Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bjorn Lomborg: "The Skeptical Environmentalist"

Are all the billions of dollars spent on "saving the planet" from overheating wasted. YES, according to Bjorn Lomborg. 
Is recycling paper and glass smart? NO.

Here is Lomborg in conversation on ReasonTV advocating for sensible ways to help people and the planet.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Gaia Man says cool it on global warming

Now that Rio 20+ is over, you wonder if there is any point in continuing the long string of seemingly pointless annual environmental conferences.
This one did not go well according to two stories here and here. The first Rio Conference 20 years ago, was more generalized toward sustainability and environmental action on a broad front. As time went on, each succeeding conference became more and more focussed on the perceived immediate threat of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). That hysteria peaked at Copenhagen in 2009, and began to fade at Cancun in 2010. Since then, the idea that humans are responsible for bringing Earth out of the last ice age toward thermal doom from excess carbon dioxide has been getting 'colder-than-a-well-diggers-ass-in-the-Klondike' or similar such sayings.
Last week a noted purveyor of the AGW hypothesis recanted, and then, shock of shocks, the Father of Mother Earth Gaia shared his second thoughts on the AGW issue with The Guardian.
Ninety-two-year-old James Lovelock was one of the worlds leading alarmists on the AGW hypothesis. In 2006, in an article in the U.K.’s Independent newspaper, he wrote:“before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”  That is alarmist, wouldn't you say, right up there with Al Gore? But Lovelock is a respected scientist, and you have to wonder why he would bother doing this so late in his life with his contributions to environmental research assured? Why bother if he didn't feel strongly that this is an error? Lovelock first showed his change of heart in April 2012, in an interview with MSNBC, where he was quoted: “All right, I made a mistake.”

Lorrie Goldstein, writing in the Toronto Sun, this past week summarized some of Lovelock's views originally posted in The Guardian. Here are some of the observations:

(1) A long-time supporter of nuclear power as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which has made him unpopular with environmentalists, Lovelock has now come out in favour of natural gas fracking (which environmentalists also oppose), as a low-polluting alternative to coal.

As Lovelock observes, "Gas is almost a give-away in the U.S. at the moment. They've gone for fracking in a big way. This is what makes me very cross with the greens for trying to knock it ... Let's be pragmatic and sensible and get Britain to switch everything to methane. We should be going mad on it." (Kandeh Yumkella, co-head of a major United Nations program on sustainable energy, made similar arguments last week at a UN environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro, advocating the development of conventional and unconventional natural gas resources as a way to reduce deforestation and save millions of lives in the Third World.)

(2) Lovelock blasted greens for treating global warming like a religion.

"It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion," Lovelock observed. "I don't think people have noticed that, but it's got all the sort of terms that religions use ... The greens use guilt. That just shows how religious greens are. You can't win people round by saying they are guilty for putting (carbon dioxide) in the air."

(3) Lovelock mocks the idea modern economies can be powered by wind turbines.

As he puts it, "so-called ‘sustainable development' ... is meaningless drivel ... We rushed into renewable energy without any thought. The schemes are largely hopelessly inefficient and unpleasant. I personally can't stand windmills at any price."

(4) Finally, about claims "the science is settled" on global warming: "One thing that being a scientist has taught me is that you can never be certain about anything. You never know the truth. You can only approach it and hope to get a bit nearer to it each time. You iterate towards the truth. You don't know it."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Food Choice: Children voted with their feet.

School is out for another year and the report card on Policy Memorandum 150 has just trickled in. What's that you ask?

In a December 2011 posting, I commented on the Ontario Ministry of Education's commitment to making schools healthier places for students by instituting Policy Memorandum 150, cooked up by the McGuinty Liberals. As I suggested then, the Liberals of Ontario are out to shape your world. Their tool of choice is to eliminate choice by instituting universal bans. In that December posting, I suggested that this ban might invite some enterprising students to flout the new rule. But my abilities at prediction seem to be no better than the legislators who crafted and instituted this policy. Government action frequently leads to unintended consequences, and that is the case here. Schools across the province are reporting shortfalls in cafeteria income (not surprisingly) that is used to fund a variety of programs.

