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August 22, 2014

The Great Lakes Return to Greatness



(p. 16) But after reaching historic lows in 2013, water levels in the Great Lakes are now abruptly on the rise, a development that has startled scientists and thrilled just about everybody with a stake in the waterfront, including owners of beach houses, retailers in tourist areas and dockmasters who run marinas on the lakeshore.

Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior are at least a foot higher than they were a year ago, and are expected to rise three more inches over the next month. Lake Ontario and Lake Erie are seven to nine inches higher than a year ago.



For the full story, see:

JULIE BOSMAN. "Creeping Up on Unsuspecting Shores: The Great Lakes, in a Welcome Turnaround." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., JUNE 29, 2014): 16 & 20.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date JUNE 28, 2014.)






August 20, 2014

The Process Innovation Called "Fracking"



(p. B1) I have come to North Dakota to observe the fracking of the Irene Kovaloff 11-18H, a well on the southern edge of the Bakken Shale. It is one of one hundred wells that will be fracked in the U.S. on this particular day in October 2012, 10 in North Dakota alone.


. . .


(p. B2) The hydraulic heart of fracking is the liquid pumped into the well. Almost all of it is water: snowmelt from the upper Rockies. In the Bakken and elsewhere, companies transform the water into a viscous liquid designed to carry sand deep into the new fractures. As it heats up underground, the gel reverts to a watery state. This change allows the sand to drop out and remain in the fractures, holding them open like pillars in a coal mine. The water flows back out.


. . .


Water and guar make up about 99.1% of the liquid; the chemicals are the rest.


. . .


The next night, the 30th frack of the Irene Kovaloff is completed. It takes three hours longer than expected, but otherwise the well is a success. Soon came light, sweet Bakken crude mixed with the water. On its first full day, it produced 800 barrels of crude--a good, but not great, result. By early 2013, Marathon had pulled 20,000 barrels of crude from the well. Considering that the oil had been locked away until the frack, it was good enough.



For the full article, see:

RUSSELL GOLD. "Book Excerpt: A Look Inside America's Fracking Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 8, 2014): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 7, 2014, and has the title "Book Excerpt: A Look Inside America's Fracking Boom.")


Gold's article was excerpted from his book:

Gold, Russell. The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.






August 11, 2014

Lynas Apologizes for Organizing Anti-GM (Genetic Modification) Movement



(p. 115) More than a decade and a half since the commercialization of first-generation agricultural biotechnology, concerns about transgenic crop impacts on human and environmental health remain, even though the experience across a cumulative 1.25 billion hectares suggests the relative safety of first-generation genetically engineered seed. The risks posed by agricultural biotechnology warrant continued attention, and new transgenic crops may pose different and bigger risks. Weighing against uncertain risks are benefits from increased food production, reduced insecticide use, and avoided health risks to food consumers and farm workers. At the same time, adoption is shown to increase herbicide use while reducing herbicide toxicity, save land by boosting yields while also making previously unfarmed lands profitable. Adoption benefits food consumers and farmers but also enriches seed companies that enjoy property right protections over new seed varieties. The (p. 116) balance of scientific knowledge weighs in favor of continued adoption of genetically engineered seed, which may explain why some longtime critics have reversed course. For example, Lord Melchett, who was the head of Greenpeace, has been advising biotechnology companies on overcoming constraints to the technology (St. Clair and Frank forthcoming). Mark Lynas, a journalist and organizer of the anti-GM (genetic modification) movement, publicly apologized for helping start the movement in his "Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference" (2013).

Agricultural biotechnology remains regulated by regimes developed at the introduction of the technology. Whereas precaution may have been appropriate before the relative magnitudes of risks and benefits could be empirically observed, accumulated knowledge suggests overregulation is inhibiting the introduction of new transgenic varieties. Regulation also discourages developing-country applications, where benefits are likely greatest. In the future, new genetic traits may promise greater benefits while also posing novel risks of greater magnitudes than existing traits. Efficient innovation and technology adoption will require different and, perhaps, more stringent regulation in the future, as well as continued insights from researchers, including economists, in order to assess evolving costs and benefits.



Source:

Barrows, Geoffrey, Steven Sexton, and David Zilberman. "Agricultural Biotechnology: The Promise and Prospects of Genetically Modified Crops." Journal of Economic Perspectives 28, no. 1 (Winter 2014): 99-120.






August 2, 2014

Climate Models Allow "the Modeler to Obtain Almost Any Desired Result"




Integrated assessment models (IAMs) are the commonly-used models that attempt to integrate climate science models with economic effect models. In the passage quoted below, "SCC" stands for "social cost of carbon."


(p. 870) I have argued that IAMs are of little or no value for evaluating alternative climate change policies and estimating the SCC. On the contrary, an IAM-based analysis suggests a level of knowledge and precision that is nonexistent, and allows the modeler to obtain almost any desired result because key inputs can be chosen arbitrarily.

As I have explained, the physical mechanisms that determine climate sensitivity involve crucial feedback loops, and the parameter values that determine the strength of those feedback loops are largely unknown. When it comes to the impact of climate change, we know even less. IAM damage functions are completely made up, with no theoretical or empirical foundation. They simply reflect common beliefs (which might be wrong) regarding the impact of 2º C or 3º C of warming, and can tell us nothing about what might happen if the temperature increases by 5º C or more. And yet those damage functions are taken seriously when IAMs are used to analyze climate policy. Finally, IAMs tell us nothing about the likelihood and nature of catastrophic outcomes, but it is just such outcomes that matter most for climate change policy. Probably the best we can do at this point is come up with plausible estimates for probabilities and possible impacts of catastrophic outcomes. Doing otherwise is to delude ourselves.



For the full article, see:

Pindyck, Robert S. "Climate Change Policy: What Do the Models Tell Us?" Journal of Economic Literature 51, no. 3 (Sept. 2013): 860-72.






July 22, 2014

Conserving Whales by a Market in Whale Shares



(p. 218) Ben A. Minteer and Leah R. Gerber propose "Buying Whales to Save Them." "Under this plan, quotas for hunting of whales would be traded in global markets. But again, and unlike most 'catch share' programs in fifisheries, the whale conservation market would not restrict participation in the market; both pro- and antiwhaling interests could own and trade quotas  . . . . Conservation groups, for example, could choose to buy whale shares in order to protect populations that are currently threatened; they could also buy shares to protect populations that are not presently at risk but that conservationists fear might become threatened in the future." "Despite the widely acknowledged failure of the IWC [International Whaling Commission] moratorium to curtail unsustainable whaling, the whale conservation market idea has proved to be wildly controversial within conservation and antiwhaling circles.  . . . Many critics of the idea are also plainly not comfortable with the ethics of putting a price on such iconic species--that is, with using contingent market methods for what they believe should be a categorical ethical obligation to preserve whales. On the other hand . . . the vulnerable status of many whale populations and the failure of the traditional regulatory response to halt unsustainable harvests call for a more innovative and experimental approach to whale policy, including considering unconventional proposals, such as the whale conservation market." Issues in Science and Technology, Spring 2013, http://www.issues.org/29.3/minteer.html.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 27, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 211-18.

(Note: italics, ellipses, and bracketed words, in original.)






July 18, 2014

Required Recycling Can Waste Resources



(p. 215) Cato Unbound offers four essays on "The Political Economy of Recycling." In the lead essay, Michael Munger asks: "Recycling: Can It Be Wrong, When It (p. 216) Feels So Right?" "There are two general kinds of arguments in favor of recycling. The first is that 'this stuff is too valuable to throw away!' In almost all cases, this argument is false, and when it is correct recycling will be voluntary; very little state action is necessary. The second is that recycling is cheaper than landfilling the waste. This argument may well be correct, but it is difficult to judge because officials need keep landfill prices artificially low to discourage illegal dumping and burning. Empirically, recycling is almost always substantially more expensive than disposing in the landfill. Since we can't use the price system, authorities resort to moralistic claims, trying to persuade people that recycling is just something that good citizens do. But if recycling is a moral imperative, and the goal is zero waste, not optimal waste, the result can be a net waste of the very resources that recycling was implemented to conserve." There are sharp and lively comments from Edward Humes, Melissa Walsh Innes, and Stephen Landsberg. June 2013, at http://www.cato-unbound.org/issues/june-2013/political-economy-recycling.


Source:

Taylor, Timothy. "Recommendations for Further Reading." Journal of Economic Perspectives 27, no. 4 (Fall 2013): 211-18.

(Note: italics in original.)






July 8, 2014

We Were Right to Honor Edison



It is said that the long inventor is dead, and some go so far as to say that the lone inventor never was. They downplay Edison's role in bringing us the light. After all, we now use Tesla and Westinghouse's AC current, rather than Edison's DC.

But George Gilder is right when he emphasizes the importance of showing for the first time that something can be done--'proof of concept' matters, and clears the path for others to do the same, often in better ways.

In his Pearl Street plant, Edison proved that affordable, reliable, safe electric light was possible. The country was right to honor him before and after his death.


(p. 285) Making New Jersey's plan to turn off all lights a national one, President Hoover asked the country's citizens to mark their sorrow at Edison's death by turning off all electric lights simultaneously across the country on the evening of Edison's funeral, at ten o'clock eastern time. He had considered shutting down generators to effect a perfectly synchronized tribute but realized that it might lead to deaths; even this thought was put in service of a tribute to Edison, for the country's life-and-death dependence upon electricity, he said, "is in itself a monument to Mr. Edison's genius."

Edison really had been privileged to hear his own eulogy in advance: (p. 286) The one read at the Light's Golden Jubilee two years before was used again at his service. That night, the two radio networks, the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting Company, jointly broadcast an eight-minute tribute that ended on the hour, when listeners were asked to turn out the lights. The White House did so and much of the nation followed, more or less together, some a minute before the hour, others on the hour. On Broadway, about 75 percent of the electrified signs were turned off briefly. Movie theaters went dark for a moment. Traffic lights blinked out. Everything seemed connected to Edison: the indoor lights, the traffic lights, the electric advertising, everyone connected via radio, which Edison now received credit for helping "to perfect." In the simple narrative that provided inspiration for posterity, one man had done it all.



Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






July 4, 2014

Insull the Innovator



(p. 262) Willing to take risks, he picked up for a bargain price a state-of-the-art engine and pair of generators from General Electric that had been on display at the 1893 world's fair. In only his second year on the job, he arranged to acquire his larger competitor, the Chicago Arc Light and Power Company. Branching farther out, he acquired coal mines and a steam railroad that provided vertical integration. Most innovative of all, he introduced new pricing schemes to encourage high-volume residential use spread over the entire day so that he could optimize the greatest volume of business for the least possible capital investment. With the acquisition of neighboring utilities, he created a six-thousand-square-mile regional network of power.


Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






July 1, 2014

Natural Resources Increase through Innovation



SolarPanelsDunhuangChina2014-05-31.jpg "A worker inspects solar panels in Dunhuang, China. We have an estimated supply of one million years of tellurium, a rare element used in some panels." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C1) How many times have you heard that we humans are "using up" the world's resources, "running out" of oil, "reaching the limits" of the atmosphere's capacity to cope with pollution or "approaching the carrying capacity" of the land's ability to support a greater population? The assumption behind all such statements is that there is a fixed amount of stuff--metals, oil, clean air, land--and that we risk exhausting it through our consumption.


. . .


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.


. . .


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.


. . .


(p. C2) . . ., Mr. Ausubel, together with his colleagues Iddo Wernick and Paul Waggoner, came to the startling conclusion that, even with generous assumptions about population growth and growing affluence leading to greater demand for meat and other luxuries, and with ungenerous assumptions about future global yield improvements, we will need less farmland in 2050 than we needed in 2000. (So long, that is, as we don't grow more biofuels on land that could be growing food.)


. . .


The economist and metals dealer Tim Worstall gives the example of tellurium, a key ingredient of some kinds of solar panels. Tellurium is one of the rarest elements in the Earth's crust--one atom per billion. Will it soon run out? Mr. Worstall estimates that there are 120 million tons of it, or a million years' supply altogether.


. . .


Part of the problem is that the word "consumption" means different things to the two tribes. Ecologists use it to mean "the act of using up a resource"; economists mean "the purchase of goods and services by the public" (both definitions taken from the Oxford dictionary).

But in what sense is water, tellurium or phosphorus "used up" when products made with them are bought by the public? They still exist in the objects themselves or in the environment. Water returns to the environment through sewage and can be reused. Phosphorus gets recycled through compost. Tellurium is in solar panels, which can be recycled. As the economist Thomas Sowell wrote in his 1980 book "Knowledge and Decisions," "Although we speak loosely of 'production,' man neither creates nor destroys matter, but only transforms it."


. . .

If I could have one wish for the Earth's environment, it would be to bring together the two tribes--to convene a grand powwow of ecologists and economists. I would pose them this simple question and not let them leave the room until they had answered it: How can innovation improve the environment?



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "The Scarcity Fallacy; 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." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 26, 2014): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 25, 2014, and has the title "The World's Resources Aren't Running Out; 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.")






June 28, 2014

Global Warming Tipping Point Models Are "Overblown"



(p. C3) Climate models for north Africa often come to contradictory conclusions. Nonetheless, mainstream science holds that global warming will typically make wet places wetter and dry places drier--and at a rapid clip. That is because increased greenhouse gases trigger feedback mechanisms that push the climate system beyond various "tipping points." In north Africa, this view suggests an expanding Sahara, the potential displacement of millions of people on the great desert's borders and increased conflict over scarce resources.

One scientist, however, is challenging this dire view, with evidence chiefly drawn from the Sahara's prehistoric past. Stefan Kröpelin, a geologist at the University of Cologne, has collected samples of ancient pollen and other material that suggest that the earlier episode of natural climate change, which created the Sahara, happened gradually over millennia--not over a mere century or two, as the prevailing view holds. That is why, he says, the various "tipping point" scenarios for the future of the Sahara are overblown.

The 62-year-old Dr. Kröpelin, one of the pre-eminent explorers of the Sahara, has traveled into its forbidding interior for more than four decades. Along the way he has endured weeklong dust storms, a car chase by armed troops and a parasitic disease, bilharzia, that nearly killed him.


. . .


. . . Dr. Kröpelin's analysis of the Lake Yoa samples suggests that there was no tipping point and that the change was gradual. He says that his argument is also supported by archaeological evidence. Digs in the Sahara, conducted by various archaeologists over the years, indicate that the people of the region migrated south over millennia, not just in a few desperate decades. "Humans are very sensitive climate indicators because we can't live without water," he says. If the Sahara had turned to desert quickly, the human migration pattern "would have been completely different."



For the full commentary, see:

HENRY I. MILLER. "Organic Farming Is Not Sustainable; More labor with lower yields is a luxury only rich populations can afford." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 16, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 15, 2014.)


One of the more recent Kröpelin papers arguing against the tipping point account is:

Francus, Pierre, Hans von Suchodoletz, Michael Dietze, Reik V. Donner, Frédéric Bouchard, Ann-Julie Roy, Maureen Fagot, Dirk Verschuren, Stefan Kröpelin, and Daniel Ariztegui. "Varved Sediments of Lake Yoa (Ounianga Kebir, Chad) Reveal Progressive Drying of the Sahara During the Last 6100 Years." Sedimentology 60, no. 4 (June 2013): 911-34.







June 24, 2014

Lower Yields from Organic Farming Means More Land Must Be Used to Grow Food



(p. A13) . . . , as agricultural scientist Steve Savage has documented on the Sustainablog website, wide-scale composting generates significant amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. Compost may also deposit pathogenic bacteria on or in food crops, which has led to more frequent occurrences of food poisoning in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Organic farming might work well for certain local environments on a small scale, but its farms produce far less food per unit of land and water than conventional ones. The low yields of organic agriculture--typically 20%-50% less than conventional agriculture--impose various stresses on farmland and especially on water consumption. A British meta-analysis published in the Journal of Environmental Management (2012) found that "ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions per product unit were higher from organic systems" than conventional farming systems, as were "land use, eutrophication potential and acidification potential per product unit."

Lower crop yields are inevitable given organic farming's systematic rejection of many advanced methods and technologies. If the scale of organic production were significantly increased, the lower yields would increase the pressure for the conversion of more land to farming and more water for irrigation, both of which are serious environmental issues.



For the full commentary, see:

HENRY I. MILLER. "Organic Farming Is Not Sustainable; More labor with lower yields is a luxury only rich populations can afford." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., May 16, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 15, 2014.)


The article documenting organic farming's greater emissions per food unit, is:

Tuomisto, H. L., I. D. Hodge, P. Riordan, and D. W. Macdonald. "Does Organic Farming Reduce Environmental Impacts? - a Meta-Analysis of European Research." Journal of Environmental Management 112 (2012): 309-20.






June 23, 2014

Some Birds "with Higher Radiation Exposure May Show Greater Adaptation"



MousseauTimothyStudiesBatsAtChernobyl2014-05-31.jpg With an unfinished cooling tower at the Chernobyl plant in the background, Timothy Mousseau, right, and an assistant set out microphones to study bats in the contaminated area." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D1) In dozens of papers over the years Dr. Mousseau, his longtime collaborator, Anders Pape Moller of the National Center for Scientific Research in France, and colleagues have reported evidence of radiation's toll: . . .

(p. D2) But their most recent findings, published last month, showed something new. Some bird species, they reported in the journal Functional Ecology, appear to have adapted to the radioactive environment by producing higher levels of protective antioxidants, with correspondingly less genetic damage. For these birds, Dr. Mousseau said, chronic exposure to radiation appears to be a kind of "unnatural selection" driving evolutionary change.


. . .


The findings . . . suggest that in some cases radiation levels might have an inverse effect -- birds in areas with higher radiation exposure may show greater adaptation, and thus less genetic damage, than those in areas with lower radiation levels.

Like almost all of the studies by Dr. Mousseau and his colleagues, the latest one takes advantage of the unique circumstances of the Chernobyl exclusion zone as a real-world laboratory. "Nature is a much more stressful environment than the lab," Dr. Mousseau said.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Adapting to Chernoby." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 6, 2014): D1 & D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 5, 2014, and has the title "At Chernobyl, Hints of Nature's Adaptation.")


The research discussed above is more fully elaborated in:

Galván, Ismael, Andrea Bonisoli-Alquati, Shanna Jenkinson, Ghanem Ghanem, Kazumasa Wakamatsu, Timothy A. Mousseau, and Anders P. Møller. "Chronic Exposure to Low-Dose Radiation at Chernobyl Favours Adaptation to Oxidative Stress in Birds." Functional Ecology (Early View published online on May 17, 2014).






June 8, 2014

Environmental Regulations Cause Housing Crisis in Cities



(p. 16) The developed world's wealthiest cities are facing housing crises so acute that not only low-income workers, but also the middle and creative classes, find them increasingly difficult places to afford.


. . .


(p. 19) The difficulty of deciding where and what to build means that cities with a shortfall of hundreds of thousands of apartments often have only the vaguest plans for how to meet the deficit.

"It's not that it would be physically impossible," says Ed Glaeser, a Harvard economist who has studied housing and deregulation. "After all, the construction industry would love such a challenge. But it's politically totally impossible." Glaeser says cities approve lovely things like landmark districts and sidewalk setbacks without doing any cost-benefit analysis of their effect on housing supply. "One of my pet peeves is that environmental reviews are only focused on the local environmental impact of building the project, but not the global environmental impact of not building the project."



For the full story, see:

SHAILA DEWAN. "It's the Economy; Rent Asunder." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., MAY 4, 2014): 16 & 18-19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 29, 2014, and has the title "It's the Economy; Rent Too High? Move to Singapore.")






May 29, 2014

In Bringing Us Electricity, Westinghouse Rejected the Precautionary Principle



(p. 180) The defensive position that Westinghouse found himself in is illustrated by the way he contradicted himself as he tried to defend overhead wires. The wires that were supposedly safe were also the same wires that he had to admit, yes, posed dangers, yes, but dangers of various kinds had to be accepted throughout the modern city. Westinghouse said, "If all things involving the use of power were to be prohibited because of the danger to life, then the cable cars, which have already killed and maimed a number of people, would have to be abolished." Say good-bye to trains, too, he added, because of accidents at road crossings.


Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.






May 21, 2014

Edison Genuinely Believed that AC Was More Dangerous than DC



(p. 174) In Edison's view, . . . , Westinghouse did not pose a serious threat in the power-and-light business because he used the relatively more dangerous alternating current, certain to kill one of his own customers within six months.

Edison's conviction that direct current was less dangerous than alternating current was based on hunch, however, not empirical scientific research. He, like others at the time, focused solely on voltage (the force that pushes electricity through a wire) without paying attention to amperage (the rate of flow of electricity), and thought it would be best to stay at 1,200 volts or less. Even he was not certain that his own system was completely safe--after all, he had elected to place wires in underground conduits, which was more expensive than stringing wires overhead but reduced the likelihood of electrical current touching a passerby. Burying the wires could not give him complete peace of mind, however. Privately, he told Edward Johnson that "we must look out for crosses [i.e., short-circuited wires] for if we ever kill a customer it would be a bad blow to the business."



Source:

Stross, Randall E. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2007.

(Note: ellipsis added, bracketed words in original.)






May 16, 2014

"The Experts Keep Getting It Wrong and the Oddballs Keep Getting It Right"



HydraulicFracturingOperationInColorado2014-04-25.jpg "A worker at a hydraulic fracturing and extraction operation in western Colorado on March 29[, 2014]." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. C3) The experts keep getting it wrong. And the oddballs keep getting it right.

Over the past five years of business history, two events have shocked and transformed the nation. In 2007 and 2008, the housing market crumbled and the financial system collapsed, causing trillions of dollars of losses. Around the same time, a few little-known wildcatters began pumping meaningful amounts of oil and gas from U.S. shale formations. A country that once was running out of energy now is on track to become the world's leading producer.

What's most surprising about both events is how few experts saw them coming--and that a group of unlikely outsiders somehow did.


. . .


Less well known, but no less dramatic, is the story of America's energy transformation, which took the industry's giants almost completely by surprise. In the early 1990s, an ambitious Chevron executive named Ray Galvin started a group to drill compressed, challenging formations of shale in the U.S. His team was mocked and undermined by dubious colleagues. Eventually, Chevron pulled the plug on the effort and shifted its resources abroad.

Exxon Mobil also failed to focus on this rock--even though its corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas, were directly above a huge shale formation that eventually would flow with gas. Later, it would pay $31 billion to buy a smaller shale pioneer.

"I would be less than honest if I were to say to you [that] we saw it all coming, because we did not, quite frankly," Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil's chairman and CEO said last year in an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations.


. . .


The resurgence in U.S. energy came from a group of brash wildcatters who discovered techniques to hydraulically fracture--or frack--and horizontally drill shale and other rock. Many of these men operated on the fringes of the oil industry, some without college degrees or much background in drilling, geology or engineering.



For the full commentary, see:

GREGORY ZUCKERMAN. "ESSAY; The Little Guys Who Saw Our Economic Future; Corporate Caution and Complacency Come at a Cost." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Nov. 2, 2013): C3.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year in caption, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated Nov. 3, 2013, and has the title "ESSAY; The Outsiders Who Saw Our Economic Future; In both America's energy transformation and the financial crisis, it took a group of amateurs to see what was coming." )


Zuckerman's commentary, quoted above, is partly based on his book:

Zuckerman, Gregory. The Frackers: The Outrageous inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.






May 15, 2014

Koch Industries Was Only Major Ethanol Producer to Oppose Ethanol Tax Credits



(p. A17) I have devoted most of my life to understanding the principles that enable people to improve their lives. It is those principles--the principles of a free society--that have shaped my life, my family, our company and America itself.

Unfortunately, the fundamental concepts of dignity, respect, equality before the law and personal freedom are under attack by the nation's own government. That's why, if we want to restore a free society and create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we have no choice but to fight for those principles.


. . .


Far from trying to rig the system, I have spent decades opposing cronyism and all political favors, including mandates, subsidies and protective tariffs--even when we benefit from them. I believe that cronyism is nothing more than welfare for the rich and powerful, and should be abolished.

Koch Industries was the only major producer in the ethanol industry to argue for the demise of the ethanol tax credit in 2011. That government handout (which cost taxpayers billions) needlessly drove up food and fuel prices as well as other costs for consumers--many of whom were poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Now the mandate needs to go, so that consumers and the marketplace are the ones who decide the future of ethanol.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES G. KOCH. "OPINION; I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., April 3, 2014): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated April 2, 2014, and has the title "OPINION; Charles Koch: I'm Fighting to Restore a Free Society; Instead of welcoming free debate, collectivists engage in character assassination." )


Koch's philosophy of the free market is more fully elaborated in:

Koch, Charles G. The Science of Success: How Market-Based Management Built the World's Largest Private Company. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.






April 29, 2014

More Evidence that Humans May Not Have Killed Off the Woolly Mammoth After All




On April 20, 2014 I posted an entry citing research that humans may not have been the main cause of the extinction of the mammoths. The article quoted below provides further evidence:


(p. D2) Many woolly mammoths from the North Sea had a superfluous rib attached to their seventh vertebra, a sign that they suffered from inbreeding and harsh conditions during pregnancy, researchers report.

This may have contributed to their eventual extinction, say the scientists who looked at fossil samples that date to the late Pleistocene age, which ended about 12,000 years ago.


. . .


Woolly mammoths died out 12,000 to 10,000 years ago, when flowery plant covers disappeared from the tundra. Human hunting may also have contributed to their demise.

But the cervical ribs are a clear indication that "they were already struggling before that," Dr. Galis said.



For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "Observatory; In Extra Rib, a Harbinger of Mammoth's Doom." The New York Times (Tues., April 1, 2014): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date MARCH 31, 2014.)


The mammoth research summarized above was published in:

Reumer, Jelle W.F., Clara M.A. ten Broek, and Frietson Galis. "Extraordinary Incidence of Cervical Ribs Indicates Vulnerable Condition in Late Pleistocene Mammoths." PeerJ (2014).






