record that humankind has caused any significant increase in the 300-year-long natural warming rate, and no theoretical reason why future greenhouse-gas emissions should prove harmful. In any event, mitigating actions would be orders of magnitude less cost-effective than adaptation as, and if, necessary (all economists except Stern, 2006). The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was ~18 times today's in the Cambrian era (IPCC, 2001). Humankind was not responsible - we were not there. The planet came to no harm. Significant disruptions in the Earth's physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are unlikely to occur.

Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate long-run prediction impossible (Lorenz, 1963), the APS urges caution in relying upon computer models when making long-term climate predictions. There is no basis for the oft-repeated contention that the effects of human activity on the Earth's climate are likely to be great enough to influence the future climate. The APS therefore urges governments and peoples to provide the technological options for meeting real short-term and long-term environmental challenges, of which "global warming" from greenhouse-gas enrichment is not one. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the current official misinformation and unscientific alarmism about emission of greenhouse gases.
Greenie Watch is a great source for common sense on environmentalism and for commentaries like this.

On this same topic, similar posts are here, here , here and here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Fake 'green' campaign kills real jobs

Here is an example from Ontario of all that is wrong about fake environmentalism: false dogma with real economic implications which just happen to be negative. All very self-explanatory and a direct result of ignoring economics when trying to determine what is and is not meant by sustainability.

Giving a program a green name doesn't make it eco-friendly. Sound policy makes things eco-friendly: and sound policy integrates economics, environment and society, it doesn't ignore fiscal realities, jobs or prosperity -- well not unless its just pious politics (sorry did I say that out loud?).

Or maybe, we should just call it Obamanomics.

A million blogging warnings to a lazy media

Andrew Bolt has these comments on the role of blogs as a forum for debate on current public policy issues where the mainstream media seeks to close thinking rather than open minds:
  • It's a gap caused by the media's refusal - on the grounds of fashion or faith - to cover both sides of issues that actually have people hopping.
  • But what has boosted my blog numbers far more is another issue the MSM won't cover fairly, preferring to preach rather than inform.
  • Global warming is still so ingrained a faith in journalism that to question it is not just proof of stupidity, but evil. But again the blogs - not just mine, but several overseas - have filled the gap, fact-checking the warming preachers, and telling readers of the dissenting scientists that the MSM won't touch.
  • ...blogs like mine have given frustrated academics, even from India and Canada, a place to send dissenting material on global warming that much of the media prefers to ignore. A debate the media often says is "over" is on again. Thanks to blogs.
Just as voter numbers attract political attention, one million readers attracts media reaction.  Slowly, other journalists are beginning to ask questions and do their own research: not just on the affiliations of those posing dissenting opinions but to the substance of their remarks.  Funny thing about climate dissent: the more you examine it, the more substantive it becomes. Truth is funny that way.