The largest school board in Canada, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is forecasting a $1.2-million shortfall in cafeteria revenue this past school year. The Ottawa-Carleton School Board estimates a loss of $900,000 in cafeteria revenue, while the Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor, which gets a commission from a private operator, has projected a $95,000 loss in revenue. This information is outlined in an article in the National Post this week.

In Toronto the shortfall would have been used to support cafeteria infrastructure and maintenance, in Ottawa cafeteria funds are used to pay for field trips, academic tournaments, clubs and sports teams. But the loss means parents can expect to pay more for their children's school activities. In Toronto alone, more than 30 money losing school cafeterias may be closed before next September.

Ontario was not the first jurisdiction to institute new rules for school food menus, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and British Columbia all do the same thing. Nova Scotia seems to have had more success in implementation, because it was done in stages over a number of years so students became educated and acclimatized to the changes. In Alberta, individual school boards are allowed to decide for themselves - a sensible course of action in my opinion.

The simple truth is that real food is cheaper and often more nutrient rich than so called junk food as the illustration above suggests. Students should be taught that lesson from their parents and their schools. But education is a gradual process and when choices are eliminated the wrong choice often become more appealing; that's human nature. Too bad there are not stats for the lunchtime boom in fast food restaurants near schools.

Early in May a couple of enterprising young lads posted a widely viewed YouTube video that expressed their displeasure with the Ontario ban. That was a clue certainly to what the financial report verified this week.

So what did McGuinty say about this story? “They put a man on the moon 40 years ago, don’t tell me that we can’t make healthy, delicious, tasty, attractive food for teenagers in the province of Ontario in 2012.” Brilliant.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sacred Cows and the Dairy Tax

Cowed by politics?
Name a product that is found in the refrigerators of virtually every home in Canada and for which we each pay too much? Yes, milk, good guess.

The average Canadian family pays up to $1.44 a litre more for milk than their American counterparts, up to $300 more per year, even though the dollars are roughly at par today. That amount does not count the additional price of cheese, butter, ice cream, or eggs. Yes, eggs too and chickens!
What's going on?
The irony here is that most Canadians are typically so disconnected from politics they have no clue they are being robbed BECAUSE of their own ignorance and misplaced trust. The scheme called "supply management" was cooked up more than 40 years ago by farmers in cahoots with politicians. The misplaced trust is in the politicians.
Everyone knows what is meant by supply and demand, that is how economics is supposed to work. Too much supply, prices should drop, too much demand, prices should rise. Price has meaning and it regulates supply. But what if supply is regulated by a powerful lobby group, that uses its monopoly powers to exclude competition, and set its own prices by controlling how much supply is produced. That is supply management. Here is another explanation from a recent article.  
"What is “supply management”? It is a government scheme to raise agricultural prices and farm incomes by a strictly enforced system of licences and quotas that controls who may produce a handful of important commodities, such as milk, cheese, poultry and eggs, and how much they may produce. High tariffs also are imposed on imports of these commodities. By thus controlling both domestic and foreign supply, supply management increases the price of covered commodities. Thus do we repel potential trade partners who would like to sell those commodities to Canadians at competitive prices." 
This issue is a sacred cow amongst politicians and the extra cost borne by all Canadians amounts to a hidden tax adding even more to the cost of living. (ibid)
"Do supply management’s domestic benefits outweigh its obstruction of trade?
On the contrary, its domestic costs are high, and are borne disproportionately by low-income Canadians.
The lower a household’s income, the higher the share of their income that goes to food. In fact, lower income households spend nearly a quarter of their income on food compared to middle- and upper-income Canadians, who normally spend 5% to 10% of their income on that category.
Just as supply management disproportionately burdens lower-income families, eliminating it and lowering prices for basic food goods disproportionately benefits lower-income families. They would immediately have more disposable income for other necessities, thus increasing their standard of living."
So much for the sham of politicians helping the poor, they just help themselves.