April 20, 2014

Humans May Not Have Killed Off the Woolly Mammoth After All



MammothTusk2014-04-10.jpg "A mammoth tusk." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D2) A 50,000 year analysis of Arctic vegetation history reveals that a change in diet may have led to the demise of the woolly mammoth, the woolly rhinoceros and other large animals, according to a study in the journal Nature. About 10,000 years ago in the Arctic steppe, grasslands began to replace forbs, a flowery plant cover. Animals may have relied on forbs as a source of protein.


For the original story, see:

"'Observatory; Tiny Plants' Loss May Have Doomed Mammoths." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 11, 2014): D2.

(Note: Sindya N. Bhanoo is listed as the author of the second "Observatory" short entry, but it is not at all clear if that is intended to imply that she also is author of the first "Observatiory" short entry on the "Tiny Plants Loss . . . " Her name does not appear anywhere in the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date FEB. 10, 2014, and has the title "'SCIENCE; Tiny Plants' Loss May Have Doomed Mammoths." )


The study in Nature mentioned above, is:

Willerslev, Eske, John Davison, Mari Moora, Martin Zobel, Eric Coissac, Mary E. Edwards, Eline D. Lorenzen, Mette Vestergård, Galina Gussarova, James Haile, Joseph Craine, Ludovic Gielly, Sanne Boessenkool, Laura S. Epp, Peter B. Pearman, Rachid Cheddadi, David Murray, Kari Anne Bråthen, Nigel Yoccoz, and Heather Binney. "Fifty Thousand Years of Arctic Vegetation and Megafaunal Diet." Nature 506, no. 7486 (Feb. 6, 2014): 47-51.






April 17, 2014

Re-Use of Plastic Bags Increases E. Coli Infections



(p. A13) Though reducing plastic-bag use might be good for the environment, encouraging the re-use of plastic bags for food-toting may not be so healthy for humans. After San Francisco introduced its ban on non-compostable plastic bags in large grocery stores in 2007, researchers discovered a curious spike in E. coli infections, which can be fatal, and a 46% increase in deaths from food-borne illnesses, according to a study published in November 2012 by the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University. "We show that the health costs associated with the San Francisco ban swamp any budgetary savings from reduced litter," the study's authors observed.

Affirming this yuck factor, a 2011 study from the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found bacteria in 99% of reusable polypropylene bags tested; 8% of them were carrying E. coli. The study, though it mainly focused on plastic bags, also looked at two cotton reusable bags--and both contained bacteria.

Bag-ban boosters counter that consumers just need to wash their bags and use separate bags for fish and meat. If only my washing machine had a "reusable bag vinegar rinse cycle." A paltry 3% of shoppers surveyed in that same 2011 study said they washed their reusable bags. Has anybody calculated the environmental impact of drought-ravaged Californians laundering grocery bags?



For the full commentary, see:

JUDY GRUEN. "Becoming a Bagless Lady in Los Angeles." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 8, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 7, 2014.)


The 2012 study mistakenly labelled above as "published" is:

Klick, Jonathan and Wright, Joshua D., Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illness (November 2, 2012). U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 13-2. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2196481 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2196481


The 2011 article mentioned above, is:

Williams, David L., Charles P. Gerba, Sherri Maxwell, and Ryan G. Sinclair. "Assessment of the Potential for Cross-Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags." Food Protection Trends 31, no. 8 (Aug. 2011): 508-13.






April 16, 2014

Very Cold January Puzzled Global Warming True Believers



NiagraFallsInJanuay2014.jpg "Niagara Falls in January." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3) At the exact moment President Obama was declaring last month that "climate change is a fact," thousands of drivers in Atlanta were trapped in a grueling winter ordeal, trying to get home on roads that had turned into ribbons of ice.

As the president addressed Congress and the nation in his State of the Union speech, it was snowing intermittently outside the Capitol. The temperature would bottom out later that night at 13 degrees in Washington, 14 in New York, 1 in Chicago, minus 6 in Minneapolis -- and those readings were toasty compared to some of the lows earlier in January.

Mr. Obama's declaration provoked head-shaking from Congressional climate deniers, and unleashed a stream of mockery on Twitter. "As soon as he mentioned 'climate change' it started snowing on Capitol Hill," said a post from Patrick J. Michaels, a climate skeptic at the Cato Institute.

The chortling was predictable, perhaps, but you do not necessarily have to subscribe to an anti-scientific ideology to ask the question a lot of people are asking these days:

If the world is really warming up, how come it is so darned cold?



For the full commentary, see:

Justin Gillis. "BY DEGREES; Freezing Out the Bigger Picture." The New York Times (Tues., FEB. 11, 2014): D3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 10, 2014.)






April 6, 2014

Some Geographical Clusters Are Due to Chance (It Is Not Always a Miracle, When Good, Or the Environment, When Bad)



HandDavidStatistiician2014-04-04.jpg











David J. Hand. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 12) Your latest book, "The Improbability Principle," aims to prove that extremely improbable events are in fact commonplace. Can you explain that a bit? Things like roulette wheels coming up in strange configurations or the same lottery numbers hitting two weeks in a row are clearly very rare events, but if you look at the number of lotteries and the number of roulette wheels, then you realize that you should actually expect these sorts of things to happen. I think within the statistical community people accept this. They're aware of the impact of the law of truly large numbers.


. . .


You also write that geographical clusters of people with diseases might not necessarily be a result of environmental issues. It could just be a coincidence. Well, they could be due to some sort of pollution or infectious disease or something like that, but you can expect clusters to occur just by chance as well. So it's an interesting statistical problem to tease these things out. Is this a genuine cluster in the sense that there's a cause behind it? Or is it a chance cluster?



For the full interview, see:

Chozick, Amy, interviewer. "'The Wonder Is Still There'; The Statistician David J. Hand on Eerie Coincidences and Playing the Lottery." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., FEB. 23, 2014): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date FEB. 21, 2014, and has the title "David J. Hand's Lottery Tips.")


Hand's book is:

Hand, David J. The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day. New York: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.






March 24, 2014

Environmentalists Seek to Silence Those Who Dare to Disagree



(p. A13) Surely, some kind of ending is upon us. Last week climate protesters demanded the silencing of Charles Krauthammer for a Washington Post column that notices uncertainties in the global warming hypothesis. In coming weeks a libel trial gets under way brought by Penn State's Michael Mann, author of the famed hockey stick, against National Review, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, writer Rand Simberg and roving commentator Mark Steyn for making wisecracks about his climate work. The New York Times runs a cartoon of a climate "denier" being stabbed with an icicle.

These are indications of a political movement turned to defending its self-image as its cause goes down the drain.



For the full commentary, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "BUSINESS WORLD; Personal Score-Settling Is the New Climate Agenda; The cause of global carbon regulation may be lost, but enemies still can be punished." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., March 1, 2014): A13.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 28, 2014, and has the title "BUSINESS WORLD; Jenkins: Personal Score-Settling Is the New Climate Agenda; The cause of global carbon regulation may be lost, but enemies still can be punished.")



The Krauthammer column that the environmentalists do not want you to read:

Krauthammer, Charles. "The Myth of 'Settled Science'." The Washington Post (Fri., Feb. 21, 2014): A19.






March 7, 2014

Polar Bears Can Adjust to Global Warming By Changing What They Eat



PolarBearEatingSeal2014-03-02.jpg"A polar bear eating a seal, its historically preferred prey." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D2) As a warming climate causes sea ice in the Arctic to melt earlier each year, polar bears are spending more time on land -- and changing their diets accordingly. A new study shows that the bears, whose traditional prey is ringed seal pups, are now eating more snow-goose eggs and caribou.


. . .


Samples of scat from different parts of the bay suggest that the bears are highly flexible and willing to change what they eat based on availability.

"Bears along the coast are eating more grass," Dr. Gormezano said. "Further inland they are eating more berries."



For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "Observatory; CLIMATE CHANGE; Polar Bears Turn to Snow-Goose Egg Diet." The New York Times (Tues., JAN. 28, 2014): D2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 27, 2014, and has the title "Observatory; SCIENCE; Polar Bears Turn to Snow-Goose Egg Diet.")


The following scientific articles more fully report the results summarized above:

Gormezano, Linda J., and Robert F. Rockwell. "Dietary Composition and Spatial Patterns of Polar Bear Foraging on Land in Western Hudson Bay." BMC Ecology 13, no. 51 (2013).

Gormezano, Linda J., and Robert F. Rockwell. "What to Eat Now? Shifts in Polar Bear Diet During the Ice-Free Season in Western Hudson Bay." Ecology and Evolution 3, no. 10 (Sept. 2013): 3509-23.

Iles, D. T., S. L. Peterson, Linda J. Gormezano, D. N. Koons, and Robert F. Rockwell. "Terrestrial Predation by Polar Bears: Not Just a Wild Goose Chase." Polar Biology 36, no. 9 (Sept. 2013): 1373-79.






March 4, 2014

Better Wheat Is "Mired in Excessive, Expensive and Unscientific Regulation"



(p. A19) Monsanto recently said that it had made significant progress in the development of herbicide-tolerant wheat. It will enable farmers to use more environmentally benign herbicides and could be ready for commercial use in the next few years. But the federal government must first approve it, a process that has become mired in excessive, expensive and unscientific regulation that discriminates against this kind of genetic engineering.

The scientific consensus is that existing genetically engineered crops are as safe as the non-genetically engineered hybrid plants that are a mainstay of our diet.


. . .


Much of the nation's wheat crop comes from a section of the central plains that sits atop the Ogallala Aquifer, which is rapidly being depleted.


. . .


New crop varieties that grow under conditions of low moisture or temporary drought could increase yields and lengthen the time farmland is productive. Varieties that grow with lower-quality water have also been developed.


. . .


Given the importance of wheat and the confluence of tightening water supplies, drought, a growing world population and competition from other crops, we need to regain the lost momentum. To do that, we need to acquire more technological ingenuity and to end unscientific, excessive and discriminatory government regulation.



For the full commentary, see:

JAYSON LUSK and HENRY I. MILLER. "We Need G.M.O. Wheat." The New York Times (Mon., Feb. 3, 2014): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 2, 2014.)






February 24, 2014

Terrorist Threat to Electric Grid Is Overblown



(p. A13) On April 16, 2013, TV stations in Northern California reported a rifle attack on the Metcalf substation near San Jose along with the cutting of a nearby fiber-optic line.


. . .


One expert suggested if the assault were widely replicated around the country, it could take down the grid. Well, yes, but it would require an army. Every substation is different and would have to be scouted separately. And wouldn't such an army be keen not to give away its presence? And why, if a terrorist had dozens of trained and disciplined fighters to deploy inside the U.S., would their target be utility substations?


. . .


One agency that wasn't overselling the terrorist threat was the FBI, perhaps because the FBI investigates so many such attacks. Until the Metcalf incident is solved, any motive anyone cares to suggest will be plausible. PG&E has been a hate target of paranoiacs who believe smart meters cause cancer. The substation serves Silicon Valley, which lately has been accruing class enemies from San Francisco "progressives." Eco-radicals have been quoting Ted Kaczynski for years on the need to attack the vital systems of industrial society. And, yes, the odd al Qaeda enthusiast exists in our midst. So do 15-year-old males with a surfeit of testosterone.



For the full story, see:

HOLMAN W. JENKINS, JR. "Bull's-Eye on the Electric Grid; There's nothing new about people shooting out the lights." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Feb. 12, 2014): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 11, 2014, and the title "Bull's-Eye on the Utility System; There's nothing new about people shooting out the lights.")






February 23, 2014

Salt Encapsulates Nuclear Waste for "Millions of Years"



DesertSaltMinesNuclearWaste2014-02-21.jpg"Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste. Metal walls are installed once a "panel" is filled with waste containers and backfilled with salt, shown during a tour of the mines at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A9) CARLSBAD, N.M. -- Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste.

The salt beds, which have the consistency of crumbly rock so far down in the earth, are what the federal government sees as a natural sealant for the radioactive material left over from making nuclear weapons.

The process is deceptively simple: Plutonium waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a variety of defense projects is packed into holes bored into the walls of rooms carved from salt. At a rate of six inches a year, the salt closes in on the waste and encapsulates it for what engineers say will be millions of years.


. . .


Some people despair of finding a place for what officials call a high-level nuclear "repository" -- they shy away from "dump" -- but Allison M. Macfarlane, a geologist who is chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and who served on a presidential study commission established after the Yucca plan was canceled, said WIPP proves it can be done.

"The main lesson from WIPP is that we have already developed a geologic repository for nuclear waste in this country, so we can in the future," she said.



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Nuclear Waste Solution Seen in Desert Salt Beds." The New York Times (Mon., FEB. 10, 2014): A9-A10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 9, 2014.)






February 15, 2014

Big Island of Hawaii Bans G.M.O.s Despite Papaya Saved from Disease



IlaganGreggorDefenderOfGMOs2014-01-19.jpg "Greggor Ilagan initially thought a ban on genetically modified organisms was a good idea." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) KONA, Hawaii -- From the moment the bill to ban genetically engineered crops on the island of Hawaii was introduced in May 2013, it garnered more vocal support than any the County Council here had ever considered, even the perennially popular bids to decriminalize marijuana.

Public hearings were dominated by recitations of the ills often attributed to genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s: cancer in rats, a rise in childhood allergies, out-of-control superweeds, genetic contamination, overuse of pesticides, the disappearance of butterflies and bees.

Like some others on the nine-member Council, Greggor Ilagan was not even sure at the outset of the debate exactly what genetically modified organisms were: living things whose DNA has been altered, often with the addition of a gene from a distant species, to produce a desired trait. But he could see why almost all of his colleagues had been persuaded of the virtue of turning the island into what the bill's proponents called a "G.M.O.-free oasis."

"You just type 'G.M.O.' and everything you see is negative," he told his staff. Opposing the ban also seemed likely to ruin anyone's re-election prospects.

Yet doubts nagged at the councilman, who was serving his first two-year term. The island's papaya farmers said that an engineered variety had saved their fruit from a devastating disease. A study reporting that a diet of G.M.O. corn caused tumors in rats, mentioned often by the ban's supporters, turned out to have been thoroughly debunked.

And University of Hawaii biologists urged the Council to consider the global scientific consensus, which holds that existing genetically engineered crops are no riskier than others, and have provided some tangible benefits.

"Are we going to just ignore them?" Mr. Ilagan wondered.

Urged on by Margaret Wille, the ban's sponsor, who spoke passionately of the need to "act before it's too late," the Council declined to form a task force to look into such questions before its November vote. But Mr. Ilagan, 27, sought answers on his own. In the process, he found himself, like so many public and business leaders worldwide, wrestling with a subject in which popular beliefs often do not reflect scientific evidence.


. . .


(p. 19) Ms. Wille urged a vote for the ban. "To do otherwise," she said, "would be to ignore the cries from round the world and on the mainland."

"Mr. Ilagan?" the Council member leading the meeting asked when it came time for the final vote.

"No," he replied.

The ban was approved, 6 to 3.

The mayor signed the bill on Dec. 5.



For the full story, see:

Amy Harmon. "On Hawaii, a Lonely Quest for Fact." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., Jan. 5, 2014): 1 & 18-19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 4, 2014, and has the title "A Lonely Quest for Facts on Genetically Modified Crops.")



PapayaGeneticallyModified2014-01-19.jpg













"Papaya genetically modified to resist a virus became one part of a controversy." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







February 11, 2014

Global Warming Might Help Mangrove Forests Thrive in Florida



MangroveForest2014-01-19.jpg "Mangrove forests, like in the Everglades, serve as spawning grounds and nurseries for fish and as habitat for a wide array of organisms. But salt marshes are also ecologically valuable." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A14) Much of the Florida shoreline was once too cold for the tropical trees called mangroves, but the plants are now spreading northward at a rapid clip, scientists reported Monday [December 30, 2013]. That finding is the latest indication that global warming, though still in its early stages, is already leading to ecological changes so large they can be seen from space.


. . .


The mangrove forests that fringe shorelines in the tropics are among the earth's environmental treasures, serving as spawning grounds and nurseries for fish and as habitat for a wide array of organisms. Yet in many places, mangroves are critically endangered by shoreline development and other human activities.

So a climatic change that allows mangroves to thrive in new areas might well be seen as a happy development.


. . .


For years, scientists working in Florida had been noticing that mangroves seemed to be creeping northward along the coast. The new study is the first to offer a precise quantification of the change, using imagery from a satellite called Landsat, and to link it to shifts in the climate.

Patrick Gillespie, a spokesman for Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, offered no specific comment on the new paper. By email, he said the agency had indeed "seen an increase in mangrove habitats to the north and inward along the Atlantic coast. It's difficult to determine whether this is good or bad for the ecosystem because it's happened over a relatively short period (p. A16) of time and may be a result of many factors."



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "Spared Winter Freeze, Florida's Mangroves Are Marching North." The New York Times (Tues., December 31, 2013): A14 & A16.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 30, 2013.)


The academic article on Florida's thriving mangrove forests, is:

Cavanaugh, Kyle C., James R. Kellner, Alexander J. Forde, Daniel S. Gruner, John D. Parker, Wilfrid Rodriguez, and Ilka C. Feller. "Poleward Expansion of Mangroves Is a Threshold Response to Decreased Frequency of Extreme Cold Events." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 111, no. 2 (January 14, 2014): 723-27.



MangroveMapGraphic2014-01-19.jpg















Source of Florida map graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







February 8, 2014

Organic and Kosher Chicken Have as Much Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria as Regular Chicken



(p. D3) . . . after a trip to Israel for his sister's bat mitzvah, Jack Millman came back to New York wondering whether the higher costs of kosher foods were justified.

"Most consumers perceive of kosher foods as being healthier or cleaner or somehow more valuable than conventional foods, and I was interested in whether they were in fact getting what they were paying for," said Mr. Millman, 18 and a senior at the Horace Mann School in New York City.

That question started him on a yearlong research project to compare the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria on four types of chickens: those raised conventionally; organically; without antibiotics, and those slaughtered under kosher rules. "Every other week for 10 weeks, I would go and spend the entire Saturday buying chicken," he said. "We had it specifically mapped out, and we would buy it and put it on ice in industrial-strength coolers given to us by the lab, and ship it out."

All told, Mr. Millman and his mother, Ann Marks, gathered 213 samples of chicken drumsticks from supermarkets, butcher shops and specialty stores in the New York area.

Now they and several scientists have published a study based on the project in the journal F1000 Research. The results were surprising.

Kosher chicken samples that tested positive for antibiotic-resistant E. coli had nearly twice as much of the bacteria as the samples from conventionally raised birds did. And even the samples from organically raised chickens and those raised without antibiotics did not significantly differ from the conventional ones.



For the full story, see:

STEPHANIE STROM. "A Science Project With Legs." The New York Times (Tues., November 5, 2013): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 4, 2013.)


The academic article on E. coli in different types of chicken, is:

Millman, Jack M., Kara Waits, Heidi Grande, Ann R. Marks, Jane C. Marks, Lance B. Price, and Bruce A. Hungate. "Prevalence of Antibiotic-Resistant E. Coli in Retail Chicken: Comparing Conventional, Organic, Kosher, and Raised without Antibiotics." F1000Research 2 (2013).






January 20, 2014

AquaBounty Has Waited More than 17 Years for FDA Approval



EnviropigDevelopedAtGuelph2013-12-31.jpg

"The Enviropig Scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, developed these pigs to produce more environmentally friendly waste than conventional pigs. But the pigs were killed because the scientists could not get approval to sell them as food." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. 4) If patience is a virtue, then AquaBounty, a Massachusetts biotech company, might be the most virtuous entity on the planet.

In 1993, the company approached the Food and Drug Administration about selling a genetically modified salmon that grew faster than normal fish. In 1995, AquaBounty formally applied for approval. Last month, more than 17 years later, the public comment period, one of the last steps in the approval process, was finally supposed to conclude. But the F.D.A. has extended the deadline -- members of the public now have until late April to submit their thoughts on the AquAdvantage salmon. It's just one more delay in a process that's dragged on far too long.

The AquAdvantage fish is an Atlantic salmon that carries two foreign bits of DNA: a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon that is under the control of a genetic "switch" from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish that lives in the chilly deep. Normally, Atlantic salmon produce growth hormone only in the warm summer months, but these genetic adjustments let the fish churn it out year round. As a result, the AquAdvantage salmon typically reach their adult size in a year and a half, rather than three years.


. . .


We should all be rooting for the agency to do the right thing and approve the AquAdvantage salmon. It's a healthy and relatively cheap food source that, as global demand for fish increases, can take some pressure off our wild fish stocks. But most important, a rejection will have a chilling effect on biotechnological innovation in this country.


. . .


Then there's the Enviropig, a swine that has been genetically modified to excrete less phosphorus. Phosphorus in animal waste is a major cause of water pollution, and as the world's appetite for meat increases, it's becoming a more urgent problem. The first Enviropig, created by scientists at the University of Guelph, in Canada, was born in 1999, and researchers applied to both the F.D.A. and Health Canada for permission to sell the pigs as food.

But last spring, while the applications were still pending, the scientists lost their funding from Ontario Pork, an association of Canadian hog farmers, and couldn't find another industry partner. (It's hard to blame investors for their reluctance, given the public sentiment in Canada and the United States, as well as the uncertain regulatory landscape.) The pigs were euthanized in May.

The F.D.A. must make sure that other promising genetically modified animals don't come to the same end. Of course every application needs to be painstakingly evaluated, and not every modified animal should be approved. But in cases like AquaBounty's, where all the available evidence indicates that the animals are safe, we shouldn't let political calculations or unfounded fears keep these products off the market. If we do that, we'll be closing the door on innovations that could help us face the public health and environmental threats of the future, saving countless animals -- and perhaps ourselves.



For the full commentary, see:

EMILY ANTHES. "Don't Be Afraid of Genetic Modification." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., March 10, 2013): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 9, 2013.)


Emily Anths, who is quoted above, has written a related book:

Anthes, Emily. Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts. New York: Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.






January 6, 2014

Ignorance of Economics Makes U.S. Agency Complicit in Elephant Deaths



IvoryCrushedByUS2013-11-27.jpg "Crushed ivory falls out of the crusher as the U.S. crushed its six-ton stock of confiscated ivory at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge . . . ." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



The higher the price of ivory, the greater the incentive for ivory poachers to kill elephants. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could have put their cache of ivory on the market, thereby increasing the supply, and reducing the price. If they had done so, they would have reduced the incentive of the poachers to poach. (This is basic price theory that I teach in each of my micro-economic principles classes.) Instead they crushed the ivory and thereby doomed some elephants to death, who otherwise could have been saved.



(p. A3) COMMERCE CITY, Colo.--The U.S. government spent the past 25 years amassing contraband ivory in a warehouse here, with pieces ranging from tiny statuettes to full elephant tusks tattooed by intricate carvings. Ultimately, the pile grew to six tons--equivalent to ivory from at least 2,000 elephants.

On Thursday, the stash collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was pulverized by an industrial rock crusher as government officials, conservationists from around the world and celebrities gathered to watch the destruction.

The move, which follows similar events in the Philippines and Gabon in recent years, is part of a global effort to combat elephant poaching, on the rise because of growing demand for ivory trinkets in Asia. Proponents argue that crushing the ivory conveys to illegal traffickers and collectors that it has no value unless it is attached to an elephant.


. . .


But critics of the practice said they worry that destroying the coveted commodity, sometimes referred to as "white gold," could instead create the perception that the world's remaining ivory is more valuable--and drive poachers to kill more elephants for their tusks. "This could be self-defeating," said Michael 't Sas-Rolfes, an independent conservation economist.


. . .


While praising efforts to preserve elephants, some in conservation circles consider crushing contraband ivory to be an ineffective strategy.

Kirsten Conrad, a wildlife conservation consultant who has studied the Chinese ivory market, said elephants could be better served if sustainably harvested ivory--from elephants that died from natural causes, for example--were regularly offered for sale.

The proceeds would give communities in Africa an incentive to better protect wildlife, and the steady supply would dissuade speculators in China from stockpiling, as she says they are doing now. A kilo of raw ivory can sell for up to $3,000. "We're losing an elephant every 16 minutes," she said. "We should look really hard at legal trade."



For the full story, see:

ANA CAMPOY. "Crushing Illegal Ivory Trade; In Move to Combat Elephant Poaching, U.S. Destroys Six Tons of 'White Gold'." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 15, 2013): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 14, 2013, and has the title "Crushing Illegal Ivory Trade; In Move to Combat Elephant Poaching, Government Agency Destroys Six Tons of 'White Gold'.")



IvoryToBeCrushedInUS2013-11-27.jpg "Ivory on display before the U.S. crushed it in Commerce City, Colo., Thursday. On Thursday the government destroyed nearly six tons of seized contraband ivory tusks and trinkets." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






January 5, 2014

The Market Incentive to Conserve



(p. 78) Carnegie, having satisfied himself that there was oil in the ground and a way to ship it to Pittsburgh, agreed to invest in Coleman's oil company. While other prospectors fantasized only about the liquid gold that lay deep in the ground, Coleman and Carnegie believed that in the not too distant future the wells would run dry. To prepare for that day and turn it to their advantage, Coleman proposed--and Carnegie agreed--to construct a man-made lake, pump the oil from their wells into it, and leave it there until the supply dwindled and prices rose. Coleman and Carnegie waited for the region to run out of oil while their lake leaked thousands of barrels daily. Unable to find any efficient way to store the oil, they had to sell it on the open market.


Source:

Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

(Note: the pagination of the hardback and paperback editions of Nasaw's book are the same.)






January 3, 2014

Global Warming Has Little Correlation with Levels of Carbon Dioxide




The authors of the commentary quoted below are Harrison H. Schmitt and William Happer. Schmitt has at various times been a U.S. Senator, an Apollo 17 astronaut, and an adjunct professor of engineering at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. Happer is a professor of physics at Princeton University, and previously served as the Director at the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Research.


(p. A19) Of all of the world's chemical compounds, none has a worse reputation than carbon dioxide. Thanks to the single-minded demonization of this natural and essential atmospheric gas by advocates of government control of energy production, the conventional wisdom about carbon dioxide is that it is a dangerous pollutant. That's simply not the case. Contrary to what some would have us believe, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will benefit the increasing population on the planet by increasing agricultural productivity.