All of the major political parties favour supply management, why not, the parties are kept happy by generous donations from Canadian Dairy Farmers due to the unwarranted profits made through supply management.

Supply management has come to the fore in recent weeks because of two different papers published here and here, as well as recent trade negotiations.

Canada is a trading nation, however, the high tariffs imposed by supply management act as a barrier to this trade as spelled out here:
"That’s exactly why Canada agonized in Los Cabos over U.S. president Barack Obama’s invitation to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Our system of supply management is not acceptable to many of that trade club’s members; and while we may now be at the negotiating table, we are not in the TPP yet.
Canada is a trading nation, and joining the TPP would give us access to the fastest growing markets in the global economy. The TPP originated in 2005 with Brunei, Singapore, New Zealand and Chile. Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, the United States, Japan and others including China may join in due course. It may well be one of the most important trade blocs in the 21st Century.
The sheer size of the countries involved represents a real opportunity for Canada to expand its opportunities for trade. If all the potential members join the TPP, it will represent $35.2-trillion in GDP and 2.7 billion people."
The National Post ends its recent editorial on this issue with:
"...both New Zealand and Australia offer models of how Canada could manage a phased transition to a free-market dairy industry. In both of those countries, consumers and producers alike have prospered, with lower prices and higher productivity, just as economists would expect.
This is what the future of our quota-controlled agricultural industries should look like. In furtherance of that vision, we urge that the two reports published this week become required reading in Ottawa. Stephen Harper's government already has proven its free-market bona fides by removing the monopsony power of the Wheat Board. Many other agricultural sectors cry out for similar reform."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Climate Correction

Exaggeration or just wrong? 
A friend alerted me to an article that appeared in The Telegraph published in the UK this week. The article by Professor Fritz Vahrenholt, who is one of the fathers of Germany's environmental movement, is based on his presentation to the 3rd Global Warming Policy Foundation Annual Lecture at the Royal Society in London, UK.

In the article Vahrenholt essentially recants his belief that the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is the primary driver of global warming/climate change. Of course that is the theory espoused by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and numerous environmentalists around the world.
In the article here, Vahrenholt uses historical data which shows that dramatic shifts in climate occurred in the absence of carbon dioxide fluctuations (no kidding) which Vahrenholt now attributes to the Sun. Imagine that? Here is a quote from the article:
"Based on climate reconstructions from North Atlantic deep-sea sediment cores, Professor Gerard Bond discovered that the millennial-scale climate cycles ran largely parallel to solar cycles, including the Eddy Cycle which is – guess what – 1,000 years long. So it is really the Sun that shaped the temperature roller-coaster of the past 10,000 years."
Vahrenholt goes on to say:
"... the IPCC's current climate models cannot explain the climate history of the past 10,000 years. But if these models fail so dramatically in the past, how can they help to predict the future?"

Vahrenholt even suggests that a model proposed by Danish physicist Henrik Svensmark (which has received very little public exposure) might be promising. I pointed out this hypothesis about a year ago here and here.

Given all of this and the data that shows there is a lack of correlation of temperature rise with CO2 increase Vahrenholt says:
"In the UK and Germany, (and I will add McGuinty's Ontario toofor example, power-station closures and huge expenditure for backup of volatile wind or solar energy or harmful ethanol production will raise energy prices massively and even threaten power cuts: the economic cost will be crippling, all driven by fear." .....and that there is no need for "....the massive (energy) poverty currently planned."
So what's going on here, is this the beginning of the end of the carbon dioxide theory, or should I say hypothesis of climate change? Vahrenholt seems to hedge, he thinks its time for "rational decarbonizing," whatever that meansHe has too many friends in the system to just flush them away, so he calls for more research (keeps his friends happy) and all the usual central planning but with a greater variety of energy sources including fossil fuels.

Vahrenholt is no libertarian, but he does deserve credit for speaking out against the current orthodoxy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Political Favouritism and CBC Radio Current Events

My previous post was about the Rio+20 Conference which was promoted on CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks June 16, 2012.

I admit to being a long time listener to this program, way back to the days when David Suzuki was the host. The program often carries good science content, and interviews with people not usually heard on radio or TV for that matter. I listen because I have an interest in science, real science.

Over the years, most of the hosts, like Suzuki, have presented heavily biased stories on sustainable development, green energy infrastructure, and anthropogenic global warming etc. I say biased because each of those issues has become highly politicized, to the point where its difficult to separate the science story from the politics associated with it. The June 16th story is a perfect example.

In 1992 during the original Rio Conference, Elizabeth May was an environmental lawyer working on behalf of the Canadian delegation and the Mulroney government of the day. On June 16th as Leader of the Green Party and a sitting MP in Canada's House of Commons, May was allowed to speak on Quirks and Quarks (here is the podcast - she is the first 20 minutes or so).

If you listen to the podcast you will no doubt be able to detect her bias against the current Harper government and her advocacy for Rio+20.

I'm certainly not a friend of the Harper government, but there is an issue of fairness here. The CBC is heavily funded ($1.2 billion) by taxpayers, so why is she allowed to speak on public radio on a political issue without any corresponding representation from another political party or better an expert that holds an opinion different for Ms. May?

Furthermore, she speaks about anthropogenic global warming(AGW)/climate change as if it were a foregone conclusion. A theory so widely accepted as to be gospel truth. This irks me about CBC too. The fact is, AGW is at best an hypothesis and one that seems to be inadequate as an explanation for any perceived climate change.

Finally I will add , that this incident does not surprise me at all, but I think redress is warranted.

Rio+20 - Rio '92 Revisited - Global (guilt trip) Agenda

"We are at an historic turning point, communism has collapsed, the entire world conceives of itself as a global civilization, and the community of nations can now envision the possibility of a global agenda. But the only organizing principle for this global agenda is the effort to save the earth's environment. This must be the new central principle giving coherence to our efforts to work together. And the Earth's Summit is the designated time and place for this new agreement to congeal. This is a turning point we must break through to a new way of thinking about our relationship to the earth. We are not entitled to exploit it with impunity with no concern for the integrity of the ecological system. Its just unforgivable if we allow the selfish impulses of the short term considerations of this moment to win out over the wisdom and the mandate of history to act."

That is a direct quote from the then former American Senator Al Gore as he was interviewed on the CBC Radio Show Quirks and Quarks in 1992 before the Rio Earth Summit twenty years ago this past week (you may hear the quote if you listen to the podcast here).

Its pretty clear to me what he was thinking, here was a chance for governments around the world to join together and defeat the newest boogie-man. Now that the cold-war was over and the evil empire was defeated, it was time to turn to the real enemy, and it was us, you and me. What better way to defeat "us" than by forming a supra-governmental organization under the auspices of the United Nations, that benevolent protector of all that is right and good with the world?

The Rio Earth Summit was an historic attempt to grab power, without a shot being fired anywhere. The governments and citizens of earth were about to have a massive guilt trip dumped onto them by the self-appointed protectors of the planet. The global organizing agenda, as Gore put it, is clear: "We are not entitled to exploit it (Earth) with impunity with no concern for the integrity of the ecological system." How dare we lowly humans aspire to live in comfort at the expense of any planetary resources? What could we be thinking? Woe to us for disturbing the habitat of the three-spined stickleback, the Northern Spotted Owl or the Frankston spider orchid, in a selfish attempt to provide food and shelter to mere humans. "Its just unforgivable if we allow the selfish impulses of the short term considerations," like harvesting logs for building or eating perhaps. How dare we?

The Rio Summit in 1992 promoted sustainable developement. I have nothing against that concept in general, it's eminently sensible. Owners who would destroy their very means of earning a living are just plain stupid. So, overfishing or over harvesting a renewable resource, just makes no sense. Notice the key word "owners," when ownership is not assigned or left to the commons, thats when the trouble begins. Today my interpretation of "sustainable" in the current enviro-babble includes ideas like, stagnant, no-growth, heavily regulated, uncompetitive, subsidized and top down. Nothing to do with ownership and more to do with the favourite new buzzword "stewardship," which comes complete with the guilt trip and none of the benefits of ownership. 