The cessation of observed global warming for the past decade or so has shown how exaggerated NASA's and most other computer predictions of human-caused warming have been--and how little correlation warming has with concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide. As many scientists have pointed out, variations in global temperature correlate much better with solar activity and with complicated cycles of the oceans and atmosphere. There isn't the slightest evidence that more carbon dioxide has caused more extreme weather.


. . .


We know that carbon dioxide has been a much larger fraction of the earth's atmosphere than it is today, and the geological record shows that life flourished on land and in the oceans during those times. The incredible list of supposed horrors that increasing carbon dioxide will bring the world is pure belief disguised as science.



For the full commentary, see:

Harrison H. Schmitt and William Happer. "OPINION; In Defense of Carbon Dioxide; The demonized chemical compound is a boon to plant life and has little correlation with global temperature." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., May 9, 2013): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 8, 2013, and has the title "OPINION; Harrison H. Schmitt and William Happer: In Defense of Carbon Dioxide; The demonized chemical compound is a boon to plant life and has little correlation with global temperature." )


The lack of correlation between carbon dioxide and global temperature is rigorously supported in:

McMillan, David G., and Mark E. Wohar. "The Relationship between Temperature and CO2 Emissions: Evidence from a Short and Very Long Dataset." Applied Economics 45, no. 26 (2013): 3683-90.






December 30, 2013

Wind Power Fined $1 Million for Killing Birds



GoldenEagleOverWindTurbine2013-12-29.jpg "A golden eagle flies over a wind turbine on Duke Energy's wind farm in Converse County, Wyo." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A17) The Justice Department announced late . . . [in the week of Nov. 17-23] that a subsidiary of Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1 million for killing golden eagles and other federally protected birds at two of the company's wind projects in Wyoming. The guilty plea was a long-overdue victory for the rule of law and a sign that green energy might be going out of vogue.

As Justice noted in its news release, this is the first time a case has been brought against a wind company for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The 1918 law makes it a federal crime to kill any bird of more than 1,000 different species. Over the past few decades, federal authorities have brought hundreds of cases against oil and gas companies for killing birds, while the wind industry has enjoyed a de facto exemption. By bringing criminal charges against Duke for killing 14 golden eagles and 149 other protected birds, Justice has ended the legal double standard on enforcement.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT BRYCE. "Wind Power Is Brought to Justice; Duke Energy's guilty plea for killing protected birds is an ominous sign for renewable energy." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., Nov. 29, 2013): A17.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed words, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 28, 2013.)






December 25, 2013

Politically Correct Artisanal Locally Sourced Combat Video Game



CallOfDutyGhostsFemaleAvatar2013-11-06.jpg "Call of Duty: Ghosts Female avatars have been added, and so has an "extinction" mode involving fighting aliens, in this game for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC." Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.


From a review of the video game "Call of Duty: Ghosts":


(p. C5) ". . . the South Americans torture a character using artisanal, locally sourced interrogation techniques supposedly (and naturally) used by Amazonian tribes."


For the full review, see:

CHRIS SUELLENTROP. "VIDEO GAME REVIEW; A Fantastical Shootout, Moving Across Space and Time." The New York Times (Weds., November 6, 2013): C5.

(Note: ellipsis added; bold in caption in original of both print and online versions.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 5, 2013.)






December 22, 2013

Spain's $11 Billion Per Year Slows Global Warming by 61 Hours



(p. A17) Today Spain spends about 1% of GDP throwing money at green energy such as solar and wind power. The $11 billion a year is more than Spain spends on higher education.

At the end of the century, with current commitments, these Spanish efforts will have delayed the impact of global warming by roughly 61 hours, according to the estimates of Yale University's well-regarded Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model. Hundreds of billions of dollars for 61 additional hours? That's a bad deal.



For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "Green Energy Is the Real Subsidy Hog; Renewables receive three times as much money per energy unit as fossil fuels." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., Nov. 12, 2013): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 11, 2013.)






December 21, 2013

Farm Land Reverts to Forest as Farmers Move to Cities



OrtegaDeWingLandRevertsToForest2013-10-27.jpg "NEW GROWTH; Marta Ortega de Wing once raised pigs in Chilibre, Panama, on land now reverting to nature, a trend dimming the view of primeval forests as sacred." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) CHILIBRE, Panama -- The land where Marta Ortega de Wing raised hundreds of pigs until 10 years ago is being overtaken by galloping jungle -- palms, lizards and ants.

Instead of farming, she now shops at the supermarket and her grown children and grandchildren live in places like Panama City and New York.

Here, and in other tropical countries around the world, small holdings like Ms. Ortega de Wing's -- and much larger swaths of farmland -- are reverting to nature, as people abandon their land and move to the cities in search of better livings.

These new "secondary" forests are emerging in Latin America, Asia and other tropical regions at such a fast pace that the trend has set off a serious debate about whether saving primeval rain forest -- an iconic environmental cause -- may be less urgent than once thought. By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster.

"There is far more forest here than there was 30 years ago," said Ms. Ortega de Wing, 64, who remembers fields of mango trees and banana plants.

The new forests, the scientists argue, could blunt the effects of rain forest destruction by absorbing carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, one crucial role that rain forests play. They could also, to a lesser extent, provide habitat for endangered species.



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "New Jungles Prompt a Debate on Saving Primeval Rain Forests." The New York Times (Fri., January 30, 2009): A1 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date January 29, 2009 and has the title "New Jungles Prompt a Debate on Rain Forests.")






December 7, 2013

Innovative Fracking Entrepreneurs Again Show that Energy Is Only Limited by Ingenuity



TheFrackersBK2013-11-03.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.





(p. 7) In "The Frackers," Gregory Zuckerman sets out a 25-year narrative that focuses on the half-dozen or so Texas and Oklahoma energy companies behind the fracking boom, especially Chesapeake Energy, the Oklahoma City giant that is the Exxon Mobil of fracking. Technologies are born. Gushers gush. And fortunes are made and lost.

In the process, Mr. Zuckerman assembles a chorus of little-heard American voices, from George Mitchell, the Greek goatherd's son whose company first perfected fracking, to Chesapeake's two founders, Aubrey K. McClendon and Tom L. Ward.


. . .


Geologists knew that layers of shale spread across North America contained commercial amounts of oil and gas, but not until a young geologist at Mr. Mitchell's company, Mitchell Energy, perfected a new "secret sauce" of water-based fracturing liquids in the early 1990s did layers of shale -- in Mitchell's case, the Barnett Shale of North Texas -- melt away and begin to yield jaw-dropping gushers.

Oryx Energy, a company that was based in Dallas, was among the first to pair fracking with horizontal drilling, producing even more startling results. Still, it took years, Mr. Zuckerman writes, before larger businesses, especially the skeptical major oil companies, fathomed what their smaller rivals had achieved. This allowed what were flyspeck outfits like Chesapeake to lease vast acreage in shale-rich areas, from Montana to eastern Pennsylvania.



For the full review, see:

BRYAN BURROUGH. "OFF THE SHELF; The Birth of an Energy Boom." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., November 2, 2013): 7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 2, 2013, and has the title "OFF THE SHELF; 'The Frackers' and the Birth of an Energy Boom.")


Book being reviewed:

Zuckerman, Gregory. The Frackers: The Outrageous inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters. New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2013.






December 5, 2013

Wind Power Increases Government Corruption



LaclairKathyDislikesWindTurbines2013-10-27.jpg "Kathy Laclair of Churubusco, N.Y., dislikes the noise from the wind turbine blades and says their shadows give her vertigo." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) Lured by state subsidies and buoyed by high oil prices, the wind industry has arrived in force in upstate New York, promising to bring jobs, tax revenue and cutting-edge energy to the long-struggling region. But in town after town, some residents say, the companies have delivered something else: an epidemic of corruption and intimidation, as they rush to acquire enough land to make the wind farms a reality.

"It really is renewable energy gone wrong," said the Franklin County district attorney, Derek P. Champagne, who began a criminal inquiry into the Burke Town Board last spring and was quickly inundated with complaints from all over the state about the (p. A16) wind companies.


. . .


. . . corruption is a major concern. In at least 12 counties, Mr. Champagne said, evidence has surfaced about possible conflicts of interest or improper influence.

In Prattsburgh, N.Y., a Finger Lakes community, the town supervisor cast the deciding vote allowing private land to be condemned to make way for a wind farm there, even after acknowledging that he had accepted real estate commissions on at least one land deal involving the farm's developer.

A town official in Bellmont, near Burke, took a job with a wind company after helping shepherd through a zoning law to permit and regulate the towers, according to local residents. And in Brandon, N.Y., nearby, the town supervisor told Mr. Champagne that after a meeting during which he proposed a moratorium on wind towers, he had been invited to pick up a gift from the back seat of a wind company representative's car.

When the supervisor, Michael R. Lawrence, looked inside, according to his complaint to Mr. Champagne, he saw two company polo shirts and a leather pouch that he suspected contained cash.

When Mr. Lawrence asked whether the pouch was part of the gift, the representative replied, "That's up to you," according to the complaint.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS CONFESSORE. "In Rural New York, Windmills Can Bring Whiff of Corruption." The New York Times (Mon., August 18, 2008): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date August 17, 2008.)



NoWindTurbinesSign2013-10-27.jpg









"To some upstate towns, wind power promises prosperity. Others fear noise, spoiled views and the corrupting of local officials." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






December 2, 2013

Paper Towels Are Better than Air Dryers at Removing Bacteria




Green environmentalists have forced hot air hand dryers on us in many public restrooms. They are slow and noisy and frustrating, and many of us leave the restroom with still-wet hands. But did you also know that by taking away our paper towels, the environmentalists are helping to spread disease? Read the article abstract below:


(p. 791) The transmission of bacteria is more likely to occur from wet skin than from dry skin; therefore, the proper drying of hands after washing should be an integral part of the hand hygiene process in health care. This article systematically reviews the research on the hygienic efficacy of different hand-drying methods. A literature search was conducted in April 2011 using the electronic databases PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science. Search terms used were hand dryer and hand drying. The search was limited to articles published in English from January 1970 through March 2011. Twelve studies were included in the review. Hand-drying effectiveness includes the speed of drying, degree of dryness, effective removal of bacteria, and prevention of cross-contamination. This review found little agreement regarding the relative effectiveness of electric air dryers. However, most studies suggest that paper towels can dry hands efficiently, remove bacteria effectively, and cause less contamination of the washroom environment. From a hygiene viewpoint, paper towels are superior to electric air dryers. Paper towels should be recommended in locations where hygiene is paramount, such as hospitals and clinics.


Source:

Cunrui, Huang, Ma Wenjun, and Susan Stack. "The Hygienic Efficacy of Different Hand-Drying Methods: A Review of the Evidence." Mayo Clinic Proceedings 87, no. 8 (Aug. 2012): 791-98.






November 29, 2013

Kerosene Creatively Destroyed Whale Oil



WhaleOilLamps2013-10-25.jpg "The whale-oil lamps at the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum are obsolete, though at one time, whale oil lighted much of the Western world." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. 20) Like oil, particularly in its early days, whaling spawned dazzling fortunes, depending on the brute labor of tens of thousands of men doing dirty, sweaty, dangerous work. Like oil, it began with the prizes closest to home and then found itself exploring every corner of the globe. And like oil, whaling at its peak seemed impregnable, its product so far superior to its trifling rivals, like smelly lard oil or volatile camphene, that whaling interests mocked their competitors.

"Great noise is made by many of the newspapers and thousands of the traders in the country about lard oil, chemical oil, camphene oil, and a half-dozen other luminous humbugs," The Nantucket Inquirer snorted derisively in 1843. It went on: "But let not our envious and -- in view of the lard oil mania -- we had well nigh said, hog-gish opponents, indulge themselves in any such dreams."

But, in fact, whaling was already just about done, said Eric Jay Dolin, who . . . is the author of "Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America." Whales near North America were becoming scarce, and the birth of the American petroleum industry in 1859 in Titusville, Pa., allowed kerosene to supplant whale oil before the electric light replaced both of them and oil found other uses.


. . .


Mr. Dolin said the message for today was that one era's irreplaceable energy source could be the next one's relic. Like whaling, he said, big oil is ripe to be replaced by something newer, cleaner, more appropriate for its moment.



For the full story, see:

PETER APPLEBOME. "OUR TOWNS; Once They Thought Whale Oil Was Indispensable, Too." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., August 3, 2008): 20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the title, "OUR TOWNS; They Used to Say Whale Oil Was Indispensable, Too.")


Dolin's book is:

Dolin, Eric Jay. Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007.






November 23, 2013

"Engrossing, Brain-Tickling" Refutation of Al Gore's Global Warming Assertions



LomborgBjornCoolItDocumentary2010-10-25.jpg "The Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg in "Cool It," a documentary based on his book." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited below.



(p. C8) Debunking claims made by "An Inconvenient Truth" and presenting alternative strategies, "Cool It" finally blossoms into an engrossing, brain-tickling picture as many of Al Gore's meticulously graphed assertions are systematically -- and persuasively -- refuted. (I was intrigued to hear Mr. Lomborg say, for instance, that the polar-bear population is more endangered by hunters than melting ice.)


. . .


. . . "Cool It" is all about the pep: playing down the talking heads and playing up the "git 'er done." If algae can suck up carbon dioxide and spit out oil, what on earth are we worrying about?



For the full review, see:

JEANNETTE CATSOULIS. "Global Warming and Common Sense." The New York Times (Fri., November 12, 2010): C8.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 11, 2010.)


The documentary is based on the book:

Lomborg, Bjørn. Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.






November 21, 2013

After Humans, Earth Would Quickly Revert to Its Pre-Human Condition



TheWorldWithoutUsBK2013-10-24.jpg

















Source of book image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/88/The_World_Without_Us_(US_cover).jpg




When I saw the mention of this book, quoted below, I thought it must be closely related to the 2008 History Channel program "Life Without Us" that I liked very much. Apparently the two overlap on the message that a post-human planet Earth would quickly return to its pre-human condition, but they differ in that the program does not share the book's anti-technology leitmotif.

The main take-away from the program, for me, was that environmentalists worry too much about the long-term damage that humans can do to the planet---for the most part, the planet is pretty resilient and can quickly return itself to something close to its pre-human condition.


(p. C10) Mr. Weisman's 2007 book, "The World Without Us," was a surprise best seller that imagined what would happen to the planet were all humans to suddenly disappear. Turns out that nature would in short order erase pretty much everything we've done.


Source:

MICHAEL SHERMER. "Menace to the Planet?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Oct. 5, 2013): C10.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 4, 2013, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Book Review: 'Ten Billion' by Stephen Emmott | 'Countdown' by Alan Weisman; While some worry a booming population doom the planet, in many Western countries there is now a birth dearth.")


The book mentioned is:

Weisman, Alan. The World without Us. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007.






November 12, 2013

How Adding Bike Lanes Increases Air Pollution



(p. A1) SAN FRANCISCO -- New York is wooing cyclists with chartreuse bike lanes. Chicago is spending nearly $1 million for double-decker bicycle parking.

San Francisco can't even install new bike racks.

Blame Rob Anderson. At a time when most other cities are encouraging biking as green transport, the 65-year-old local gadfly has stymied cycling-support efforts here by arguing that urban bicycle boosting could actually be bad for the environment. That's put the brakes on everything from new bike lanes to bike racks while the city works on an environmental-impact report.


. . .


Cars always will vastly outnumber (p. A15) bikes, . . . [Mr. Anderson] reasons, so allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution. Mr. Anderson says the city has been blinded by political correctness. It's an "attempt by the anti-car fanatics to screw up our traffic on behalf of the bicycle fantasy," he wrote in his blog this month.



For the full story, see:

PHRED DVORAK. "San Francisco Ponders: Could Bike Lanes Cause Pollution?; City Backpedals on a Cycling Plan After Mr. Anderson Goes to Court." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 20, 2008): A1 & A15.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed name, added.)






November 8, 2013

Not All Environmentalists Reject the Refrigerator



(p. D4) MANY environmentalists -- even many who think nothing of using recycled toilet paper or cut the thermostat to near-arctic levels -- see fridge-free living as an extreme choice or an impractical and excessive goal.

"The refrigerator was a smart advance for society," said Gretchen Willis, 37, an environmentally conscious mother of four in Arlington, Tex., who recently read about the practice on a popular eco-themed blog, thecrunchychicken.com, and was astounded.

"I never would have thought of it," Ms. Willis said, explaining that although she's committed to recycling and using fluorescent bulbs, she draws the line at any environmental practice that will result in great expense or inconvenience. Living without a refrigerator, she said, qualifies on both counts: she would have to buy more food in smaller quantities because of spoilage, prepare exact amounts because she couldn't refrigerate leftovers, and make daily trips to the grocery store.

"It's silly not to have one," she said, "considering what the alternative is: drinking up a gallon of milk in one day so it doesn't spoil."

Deanna Duke, who lives in Seattle and runs the site Ms. Willis visited, said that taking a stand for or against unplugging has become "a badge of honor" for those on either side. "It's either 'look how far I'm willing to go,' or 'look how far I'm not willing to go,' " she said. For her part, Ms. Duke may refrain from watering her lawn in an effort at conservation, but she's firmly in the pro-refrigerator camp. "I can't think of any circumstances, other than an involuntary extreme situation, that would make me unplug my fridge," she said. "The convenience factor is too high."


. . .


Marty O'Gorman, the vice president of Frigidaire, said an 18-cubic-foot Energy Star-rated Frigidaire refrigerator uses about 380 kilowatt-hours a year -- less than a standard clothes dryer -- and costs a homeowner $40, or about 11 cents a day.


. . .


. . . , Mr. O'Gorman said downsizing from a standard model to Frigidaire's smallest minifridge would result in only about $6 in energy savings over a year.

It's this sort of practical calculus that has led many who advocate sustainable living to view unplugging the fridge as a dubious practice. They point out that it is likely to result in more trips to the store (which burns more gas, for those who drive) and the purchase of food in smaller portions (thus more packaging).

"It's easy to look at your bill and say, 'I'm saving energy,' " Ms. Duke said. "But you need to look at the whole supply chain."



For the full story, see:

STEVEN KURUTZ. "Trashing the Fridge." The New York Times (Thurs., February 5, 2009): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2009.)






October 15, 2013

Prius Drivers Endanger Pedestrians and Cut in Front of Other Drivers



(p. B2) Jokes about BMW drivers being, on average, somewhat less than courteous are fairly common. They often run along the lines of, "Despite its good brakes, a BMW will usually stop with a jerk." Sometimes the language is more colorful.


. . .


Paul K. Piff, a researcher at the Institute of Personality and Social Research at the University of California, Berkeley, has conducted a study linking bad driving habits with wealth.


. . .


In California, where the study was conducted, state law requires motorists to stop at crosswalks when pedestrians are present, allowing them to cross the road. Mr. Piff said his team selected a specific crosswalk to observe, then had a pedestrian appear on the edge of the curb as a car approached. As the pedestrian stepped into the road, a researcher marked down the driver's reaction to the pedestrian. This was done with 152 drivers.

The team also watched a four-way-stop intersection over a week, noting how likely drivers were to cut in front of others when it was not their turn to go. In their observation of 274 cars, the researchers found that the more expensive ones were more likely to jump their turns in the four-way rotation, Mr. Piff said.


. . .


In the San Francisco Bay Area, where the hybrid gas-and-electric-powered Toyota Prius is considered a status symbol among the environmentally conscious, the researchers classified it as a premium model.

"In our higher-status vehicle category, Prius drivers had a higher tendency to commit infractions than most," Mr. Piff said.



For the full story, see:

BENJAMIN PRESTON. "The Rich Drive Differently, a Study Suggests." The New York Times (Tues., August 13, 2013): B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 12, 2013.)


The study discussed above is:

Piffa, Paul K., Daniel M. Stancatoa, Stéphane Côtéb, Rodolfo Mendoza-Dentona, and Dacher Keltnera. "Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 109, no. 11 (March 13, 2012): 4086-91.






October 2, 2013

"Global Fertility Will Fall to the Replacement Rate in Less than 15 Years"




WorldPopulationForecastsGraph2013-09-25.jpgSource of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B3) An analysis of population trends by Sanjeev Sanyal, the global strategist for Deutsche Bank, concludes that population growth is likely to be much slower than the U.N.'s estimate.

"In our view, global fertility will fall to the replacement rate in less than 15 years," Mr. Sanyal wrote. "Population may keep growing for a few more decades from rising longevity but, reproductively speaking, our species will no longer be expanding." He forecasts that world population will peak in around 2055, at 8.7 billion, and decline to 8 billion by the end of the century.

The fertility replacement rate -- the number of children per woman needed to keep the population level over time -- is usually considered to be 2.1. Mr. Sanyal says that in the developing world, it is higher, because of higher infant mortality and maternal death in childbirth. For the world as a whole, he thinks the current replacement rate is about 2.27, a figure that will come down gradually over time.

The spread between the latest U.N. forecast and Deutsche Bank's for 2100 -- 2.8 billion people -- is greater than the entire population of the world in 1955.



For the full story, see:

FLOYD NORRIS. "Population Growth Forecast From the U.N. May Be Too High." The New York Times (Sat., September 21, 2013): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 20, 2013.)






September 29, 2013

2013 Has "Largest One-Year Increase in Arctic Ice" Ever Recorded



(p. A8) Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean underwent a sharp recovery this year from the record-low levels of 2012, with 50 percent more ice surviving the summer melt season, scientists said Friday. It is the largest one-year increase in Arctic ice since satellite tracking began in 1978.


For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "Arctic Ice Makes Comeback From Record Low, but Long-Term Decline May Continue." The New York Times (Sat., September 21, 2013): A8.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 20, 2013.)






September 13, 2013

Climate Scientists Are Puzzled by "Lull" in Global Warming, Even with "Record Pace" of Greenhouse Gases



(p. D3) As unlikely as this may sound, we have lucked out in recent years when it comes to global warming.

The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace.

The slowdown is a bit of a mystery to climate scientists.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "BY DEGREES; What to Make of a Warming Plateau." The New York Times (Tues., June 11, 2013): D3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 10, 2013.)






September 6, 2013

In Conflict Between Ecologist and Economist, the Economist Won



EhrlichSimonCaricature2013-08-31.jpg Paul Ehrlich (left) and Julian Simon (right). Source of caricature: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. C6) . . . in 1980 Simon made Mr. Ehrlich a bet. If Mr. Ehrlich's predictions about overpopulation and the depletion of resources were correct, Simon said, then over the next decade the prices of commodities would rise as they became more scarce. Simon contended that, because markets spur innovation and create efficiencies, commodity prices would fall. He proposed that each party put up $1,000 to purchase a basket of five commodities. If the prices of these went down, Mr. Ehrlich would pay Simon the difference between the 1980 and 1990 prices. If the prices went up, Simon would pay. This meant that Mr. Ehrlich's exposure was limited while Simon's was theoretically infinite.


. . .


In October 1990, Mr. Ehrlich mailed a check for $576.07 to Simon.


. . .


Mr. Ehrlich was more than a sore loser. In 1995, he told this paper: "If Simon disappeared from the face of the Earth, that would be great for humanity." (Simon would die in 1998.)


. . .


Mr. Sabin's portrait of Mr. Ehrlich suggests that he is among the more pernicious figures in the last century of American public life. As Mr. Sabin shows, he pushed an authoritarian vision of America, proposing "luxury taxes" on items such as diapers and bottles and refusing to rule out the use of coercive force in order to prevent Americans from having children. In many ways, Mr. Ehrlich was an early instigator of the worst aspects of America's culture wars. This picture is all the more damning because Mr. Sabin paints it not with malice but with sympathy. A history professor at Yale, Mr. Sabin shares Mr. Ehrlich's devotion to environmentalism. Yet this affinity doesn't prevent Mr. Sabin from being clear-eyed.

At heart, "The Bet" is about not just a conflict of men; it is about a conflict of disciplines, pitting ecologists against economists. Mr. Sabin cautiously posits that neither side has been completely vindicated by the events of the past 40 years. But this may be charity on his part: While not everything Simon predicted has come to pass, in the main he has been vindicated.


. . .


Mr. Ehrlich may have been defeated in the wager, but he has continued to flourish in the public realm. The great mystery left unsolved by "The Bet" is why Paul Ehrlich and his confederates have paid so small a price for their mistakes. And perhaps even been rewarded for them. In 1990, just as Mr. Ehrlich was mailing his check to Simon, the MacArthur Foundation awarded him one of its "genius" grants. And 20 years later his partner in the wager, John Holdren, was appointed by President Obama to be director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.



For the full review, see:

JONATHAN V. LAST. "A Prediction that Bombed; Paul Ehrlich predicted an imminent population catastrophe; Julian Simon wagered he was wrong." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 31, 2013): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date August 30, 2013, and has the title "Book Review: 'The Bet' by Paul Sabin; Paul Ehrlich predicted an imminent population catastrophe--Julian Simon wagered he was wrong.")


The book discussed above is:

Sabin, Paul. The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth's Future. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2013.



TheBetBK2013-08-31.jpg














Source of book image: http://paulsabin.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/sabin_the_bet_wr.jpg







September 4, 2013

"The Ecosystem Is More Intact than You Might Have Feared"



SantaMartaSabrewingRareBirdFearedExtinct2013-08-10.jpg "The first-ever photograph of the Santa Marta sabrewing." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Michael Parr, quoted in the entry below, is Vice President of Planning and Program Development of the American Bird Conservancy as of 8/10/13 (as listed on: http://www.abcbirds.org/aboutabc/staff.html ).


(p. D3) Rare birds in isolated habitats can be a recipe for extinction, and while there had been a few unconfirmed sightings of the sabrewing in recent years, the bird's existence had not been documented for decades. Until March 24, that is, when a researcher studying migratory birds, Laura Cárdenas, caught one in a mist net, banded it and took its picture before releasing it. It's the first photograph ever of a Santa Marta sabrewing.

"She had a little bit of luck," Mr. Parr said. "The bird just flew into the net, completely by chance."


. . .