Rio's successors have morphed into conferences against climate change, as if we humans controlled climate, more powerful than the Sun are we. A succession of meetings and treaties over the years backed by questionable data, produced by self-serving researchers, under the direction of the IPCC has made everyone guilty of tromping their filthy carbon footprints on everything. We are guilty of using fire for heat, light and to drive our machines. We are guilty of contravening the questionable hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). By merely breathing, we, you and I, add to the carbon burden of the planet's atmosphere, adding, by the way the one essential gas of photosynthesis, carbon dioxide, from which all earthly organic food originates. Do you aspire to a low ecological footprint? Then the poverty of Sierra Leone is for you (see the graph above), or if you want to be in the green zone of sustainability and human welfare, then the wealth and freedom of Cuba beckons.

Rio+20 convenes this week, committed to continue the fraud of sustainable development. While all the major leaders of the world were in Rio twenty years ago, none are coming to Rio+20, things have changed. Much to the chagrin of enviro-statists like George Monbiot who warns that its "make-or-break" time. So deluded are he and his colleagues, that they fail to grasp that the no-growth scenario is coming fast, as nation states crumble under massive debt-loads and unfundable liabilities, and depressed economies become the norm. Be careful what you wish for George.

The only good news is that people are slightly more skeptical about AGW, and the ability of governments to solve anything. One can only hope.            

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Changing the culture: Plastic bags are bad, repeat.

It was the proverbial good news/bad news story out of Toronto City council on June 6th, 2012.

GOOD NEWS: The 44 council members voted to remove the silly 5 cent per plastic bag fee that the previous administration had foisted on retail stores and citizens. The original purpose of the fee was to socially engineer the behavior of Torontonians, away from using so-called "single use" plastic bags toward multiple use bags. It worked, B.F. Skinner would have been proud. But the bag tax, as it came to be known, was a sore point for many. Toronto's Mayor made removal of the bag tax an issue, that he championed, and city council granted his wish. The fee will be removed July 1st, 2012. 

BAD NEWS: But shortly after that win, a motion from a councillor to ban all plastic bags from retail stores passed in a close vote. The ban takes effect on Jan. 1st, 2013, though some believe it will be challenged in court. I hope so.
Arguments for and mostly against the bag ban have raged ever since in the local and even national media. But of course most of the arguments revolved around the environmental issue, unnecessary solid waste, evil plastic, people will get accustomed to the using recyclable bags, blah, blah, blah. Why plastic bags? Why subject this extremely useful item to this type of ridicule? Surely there are far worse environmental menaces lurking in people's garbage? Maybe the household waste of citizens should be searched too? Think of the new jobs created, garbage police, waste watchers. 

Such a search would be an invasion of privacy you say? Of course it would. So why is it that elected officials are concerned with the way people carry home their groceries? Isn't that really a private matter too, between the buyer and seller? That's the real issue, why is a municipal government involved in this? Obviously the City councillors have too much time on their hands, sitting around dreaming up new rules to justify their own existence.

The bags of course have many uses, both visible and invisible. First, they are a courtesy afforded by the retailer silently saying to the customer, "Thanks for coming to my store, please use these bags to convenience your trip home and by the way help give our store some cheap advertising." That is the invisible positive message implied by every buy-sell transaction where a bag is given freely. Perhaps Toronto council likes chasing away business to the surrounding towns? Perhaps Toronto council hopes those surrounding towns will also foolishly adopt this stupid rule too? It boggles the mind.

The visible uses of plastic bags are so numerous, I won't attempt to enumerate them. Suffice to say that everyone I know, has a bag of plastic bags in a closet somewhere in their home. As cheap and flimsy as these bags seem to be, they have multiple lives and everyone knows it. Plastic garbage bags will still be used, and more will need to be purchased if this ban succeeds, and dog owners will need to buy special bags. And of course there is the uniquely Canadian penchant to bagged milk, will that be banned too? Let's all go back to reusable glass, can't wait. 