The sighting shows that "the ecosystem is more intact than you might have feared," he added.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "OBSERVATORY; Rare Bird, Alive and Well and Living in Colombia." The New York Times (Tues., April 13, 2010): D3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 12, 2010.)






September 1, 2013

"Inflexible Labor Laws" Lead Indian Firms "to Substitute Machines for Unskilled Labor"



(p. A19) . . . , India is failing to make full use of the estimated one million low-skilled workers who enter the job market every month.

Manufacturing requires transparent rules and reliable infrastructure. India is deficient in both. High-profile scandals over the allocation of mobile broadband spectrum, coal and land have undermined confidence in the government. If land cannot be easily acquired and coal supplies easily guaranteed, the private sector will shy away from investing in the power grid. Irregular electricity holds back investments in factories.

India's panoply of regulations, including inflexible labor laws, discourages companies from expanding. As they grow, large Indian businesses prefer to substitute machines for unskilled labor.



For the full commentary, see:

ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN. "Why India's Economy Is Stumbling." The New York Times (Sat., August 31, 2013): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 30, 2013.)






August 31, 2013

Science Discovers New Six-Foot Lizard



MonitorLizardLuzonIsland2013-08-10.jpg "A 6-foot monitor lizard discovered on Luzon Island in the Philippines." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3) The number of lizard species in the world -- by most counts, around 4,000 -- has just increased by one, with the announcement of a new species found on Luzon island in the Philippines.

But this is not a reptile you'd want in a home terrarium. It's a 6-foot monitor lizard, gray with a spectacular pattern of colorful dots and other markings on its scales.

How did a species of lizard the size of a human remain undetected all these centuries? The answer is it didn't. "It's only new to science," said Rafe M. Brown, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas and senior author of a paper describing the new species, Varanus bitatawa, in Biology Letters.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "OBSERVATORY; A New Lizard? Well, New to Science." The New York Times (Tues., April 13, 2010): D3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 12, 2010.)






August 24, 2013

A Path to Bringing Back the Extinct Woolly Mammoth



(p. D3) For the first time in 43,000 years, a woolly mammoth has breathed again on earth.

Well, not the mammoth itself but its hemoglobin, the stuff in red blood cells that takes on oxygen in the lungs and offloads it in the tissues. By reconstructing the mammoth's hemoglobin, a team led by Kevin L. Campbell of the University of Manitoba in Canada has discovered how the once-tropical species adapted to living in arctic temperatures.

Dr. Campbell's work raises a somewhat astonishing possibility: that much of the physiology of extinct animals may one day be recoverable from the DNA extracted from their remains.


. . .


Two years ago, scientists at Penn State University sequenced a large part of the mammoth's genome from a clump of hair. They published the sequence along with the arresting suggestion that for just $10 million it might be possible to complete the sequence and use it to generate a living mammoth.

The suggestion was not as wild as it might seem, given that the idea came from George Church, a leading genome technologist at the Harvard Medical School. The mammoth's genome differs at about 400,000 sites from that of the African elephant. Dr. Church has been developing a method for altering 50,000 sites at a time, though he is not at present applying it to mammoths. In converting four sites on the elephant genome to the mammoth version, Dr. Campbell has resurrected at least one tiny part of the mammoth.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS WADE. "Mammoth Hemoglobin Offers More Clues to Its Arctic Evolution." The New York Times (Tues., May 4, 2010): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 3, 2010.)






August 19, 2013

George Mitchell, Father of Fracking, Took 20 Years to Make It Work



MitchellGeorgeFatherOfFracking2013-08-04.jpg












"George P. Mitchell with a statue of himself at The Woodlands in 2007." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ obituary quoted and cited below.




(p. B3) George P. Mitchell turned hydraulic fracturing from an experimental technique into an energy-industry mainstay, making it possible to pump oil and gas from once untappable rocks and unleashing an energy boom across the U.S.

Known as the father of fracking, Mr. Mitchell died Friday [July 26, 2013] at age 94 at his home in Galveston, Texas.


. . .


"George Mitchell, more than anyone else, is responsible for the most important energy innovation of the 21st century," said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of consulting firm IHS and a Pulitzer Prize winning author on energy.


. . .


His first efforts at fracking, in the late 1970s, were expensive, and at times investors and his board of directors questioned the spending. But by the late 1990s the company had figured out the right mix of techniques and materials to produce shale gas economically, and began to do so on a major scale.

Devon Energy Corp. bought Mr. Mitchell's firm in 2002 for $3.1 billion, combined the hydraulic fracturing techniques with horizontal drilling, and helped launch the current surge in oil and gas production.



For the full obituary, see:

TOM FOWLER. "REMEMBRANCES; George P. Mitchell 1919-2013; 'Father of Fracking' Helped Unleash U.S. Energy Boom." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 27, 2013): B3.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date July 26, 2013, and has the title "REMEMBRANCES; 'Father of Fracking' Dies at 94; George P. Mitchell Helped Unleash U.S. Energy Boom.")






August 17, 2013

It's Hard to Be Consistent



TheFirstBillionIsTheHardestBK2013-08-08.jpg









Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A13) Both Adam Smith and Horatio Alger would find something to like in the rise of T. Boone Pickens. "Boy geologist" Boone quit a promising job at Phillips Petroleum in the mid-1950s and built, over the following decades, Mesa Petroleum, a top North American independent oil and gas producer. Mesa found lots of oil and gas, provided jobs for hundreds of workers, and earned wealth for thousands of investors. During the same years, Mr. Pickens's attempts to take over Cities Service, Gulf Oil, Phillips and Unocal made the whole oil industry shape up: His bids required the managers of each company to look hard at its practices and improve its shareholder returns.

Such accomplishments are the core of Mr. Pickens's 1987 autobiography, "Boone," which was updated 13 years later and retitled "The Luckiest Guy in the World." In those books, Mr. Pickens's political philosophy rang loud and clear. "I believe," he stated, "the greatest opportunity lies in a free marketplace." He warned: "There are powerful forces afoot trying to restrict that freedom in the interests of the vested and already wealthy. I am talking about a relatively small collection of corporate executives who would use the engine of American commerce for their own narrow ends."


. . .


Now Mr. Pickens has new dreams -- and he is lobbying Washington to make them come alive.

In particular, Mr. Pickens wants the federal government -- through a mix of tax incentives, mandates and subsidies -- to override the market and redirect the uses of natural gas.


. . .


"The First Billion" argues for this plan, along with recounting Mr. Pickens's business ups and downs. The book is often entertaining, featuring the usual "Boone-isms": e.g., "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser." But readers unfamiliar with Mr. Pickens's earlier memoirs may not realize that the new one represents a kind of bait-and-switch. Mr. Pickens's standing to pronounce on energy matters was earned as a free-market producer. He is now using that standing to defy the market itself.



For the full review, see:

ROBERT BRADLEY JR. "BUSINESS BOOKSHELF; When Effort Is Energetic." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., September 10, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The book under review is:

Pickens, T. Boone. The First Billion Is the Hardest: Reflections on a Life of Comebacks and America's Energy Future. New York: Crown Business, 2008.






August 15, 2013

Global Warming Allows Russians to Build Liquefied Natural Gas Plant in Arctic



NovatekArcticLiquefiedNaturalGasPlant2013-08-04.jpg "A rendering of Novatek's proposed $20 billion liquefied natural gas plant on Russia's Arctic coast, scheduled to be done by 2016." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) YURKHAROVSKOYE GAS FIELD, Russia -- The polar ice cap is melting, and if executives at the Russian energy company Novatek feel guilty about profiting from that, they do not let it be known in public.

From this windswept shore on the Arctic Ocean, where Novatek owns enormous natural gas deposits, a stretch of thousands of miles of ice-free water leads to China. The company intends to ship the gas directly there.


. . .


Novatek, in partnership with the French energy company Total and the China National Petroleum Corporation, is building a $20 billion liquefied natural gas plant on the central Arctic coast of Russia. It is one of the first major energy projects to take advantage of the summer thawing of the Arctic caused by global warming.

The plant, called Yamal LNG, would send gas to Asia along the sea lanes known as the Northeast Passage, which opened for regular international shipping only four years ago.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER. "Polar Thaw Opens Shortcut for Russian Natural Gas." The New York Times (Thurs., July 25, 2013): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 24, 2013, and has the title "Polar Thaw Opens Shortcut for Russian Natural Gas.")






August 8, 2013

Biofuels Like Ethanol Raise Food Costs About 30%



(p. 5) Until January [2008], Keith Collins was the longtime and widely respected chief economist for the Department of Agriculture. In that position, he was a frequent booster of government policies that encouraged biofuel production.

In the months after his departure, he was hired by Kraft Foods Global to analyze the impact of biofuels on food prices. He delivered a stunning, and unexpected, roundhouse to his former employers.

The Bush administration had said biofuels were a minor factor in rising food costs. In a May 1 [2008] press conference, Edward P. Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said, "The bottom line is that we think that ethanol accounts for somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of the overall increase in global food prices."

A month later, in Rome at a United Nations conference on the food crisis, the agriculture secretary, Ed Schafer, echoed Mr. Lazear's analysis in defending American biofuels policy.

But Mr. Collins pointed out that the administration's analysis was more like a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and that it hadn't accounted for the impact of biofuels on crops other than corn. The push for ethanol has led farmers to grow more corn and less of other food crops, one factor in rising prices for commodities like wheat.

Based on his own analysis, Mr. Collins maintains that biofuels have caused 23 to 35 percent of the increases in food costs.



For the full commentary, see:

ANDREW MARTIN. "THE FEED; The Man Who Dared to Question Ethanol." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., July 13, 2008): 5.

(Note: bracketed years added.)






August 1, 2013

"Quality of Life Is Better" with a Home Electricity Generator



LaDucaCharlesGeneratorBuyer2013-07-22.jpg "AGAINST ALL STORMS; Charles LaDuca of Bethesda, Md., spent about $12,000 to buy and install a 14-kilowatt generator, below." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. F8) After Tropical Storm Irene pummeled the Northeast in 2011, Keith and Barbara Wolff realized it was time to act. Though they were spared during Irene, several other storms had cut the power to their home in Brookfield, Conn., forcing them to throw out food, wear sweaters to keep warm and find coffee shops to recharge their cellphones and laptops.

So the Wolffs did what many of their neighbors had done: They bought a portable, gasoline-powered generator that produced enough electricity to run many of their essential appliances, including their refrigerator, water well, hot water tank, heater and home offices.

The Wolffs paid about $1,000 for a 7,500-watt generator made by Generac. A week after paying an electrician $900 to hook up the unit to their electrical system, they put their new purchase to work when a snowstorm knocked out their power for nine days.

"It was a pretty hefty investment, but it was well worth it because when it's cold out, you want to at least be able to take a shower," Mr. Wolff said. "There are two things you can do: Be completely aggravated and non-functional or do a workaround so your quality of life is better."



For the full story, see:

KEN BELSON. "Power Grids Iffy, Populous Areas Go for Generators." The New York Times (Thurs., April 25, 2013): F8.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 24, 2013.)



GeneracGeneratorBoughtByLaDuca2013-07-23.jpg















Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







July 30, 2013

The French and Japanese Believe Water Cleans the Anus Better than Dry Paper



TheBigNecessityBK2013-07-21.jpg

















Source of the book image: http://jacketupload.macmillanusa.com/jackets/high_res/jpgs/9780805090833.jpg



(p. C34) Ms. George's book is lively . . . . It is hard not to warm to a writer who can toss off an observation like this one: "I like engineers. They build things that are useful and sometimes beautiful -- a brick sewer, a suspension bridge -- and take little credit. They do not wear black and designer glasses like architects. They do not crow."


. . .


In Japan, where toilets are amazingly advanced -- most of even the most basic have heated seats and built-in bidet systems for front and rear -- the American idea of cleaning one's backside with dry paper is seen as quaint at best and disgusting at worst. As Ms. George observes: "Using paper to cleanse the anus makes as much sense, hygienically, as rubbing your body with dry tissue and imagining it removes dirt."



For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; 15 Minutes of Fame for Human Waste and Its Never-Ending Assembly Line." The New York Times (Fri., December 12, 2008): C34.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 11, 2008.)


The book under review, is:

George, Rose. The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008.






July 29, 2013

Biofuels Are Bad for the Planet



(p. A13) Biofuels are under siege from critics who say they crowd out food production. Now these fuels made from grass and grain, long touted as green, are being criticized as bad for the planet.

At issue is whether oil alternatives -- such as ethanol distilled from corn and fuels made from inedible stuff like switch grass -- actually make global warming worse through their indirect impact on land use around the world.

For example, if farmers in Brazil burn and clear more rainforest to grow food because farmers in the U.S. are using their land to grow grain for fuel, that could mean a net increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main "greenhouse gas" linked to climate change.


. . .


A study published in February [2008] in the journal Science found that U.S. production of corn-based ethanol increases emissions by 93%, compared with using gasoline, when expected world-wide land-use changes are taken into account. Applying the same methodology to biofuels made from switch grass grown on soil diverted from raising corn, the study found that greenhouse-gas emissions would rise by 50%.

Previous studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline reduces greenhouse gases. Those studies generally didn't account for the carbon emissions that occur as farmers world-wide respond to higher food prices and convert forest and grassland to cropland.



For the full story, see:

STEPHEN POWER. "If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Are Biofuels To Blame? It's Not Easy Being Green." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 11, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)



Two relevant articles appeared in Science in the Feb. 29, 2008 issue:

Fargione, Joseph, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Peter Hawthorne. "Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt." Science 319, no. 5867 (Feb. 29, 2008): 1235-38.

Searchinger, Timothy, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, and Tun-Hsiang Yu. "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land-Use Change." Science 319, no. 5867 (Feb. 29, 2008): 1238-40.






July 21, 2013

Students Learn More in Air Conditioning



(p. 5) My first year as a public school teacher, I taught at Manhattan's P.S. 98, which did not have air-conditioning. From mid-May until June's end -- roughly 17 percent of the school year -- the temperature in my classroom hovered in the 80s and often topped 90 degrees.

Students wilted over desks. Academic gains evaporated. Even restless pencil tappers and toe wigglers grew lethargic. Absenteeism increased as children sought relief at home or outdoors. By day's end, my hair was plastered to my face with perspiration.

It seems obvious: schools need to be cool. It's absurd to talk about inculcating 21st-century skills in classrooms that resemble 19th-century sweatshops.


. . .


Cool schools are critical if we are to boost achievement. Studies show that concentration and cognitive abilities decline substantially after a room reaches 77 or 78 degrees. This is a lesson American businesses learned long ago. . . . A pleasant atmosphere leads to more productive employees.


. . .


It isn't just white-collar laborers who work in cool climates. Amazon announced last year that it was spending $52 million to upgrade its warehouses with air-conditioning. Yet we can't seem to do the same for vulnerable children, though some of the achievement gap is most likely owing to a lack of air-conditioning. One Oregon study found that students working in three different temperature settings had strikingly different results on exams, suggesting that sweating a test actually undermines performance.

Students who enjoy the luxury of air-conditioning may enjoy an unfair advantage over their hotter peers.

We are also investing enormous sums to extend the school day and school year in many locales. But these investments won't be effective if schools are ovens.



For the full commentary, see:

SARA MOSLE. "SCHOOLING; Schools Are Not Cool." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 2, 2013): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 1, 2013.)






July 19, 2013

The Precautionary Principle Is Biased Against the New, and Ignores the Risks of the Old



(p. 250) In general the Precautionary Principle is biased against anything new. Many established technologies and "natural" processes have unexamined faults as great as those of any new technology. But the Precautionary Principle establishes a drastically elevated threshold for things that are new. In effect it grandfathers in the risks of the old, or the "nat-(p. 251)ural." A few examples: Crops raised without the shield of pesticides generate more of their own natural pesticides to combat insects, but these indigenous toxins are not subject to the Precautionary Principle because they aren't "new." The risks of new plastic water pipes are not compared with the risks of old metal pipes. The risks of DDT are not put in context with the old risks of dying of malaria.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






July 11, 2013

Millions Die Due to Precautionary Principle Ban of DDT



(p. 248) . . . , malaria infects 300 million to 500 million people worldwide, causing 2 million deaths per year. It is debilitating to those who don't die and leads to cyclic poverty. But in the 1950s the level of malaria was reduced by 70 percent by spraying the insecticide DDT around the insides of homes. DDT was so successful as an insecticide that farmers eagerly sprayed it by the tons on cotton fields--and the molecule's by-products made their way into the water cycle and eventually into fat cells in animals. Biologists blamed it for a drop in reproduction rates for some predatory birds, as well as local die-offs in some fish and aquatic life species. Its use and manufacture were banned in the United States in 1972. Other countries followed suit. Without DDT spraying, however, malaria cases in Asia and Africa began to rise again to deadly pre-1950s levels. Plans to reintroduce programs for household spraying in malarial Africa were blocked by the World Bank and other aid agencies, who refused to fund them. A treaty signed in 1991 by 91 countries and the EU agreed to phase out DDT altogether. They were relying on the precautionary principle: DDT was probably bad; better safe than sorry. In fact DDT had never been shown to hurt humans, and the environmental harm from the miniscule amounts of DDT applied in homes had not been measured. But nobody could prove it did not cause harm, despite its proven ability to do good.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






July 9, 2013

Why Wind Power Has Not, and Will Not, Replace a Single Conventional Power Plant



(p. A17) After decades of federal subsidies--almost $24 billion according to a recent estimate by former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm--nowhere in the United States, or anywhere else, has an array of wind turbines replaced a single conventional power plant. Nowhere.

But wind farms do take up space. The available data from wind-power companies, with which the Environmental Protection Agency agrees, show that the most effective of them can generate about five kilowatts per acre. This means 300 square miles of land--192,000 acres--are necessary to generate the 1,000 megawatts (a billion watts) of electricity that a conventional power plant using coal, nuclear energy or natural gas can generate on a few hundred acres. A billion watts fulfills the average annual power demand of a city of 700,000.


. . .


The promise that wind and solar power could replace conventional electricity production never really made sense. It's known to everybody in the industry that a wind turbine will generate electricity 30% of the time--but it's impossible to predict when that time will be. A true believer might be willing to do without electricity when the wind is not blowing, but most people will not. And so, during the 30% of the time the blades are spinning, conventional power plants are also spinning on low, waiting to operate during the other 70% of the time.



For the full commentary, see:

JAY LEHR. "OPINION; The Rationale for Wind Power Won't Fly; Physical limitations will keep this energy source a niche provider of U.S. electricity needs." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 17, 2013.)






July 1, 2013

Mainstream Climatologists Lower Best Guess Estimates of Global Warming (and Find High End Estimates "Pretty Implausible")



(p. D1) Since 1896, scientists have been trying to answer a deceptively simple question: What will happen to the temperature of the earth if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles?

Some recent scientific papers have made a splash by claiming that the answer might not be as bad as previously feared. This work -- if it holds up -- offers the tantalizing possibility that climate change might be slow and limited enough that human society could adapt to it without major trauma.


. . .


In 1979, after two decades of meticulous measurements had made it clear that the carbon dioxide level was indeed rising, scientists used computers and a much deeper understanding of the climate to calculate a likely range of warming. They found that the response to a doubling of carbon dioxide would not be much below three degrees Fahrenheit, nor was it likely to exceed eight degrees.

In the years since, scientists have been (p. D6) pushing and pulling within that range, trying to settle on a most likely value. Most of those who are expert in climatology subscribe to a best-estimate figure of just over five degrees Fahrenheit.


. . .


What's new is that several recent papers have offered best estimates for climate sensitivity that are below four degrees Fahrenheit, rather than the previous best estimate of just above five degrees, and they have also suggested that the highest estimates are pretty implausible.

Notice that these recent calculations fall well within the long-accepted range -- just on the lower end of it.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "BY DEGREES; A Change in Temperature." The New York Times (Tues., May 14, 2013): D1 & D6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 13, 2013.)






June 24, 2013

We Should Disenthrall Ourselves of False Scientific Certainties



An Optimists Tour of the Future CoverBK2013-06-21.jpg
















Source of book image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-ELpfH2bTO7c/Tb53WpKuDxI/AAAAAAAADrE/Zq8BQiiasJc/s640/An+Optimists+Tour+of+the+Future+Cover.jpg



(p. C4) Among the scientific certainties I have had to unlearn: that upbringing strongly shapes your personality; that nurture is the opposite of nature; that dietary fat causes obesity more than dietary carbohydrate; that carbon dioxide has been the main driver of climate change in the past.

I came across a rather good word for this kind of unlearning--"disenthrall"--in Mark Stevenson's book "An Optimist's Tour of the Future," published just this week. Mr. Stevenson borrows it from Abraham Lincoln, whose 1862 message to Congress speaks of disenthralling ourselves of "the dogmas of the quiet past" in order to "think anew."

Mr. Stevenson's disenthrallment comes in the course of a series of sharp and fascinating interviews with technological innovators and scientific visionaries. This disenthralls him of the pessimism about the future and nostalgia about the past that he barely realized he had and whose "fingers reach deep into [his] soul." It eventually turns him into an optimist almost as ludicrously sanguine about the 21st century as I am: "I steadfastly refuse to believe that human society can't grow, improve and learn; that it can't embrace change and remake the world better."

Along the way, Mr. Stevenson is struck by other examples of how the way he thinks and reasons is "in thrall to a world that is passing." The first of these bad habits is linear thinking about the future. . . .

We expect to see changes coming gradually, but because things like computing power or the cheapness of genome sequencing change exponentially, technologies can go from impossible to cheap quite suddenly and with little warning.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; A Key Lesson of Adulthood: The Need to Unlearn." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 5, 2011): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book praised by Ridley, in the passages quoted above, is:

Stevenson, Mark. An Optimist's Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets out to Answer "What's Next?". New York: Avery, 2011.






June 20, 2013

Nate Silver "Chides Environmental Activists for Their Certainty"



TheSignalAndTheNoiseBK2013-05-13.jpg











Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-US032_bkrvno_GV_20120924132722.jpg






(p. 12) In recent years, the most sophisticated global-warming skeptics have seized on errors in the forecasts of the United Nations' International Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) in order to undermine efforts at greenhouse gas reduction. These skeptics note that global temperatures have increased at only about half the rate the I.P.C.C. predicted in 1990, and that they flatlined in the 2000s (albeit after rising sharply in the late '90s).

Silver runs the numbers to show that the past few decades of data are still highly consistent with the hypothesis of man-made global warming. He shows how, at the rate that carbon dioxide is accumulating, a single decade of flat temperatures is hardly invalidating. On the other hand, Silver demonstrates that projecting temperature increases decades into the future is a dicey proposition. He chides some environmental activists for their certainty -- observing that overambitious predictions can undermine a cause when they don't come to pass . . .



For the full review, see:

NOAM SCHEIBER. "Known Unknowns." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., November 4, 2012): 12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date November 2, 2012.)


The book under review, is:

Silver, Nate. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- but Some Don't. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012.






June 17, 2013

Amish Factory Uses Pneumatics in Place of Electricity



(p. 219) The Amish also make a distinction between technology they have at work and technology they have at home. I remember an early visit to an Amish man who ran a woodworking shop near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. . . .


. . .


(p. 220) While the rest of his large workshop lacked electricity beyond that naked bulb, it did not lack power machines. The place was vibrating with an ear-cracking racket of power sanders, power saws, power planers, power drills, and so on. Everywhere I turned there were bearded men covered in sawdust pushing wood through screaming machines. This was not a circle of Renaissance craftsman hand-tooling masterpieces. This was a small-time factory cranking out wooden furniture with machine power. But where was the power coming from? Not from windmills.

Amos took me around to the back where a huge SUV-sized diesel generator sat. It was massive. In addition to a gas engine there was a very large tank, which, I learned, stored compressed air. The diesel engine burned petroleum fuel to drive the compressor that filled the reservoir with pressure. From the tank, a series of high-pressure pipes snaked off toward every corner of the factory. A hard rubber flexible hose connected each tool to a pipe. The entire shop ran on compressed air. Every piece of machinery was running on pneumatic power. Amos even showed me a pneumatic switch, which he could flick like a light switch to turn on some paint-drying fans running on air.

The Amish call this pneumatic system "Amish electricity." At first, pneumatics were devised for Amish workshops, but air power was seen as so useful that it migrated to Amish households. In fact, there is an entire cottage industry in retrofitting tools and appliances to run on Amish electricity. The retrofitters buy a heavy-duty blender, say, and yank out the electrical motor. They then substitute an air-powered motor of appropriate size, add pneumatic connectors, and bingo, your Amish mom now has a blender in her electricity-less kitchen. You can get a pneumatic sewing machine and a pneumatic washer/dryer (with propane heat). In a display of pure steam-punk (air-punk?) nerdiness, Amish hackers try to outdo one another in building pneumatic versions of electrified contraptions. Their mechanical skill is quite impressive, particularly since none went to school beyond the eighth grade. They (p. 221) love to show off their geekiest hacks. And every tinkerer I met claimed that pneumatics were superior to electrical devices because air was more powerful and durable, outlasting motors that burned out after a few years of hard labor. I don't know if this claim of superiority is true or merely a justification, but it was a constant refrain.



Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)






June 13, 2013

If Anarcho-Primitives Destroy Civilization, Billions of City-Dwellers Will Die



(p. 211) . . . , the . . . problem with destroying civilization as we know it is that the alternative, such as it has been imagined by the self-described "haters of civilization," would not support but a fraction of the people alive today. In other words, the collapse of civilization would kill billions. Ironically, the poorest rural inhabitants would fare the best, as they could retreat to hunting and gathering with the least trouble, but billions of urbanites would die within months or even weeks, once food ran out and disease took over. The anarcho-primitives are rather sanguine about this catastrophe, arguing that accelerating the collapse early might save lives in total.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipses added.)






May 3, 2013

Organic Animals Cause More Global Warming than Non-Organic Animals



JustFoodBK2013-05-01.jpg















Source of book image: http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/OB-EH374_justfo_DV_20090821150506.jpg



(p. A23) Grass-grazing cows emit considerably more methane than grain-fed cows. Pastured organic chickens have a 20 percent greater impact on global warming. It requires 2 to 20 acres to raise a cow on grass. If we raised all the cows in the United States on grass (all 100 million of them), cattle would require (using the figure of 10 acres per cow) almost half the country's land (and this figure excludes space needed for pastured chicken and pigs). A tract of land just larger than France has been carved out of the Brazilian rain forest and turned over to grazing cattle. Nothing about this is sustainable.

Advocates of small-scale, nonindustrial alternatives say their choice is at least more natural. Again, this is a dubious claim. Many farmers who raise chickens on pasture use industrial breeds that have been bred to do one thing well: fatten quickly in confinement. As a result, they can suffer painful leg injuries after several weeks of living a "natural" life pecking around a large pasture. Free-range pigs are routinely affixed with nose rings to prevent them from rooting, which is one of their most basic instincts. In essence, what we see as natural doesn't necessarily conform to what is natural from the animals' perspectives.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES E. McWILLIAMS. "The Myth of Sustainable Meat." The New York Times (Fri., April 13, 2012): A23.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 12, 2012.)


McWilliams' book on related issues, is:

McWilliams, James E. Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.






May 1, 2013

Global Warming Would Likely Prevent Coming Ice Age in North America



BencivengoBrianNationalIceCoreLab2013-05-01.jpg "Scientists like Brian Bencivengo of the National Ice Core Laboratory examine ice cores to determine past air temperatures at the location from which the core was obtained." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A15) In the . . . journal Science, Shaun Marcott, an earth scientist at Oregon State University, and his colleagues compiled the most meticulous reconstruction yet of global temperatures over the past 11,300 years, virtually the entire Holocene. They used indicators like the distribution of microscopic, temperature-sensitive ocean creatures to determine past climate.


. . .


Scientists say that if natural factors were still governing the climate, the Northern Hemisphere would probably be destined to freeze over again in several thousand years. "We were on this downward slope, presumably going back toward another ice age," Dr. Marcott said.

Instead, scientists believe the enormous increase in greenhouse gases caused by industrialization will almost certainly prevent that.

During the long climatic plateau of the early Holocene, global temperatures were roughly the same as those of today, at least within the uncertainty of the estimates, the new paper shows. This is consistent with a large body of past research focused on the Northern Hemisphere, which showed a distribution of ice and vegetation suggestive of a relatively warm climate.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "Global Temperatures Highest in 4,000 Years." The New York Times (Fri., March 8, 2013): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 7, 2013.)


The Marcott article mentioned, is:

Marcott, Shaun A., Jeremy D. Shakun, Peter U. Clark, and Alan C. Mix. "Report: A Reconstruction of Regional and Global Temperature for the Past 11,300 Years." Science 339, no. 6124 (March 8, 2013): 1198-201.






April 30, 2013

Increased CO2 "Kept a New Ice Age at Bay"



(p. 38) . . . the repeated inventions and spread of agriculture around the planet affected not only the surface of the Earth, but its 100-kilometer-wide (60-mile-wide) atmosphere as well. Farming disturbed the soil and increased CO2. Some climatologists believe that this early anthropogenic warming, starting 8,000 years ago, kept a new ice age at bay. Widespread adoption of farming disrupted a natural climate cycle that ordinarily would have refrozen the northernmost portions of the planet by now.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






April 23, 2013

Novelist Anna Quindlen Loves Her Electric Generator



QuindlenAnnaNovelist2013-04-23.jpg "Feel the Power: Author Quindlen at her home, which is kept up and running with occasional use of her beloved generator." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. M14) I love my generator. It's not much to look at, a beige box half the size of my desk, hidden by a scrim of native grasses. If my power goes out for more than two minutes, it clears its throat and rumbles into life.

The fridge hums, the TV flares, the water flows from the faucet. Every once in a while I give the generator a pat in passing to show my appreciation.


. . .


. . . , in 2009, the tornado came. One of the things that was freaky was how exactly it conformed to every news report I'd ever seen. Dark air like demonic possession, a sharp path cut across the land by meteorological shears. We were lucky; the sharp path fell directly between the house and the garage. You could follow it from there by looking at the empty spaces in a solid line of trees, the rootballs waving their witchy root toes in the air. We lost a lot of trees. And the power, for five days. Five long days. It's funny the little things you miss. Our coffee maker is electric. Each morning my friend, Emily, would bring a thermos of coffee and take my phone away to charge it.

But there was a big thing missing, too, and it wasn't light. Where we live, if you lose power, you lose water. And after five days of keeping a bucket by the back door so I could get water from the pond for the toilets, five days of trying to convince myself that going in the pool was almost like an actual shower, I called the contractor and said, "Generator. Please. Soon."



For the full commentary, see:

ANNA QUINDLEN. "HOUSE CALL; A Message Delivered by Tornado; After five days without power, a desperate writer calls her contractor to say: 'Generator. Please. Soon.'." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., April 12, 2013): M14.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 11, 2013.)

(Note: ellipses added.)



QuidlenBelovedGenerator2013-04-23.jpg


















"Ms. Quindlen's beloved generator is shown." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.







April 15, 2013

Scientists May Bring Back Extinct Woolly Mammoths to Help Fight Global Warming



SouthernGastricBroodingExtinctFrog2013-04-05.jpg

"The Southern gastric brooding frog, extinct for a quarter-century. Scientists made early embryos of the frog but they died." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Last week at a conference in Washington, scientists from Australia reported on their attempt to bring back a weird frog, the Southern gastric brooding frog, that went extinct about a quarter century ago. So far they have only made early embryos, which have died.

It is the early days for this new endeavor -- it could be years before scientists succeed in bringing species back from extinction. But many species are now gleams in scientists' eyes as they think of ways to bring them back. Woolly mammoths. A 70,000-year-old horse that used to live in the Yukon. Passenger pigeons, a species that obsessed Dr. Church's former student.


. . .


(p. A16) Before humans killed them, the nation had three billion to five billion passenger pigeons. They would take days to cross a city, noted Hank Greely, the director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University. "They left cities covered in an inch of guano," he said.


. . .


But there could be some unexpected advantages to bringing back certain species, or even to adding their DNA to that of today's species, Dr. Church said. For example, suppose elephants could live again in the Arctic. When woolly mammoths lived in the Arctic they would knock down trees and enable Artic grasses to flourish. Without trees, more sunlight was reflected and the ground was cooler. In winter, they would tramp down snow into the permafrost, enhancing it.

"Permafrost has two to three times more carbon than all the rain forests put together," Dr. Church said. "All you have to do to release carbon dioxide and methane is to melt it. With rain forests you have to burn it."


. . .


Mr. Greely cited another argument in favor of bringing back extinct species. He did not quite buy it, he said, but for him it had "a visceral appeal."

It is an argument about justice. Take the passenger pigeon. "We are the murderers," Mr. Greely said. "We killed them off. Shouldn't we bring them back?"



For the full story, see:

GINA KOLATA. "So You're Extinct? Scientists Have Gleam in Eye." The New York Times (Tues., March 19, 2013): A1 & A16.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 18, 2013.)

(Note: ellipses added.)






April 14, 2013

Hunter-Gatherers Lived "in the Ultimate Disposable Culture"



(p. 30) In a very curious way, foragers live in the ultimate disposable culture. The best tools, artifacts, and technology are all disposable. Even elaborate handcrafted shelters are considered temporary. When a clan or family travels, they might erect a home (a bamboo hut or snow igloo, for example) for only a night and then abandon it the next morning. Larger multifamily lodges might be abandoned after a few years rather than maintained. The same goes for food patches, which are abandoned after harvesting.


Source:

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.






April 11, 2013

Global Warming Causes Trees to Grow Faster and Absorb More CO2



CentralParkTrees2013-03-08.jpg "CITY TREE, COUNTRY TREE; Scientists have been looking more closely at urban plant growth in places like Central Park." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3) . . . , some . . . scientists have moved beyond political questions to explore how rising levels of heat and emissions might provide at least some benefits for the planet.


. . .


Lewis H. Ziska, a plant physiologist for the Department of Agriculture, . . . [said] . . . , "we need to think about the tools we have at hand, and how we can use them to make climate change work for us."

Among the tools are cities, which have conditions that can mimic what life may be like in the temperate zone of a heated planet.

"The city is our baseline for what might happen in future decades, and with all the negative effects global warming may have, there may be a bit of a silver lining," said Stephanie Searle, a plant physiologist who led a Columbia University research project on tree growth, and now works as a biofuels researcher at the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation. "Higher nighttime temperatures, at least, may boost plant growth." Robust growth takes more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.


. . .


The effects of higher, mostly urban emissions are what prompted Dr. Ziska to reappraise global warming as a potential benefit to humanity. In an essay last summer in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Dr. Ziska and a group of colleagues from across the world argued that an expected increase in world population to 9 billion people from 7 billion by 2050 necessitated a "green revolution" to enhance yields of basic grains. Carbon dioxide, the group suggested, could be the answer.

Since 1960, world atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have risen by 24 percent to 392 parts per million and could reach 1,000 parts per million by the end of this century.


. . .


In New York, the Columbia researchers studied for eight years the growth of red oak seedlings at four locations, including an "urban" site near the northeastern edge of Central Park at 105th Street and a "remote" site in the Catskills 100 miles north of Manhattan near the Ashokan Reservoir.


. . .


The Columbia team's first red oak experiments ended in 2006, and average minimum temperatures in August were 71.6 degrees at the city site, but 63.5 degrees in the Catskills. Researchers also noticed that the city oaks had elevated levels of leaf nitrogen, a plant nutrient.

The team did two more rounds of experiments, then in 2008 made a final outdoor test using fertilized rural soil everywhere so all the seedlings got plenty of nitrogen. The urban oaks, harvested in August 2008, weighed eight times as much as their rural cousins, mostly because of increased foliage.

"On warm nights, the tree respires more," Dr. Griffin said. "It invests its carbon sugars to build tissue." By morning, the tree's sugars are depleted, and it has to photosynthesize more during the day, he continued. The tree grows more leaves and gets bigger.



For the full story, see:

GUY GUGLIOTTA. "Looking to Cities, in Search of Global Warming's Silver Lining." The New York Times (Tues., November 27, 2012): D3.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed "said" added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date November 26, 2012.)



The Ziska article mentioned above, is:

Ziska, Lewis H., James A. Bunce, Hiroyuki Shimono, David R. Gealy, Jeffrey T. Baker, Paul C. D. Newton, Matthew P. Reynolds, Krishna S. V. Jagadish, Chunwu Zhu, Mark Howden, and Lloyd T. Wilson. "Food Security and Climate Change: On the Potential to Adapt Global Crop Production by Active Selection to Rising Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279, no. 1745 (Oct. 22, 2012): 4097-105.


The article co-authored by Searle and Griffin, and mentioned above, is:

Searle, Stephanie Y., Danielle S. Bitterman, Samuel Thomas, Kevin L. Griffin, Owen K. Atkin, and Matthew H. Turnbull. "Respiratory Alternative Oxidase Responds to Both Low- and High-Temperature Stress in Quercus Rubra Leaves Along an Urban-Rural Gradient in New York." Functional Ecology 25, no. 5 (Oct. 2011): 1007-17.






April 2, 2013

Great Cities Innovate to Adapt to Possible Global Warming Floods



(p. C3) Spurred by long histories of disastrous storms, the urban engineers of Venice, Tokyo and the Netherlands have been among the pioneers of modern flood control, building storm surge barriers and sea walls on the scale of the pyramids. Such structures could well be models for New York City in the wake of superstorm Sandy.

The cities most experienced in building bulwarks against flood tides and storm surges are at a turning point, however, in their struggle for control of nature. The land upon which they are built continues to sink, population grows and the seas around them rise. As city planners reach the limits of conventional flood control measures, they are experimenting with ways to re-engineer low-lying urban waterfronts.

In Rotterdam, architects are building houses that float on floods. Beneath Tokyo, engineers have tunneled to create miles of emergency floodwater reservoirs. And in St. Petersburg, where storm tides have flooded the city about once a year since its founding in 1703, engineers last year completed a storm-surge barrier more than 15 miles long.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Keeping Our Heads Above Water; What can New York learn from other great cities battling rising tides and sinking land?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 1, 2012): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 30, 2012.)






March 31, 2013

Energy-Efficient Buildings Increase Indoor CO2 Pollution and Impair Decision-Making



(p. C4) Carbon dioxide at levels normally found indoors is usually considered benign, especially compared with carbon monoxide. But a study finds that even modestly elevated CO2 can impair decision-making.


. . .


Given the emphasis on energy-efficient buildings, which are often more airtight, the study suggests that carbon dioxide might be an indoor pollutant to worry about--especially in conference rooms, where important decisions are hashed out.



For the full story, see:

Daniel Akst. "WEEK IN IDEAS; Week in Ideas: Daniel Akst; POLLUTANTS; Blame It on the Air." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., October 27, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date October 26, 2012.)


The study summarized is:

Satish, Usha, Mark J. Mendell, Krishnamurthy Shekhar, Toshifumi Hotchi, Douglas Sullivan, Siegfried Streufert, and William J. Fisk. "Is Co2 an Indoor Pollutant? Direct Effects of Low-to-Moderate Co2 Concentrations on Human Decision-Making Performance." Environmental Health Perspectives (Sept. 20, 2012): 1-35.

(Note: it is not clear to me if Environmental Health Perspectives is an online journal or an online working paper series. Whatever it is, it is affiliated with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.)





March 25, 2013

Scientist Sees Benefits in Plan to Increase Global Warming



(p. D2) Plants are . . . part of one theoretical plan for turning Mars into a suitable environment for human beings, a process called terraforming.


. . .


Chris McKay, a Mars expert at the NASA Ames Research Center, theorizes that engineers would first have to encourage the kind of global warming they want to avoid on Earth. This could be done by releasing greenhouse gases, like chlorofluorocarbons or perfluorocarbons, into the atmosphere. The goal would be to increase the surface temperature of Mars by a total of about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit.


. . .


With the rise in temperature, heat-trapping carbon dioxide would eventually be released from the planet's south polar ice cap, producing a further average temperature rise of even greater magnitude, perhaps as much as 70 degrees Celsius, or 126 degrees Fahrenheit.

These high temperatures would melt ice to produce the water needed for living things.



For the full story, see:

C. CLAIBORNE RAY. "Q & A; At Home on Mars." The New York Times (Tues., December 11, 2012): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 10, 2012.)


McKay wrote up some of his ideas in:

McKay, Christopher P. "Bringing Life to Mars." Scientific American Presents: The Future of Space Exploration (1999): 52-57.






March 17, 2013

NYT Climate Blogger Sees Evidence "Trending" Toward Less Global Warming



"Worse than we thought" has been one of the most durable phrases lately among those pushing for urgent action to stem the buildup of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

But on one critically important metric -- how hot the planet will get from a doubling of the pre-industrial concentration of greenhouse gases, a k a "climate sensitivity" -- some climate researchers with substantial publication records are shifting toward the lower end of the warming spectrum.

There's still plenty of global warming and centuries of coastal retreats in the pipeline, so this is hardly a "benign" situation, as some have cast it.

But while plenty of other climate scientists hold firm to the idea that the full range of possible outcomes, including a disruptively dangerous warming of more than 4.5 degrees C. (8 degrees F.), remain in play, it's getting harder to see why the high-end projections are given much weight.


. . .


In fact, there is an accumulating body of reviewed, published research shaving away the high end of the range of possible warming estimates from doubled carbon dioxide levels.


. . .


(. . . recent work is trending toward the published low sensitivity findings from a decade ago from climate scientists best known for their relationships with libertarian groups.)

Nonetheless, the science is what the science is.



Revkin, Andrew C. "CLIMATE CHANGE; A Closer Look at Moderating Views of Climate Sensitivity." Dot Earth: New York Times Opinion Pages Climate Blog. (posted February 4, 2013).

(Note: ellipses added.)






March 16, 2013

Antarctica Has 595,000 Emperor Penguins--Double Previous Count



EmperorPenguinsAntarctica2013-03-10.jpg "Using satellites, researchers counted Antarctica's emperor penguins at 46 colonies like this one near the Halley Research Station, finding numbers twice as high as previously thought." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A2) Antarctica has twice as many emperor penguins as scientists had thought, according to a new study using satellite imagery in the first comprehensive survey of one of the world's most iconic birds.

British and U.S. geospatial mapping experts reported Friday in the journal PLoS One that they had counted 595,000 emperor penguins living in 46 colonies along the coast of Antarctica, compared with previous estimates of 270,000 to 350,000 penguins based on surveys of just five colonies. The researchers also discovered four previously unknown emperor-penguin colonies and confirmed the location of three others.

"It is good news from a conservation point of view," said geographer Peter Fretwell at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England, who led the penguin satellite census. "This is the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space."

Although all of Antarctica's wildlife is protected by international treaty, the emperor penguins are not an officially endangered species. But they are considered a bellwether of any future climate changes in Antarctica because their icy habitat is so sensitive to rising temperatures.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Emperor Penguins Are Teeming in Antarctica." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 14, 2012): A2.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 13, 2012.)






March 5, 2013

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions Have Little Effect on Global Warming



My colleague Mark Wohar, and his co-author David McMillan, have used sophisticated econometrics to analyze a very long time-series dataset on carbon dioxide (CO2) and temperature. They find that CO2 has little, if any, effect on temperature. Here is the abstract of their paper:


(p. 3683) The debate regarding rising temperatures and CO2 emissions has attracted the attention of economists employing recent econometric techniques. This article extends the previous literature using a dataset that covers 800,000 years, as well as a shorter dataset, and examines the interaction between temperature and CO2 emissions. Unit root tests reveal a difference between the two datasets. For the long dataset, all tests support the view that both temperature and CO2 are stationary around a constant. For the short dataset, temperature exhibits trend-stationary behaviour, while CO2 contains a unit root. This result is robust to nonlinear trends or trend breaks. Modelling the long dataset reveals that while contemporaneous CO2 appears positive and significant in the temperature equation, including lags results in a joint effect that is near zero. This result is confirmed using a different lag structure and Vector Autoregressive (VAR) model. A Generalized Method of Moments (GMM) approach to account for endogeneity suggests an insignificant relationship. In sum, the key result from our analysis is that CO2 has, at best, a weak relationship with temperature, while there is no evidence of trending when using a sufficiently long dataset. Thus, as a secondary result we highlight the danger of using a small sample in this context.


Source:

McMillan, David G., and Mark E. Wohar. "The Relationship between Temperature and CO2 Emissions: Evidence from a Short and Very Long Dataset." Applied Economics 45, no. 26 (2013): 3683-90.

(Note: bold added.)






March 4, 2013

Stanford Meta-Study Finds Organic Food Is No More Nutritious than Much Cheaper Non-organic Food



StrawberriesNonorganicWatsonvilleCalifornia2013-02-23.jpg "Conventional strawberries in Watsonville, California. Researchers say organic foods are no more nutritious and no less likely to be contaminated." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A20) Does an organic strawberry contain more vitamin C than a conventional one?

Maybe -- or maybe not.

Stanford University scientists have weighed in on the "maybe not" side of the debate after an extensive examination of four decades of research comparing organic and conventional foods.

They concluded that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional counterparts, which tend to be far less expensive. Nor were they any less likely to be contaminated by dangerous bacteria like E. coli.

The researchers also found no obvious health advantages to organic meats.


. . .


The conclusions will almost certainly fuel the debate over whether organic foods are a smart choice for healthier living or a marketing tool that gulls people into overpaying. The production of organic food is governed by a raft of regulations that generally prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides, hormones and additives.

The organic produce market in the United States has grown quickly, up 12 percent last year, to $12.4 billion, compared with 2010, according to the Organic Trade Association. Organic meat has a smaller share of the American market, at $538 million last year, the trade group said.


. . .


In the study -- known as a meta-analysis, in which previous findings are aggregated but no new laboratory work is conducted -- researchers combined data from 237 studies, examining a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and meats. For four years, they performed statistical analyses looking for signs of health benefits from adding organic foods to the diet.

The researchers did not use any outside financing for their research. "I really wanted us to have no perception of bias," Dr. Bravata said.



For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Stanford Scientists Cast Doubt on Advantages of Organic Meat and Produce." The New York Times (Tues., September 4, 2012): A20.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date September 3, 2012.)






March 2, 2013

Organic Food May Be Less Healthy than Non-Organic Food



Schwarcz, Joe - The Right Chemistry BK 2013-01-12.jpeg

















Source of book image: http://www.leckeragency.com/sites/default/files/books/Schwarcz,%20Joe%20-%20The%20Right%20Chemistry%20Cover.jpeg



(p. D7) . . . , when did "chemical" become a dirty word? That's a question raised by one of Canada's brightest scientific minds: Joe Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal. Dr. Schwarcz, who has received high honors from Canadian and American scientific societies, is the author of several best-selling books that attempt to set the record straight on a host of issues that commonly concern health-conscious people.

I've read two of his books, "Science, Sense and Nonsense" (published in 2009) and "The Right Chemistry" (2012), and recently attended a symposium on the science of food that Dr. Schwarcz organized at McGill.

What follows are tips from his books and the symposium that can help you make wiser choices about what does, and does not, pass your lips in 2013.


. . .


ORGANIC OR NOT? Wherever I shop for food these days, I find an ever-widening array of food products labeled "organic" and "natural." But are consumers getting the health benefits they pay a premium for?

Until the 20th century, Dr. Schwarcz wrote, all farming was "organic," with manure and compost used as fertilizer and "natural" compounds of arsenic, mercury and lead used as pesticides.

Might manure used today on organic farms contain disease-causing micro-organisms? Might organic produce unprotected by insecticides harbor cancer-causing molds? It's a possibility, Dr. Schwarcz said. But consumers aren't looking beyond the organic sales pitch.

Also questionable is whether organic foods, which are certainly kinder to the environment, are more nutritious. Though some may contain slightly higher levels of essential micronutrients, like vitamin C, the difference between them and conventionally grown crops may depend more on where they are produced than how.

A further concern: Organic producers disavow genetic modification, which can be used to improve a crop's nutritional content, enhance resistance to pests and diminish its need for water. A genetically modified tomato developed at the University of Exeter, for example, contains nearly 80 times the antioxidants of conventional tomatoes. Healthier, yes -- but it can't be called organic.



For the full story, see:

JANE E. BRODY. "PERSONAL HEALTH; What You Think You Know (but Don't) About Wise Eating." The New York Times (Tues., January 1, 2013): D7.

(Note: ellipses added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date DECEMBER 31, 2012.)



The Schwarcz books mentioned above, are:

Schwarcz, Joe. The Right Chemistry: 108 Enlightening, Nutritious, Health-Conscious and Occasionally Bizarre Inquiries into the Science of Daily Life. Toronto, Ontario: Doubleday Canada, 2012.

Schwarcz, Joe. Science, Sense & Nonsense. Toronto, Ontario: Doubleday Canada, 2009.






February 25, 2013

Green Threats to Restrict Coal Creates Incentive to Extract More Coal Now



(Wang, p. 1146) The last chapter of the book advances the supply-side analysis and presents the "Green Paradox," that "(t)he mere announcement of intentions to fight global warming made the world warm even faster" ([Sinn, p. ] 189). The key insight is that demand-reduction measures affect carbon supply through pressure on future prices. Since the existing "green" policies almost always involve increasing stringency and widening coverage over time, the increasing downward price pressure therefore induces resource owners to expedite extraction and thereby exacerbates the climate problem.


For the full review, see:

Wang, Tao. "The Green Paradox: A Supply-Side Approach to Global Warming." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 4 (Dec. 2012): 1145-46.

(Note: bracketed information added.)


The book under review is:

Sinn, Hans-Werner. The Green Paradox: A Supply-Side Approach to Global Warming. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2012.






February 21, 2013

Fossil Fuels Are Making the Planet Greener



(p. C4) The latest and most detailed satellite data, which is yet to be published but was summarized in an online lecture last July by Ranga Myneni of Boston University, confirms that the greening of the Earth has now been going on for 30 years. Between 1982 and 2011, 20.5% of the world's vegetated area got greener, while just 3% grew browner; the rest showed no change.

What explains this trend? Man-made nitrogen fertilizer causes crops to grow faster, but it is having little effect on forests. There are essentially two possibilities: climate and carbon dioxide itself. Warmer, wetter weather should cause more vegetation to grow. But even without warming, an increase in carbon dioxide should itself accelerate growth rates of plants. CO2 is a scarce resource that plants have trouble scavenging from the air, and plants grow faster with higher levels of CO2 to inhale.

Dr. Myneni reckons that it is now possible to distinguish between these two effects in the satellite data, and he concludes that 50% is due to "relaxation of climate constraints," i.e., warming or rainfall, and roughly 50% is due to carbon dioxide fertilization itself. In practice, the two interact. A series of experiments has found that plants tolerate heat better when CO2 levels are higher.

The inescapable if unfashionable conclusion is that the human use of fossil fuels has been causing the greening of the planet in three separate ways: first, by displacing firewood as a fuel; second, by warming the climate; and third, by raising carbon dioxide levels, which raise plant growth rates.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; "How Fossil Fuels Have Greened the Planet." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 5, 2013): C4.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 4, 2013.)






February 6, 2013

What Reagan Meant When He Said Trees Cause Pollution



ReagansPathToVictoryBK2011-03-11.jpg















Source of the book image: http://thecommentary.ca/images/books/Reagan2.jpg



(p. 10) For better or worse, Reagan's ability to spin yarns out of everything that ever went into his mind is on display in ''Reagan's Path to Victory,'' the fourth volume in a series of collected speeches, letters and scripts published over the past four years. This one, edited like the others by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, is a chronological compilation of the syndicated radio talks Reagan delivered from 1975 to 1979.


. . .


In 1980, as a reporter freshly hired by Time magazine, I was assigned to Reagan's campaign plane. My first week on the road, while listening to him give a speech in which he talked about how trees cause pollution and other quirky notions, an aide turned to me and said, ''Where did he get those facts?'' I wrote a story, parsing the misleading little factoids that studded his stump speeches; the headline was that quote. The afternoon the article appeared, I was invited to sit next to Reagan on his campaign plane. I was braced for a rough lecture, but none came. I realized that he was either smart enough not to have read the article, or smart enough to pretend he hadn't -- or merely smart enough to know it wouldn't matter. I also learned, when I started to play the old journalistic gotcha game by questioning him on issues ranging from Taiwan to his affection for the gold standard, that he was able to flea-flick the subjects away by launching into some amusing but irrelevant anecdote. At first I thought he was a bit oblivious. Eventually, I realized I was the oblivious one. He knew exactly what he was doing.