As I have already suggested, the bags are not really at issue here. What is at issue is a prevailing attitude that people can be controlled to serve the collective good; a "good" that is determined by the wisdom a few through the coercive power of government. What is the proper function of government? That is the issue. Is government there to modify human behaviour - change the culture - or to allow humans to interact freely in a non-coercive environment? I vote for the latter.

Los Angeles also banned bags, displaying the power of mindless celebrity do-gooders. Here is how ReasonTV treated that story. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Dots on the sun and a Cosmic collision

On Tuesday June 5, just after 6 pm in the Eastern Time zone of North American, the planet Venus will track across the face of the sun, its called a transit. For most people, its not a big deal really. A tiny dot, Venus, will be seen (**if you wear protective eye coverings**) moving from left to right across the face of the sun. Astronomers have made a big deal about this for a long time. Back in the days of HMS Endeavour and James Cook, astronomers knew that such a transit could help them determine the size of our solar system, so James Cook was sent to gather the data. Today, transits are used to find new worlds around distant stars. The transit of Venus happens about every 120 years in pairs, eight years apart. This one is our last chance, the next one is in Dec., 2117, lets hope there are clear skies. Such are the vagaries of astronomy, a puff of condensed water vapour could obscure a once-in-a-lifetime event. Its happens a lot.
While I'm on the subject of missing big events, you're going to miss this one for sure. I heard about this first, decades ago, but astronomers are now convinced that its going to happen, a collision of galaxies. Its already happening, go out late at night, on crystal clear nights, and look between the great square of Pegasus and the W of Cassiopeia. If you have a sharp eye or a pair of binoculars, you can detect a fuzzy patch of light. That is M31, the Andromeda galaxy, and we in the Milky Way are heading straight for it fast, or its heading for us....both actually. The collision will be astronomical ;-), in 4 billion years.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Quantum Leaps and Bafflegab

In any given day there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of stories where governments and politicians attempt to exert their influence on individuals. Sometimes it's overwhelming. Where to focus first, whats the greatest danger, who should be held accountable?

I missed this story reported in Cato @ Liberty more than two months ago. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks about the energy poverty he experienced as a child in South Korea. South Korea has made huge advances since then. Now the Secretary apparently wants to bring energy poverty back, this time to everyone. Listen to his talk here. But as Chris Edwards points out in his CATO blog, Secretary Moon's writers are experts in that famous schoolyard phrase I used to hear: "bullshit baffles brains" - yes it does.

So I have cut and pasted the relevant phrases that Mr. Edwards used in his CATO entry, for your enlightenment below. Orwell would be proud.

By the way, I saw that cartoon on my Facebook page from a friend, and it fits so well don't you think? There is one more frame that is missing, but if you go to the original site here, and click the red button, bottom left, all will be revealed.

I have a high-level group of eminent experts and visionary thinkers…

Our challenge is to join forces and overcome the barriers to bring our efforts to scale. We will need to scale-up successful examples of clean energy and energy efficient technologies… We must make a quantum leap…

My Sustainable Energy for All initiative will bring together key stakeholders in an effort to create transformative change in the world’s energy systems. By leveraging the global convening power of the United Nations, it will introduce new public-private partnerships by fostering the necessary enabling conditions, including to mitigate risk and to promote large-scale investment. And by engaging a broad range of stakeholders, the initiative will mobilize innovative solutions and bold commitments…

Next week in London, the clean energy ministerial meeting will receive our action agenda on 11 areas—very concrete areas for how we can end this poverty. We must rally behind these priorities. I am very excited we are joining hands with the clean energy ministerial to promote game-changing initiatives such as the global lighting and energy access partnerships

…renewed political commitment to sustainable energy…

…concrete deliverables…

…produce a powerful outcome document…