Now, having read the collection of his radio addresses, I even know what he was thinking when he proclaimed that most pollution is caused by trees. In a rather convoluted talk, in which he identifies the main pollution problem as oxides of nitrogen, he grandly declares: ''Nature it seems also produces oxides of nitrogen. As a matter of fact, nature produces 97 percent of them. If we could successfully eliminate 100 percent of all the man-produced polluting oxides of nitrogen, we'd still have 97 percent of what we presently have.''

So we're a little closer to knowing where Ronald Reagan got his facts, and even a bit closer to knowing where he got his beliefs. And that's not a bad step toward understanding the deeper questions and mysteries about him.



For the full review, see:

Walter Isaacson. "The Reagan Evolution." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., October 31, 2004): 9-10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the title "'The Tycoons': Benefactors of Great Wealth.")


Book discussed in passage quoted above:

Skinner, Kiron K., Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson, eds. Reagan's Path to Victory; the Shaping of Ronald Reagan's Vision; Selected Writings. New York: Free Press, 2004.





January 25, 2013

ExxonMobil's "Honorable If Rigid Corporate Culture"



PrivateEmpireBK2013-01-11.jpg












Source of book image: online version of the NYT review quoted and cited way below.






(p. C12) From Indiana to Indonesia, ExxonMobil is the multinational corporation that people love to hate. John D. Rockefeller's creation is famed and feared for its discipline, its disregard for public opinion and its ability, year after year, to pump out the largest profits of any corporation on the planet. In "Private Empire," Steve Coll provides a rare exploration of what makes a modern corporate giant tick and shows why the world looks different to the executives in the "God Pod" at ExxonMobil's Texas headquarters than it might to you or me.


For the full review essay, see:

Marc Levinson. "Boardroom Reading of 2012." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., December 15, 2012): C12.

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date December 14, 2012.)



From another review of the same book:


"Private Empire" is meticulous, multi-angled and valuable. It is also, perhaps surprisingly, despite all the dark facts I have dumped above, impartial. Mr. Coll and his phlegmatic research assistants have interviewed more than 400 people, including Exxon Mobil's longtime chief executive Lee R. Raymond, a legendarily hard character.

It's among this book's achievements that it attempts to view a dysfunctional energy world, as often as not, through Exxon Mobil's eyes. The company is portrayed here, some egregious missteps aside, as possessing an honorable if rigid corporate culture that seeks to supply a product (unlike tobacco companies, to which it is often compared) that a functioning society actually must have.



For this full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Oil's Dark Heart Pumps Strong." The New York Times (Sat., April 27, 2012): C25 & C32(?).

(Note: the online version of the review essay has the date April 26, 2012 and has the title "BOOKS OF THE TIMES; Oil's Dark Heart Pumps Strong; 'Private Empire,' Steve Coll's Book on Exxon Mobil.")



The book under review, is:

Coll, Steve. Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. New York: The Penguin Press, 2012.






January 19, 2013

Capitalism Would Bring Economic Growth to Bitouga, and Thereby Save the Elephants



BurningIvoryInGabon2013-01-12.jpg "SEIZED AND DESTROYED; Gabon burned 10,000 pounds of ivory in June to show its commitment against poaching, but elephants are still being slaughtered." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) But as the price of ivory keeps going up, hitting levels too high for many people to resist, Gabon's elephants are getting slaughtered by poachers from across the borders and within the rain forests, proof that just about nowhere in Africa are elephants safe.

In the past several years, 10,000 elephants in Gabon have been wiped out, some picked off by impoverished hunters creeping around the jungle with rusty shotguns and willing to be paid in sacks of salt, others mowed down en masse by criminal gangs that slice off the dead elephants' faces with chain saws. Gabon's jails are filling up with small-time poachers and ivory traffickers, destitute men and women like Therese Medza, a village hairdresser arrested a few months ago for selling 45 pounds of tusks.

"I had no idea it was illegal," Ms. Medza said, almost convincingly, from the central jail here in Oyem, in the north. "I was told the tusks were found in the forest."

She netted about $700, far more than she usually makes in a month, and the reason she did it was simple, she said. "I got seven kids."

It seems that Gabon's elephants are getting squeezed in a deadly vise between a seemingly insatiable lust for ivory in Asia, where some people pay as much as $1,000 a pound, and desperate hunters and traffickers in central Africa.


. . .


In June, Gabon's president, Ali Bongo, defiantly lighted a pyramid of 10,000 pounds of ivory on fire to make the point that the ivory trade was reprehensible, a public display of resolve that Kenya has put on in years past. It took three days for all the ivory to burn, and even after the last tusks were reduced to glowing embers, policemen vigilantly guarded the ashes. Ivory powder is valued in Asia for its purported medicinal powers, and the officers were worried someone might try to sweep up the ashes and sell them.

Some African countries, like Zimbabwe and Tanzania, are sitting on million-dollar stockpiles of ivory (usually from law enforcement seizures or elephants that died naturally) that someday may be legal to sell.


. . .


(p. A10) The growing resentment of the government is undermining conservation efforts, too, with villagers grumbling about not seeing a trace of the oil money and saying Mr. Bongo should not lecture them about poaching for a living.


. . .

The children here eat thumb-size caterpillars, cooked in enormous vats, because there is little else to eat. Many men have bloodshot eyes and spend their mornings sitting on the ground, staring into space, reeking of sour, fermented home-brew.


. . .


International law enforcement officials say the illicit ivory trade is dominated by Mafia-like gangs that buy off local officials and organize huge, secretive shipments to move tusks from the farthest reaches of Africa to workshops in Beijing, Bangkok and Manila, where they are carved into bookmarks, earrings and figurines.

But often the first link in that chain is a threadbare hunter, someone like Mannick Emane, a young man in Bitouga. Adept in the forest, he was trained nearly from birth to follow tracks and stalk game, and was puffing idly on a cigarette he had just lighted with a burning log.

He conceded he would kill elephants, "for the right price."

"Life is tough," he said. "So if someone is going to give us an opportunity for big money, we're going to take it."

Big money, he said, was about $50.

His friend Vincent Biyogo, also a hunter, nodded in agreement.

"When I was born," he said, "I dreamed of a better life, I dreamed of driving a car, going to school, living like a normal human being."

"Not this," he added quietly, staring at a pot of boiling caterpillars. "Not this."



For the full story, see:

JEFFREY GETTLEMAN. "In Gabon, Lure of Ivory Is Hard for Many to Resist." The New York Times (Thurs., December 27, 2012): A5 & A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 26, 2012.)



BitougaManResentsGovernment2013-01-12b.jpg "A man in Bitouga, where people live in extreme poverty and say they resent the government's telling them not to poach." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT story quoted and cited above.






January 7, 2013

"A Fairy Tale About a Lonely Candle that Wants to Be Lighted"



TallowCandleManuscript2013-01-01.jpeg "A newly found manuscript of a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, which has been located in Odense, is pictured in the State Archives in Copenhagen, Denmark, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012. The story of 'The Tallow Candle' might have been written about 1823, when he was 18 year old." Source of caption and photo: http://www.ctvnews.ca/entertainment/new-found-tale-of-a-lonely-candle-could-be-early-work-of-hc-andersen-1.1077533#ixzz2GmTQNcFvhttp://www.ctvnews.ca/polopoly_fs/1.1077539!/



(p. C2) A fairy tale about a lonely candle that wants to be lighted had been languishing in a box in Denmark's National Archives for many years. In October it was discovered by a retired historian, who now believes it is one of the first fairy tales ever written by Hans Christian Andersen.


. . .


The six-page manuscript, called "Tallow Candle," is dedicated to a vicar's widow named Bunkeflod who lived across the street from Andersen's home. Ejnar Stig Askgaard, a Hans Christian Andersen expert, said the work was probably one of Andersen's earliest.



For the full story, see:

CAROL VOGEL. "Discovery of Story Is Like a Fairy Tale." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., December 14, 2012): C2.

(Note: ellipsis and underline added; bold in original.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 13, 2012, and has the title "Like a Fairy Tale: Hans Christian Andersen Story Is Found in a Box.")

(Note: the words underlined by me above, were in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)






December 22, 2012

Unused Electric Car Chargers Multiply Due to Federal Subsidies



EVchargersWhiteBlains2011-11-10.jpg "Any takers?: Two EV chargers sit unused in White Plains, MD." Source of photo: http://metablognews.com/wp-content/plugins/rss-poster/cache/d6fff_MK-BP785_CHARGE_G_20111016172708.jpg Source of caption: slightly edited from print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) When McDonald's franchisee Tom Wolf built his latest restaurant in Huntington, W. Va., late last year, he installed two chargers for all-electric cars so customers could juice their batteries while eating. So far, the charging station has been used a few times.


. . .


Across the U.S., such equipment is proliferating even though it is unclear whether plug-in cars will prove popular.


. . .


Fewer than 15,000 all-electric cars are on U.S. roads, says Plug In America, a group promoting the technology.


. . .


(p. B11) Charging equipment is popping up largely because of subsidies. As part of a $5 billion federal program to subsidize development of electric vehicles and battery technology, the U.S. Energy Department over the past two years provided about $130 million for two pilot projects that help pay for chargers at homes, offices and public locations.


. . .


Opinions vary on demand. J.D. Power & Associates expects all-electric vehicles will account for less than 1% of U.S. auto sales in 2018, or about 102,000 cars and light trucks. Including hybrids and plug-in hybrids the market share is forecast at 8%.

"The premiums associated with these products are still more than what the consumer is willing to bear," says Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director of global vehicle research at J.D. Power.



For the full story, see:

JAMES R. HAGERTY And MIKE RAMSEY. "Charging Stations Multiply But Electric Cars Are Few." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 17, 2011): B1 & B11.

(Note: ellipses added.)






December 20, 2012

Chernobyl May Have Caused No Long-Term Increase in Cancer



VisitSunnyChenobylBK2012-12-18.jpg














Source of book image: http://luxuryreading.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/9781605294452.jpg




(p. C11) . . . Andrew Blackwell, a journalist and self-described "sensitive, eco-friendly liberal," deserves praise for producing an environmentalist book that avoids the usual hyperventilation, upending stubborn myths with prosaic facts.


. . .


His Geiger counter convulses on a visit to the abandoned areas around Chernobyl, but Mr. Blackwell reacts soberly. While the initial disaster provoked a justifiable public panic, it also inspired scare-mongering from groups like Greenpeace, which claimed that the fallout would cause 270,000 cancer cases. He points to a study commissioned by the United Nations concluding that, after an initial spike in thyroid cancer, "no measurable increase has yet been demonstrated in the region's cancer rates." The author is also sure to irritate certain readers with the claim that "paradoxically, perversely, the accident may have actually been good" for the local environment, since the evacuation created an accidentally verdant nature reserve.



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL C. MOYNIHAN. "A Guided Tour of Catastrophe" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 26, 2012): C11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 25, 2012.)


The book being reviewed, is:

Blackwell, Andrew. Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places. New York: Rodale Books, 2012.






December 18, 2012

Poor People Want Washing Machines







The wonderful clip above is from Hans Rosling's TED talk entitled "The Magic Washing Machine."

He clearly and strongly presents his central message that the washing machine has made life better.



What was the greatest invention of the industrial revolution? Hans Rosling makes the case for the washing machine. With newly designed graphics from Gapminder, Rosling shows us the magic that pops up when economic growth and electricity turn a boring wash day into an intellectual day of reading.


Source of video clip summary:

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html



The version of the clip above is embedded from YouTube, where it was posted by TED: http://youtu.be/BZoKfap4g4w

It can also be viewed at the TED web site at:

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_and_the_magic_washing_machine.html



(Note: I am grateful to Robin Kratina for telling me about Rosling's TED talk,)

(Note: I do not agree with Rosling's acceptance of the politically correct consensus view that the response to global warning should mainly be mitigation and green energy---to the extent that a response turns out to be necessary, I mainly support adaptation, as suggested in many previous entries on this blog.)






December 2, 2012

Garcia "Wanted to Get an Education and Get Out of" the "Sustainable" Life



GarciaJesusAntisustainable2012-12-01.jpg "In a straightforward sense, Mr. García, 44, is a Mexican ecologist. More broadly, though, he is a self-appointed emissary from the land once known as Pimería Alta, an interpreter of its culture, plants and people." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D6) Over the weekend, Mr. García would be driving back to his family seat in the mission town of Magdalena de Kino, Mexico. In a way, his personal mission is to recreate the orchards he knew there. He has started with dozens of seedlings in the backyard of the small ranch house that he shares with his girlfriend, Dena Cowan, a Spanish-language interpreter and videographer. (The couple recently produced a documentary, in Spanish and English, about the Kino Heritage Fruit Trees Project called "Tasting History.")

Yet he remembered the orchards with something other than simple nostalgia.

As a child, he packed boxes of fruit to load onto his uncle's truck. "My father had this farm that he was renting, probably two acres," Mr. García recalled. By necessity, "the only things we bought from the store were salt, sugar, coffee and kerosene," he said. "Everything else we produced."

"Our mother, she made our underwear out of the wheat sacks," he continued. "My father used to make these homemade shoes for my brothers: leather, with used tires on the sole. They would hide them in the river on the way to school and then go to school barefooted." Better that, he recalled, than let classmates see their privation.

By the time Mr. García reached junior high, his older sister has become a teacher and the family's lot had improved. They installed indoor plumbing, for a start. There was nothing trendy about what he ironically calls their "sustainable" years. "I got the tail end," Mr. García said. "But I got enough to realize how hard work it is. I learned enough to realize I wanted to get an education and get out of that life."



For the full story, see:

MICHAEL TORTORELLO. "Seeds of an Era Long Gone." The New York Times (Thurs., November 22, 2012): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the article was dated November 21, 2012.)






November 10, 2012

The Case for More Climate Adaptations and Fewer Climate Mitigations



ClimatopolisBK2012-11-02.jpg

















Source of book image: http://perseuspromos.com/images/covers/200/9780465019267.jpg



(p. 777) Climatopolis begins with the assumption that our future will bring some combination of higher temperatures, sea level rise, more intense natural disasters, and changes in precipitation and drought conditions. The forecast is considered inevitable because of humanity's deep and (p. 778) growing dependence on energy from fossil fuels, the burning of which generates emissions that cause climate change. In a way that some readers are likely to find overly pessimistic, dismissive, or both, Kahn asserts that we are unlikely to invent a "magical" technology that allows us to live well without producing greenhouse gases. He is equally skeptical about whether geo-engineering will help stabilize the climate. So when it comes to facing a future that includes climate change, Kahn has concluded as soon as page 5 that "unlike a ship, we cannot turn away."

Economics is, after all, the dismal science, but early pessimism in Climatopolis quickly gives way to an overall optimistic theme. It is first encountered, somewhat surprisingly, in a chapter titled "What We've Done When Our Cities Have Blown Up." With examples that range from fires and floods to wars and terrorist attacks, Kahn makes the case that we humans are a surprisingly resilient species. Among the lessons he draws are that destruction often triggers economic booms, people learn from their mistakes, cities are shaped by the accumulation of small decisions by millions of self-interested people, and when conditions are bad in one location people migrate to where it is better.

Kahn gets traction out of the notion that people "vote with their feet," and he describes how climate change will affect where people want to go. Rising temperatures will cause Sun Belt cities in the United States to suffer, for example, while northern cities such as Minneapolis and Detroit will become more attractive places to live.


. . .


Climatopolis . . . cautions against maladaptive policies, and the recommendation here will be familiar to economists: prices should be left undistorted to reflect real costs and risks. Kahn is critical of a policy in Los Angeles under which people who demand more water pay a lower marginal price, and thereby face exactly the wrong incentive for conservation as water becomes increasingly scarce. He also points to the problems of subsidized insurance or caps on premiums for residents in climate-vulnerable areas, as these policies only promote greater vulnerability. What is more, Kahn would like us to stop treating people who move into harm's way as victims in need of a bailout when natural disasters strike. He writes that, "Ironically, to allow capitalism to help us adapt to climate change, the government must precommit to not protect 'the victims'."



For the full review, see:

Kotchen, Matthew J. "Review of Kahn's Climatopolis." Journal of Economic Literature 49, no. 3 (September 2011): 777-79.

(Note: ellipses added.)


Book under review:

Kahn, Matthew E. Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter Future. New York: Basic Books, 2010.






November 4, 2012

Environmental Humor Down Under

PizzaCapersNapkin2012-10-13.jpg


Above is a scan of a napkin I picked up at a tasty little pizza restaurant we stopped at in Brisbane, Australia this July.

Every time I see the napkin, I smile.

The progress of civilization uses energy and resources. Progress and civilization and clean sleeves are all worth fighting for.






October 30, 2012

Preindustrial Icelanders Adapted to Adverse Global Cooling



(p. 254) We investigate the effect of climate on population levels in preindustrial Iceland. We find that short-term temperature changes affect the population growth rate. In particular, a 1ºC decrease in temperature causes about 0.57 percent decrease in the population growth rate for the two subsequent years, for a total effect of 1.14 percent. This effect appears to attenuate as the growth rate returns to trend in subsequent years. We also quantify the extent to which eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Icelanders adapt to long-run climate change. In particular, the data suggest that long-run adaptation to climate takes about 20 years and reduces the effect of cold shocks by about 60 percent. Our results also allow us to approximate the effect of permanent climate change on steady-state population levels. This approximation suggests that steady state population levels decrease by 10 percent to 26 percent for each 1ºC of sustained adverse temperature change.

(p. 255) . . .

If contemporary poor agricultural populations behave like their eighteenth- and nineteenth century Icelandic counterparts, then our results suggest that adverse climate change (which now refers to warming, not cooling) will have three effects. First, in the short run it will lead to a significant decrease in population growth rates. Second, over the course of a generation, adaptation will offset about 60 percent of the short run effects. Finally, in the long run, we expect a decrease in steady-state populations.



For the full article, from which the above conclusion is quoted, see:

Turner, Matthew A., Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, Jian Chen, and Chunyan Hao. "Adaptation to Climate Change in Preindustrial Iceland." American Economic Review 102, no. 3 (May 2012): 250-55.

(Note: underlining added; the underlined words appeared on p. 254 of the print issue, and on p. 255 of the online issue, of the article.)






October 26, 2012

Government Disaster Relief Crowds Out Private Self-Protection



(p. 242) This paper has investigated the role of natural disaster shocks in determining gross migration flows, controlling for other place-based features. Using two micro datasets, we documented that in the 1920s and 1930s population was repelled from tornado-prone areas, with a larger effect on potential in-migrants than on existing residents, while flood events were associated with net inmigration. The differential migration responses by disaster type raises the question of whether public efforts at disaster mitigation counteract individual migration decisions. The nascent investment in rebuilding and protecting flood-prone areas could provide one example of public investment crowding out private self-protection (i.e., migration).

(p. 243) In future work, we plan to explore the role of New Deal disaster management more directly by exploiting variation across SEAs in federal expenditures and representation on key congressional committees. We predict that residents of areas that received federal largesse after a disaster in the 1930s will be less likely to move out and that new arrivals may be more likely to move in, while residents of areas that benefited less from New Deal spending will continue to use migration as a means of self-protection.



For the full article, from which the above conclusion is quoted, see:

Boustan, Leah Platt, Matthew E. Kahn, and Paul W. Rhode. "Moving to Higher Ground: Migration Response to Natural Disasters in the Early Twentieth Century." American Economic Review 102, no. 3 (May 2012): 238-44.






October 9, 2012

"Extinct" Snail Found Alive



RocksnailAlabama2012-09-03.jpg "The oblong rocksnail in Alabama, 12 years after it was declared extinct." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3) A freshwater snail has been rediscovered on the Cahaba River in Alabama, 12 years after it was declared extinct.

Nathan Whelan, a graduate student in biology at the University of Alabama, spotted the snail -- called the oblong rocksnail, or Leptoxis compacta -- on a small stretch of the river.



For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "OBSERVATORY; Snails Appear Reborn, or Were Overlooked." The New York Times (Tues., August 14, 2012): D3.

(Note: the online version of the article has the date August 13, 2012.)


Whelan and co-authors report their findings in:

Whelan NV, Johnson PD, Harris PM (2012) Rediscovery of Leptoxis compacta (Anthony, 1854) (Gastropoda: Cerithioidea: Pleuroceridae). PLoS ONE 7(8): e42499. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042499






September 23, 2012

Ice Melts too Slowly for Obama Backed Arctic Oil Project



ArcticDrillingMap2012-09-03.jpgSource of map: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) Royal Dutch Shell . . . is spending billions of dollars to drill the first oil wells in U.S. Arctic waters in 20 years, backed by an Obama administration eager to show it wasn't opposed to offshore exploration.

But the closely watched project isn't going the way the company or the government hoped--illustrating the continuing challenge of plumbing for natural riches in one of the world's most unforgiving locations.

Sea ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the northern Alaska coast was slow to break up this year, leaving the drilling areas inaccessible much later than anticipated.



For the full story, see:

TOM FOWLER. "Shell Races the Ice in Alaska; Delays Put $4.5 Billion Arctic Drilling Plan in Danger of Missing Window Before Next Freeze." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., August 20, 2012): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date August 19, 2012.)






September 9, 2012

Economists Optimistic that Economy Can Adapt to Climate Change



EconomicsOfClimateChangeBK2012-08-28.jpg














Source of book image: http://www.bibliovault.org/thumbs/978-0-226-47988-0-frontcover.jpg




(p. 222) Efficient policy decisions regarding climate change require credible estimates of the future costs of possible (in)action. The edited volume by Gary Libecap and Richard Steckel contributes to this important policy discussion by presenting work estimating the ability of economic actors to adapt to a changing climate. The eleven contributed research chapters primarily focus on the historical experience of the United States and largely on the agricultural sector. While the conclusions are not unanimous, on average, the authors tend to present an optimistic perspective on the ability of the economy to adapt to climate change.


For the full review, see:

Swoboda, Aaron. "Review of: The Economics of Climate Change: Adaptations Past and Present." Journal of Economic Literature 50, no. 1 (March 2012): 222-24.



Book under review:

Libecap, Gary D., and Richard H. Steckel, eds. The Economics of Climate Change: Adaptations Past and Present, National Bureau of Economic Research Conference Report. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.






August 25, 2012

Environmental "Witch-Hunt" Kills "Golden Rice"



(p. C4) Vitamin A deficiency affects the immune system, leading to illness and frequently to blindness. It probably causes more deaths than malaria, HIV or tuberculosis, killing as many people every single day as the Fukushima tsunami. It can be solved by eating green vegetables and meat, but for many poor Asians, who can afford only rice, that remains an impossible dream. To deal with the problem, "biofortification" with genetically modified food plants is 1/10th as costly as dietary supplements.

"Golden rice"--with two extra genes to make beta-carotene, the raw material for vitamin A--was a technical triumph, identical to ordinary rice except in color. Painstaking negotiations led to companies waiving their patent rights so the plant could be grown and regrown free by anybody.

Yet today, 14 years later, it still has not been licensed to growers anywhere in the world. The reason is regulatory red tape deliberately imposed to appease the opponents of genetic modification, which Adrian Dubock, head of the golden rice project, describes as "a witch-hunt for suspected theoretical environmental problems...[because] many activist NGOs thought that genetically engineered crops should be opposed as part of their anti-globalization agenda."

It is surprising to find that an effective solution to the problem consistently rated by experts as the poor world's highest priority has been stubbornly opposed by so many pressure groups supposedly acting on behalf of the poor.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Red Tape Hobbles a Harvest of Life-Saving Rice." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 18, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis in original.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 18, 2012.)






August 21, 2012

Global Warming Heretic Svensmark May Be the Next Shechtman



(p. C) The list of scientific heretics who were persecuted for their radical ideas but eventually proved right keeps getting longer. Last month, Daniel Shechtman won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of quasicrystals, having spent much of his career being told he was wrong.

"I was thrown out of my research group. They said I brought shame on them with what I was saying," he recalled, adding that the doyen of chemistry, the late Linus Pauling, had denounced the theory with the words: "There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists."

The Australian medical scientist Barry Marshall, who hypothesized that a bacterial infection causes stomach ulcers, received similar treatment and was taken seriously only when he deliberately infected himself, then cured himself with antibiotics in 1984. Eventually, he too won the Nobel Prize.


. . .


Perhaps it's at least worth guessing which of today's heretics will eventually win a Nobel Prize. How about the Dane Henrik Svensmark? In 1997, he suggested that the sun's magnetic field affects the earth's climate--by shielding the atmosphere against cosmic rays, which would otherwise create or thicken clouds and thereby cool the surface. So, he reasoned, a large part of the natural fluctuations in the climate over recent millennia might reflect variation in solar activity.

Dr. Svensmark is treated as a heretic mainly because his theory is thought to hinder the effort to convince people that recent climatic variation is largely manmade, not natural, so there is a bias toward resisting his idea. That does not make it right, but some promising recent experiments at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) raise the probability that Dr. Svensmark might yet prove to be a Shechtman.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Is That Scientific Heretic a Genius--or a Loon?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., November 12, 2011): C4.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






August 10, 2012

Shedding Light, or "The Greatest Symbol of Modern Progress"



ekirch.jpg
















Source of book image: http://www.vtmagazine.vt.edu/fall06/news.html


(p. 5) IN the wake of widespread violence during the New York City blackout of 1977, a newspaper columnist quipped that just one flick of a light switch separated civilization from primordial chaos.

Leaving the hyperbole aside, artificial illumination has arguably been the greatest symbol of modern progress. By making nighttime infinitely more inviting, street lighting -- gas lamps beginning in the early 1800s followed by electric lights toward the end of the century -- drastically expanded the boundaries of everyday life to include hours once shrouded in darkness. Today, any number of metropolitan areas in the United States and abroad, bathed in the glare of neon and mercury vapor, bill themselves as 24-hour cities, open both for business and pleasure.


. . .


. . . there was never any question that 19th-century communities welcomed lamps, which in conjunction with police forces, posed a powerful deterrent to lawlessness. Another benefit lay in the numerous pedestrians drawn by their inviting glow, whose very presence helped to discourage crime.

"As safe and agreeable to walk out in the evening as by day-light," pronounced a New Yorker in 1853.

Certainly, public anxiety over the recent removal of lamps should not be minimized. No longer are there witches and wolves to fear, but research strongly suggests, as one might expect, the critical value of street lighting as a hindrance to crime and serious accidents.


. . .


Financial costs and public safety, however, are not the only issues. Without the benefit of street lighting, towns and cities, after sunset, will be diminished as communities. Families will be more apt to "cocoon" at home, rather than visit friends or attend sporting and cultural events. And, too, our appreciation for night itself will suffer. Evenings can be best enjoyed if they remain inviting and safe, whether for neighborhood gatherings, walking Fido or gazing at the heavens -- all with less chance of losing your wallet or stumbling into a ditch.



For the full commentary, see:

A. ROGER EKIRCH. "OPINION; Return to a Darker Age." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., January 8, 2012): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 7, 2012.)


Ekrich wrote a related book:

A. Roger Ekirch. At Day's Close: Night in Times Past. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005.





July 10, 2012

Love Canal as a "Pseudo-Event" Caused by an "Availability Cascade"



(p. 142) An availability cascade is a self-sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action. On some occasions, a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. This emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. The cycle is sometimes sped along deliberately by "availability entrepreneurs," individuals or organizations who work to ensure a continuous flow of worrying news. The danger is increasingly exaggerated as the media compete for attention-grabbing headlines. Scientists and others who try to dampen the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it hostile: anyone who claims that the danger is overstated is suspected of association with a "heinous cover-up." The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone's mind, and the response of the political system is guided by the intensity of public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. Other risks, and other ways that resources could he applied for the public good, all have faded into the background.

Kuran and Sunstein focused on two examples that are still controversial: the Love Canal affair and the so-called Alar scare. In Love Canal, buried toxic waste was exposed during a rainy season in 1979, causing contamination of the water well beyond standard limits, as well as a foul smell. The residents of the community were angry and frightened, and one of them, (p. 143) Lois Gibbs, was particularly active in an attempt to sustain interest in the problem. The availability cascade unfolded according to the standard script. At its peak there were daily stories about Love Canal, scientists attempting to claim that the dangers were overstated were ignored or shouted down, ABC News aired a program titled The Killing Ground, and empty baby-size coffins were paraded in front of the legislature. A large number of residents were relocated at government expense, and the control of toxic waste became the major environmental issue of the 1980s. The legislation that mandated the cleanup of toxic sites, called CERCLA, established a Superfund and is considered a significant achievement of environmental legislation. It was also expensive, and some have claimed that the same amount of money could have saved many more lives if it had been directed to other priorities. Opinions about what actually happened at Love Canal are still sharply divided, and claims of actual damage to health appear not to have been substantiated. Kuran and Sunstein wrote up the Love Canal story almost as a pseudo-event, while on the other side of the debate, environmentalists still speak of the "Love Canal disaster."



Source:

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

(Note: italics in original.)





July 9, 2012

Bicyclists Create Negative Externalities for Pedestrians



BicyclistsSanFrancisco2012-06-22.jpg "Bicyclists weave through pedestrians and motor traffic on Friday in San Francisco, where a fatal bike-pedestrian collision has sparked debate." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A3) SAN FRANCISCO--City prosecutors said they would file felony vehicular-manslaughter charges against a bicyclist who allegedly hit and killed a pedestrian, in a case that has become a flash point for debate over bicyclists' rights in the city.

The manslaughter charges--unusually stiff for a bicycle accident--stem from a March 29 incident, when 36-year-old bicyclist Chris Bucchere allegedly ran a red traffic light and plowed into 71-year-old Sutchi Hui in a crosswalk. Mr. Hui died April 2 of injuries related to the collision.


. . .


The bicycle backlash has come to a head after a series of pedestrian deaths in the San Francisco Bay area. A 67-year-old woman died last August after a bicyclist allegedly hit her in a crosswalk after running a red light; the cyclist was convicted of a misdemeanor. Earlier this month, a cyclist allegedly struck and killed a 92-year-old woman in the suburb of El Cerrito while crossing a street; that case is under investigation.



For the full story, see:

JIM CARLTON. "U.S. NEWS; Reckless Riders Spur Backlash; Fatal Collision in San Francisco Leads to Manslaughter Charges Against Cyclist." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 16, 2012): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)






June 30, 2012

Dinosaur Belches and Farts Made More Global Warming Gas than All of Today's Sources



(p. A6) Gassy dinosaurs may have spewed so much methane into the air that it could have helped warm the climate tens of millions of years ago, when temperatures were much higher than today, a team of U.K. scientists reported Monday.

The stomach gas released each year by a group of long-necked, plant-eating dinosaurs, which included the world's largest known land animals, may have equaled the total amount of methane produced every year today from all natural, agricultural and industrial sources, the researchers said Monday in the journal Current Biology. Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 23 times as effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

The new scientific work highlights the importance of wildlife, livestock and other natural sources of greenhouse-gas emissions in shaping the global climate.

As with cows, sheep and buffalo today, these plant-eating dinosaurs, known as sauropods, likely digested their leafy greens with the help of methane-producing microbes in their stomachs that fermented the plant matter after it was chewed and swallowed. Generally, other plant eaters and creatures that eat meat, including people, don't digest their food this way and pass gas that is mostly nitrogen and carbon dioxide, with traces of methane and hydrogen.

Cattle belching and gas account for about 20% of U.S. methane emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Dinosaur Gas Emissions May Have Warmed Air." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., May 8, 2012): A6.

(Note: online version of the story is dated May 7, 2012.)


The academic article on sauropod methane emissions is:

Wilkinson, David M., Euan G. Nisbet, and Graeme D. Ruxton. "Could Methane Produced by Sauropod Dinosaurs Have Helped Drive Mesozoic Climate Warmth?" Current Biology 22, no. 9 (May 8, 2012): R292-R93.






June 28, 2012

Feds Subsidize First Solar's Losing Technology



(p. B2) First Solar's solar-panel business, which is focused on large solar installations that feed electricity to power companies, is dependent on government subsidies awarded to such developments.


. . .


But some worry that First Solar isn't well positioned for industry trends. The global solar-power market is moving toward rooftop solar-power systems, rather than the large-scale utility power plants where First Solar's products are most effective, said Jesse Pichel, an analyst at Jefferies Group Inc.

"This was a market leader, but its technology is being usurped or surpassed by the Chinese," said Mr. Pichel. "Their product is not competitive in the most economic and sustainable solar market, which is rooftop."



For the full story, see:

CASSANDRA SWEET And RUSSELL GOLD. "First Solar Cuts 2,000 Jobs; Panel Maker Laying Off 30% of Workers, Slashing Production Amid Supply Glut." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 18, 2012): B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the story is dated April 17, 2012.)






June 25, 2012

Coal Mines Help Paleontologists Learn about Environmental Change



DiMicheleWilliamSpringfieldCoal2012-06-12.jpg "SUBTERRANEAN; William A. DiMichele in the Springfield Coal. The dark mass is a coal seam; the lighter shale above is interrupted by a fossil tree stump." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. D3) In the clammy depths of a southern Illinois coal mine lies the largest fossil forest ever discovered, at least 50 times as extensive as the previous contender.


. . .


"Effectively you've got a lost world," said Howard Falcon-Lang, a paleontologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, who has explored the site. "It's the closest thing you'll find to time travel," he added.


. . .


The reach of the Springfield forest should allow scientists to undertake ecosystem-wide analyses in a way never before possible in landscapes so ancient, and such studies may help them predict the effects of global warming today.

"With our own CO2 rises and changes in climate," said Scott D. Elrick, a team member from the Illinois State Geological Survey, "we can look at the past here and say, 'It's happened before.' "

Today, we burn the scale trees of the Carboniferous by the billions: they have all turned to coal. Newly discovered, the Springfield forest is already crumbling to bits, as coal-mine ceilings quickly do after exposure. But with continued mining, more ceilings are being revealed every day.

"You have to dig to find fossils, going inside the anatomy of the planet," Dr. Johnson said. "Bill DiMichele realizes he has an entire industry digging for him, creating a tunnel into an ancient world."



For the full story, see:

W. BARKSDALE MAYNARD. "An Underground Fossil Forest Offers Clues on Climate Change." The New York Times (Tues., May 1, 2012): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 30, 2012.)




AncientRiverbedMap2012-06-12.jpgSource of map graphic: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






June 24, 2012

With Low Ratings, Planet Green Is Unsustainable



(p. B3) . . . , Discovery Communications -- which owns the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the Science Channel and others -- announced in early April that it was shutting down Planet Green, a four-year-old channel that featured environmental programming. The channel floundered with low ratings and what executives said were a lack of entertaining eco-themed shows.


For the full story, see:

BRIAN STELTER. "No Place for Heated Opinions." The New York Times (Sat., April 21, 2012): B1 & B3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the story is dated April 20, 2012.)






June 23, 2012

Coral Transplants Saving Damaged Reefs



Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy





The report by Kerry Sanders was broadcast on the NBC Nightly News on June 20, 2012.

The transcript below was posted by NBC. I corrected a few typos and omissions (e.g., the posted transcript omitted that much of the funding had come from private grants), but I have not checked the whole transcript.



>>> In Florida tonight the race is on to save a precious natural resource, coral reefs. we can sometimes forget they are living things. after being damaged by everything from rising ocean temperatures to storms and fishing nets, environmental experts are stepping in big time to help. our report from nbc's kerry sanders.

>> reporter: a quarter mile off the coast of fort lauderdale, down 25 feet so the seabed, scientists have taken a tiny experiment that began more than six years ago and turned it into a massive accomplishment.

>> no one thought it was possible. we proved them wrong.

>> reporter: corals, impossible to ongrow artificially in the environment are now thriving. researchers say it's a very simple idea, coral is grown in an underwater nursery, then it's harvested. i joined the team snipping two-inch long cuttings, like pruning a rose. with a nail glued into the rhinestone they are held in place. zip ties hold the ties to the nail. in two weeks the coral has anchored itself growing in the very spots where it was disappearing. from the coast off south florida as far south as the virgin islands, the first 8,000 coral can you get are taking hold saving endangered elkhorn and stag horn coral.

>> after it was listed it helped our funding.

>> reporter: Funding came from private grants and even federal stimulus money to protect this natural resource, prized for supporting an abundant fish life and attracting tourism.

>> They protect our coastlines from storms, without these reefs breaking up wave energy, our erosion on the beach would be much more substantial.

>> reporter: Coral making a comeback one clipping at a time. Kerry Sanders, NBC News off the coast of Fort Lauderdale.




As of 6/21/2012, the video clip was posted at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/#47897092






June 20, 2012

Electric Car "Hype is Gone" and Challenges Remain



(p. 7) . . . is this what an emergent technology looks like before it crosses the valley of death?

"Face it, this is not an easy task," said Brett Smith, assistant research director at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. "You still have an energy storage device that's not ready for prime time. You still have the chicken and egg problem with the charging infrastructure. That's not to say it's not viable over the long run. But the hype is gone and the challenges are still there."

The market for all-electric and plug-in electric cars in the United States is tiny, amounting to fewer than 20,000 sales last year out of total light-vehicle sales of 12.8 million. Even in optimistic forecasts, plug-in vehicles will account for less than 5 percent of the global market by 2025.



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN BRODER. "NEWS ANALYSIS; The Electric Car, Unplugged." The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., March 25, 2012): A8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: online version of the commentary is dated March 24, 2012.)






June 19, 2012

Crop Insurance Is Worse for Taxpayers than a One-Time Bailout



GrasslandBurnedInNorthDakota2012-06-11.jpg "A grassland field in North Dakota that was burned and then seeded with soybeans. More than one million acres have become farmland in the state since 2007." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A13) By guaranteeing income, farmers say, crop insurance removes almost any financial risk for planting land where crop failure is almost certain.

"When you can remove nearly all the risk involved and guarantee yourself a profit, it's not a bad business decision," said Darwyn Bach, a farmer in St. Leo, Minn., who said that he is guaranteed about $1,000 an acre in revenue before he puts a single seed in the ground because of crop insurance. "I can farm on low-quality land that I know is not going to produce and still turn a profit."


. . .


Environmentalists, hunting groups and even some farmers say the prospect of expanding insurance will only speed the push to turn grasslands into farms.


. . .


The existing crop insurance subsidy ballooned to $7.3 billion last year from $951 million in 2000, or about $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation, according to another G.A.O. report released in April. The costs of the program have risen as the value of crops has increased. Over the next 10 years, a Congressional Budget Office study estimates, the premium subsidy for the existing program will cost about $90 billion.

"This is better than a government bailout," said Steve Ellis, vice president of the Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group in Washington. "A bailout is a one-time thing when something bad happens. But crop insurance keeps giving, good or bad. And it's about to give even more."



For the full story, see:

RON NIXON. "Amid Growth, Plan to Insure Risks on Crops." The New York Times, First Section (Thurs., June 7, 2012): A1 & A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 6, 2012 and has the title "Crop Insurance Proposal Could Cost U.S. Billions.")






June 11, 2012

For Federal Regulators "It's Easier Not to Approve than to Approve"



LauthXavierAquacultureScientist2012-06-04.jpg "Xavier Lauth, a scientist, working with zebra fish in a lab at the Center for Aquaculture Technologies." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) SAN DIEGO -- If Americans ever eat genetically engineered fast-growing salmon, it might be because of a Soviet biologist turned oligarch turned government minister turned fish farming entrepreneur.

That man, Kakha Bendukidze, holds the key to either extinction or survival for AquaBounty Technologies, the American company that is hoping for federal approval of a type of salmon that would be the first genetically engineered animal in the human food supply.

But 20 months since the Food and Drug Administration tentatively concluded that the fish would be safe to eat and for the environment, there has been no approval. And AquaBounty is running out of money.

Mr. Bendukidze, the former economics minister of Georgia and AquaBounty's largest shareholder, says the company can stay afloat a while longer. But he is skeptical that genetically altered salmon will be approved in the United States in an election year, given the resistance from environmental and consumer groups.

"I understand politically that it's easier not to approve than to approve," Mr. Bendukidze said during a recent visit to a newly acquired laboratory in San Diego, where jars of tiny zebra fish for use in genetic engineering experiments are stacked on shelves. While many people would be annoyed by the approval, he said, "There will be no one except some scientists who will be annoyed if it is not approved."


. . .


(p. B6) Mr. Bendukidze, 56, began his career as a molecular biologist in a research institute outside Moscow, working on genetically engineering viruses for vaccine use. He later started a company selling biology supplies. When parts of the Soviet economy were privatized, he earned a reputation as a corporate raider, building through acquisitions and leading United Heavy Machinery, a large maker of equipment for mining, oil drilling and power generation.

In 2004, Mr. Bendukidze returned to his native Georgia as economics minister under Mikheil Saakashvili, the newly elected president. With a free-market philosophy and a penchant for insulting those who disagreed with him, Mr. Bendukidze earned his share of enemies as he moved to deregulate and privatize the economy.

He still lives in Georgia and now spends his time as chairman of the Free University of Tbilisi, which he founded. He also set up Linnaeus Capital Partners to manage his money. It has increasingly focused on aquaculture, with stakes in companies in Greece, Israel and Britain, in addition to AquaBounty.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW POLLACK. "An Entrepreneur Bankrolls a Genetically Engineered Salmon." The New York Times (Tues., May 22, 2012): B1 & B6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date May 21, 2012.)



BendukidzeKakhaEntrepreneur2012-06-04.jpg "Kakha Bendukidze acquired the lab after agreeing to give AquaBounty more cash." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 24, 2012

Emperor Penguins Thrive in Antarctica



PenguinsGaloreInAntarctica2012-05-17.jpg "Using satellites, researchers counted Antarctica's emperor penguins at 46 colonies like this one near the Halley Research Station, finding numbers twice as high as previously thought." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. 2) Antarctica has twice as many emperor penguins as scientists had thought, according to a new study using satellite imagery in the first comprehensive survey of one of the world's most iconic birds.

British and U.S. geospatial mapping experts reported Friday in the journal PLoS One that they had counted 595,000 emperor penguins living in 46 colonies along the coast of Antarctica, compared with previous estimates of 270,000 to 350,000 penguins based on surveys of just five colonies. The researchers also discovered four previously unknown emperor-penguin colonies and confirmed the location of three others.

"It is good news from a conservation point of view," said geographer Peter Fretwell at the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, England, who led the penguin satellite census. "This is the first comprehensive census of a species taken from space."

Although all of Antarctica's wildlife is protected by international treaty, the emperor penguins are not an officially endangered species. But they are considered a bellwether of any future climate changes in Antarctica because their icy habitat is so sensitive to rising temperatures.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Emperor Penguins Are Teeming in Antarctica." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 14, 2012): A13.

(Note: the online version of the interview is dated April 13, 2012.)






May 19, 2012

Observed Climate "Not in Good Agreement with Model Predictions"



The author of the following commentary is a Princeton physics professor:


(p. A13) What is happening to global temperatures in reality? The answer is: almost nothing for more than 10 years. Monthly values of the global temperature anomaly of the lower atmosphere, compiled at the University of Alabama from NASA satellite data, can be found at the website http://www.drroyspencer.com/latest-global-temperatures/. The latest (February 2012) monthly global temperature anomaly for the lower atmosphere was minus 0.12 degrees Celsius, slightly less than the average since the satellite record of temperatures began in 1979.

The lack of any statistically significant warming for over a decade has made it more difficult for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its supporters to demonize the atmospheric gas CO2 which is released when fossil fuels are burned.


. . .


Frustrated by the lack of computer-predicted warming over the past decade, some IPCC supporters have been claiming that "extreme weather" has become more common because of more CO2. But there is no hard evidence this is true.


. . .


Large fluctuations from warm to cold winters have been the rule for the U.S., as one can see from records kept by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA. For example, the winters of 1932 and 1934 were as warm as or warmer than the 2011-2012 one and the winter of 1936 was much colder.


. . .


It is easy to be confused about climate, because we are constantly being warned about the horrible things that will happen or are already happening as a result of mankind's use of fossil fuels. But these ominous predictions are based on computer models. It is important to distinguish between what the climate is actually doing and what computer models predict. The observed response of the climate to more CO2 is not in good agreement with model predictions.


. . .


. . . we should . . . remember the description of how science works by the late, great physicist, Richard Feynman:

"In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience; compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong."



For the full commentary, see:

WILLIAM HAPPER. "Global Warming Models Are Wrong Again; The observed response of the climate to more CO2 is not in good agreement with predictions." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., March 27, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)





May 18, 2012

Asteroid-Mining Start-Up Hopes to Launch First Spacecraft within Two Years



AsteroidMining2012-05-07.jpg

"A computer image shows a rendering of a spacecraft preparing to capture a water-rich, near-Earth asteroid." Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B3) SEATTLE--A start-up with high-profile backers on Tuesday unveiled its plan to send robotic spacecraft to remotely mine asteroids, a highly ambitious effort aimed at opening up a new frontier in space exploration.

At an event at the Seattle Museum of Flight, a group that included former National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials unveiled Planetary Resources Inc. and said it is developing a "low-cost" series of spacecraft to prospect and mine "near-Earth" asteroids for water and metals, and thus bring "the natural resources of space within humanity's economic sphere of influence."

The solar system is "full of resources, and we can bring that back to humanity," said Planetary Resources co-founder Peter Diamandis, who helped start the X-Prize competition to spur nongovernmental space flight.

The company said it expects to launch its first spacecraft to low-Earth orbit--between 100 and 1,000 miles above the Earth's surface--within two years, in what would be a prelude to sending spacecraft to prospect and mine asteroids.

The company, which was founded three years ago but remained secret until last week, said it could take a decade to finish prospecting, or identifying the best candidates for mining.



For the full story, see:

AMIR EFRATI. "Asteroid-Mining Strategy Is Outlined by a Start-Up." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., April 25, 2012): B3.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 24, 2012, and has the title "Start-Up Outlines Asteroid-Mining Strategy.")







May 14, 2012

Warming Planet May Cause Fewer High Clouds in Tropics, Allowing Heat to Escape into Space



CloudWeatherBalloon2012-05-03.jpg "A technician at a Department of Energy site in Oklahoma launching a weather balloon to help scientists analyze clouds." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Richard S. Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the leading proponent of the view that clouds will save the day. His stature in the field -- he has been making seminal contributions to climate science since the 1960s -- has amplified his influence.

Dr. Lindzen says the earth is not especially sensitive to greenhouse gases because clouds will react to counter them, and he believes he has identified a specific mechanism. On a warming planet, he says, less coverage by high clouds in the tropics will allow more heat to escape to space, (p. A14) countering the temperature increase.


. . .


Dr. Lindzen accepts the elementary tenets of climate science. He agrees that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, calling people who dispute that point "nutty." He agrees that the level of it is rising because of human activity and that this should warm the climate.

But for more than a decade, Dr. Lindzen has said that when surface temperature increases, the columns of moist air rising in the tropics will rain out more of their moisture, leaving less available to be thrown off as ice, which forms the thin, high clouds known as cirrus. Just like greenhouse gases, these cirrus clouds act to reduce the cooling of the earth, and a decrease of them would counteract the increase of greenhouse gases.

Dr. Lindzen calls his mechanism the iris effect, after the iris of the eye, which opens at night to let in more light. In this case, the earth's "iris" of high clouds would be opening to let more heat escape.


. . .


"If I'm right, we'll have saved money" by avoiding measures to limit emissions, Dr. Lindzen said in the interview. "If I'm wrong, we'll know it in 50 years and can do something."


. . .


"You have politicians who are being told if they question this, they are anti-science," Dr. Lindzen said. "We are trying to tell them, no, questioning is never anti-science."



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "TEMPERATURE RISING; Clouds' Effect on Climate Change Is Last Bastion for Dissenters." The New York Times (Tues., May 1, 2012): A1 & A14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated April 30, 2012.)






May 7, 2012

"Environmentalists" Yawn at Windmills Killing Thousands of Migratory Birds



(p. A15) Last June, the Los Angeles Times reported that about 70 golden eagles are being killed per year by the wind turbines at Altamont Pass, about 20 miles east of Oakland, Calif. A 2008 study funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency estimated that about 2,400 raptors, including burrowing owls, American kestrels, and red-tailed hawks--as well as about 7,500 other birds, nearly all of which are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act--are being killed every year by the turbines at Altamont.

A pernicious double standard is at work here. And it riles Eric Glitzenstein, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who wrote the petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He told me, "It's absolutely clear that there's been a mandate from the top" echelons of the federal government not to prosecute the wind industry for violating wildlife laws.

Mr. Glitzenstein comes to this issue from the left. Before forming his own law firm, he worked for Public Citizen, an organization created by Ralph Nader. When it comes to wind energy, he says, "Many environmental groups have been claiming that too few people are paying attention to the science of climate change, but some of those same groups are ignoring the science that shows wind energy's negative impacts on bird and bat populations."



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT BRYCE. "Windmills vs. Birds; About 70 golden eagles are killed every year by turbines at California's Altamont Pass, reports the LA Times.." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., March 8, 2012): A15.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 7, 2012.)





May 1, 2012

Global Warming Would Reduce Deaths from Flu



(p. 4) According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this January was the fourth warmest in the documented history of weather in the contiguous United States.


. . .


. . . , our warm winter may have one unforeseen and felicitous consequence: a drastic reduction in the incidence of influenza.


. . .


This year's flu season, . . . , didn't officially begin until late last month. And while a true number is difficult to reach -- not every sick person is tested, for instance, and the cause of a death in the hospital can be clouded by co-morbidities -- it is likely that no more than a few hundred people in America, and possibly far fewer, have died of the flu this winter. Indeed, by any measurement, the statistics are historic and heartening. For every individual who has been hospitalized this season, 22 people were hospitalized in the 2010-11 flu season. Even more strikingly, 122 children died of flu last season and 348 during the flu outbreak of 2009-10 -- while this time around that number is 3.



For the full commentary, see:

CHARLES FINCH. "OPINION; The Best Part About Global Warming." The New York Times (Tues., March 4, 2012): 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review is dated March 2, 2012.)





April 28, 2012

The Danger and Despair of Dark Streets



StreetlightsDarkHighlandPark2012-04-08.jpg""I don't go out to get gas at night. I don't run to any stores. I try to do everything in the daytime and to be back before night falls," said Juanita Kennedy, a resident of Highland Park, Mich." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. -- When the sun sets in this small city, its neighborhoods seem to vanish.

In a deal to save money, two-thirds of the streetlights were yanked from the ground and hauled away this year, and the resulting darkness is a look that is familiar in the wide open cornfields of Iowa but not here, in a struggling community surrounded on nearly all sides by Detroit.

Parents say they now worry more about allowing their children to walk to school early in the morning. Motorists complain that they often cannot see pedestrians until headlights -- and cars -- are right upon them. Some residents say they are reshaping their lives to fit the hours of daylight, as the members of the Rev. D. Alexander Bullock's church did recently when they urged him to move up Saturday Bible study to 4 p.m. from the usual 7 p.m.

"It's just too dark," said Mr. Bullock, of Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church. "I come out of the church, and I can't see what's in front of me. What happened to our streetlights is what happens when politicians lose hope. All kinds of crazy decisions get made, and citizens lose faith in the process."


. . .


(p. A16) "The people were basically left in the dark," said DeAndre Windom, who was elected mayor in November. He said the disappearing streetlights were the top concern of residents as he campaigned door to door.

"When you come through at night, it's scary; you have to wonder if anyone is lurking around waiting to catch you off your guard," said Juanita Kennedy, 65, who said she had installed a home security system and undergone training to carry a handgun in the weeks since workmen carried away the streetlight in front of her house. "I don't go out to get gas at night. I don't run to any stores. I try to do everything in the daytime and to be back before night falls."



For the full story, see:

MONICA DAVEY. "Darker Nights as Some Cities Turn Off Lights for Savings." The New York Times (Fri., December 30, 2011): A11 & A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated December 29, 2011, and has the title "Darker Nights as Some Cities Turn Off the Lights.")






April 27, 2012

Climate Scientists "Conspiring to Bully and Silence Opponents"



(p. A15) [In November 2011], 5,000 files of private email correspondence among several of the world's top climate scientists were anonymously leaked onto the Internet. Like the first "climategate" leak of 2009, the latest release shows top scientists in the field fudging data, conspiring to bully and silence opponents, and displaying far less certainty about the reliability of anthropogenic global warming theory in private than they ever admit in public.

The scientists include men like Michael Mann of Penn State University and Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia, both of whose reports inform what President Obama has called "the gold standard" of international climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


. . .


Consider an email written by Mr. Mann in August 2007. "I have been talking w/ folks in the states about finding an investigative journalist to investigate and expose McIntyre, and his thus far unexplored connections with fossil fuel interests. Perhaps the same needs to be done w/ this Keenan guy." Doug Keenan is a skeptic and gadfly of the climate-change establishment. Steve McIntyre is the tenacious Canadian ex-mining engineer whose dogged research helped expose flaws in Mr. Mann's "hockey stick" graph of global temperatures.



For the full commentary, see:

JAMES DELINGPOLE. "OPINION; Climategate 2.0; A new batch of leaked emails again shows some leading scientists trying to smear opponents." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., November 28, 2011): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





April 19, 2012

"Dematerialization" Means More Goods from Fewer Resources



(p. C4) Economic growth is a form of deflation. If the cost of, say, computing power goes down, then the users of computing power acquire more of it for less--and thus attain a higher standard of living. One thing that makes such deflation possible is dematerialization, the reduction in the quantity of stuff needed to produce a product. An iPhone, for example, weighs 1/100th and costs 1/10th as much as an Osborne Executive computer did in 1982, but it has 150 times the processing speed and 100,000 times the memory.

Dematerialization is occurring with all sorts of products. Banking has shrunk to a handful of electrons moving on a cellphone, as have maps, encyclopedias, cameras, books, card games, music, records and letters--none of which now need to occupy physical space of their own. And it's happening to food, too. In recent decades, wheat straw has shrunk as grain production has grown, because breeders have persuaded the plant to devote more of its energy to making the thing that we value most. Future dematerialization includes the possibility of synthetic meat--produced in a lab without brains, legs or guts.

Dematerialization is one of the reasons that Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler give for the future's being "better than you think" in their new book, "Abundance."



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; The Future Is So Bright, it's Dematerializing." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., February 25, 2012): C4.


The book mentioned by Ridley is:

Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. New York: Free Press, 2012.






April 3, 2012

Millennials Wiser on Environment than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers



(p. 6A) "I was shocked," said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who is one of the study's authors.


. . .


Researchers found that, when surveyed decades ago, about a third of young baby boomers said it was important to become personally involved in programs to clean up the environment. In comparison, only about a quarter of young Gen Xers - and 21 percent of Millennials - said the same.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of Millennials said they had made no effort to help the environment, compared with 8 percent of young Gen Xers and 5 percent of young baby boomers.


. . .


The analysis was based on two long-term surveys of the nation's youth. The first, the University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future project, is an annual survey of thousands of high school seniors, from which data from 1976 through 2008 was used.

Other data came from the American Freshman project, another large annual national survey, administered by the Higher Education Research Institute. Those responses came from thousands of first-year college students, from the years 1966 through 2009. Because of the large sample sizes, the margin of error was less than plus-or-minus half a percentage point.



For the full story, see:

MARTHA IRVINE. "'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' Not a Mantra for Young People." Omaha World-Herald (Sat., March 17, 2012): 6A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated Thursday March 15, 2012 and had the title "Study: Young people not so 'green' after all.")





April 2, 2012

"The Word "Sustainable" Is Unsustainable"



SustainableCartoon2012-03-24.jpgSource of cartoon: http://xkcd.com/1007/






March 29, 2012

Small Is Beautiful as Life Adapts to Global Warming



SifrhippusFirstHorse2012-03-10.jpg "Artist's reconstruction of Sifrhippus sandrae (right) touching noses with a modern Morgan horse (left) that stands about 5 feet high at the shoulders and weighs approximately 1000 lbs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.




(p. D3) The horse (siff-RIP-us, if you have to say the name out loud) lived in what is still horse country, in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming, where wild mustangs roam.


. . .


Its preserved fossils, abundant in the Bighorn Basin, provide an excellent record of its size change over a 175,000-year warm period in the Earth's history known as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, when temperatures are estimated to have risen by 9 to 18 degrees Fahrenheit at the start, and dropped again at the end.

Scientists have known that many mammals appear to have shrunk during the warming period, and the phenomenon fits well with what is known as Bergmann's rule, which says, roughly, that mammals of a given genus or species are smaller in hotter climates.

Although the rule refers to differences in location, it seemed also to apply to changes over time. But fine enough detail was lacking until now.

In Science, Ross Secord, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Jonathan Bloch, of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida in Gainesville; and a team of other researchers report on the collection and analysis of Sifrhippus fossils from the Bighorn Basin.

They report that the little horse got 30 percent smaller over the first 130,000 years, and then -- as always seems to happen with weight loss -- shot back up and got 75 percent bigger over the next 45,000 years.


. . .


"It seems to be natural selection," said Dr. Secord. He said animals evolved to be smaller during warming because smaller animals did better in that environment, perhaps because the smaller an animal is, the easier it is to shed excess heat.




For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "As the Planet Heated Up, First Horse Got Tinier ." The New York Times (Tues., February 28, 2012): D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated February 23 [sic], 2012 and has the title "A Tiny Horse That Got Even Tinier as the Planet Heated Up.")





March 14, 2012

Majority of Marine Creatures Thrive in Greater Acidity



(p. C4) The effect of acidification, according to J.E.N. Veron, an Australian coral scientist, will be "nothing less than catastrophic.... What were once thriving coral gardens that supported the greatest biodiversity of the marine realm will become red-black bacterial slime, and they will stay that way."

This is a common view. The Natural Resources Defense Council has called ocean acidification "the scariest environmental problem you've never heard of." Sigourney Weaver, who narrated a film about the issue, said that "the scientists are freaked out." The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls it global warming's "equally evil twin."


. . .


If the average pH of the ocean drops to 7.8 from 8.1 by 2100 as predicted, it will still be well above seven, the neutral point where alkalinity becomes acidity.


. . .


In a recent experiment in the Mediterranean, reported in Nature Climate Change, corals and mollusks were transplanted to lower pH sites, where they proved "able to calcify and grow at even faster than normal rates when exposed to the high [carbon-dioxide] levels projected for the next 300 years." In any case, freshwater mussels thrive in Scottish rivers, where the pH is as low as five.

Laboratory experiments find that more marine creatures thrive than suffer when carbon dioxide lowers the pH level to 7.8. This is because the carbon dioxide dissolves mainly as bicarbonate, which many calcifiers use as raw material for carbonate.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Taking Fears of Acid Oceans With a Grain of Salt." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 7, 2012): C4.

(Note: ellipsis in first paragraph in original; ellipses between paragraphs added.)






March 5, 2012

Few Jobs from Billions Feds Spent on Green Stimulus



WindFarmTexas2012-02-29.jpg "County Commissioner Rosaura Tijerina supported tax breaks for the Cedro Hill wind farm, but it brought few new jobs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Alfredo Garcia was among the residents of Webb County, Texas, banking on a windfall from federal stimulus money.

Mr. Garcia expanded his Mexican restaurant from 80 to 120 seats, anticipating a rush of new patrons springing from the nearby Cedro Hill wind farm, a project built with the help of $108 million from U.S. taxpayers.

When construction ended, Cedro Hill had just three employees and Mr. Garcia's restaurant, Aimee's, filed for bankruptcy protection. "Nobody came," said Mr. Garcia, a county judge who closed Aimee's last year, putting 18 people out of work.

Companies have received more than $10 billion to create jobs and renewable energy by building wind farms, solar projects and other alternatives to oil and natural gas under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program expired in December, and President Barack Obama proposed last week that Congress revive it in the 2013 budget.

On federal applications, companies said they created more than 100,000 direct jobs at 1603-funded projects. But a Wall Street Journal investigation found evidence of far fewer. Some plants laid off workers. Others closed.

The discrepancies highlight broader challenges calculating the economic benefits of stimulus spending. Jobs have been an important measure influencing distribution of more than $800 billion in stimulus money, which also has included tax breaks and spending on roads, sewers, schools, health and public assis-(p. A10)tance. Yet the number of jobs created or saved is largely based on formulas, mathematical models and reports by recipients, rather than actual tallies.



For the full story, see:

IANTHE JEANNE DUGAN and JUSTIN SCHECK. "Cost of $10 Billion Stimulus Easier to Tally Than New Jobs." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., FEBRUARY 24, 2012): A1 & A10.



WindStimulusRecipientsGraph2012-02-29.jpg















Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ story quoted and cited above.








February 24, 2012

Manifesto for a Rising Standard of Living



AbundanceBK2012-02-22.jpg











Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.







(p. A13) Mr. Diamandis is the chairman and chief executive of the X Prize Foundation and the founder of more than a dozen high-tech companies. With his journalist co-author, he has produced a manifesto for the future that is grounded in practical solutions addressing the world's most pressing concerns: overpopulation, food, water, energy, education, health care and freedom. The authors suggest that "humanity is now entering a period of radical transformation where technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standard of living for every man, woman, and child on the planet."


. . .


Predictions of a rosy future have a way of sounding as unrealistic as end-is-nigh forecasts. But Messrs. Diamandis and Kotler are not just dreamers. They lay out a plausible road map, discussing, among other things, the benefits of do-it-yourself tinkering--like the work by geneticist J. Craig Venter in beating the U.S. government in the race to sequence the human genome--and the growing willingness of techno-philanthropists like Bill Gates to tackle real-world problems.

The biggest hurdles, however, are not scientific or technological but political. There are still too many corrupt dictators and backward-looking governments keeping millions in penury. But as we have seen lately, the misruled have a way of throwing off despotic governments. With ever more people reaching for freedom, countless millions are tacitly embracing the Diamandis motto: "The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself."



For the full review, see:

MICHAEL SHERMER. "BOOKSHELF; Defying the Doomsayers; Abundance" argues that growing technologies have the potential not only to spread information but to solve some of humanity's most vexing problems." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 22, 2012): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The book being reviewed is:

Diamandis, Peter H., and Steven Kotler. Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. New York: Free Press, 2012.







February 4, 2012

BP Oil Spill Does Little Harm to Tuna



BluefinTuna2012-01-30.jpg











"The Gulf of Mexico's bluefin-tuna population is likely to be cut by less than 4% because of the BP oil spill." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.





(p. A6) Fears that last year's BP PLC oil spill would decimate the bluefin tuna that spawn in the Gulf of Mexico haven't played out, with the population of the prized fish likely to be cut by less than 4%, a federal study has concluded.

The oil from the biggest offshore spill in U.S. history covered about one-fifth of the habitat of the Gulf's recently hatched tuna, and scientists feared that could hammer the future population of the fish.

An analysis based on two different models by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has concluded that the spill "will likely result in less than a 4% reduction in future spawning biomass" of bluefin tuna in the Gulf.


. . .


Russell Miget, an environmental and seafood quality specialist with Texas A&M University who wasn't associated with the research, said the tuna study squared with other data suggesting that the impact of the spill on marine life was "less than what people were concerned about at the time of the spill." Still, "fishery science is not an exact science," he said.



For the full story, see:

GAUTAM NAIK and NATHAN KOPPEL. "Bluefin Tuna Thrive Despite Oil Spill." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 6, 2011): A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article had the title "Bluefin Tuna Endure After Oil Spill.")






December 31, 2011

Federal Subsidies Create Few Green Jobs



(p. F2) . . . solar power, which makes extensive use of robots in fabricating the cells, and has no moving parts to service once it is up and running, may be an odd choice for job creation.

"It's just not that labor-intensive," said Howard Axelrod, an engineer and economist. And as for the jobs it creates, there may be a price elsewhere, Dr. Axelrod said.


. . .


Build enough solar plants and some coal plants will shut down; that would amount to firing Peter to hire Paul.


. . .


And, economists point out, some of the work that renewable energy creates goes to people who already have jobs -- roofers who install the panels or truck drivers who move them around, or steel workers who make towers for new wind machines.

Some of the jobs could eventually go elsewhere. Two years ago, Evergreen Solar, which got $58 million in aid from Massachusetts for a factory in Devens, said it would shift production to China instead.


. . .


The debate is part of a larger discussion of what constitutes a "green" job. In October 2009, Congress gave the Bureau of Labor Statistics a special appropriation to count them.


. . .


"Driving a bus is driving a bus, right?" said Connie Mack, Republican of Florida. Hilda Solis, the secretary of labor, said they were "green buses." But aides later clarified that the bureau counted any bus driving job as green because it preserved natural resources.

None of this suggests that green is bad, just that it is not particularly job-heavy. In December 2010, Susan Combs, the comptroller of Texas, reported that school districts in her state were giving tax abatements to lure new jobs, but had to give $1.6 million for every wind energy job. Manufacturing jobs could be created for $166,000 each.



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Solar Power Industry Falls Short of Hopes in Job Creation." The New York Times (Weds., October 26, 2011): F2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 25, 2011.)





December 9, 2011

Science Not Accurate at Predicting Storm Intensity



(p. D1) For scientists who specialize in hurricanes, Irene, which roared up the Eastern Seaboard over the weekend, has shone an uncomfortable light on their profession. They acknowledge that while they have become adept at gauging the track a hurricane will take, their predictions of a storm's intensity leave much to be desired.

Officials with NOAA's National Hurricane Center had accurately forecast that Irene would hit North Carolina, and then churn up the mid-Atlantic coast into New York. But they thought the storm would be more powerful, its winds increasing in intensity after it passed through the Bahamas on Thursday.

Instead, the storm lost strength. By the time it made landfall in North Carolina two days later, its winds were about 10 percent lighter than predicted.

It's not a new problem. "With intensity, we just haven't moved off square zero," Dr. Marks said. Forecasting a storm's strength requires knowing the fine details of its structure -- the internal organization and movement that can affect whether it gains energy or loses it -- and then plugging those details into an accurate computer model.

Scientists have struggled to do that. They often overestimate strength, which can lead to griping about overpreparedness, as it has with Irene. But they have sometimes underestimated a storm's power, too, as with (p. D3) Hurricane Charley in 2004. And it is far worse to be underprepared for a major storm.



For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Intensity of Hurricanes Still Bedevils Scientists." The New York Times (Tues., August 30, 2011): D1 & D3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 29, 2011.)





December 8, 2011

Berkeley Environmentalist Sticks to Her Knitting



StofleShelbyGathersWool2011-11-10.jpg "Avid knitter Shelby Stofle, gathering wool from sheep in Vacaville Calif., hopes to set up a business making scarves and selling them at craft fairs." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A5) Shelby Stofle graduated in December from the University of California at Berkeley with $10,250 in student-loan debt--and no job offers from a dozen applications.

The 24-year-old had hoped to work in environmental conservation or sustainable agriculture but struck out even at a grocery store near her rural hometown of Suisun City, Calif.


. . .


With many employment options exhausted, she said she feels her best shot is to set up her own business, selling her hand-made scarves at craft fairs and farmers' markets.



For the full story, see:

VAUHINI VARA. "As Jobs Vanish, Sticking to Knitting." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., OCTOBER 31, 2011): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)







December 6, 2011

Power to the People



HouseLit2011-11-10.jpg Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



In the Thursday, November 10, 2011 "Home" section of The New York Times, the lead article was about a surge in demand for personal electricity generators among the middle-class of the northeastern United States (places like Connecticut).

Perhaps the lesson is that "green" is a passing fad, but electric power is a necessity in preserving bedrock values such as light, warmth and communication?


(p. D1) WHEN the snowstorm hit a week ago Saturday, Evan Sidel was driving home from the supermarket, having stocked up on soup ingredients, thinking she and her two daughters would have a cozy evening in. But while she was unpacking the groceries, the power went out with an audible bang, said Ms. Sidel, who lives in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Wilton, Conn.

"You could literally hear the transformer exploding," she said.

Then things went south fast, escalating perilously like the plot of an action movie, or "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" in previews. As Ms. Sidel pulled an old land-line telephone out of the closet, one birch tree crashed into the side of her house and another into her front door.

"I called a friend who said, 'My generator has just kicked in, come on over.' I got out through the garage, drove over the lawn to the street, and I stayed at my friend's house until Wednesday," she recounted.


. . .


(p. D7) The back story to the recent biblical weather was the Great Generator Divide. With hundreds of thousands of households without power last week -- nearly 800,000 in Connecticut alone -- who had a generator (and how big it was) was the second most urgent topic in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Generator envy ran wide and deep as the staccato growl and smoky breath of portable generators defined the haves and the have-nots in many neighborhoods.


. . .


A few months ago, Mr. Petersheim offered to retrofit the houses he had built in Barryville, N.Y., with standby generators.

"We were seeing more and more power outages in that area," he said. "And it's not a super-high-priority area, so the power can stay out for days. Pipes can freeze, food spoils, you can't get water. It's become a stress point for our customers. I sent out an e-mail to 20 of them saying, 'If you're getting too annoyed with this, it's pretty affordable, under $7,000 for a 14-kilowatt Generac fueled by propane.' Seven took us up on it."

Courtney and Bronson Bigelow (she's in public relations, he's a lawyer) were among them. "The first time we had a power outage, it was kind of romantic," Ms. Bigelow said. "But then it kept happening. When you're trying to squeeze every second of your weekend, it's a huge bummer. You can't wash dishes, you can't wash yourself, and it's 20 degrees. This summer we had this freakish weather, torrential rains over Fourth of July, then these weird microburst thunderstorms, and then Irene."


. . .


Over in Lakeville, Conn., Allen Cockerline, who raises grass-fed cattle with his wife, Robin, at their Whippoorwill Farm, has two large portable generators, 10 and 15 kilowatts each. One runs off his tractor; the other is powered by gasoline. (The tractor-powered one he bought with the farm; the other one cost about $1,500, he said.)

They are a necessary insurance policy for a perishable product, he said: "There's $30,000 worth of beef in my freezer. I'm not going to let that go."

But armed as he is against calamity, Mr. Cockerline will admit to some generator envy.

"Everyone that surrounds me is on a much more turnkey situation," he said. "Theirs just go on automatically. They don't have to go out and move tractors and generators around."

"My system is down-and-dirty," he added, and "in that respect I have a certain amount of envy. But I'm sure my generators are bigger than theirs. Much bigger."



For the full story, see:

PENELOPE GREEN. "Dark with Envy." The New York Times (Thurs., November 10, 2011): D1 & D7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 9, 2011 and had the title "Power Envy.")



BigelowsWithGenerator2011-11-10.jpg










"Courtney and Bronson Bigelow and their Generac generator in Sullivan County, N.Y." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above. CockerlinesWithGenerator2011-11-10.jpg

















"Allen and Robin Cockerline with one of their two portable generators, in Lakeville, Conn." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.









December 3, 2011

Plant Protein Levels Adapt to Allow "Flourishing" Near Chernobyl



(p. D3) In April 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine exploded and sent radioactive particles flying through the air, infiltrating the surrounding soil. Despite the colossal disaster, some plants in the area seem to have adapted well, flourishing in the contaminated soil.

This ability to adapt has to do with slight alterations in the plants' protein levels, researchers report in a study that appears in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

"If you visit the area, you'd never think anything bad had happened there," said Martin Hajduch, one of the study's authors and a plant geneticist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Slovakia.



For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "OBSERVATORY; Plants Near Chernobyl Appear to Grow a Shield." The New York Times (Tues., September 21, 2010): D3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 20, 2010.)






December 2, 2011

Global Temperatures May Have Flattened, Justifying Global Warming Scepticism



TucumcariWeatherStation2011-11-10.jpgTucsonParkingLotWeatherStation2011-11-10.jpg"Well-sited weather stations, like the one at top in Tucumcari, N.M., are more reliable than others, such as one in a Tuscon, Ariz., parking lot." Source of caption: print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photos: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A2) "Before us, there was a huge barrier to entry" in the field of analyzing temperature numbers, says Richard Muller, scientific director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature team and a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Many scientists are giving the Berkeley Earth team kudos for creating the unified database.


. . .


"I'm inclined to give [satellite] data more weight than reconstructions from surface-station data," says Stephen McIntyre, a Canadian mathematician who writes about climate, often critically of studies that find warming, at his website Climate Audit. Satellites show about half the amount of warming as that of land-based readings in the past three decades, when the relevant data were collected from space, he says.

Such disputes demonstrate the statistical and uncertain nature of tracking global temperature. Even with tens of thousands of weather stations, most of the Earth's surface isn't monitored. Some stations are more reliable than others. Calculating a global average temperature requires extrapolating from these readings to the whole globe, adjusting for data lapses and suspect stations. And no two groups do this identically.


. . .


Calculating a global temperature is necessary to track climate trends because, as your TV meteorologist might warn, local conditions can differ. Much of the U.S. and Northern Europe has cooled in the last 70 years, Berkeley Earth found. So did one-third of all weather stations world-wide, while two-thirds warmed. The project cites this as evidence of overall warming; skeptics aren't convinced because it depends how concentrated those warming sites are. If they happen to be bunched up while the cooling sites are in sparsely measured areas, then more places could be cooling.


. . .


Any statistical model produces results with some level of uncertainty. The Berkeley Earth project is no different. That uncertainty is large enough to dwarf some trends in temperature. For instance, fluctuations in the land temperature for the past 13 years make it extremely difficult to say whether the Earth has been continuing to warm during that time.

This possible halting of the temperature rise led to a dispute between members of the Berkeley Earth team. Judith Curry, Mr. Muller's co-author and a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told a reporter for the Daily Mail she questioned Mr. Muller's claim, which he published in an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal, that "you should not be a skeptic, at least not any longer." She said that if the global temperature has flattened out, that would raise new questions, and scientific skepticism would remain warranted.



For the full story, see:

CARL BIALIK. "THE NUMBERS GUY; Global Temperatures: All Over the Map." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., November 5, 2011): A2.

(Note: ellipses added.)






November 28, 2011

Animals Thrive at Chernobyl



WolvesRadioactive2011-11-09.jpg"PBS's "Radioactive Wolves" returns to a contaminated site." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. C6) In the months since the Japanese tsunami, we've heard a lot about Chernobyl as a worst-case example: here's how bad Fukushima could have been. Now PBS's "Nature" offers another vision: Chernobyl as a best-case demonstration that life abides . . .


. . .


. . . the prognosis, coyly withheld until the end of the hour, is positive. . . . While the rate of slight birth abnormalities is twice as high as normal among the zone's growing animal population (but still in the single digits), overall health appears to be fine. It wouldn't be an acceptable situation for humans, but the dormice and eagles and gray wolves don't appear to be bothered.


. . .


The concrete high-rises of the city of Pripyat sit like islands in a green sea of towering trees; plants force their way up through the floors of empty schoolrooms.

Within this strangely pastoral setting the animals go about their business, sometimes finding uses for what we've left behind. The wolves rise up on their hind legs to peer through the windows of houses, looking for routes to the rooftops, which they use as observation posts for hunting. Eagles build nests in fire towers.

And beavers, forced out decades ago when the landscape was engineered for collective agriculture, have already undone much of man's work and restored one of central Europe's great marshlands. Just think what they could do if they had the whole planet.



For the full commentary, see:

MIKE HALE. "In Dead Zone of Chernobyl, Animal Kingdom Thrives." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., October 19, 2011): C6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 18, 2011.)





November 17, 2011

Huge Variance in Estimates of Number of Species



(p. D3) Scientists have named and cataloged 1.3 million species. How many more species there are left to discover is a question that has hovered like a cloud over the heads of taxonomists for two centuries.

"It's astounding that we don't know the most basic thing about life," said Boris Worm, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

On Tuesday, Dr. Worm, Dr. Mora and their colleagues presented the latest estimate of how many species there are, based on a new method they have developed. They estimate there are 8.7 million species on the planet, plus or minus 1.3 million.


. . .


In recent decades, scientists have looked for better ways to determine how many species are left to find. In 1988, Robert May, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford, observed that the diversity of land animals increases as they get smaller. He reasoned that we probably have found most of the species of big animals, like mammals and birds, so he used their diversity to calculate the diversity of smaller animals. He ended up with an estimate 10 to 50 million species of land animals.

Other estimates have ranged from as few as 3 million to as many as 100 million. Dr. Mora and his colleagues believed that all of these estimates were flawed in one way or another. Most seriously, there was no way to validate the methods used, to be sure they were reliable.



For the full story, see:

CARL ZIMMER. "How Many Species? A Study Says 8.7 Million, but It's Tricky." The New York Times (Tues., August 30, 2011): D3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated August 23 (sic), 2011.)





November 10, 2011

Global Warming Benefits Commerce by Opening Northeast Passage



NortheastPassageMapB2011-11-04.jpg "The Northeast Passage Opens Up. The Arctic ice cap has been shrinking, opening up new shipping lanes. This has given access to oil and gas fields, as well as fishing in international waters that were not accessible before." Source of caption and map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. B1) ARKHANGELSK, Russia -- Rounding the northernmost tip of Russia in his oceangoing tugboat this summer, Capt. Vladimir V. Bozanov saw plenty of walruses, some pods of beluga whales and in the distance a few icebergs.

One thing Captain Bozanov did not encounter while towing an industrial barge 2,300 miles across the Arctic Ocean was solid ice blocking his path anywhere along the route. Ten years ago, he said, an ice-free passage, even at the peak of summer, was exceptionally rare.

But environmental scientists say there is now no doubt that global warming is shrinking the Arctic ice pack, opening new sea lanes and making the few previously navigable routes near shore accessible more months of the year. And whatever the grim environmental repercussions of greenhouse gas, companies in Russia and other countries around the Arctic Ocean are mining that dark cloud's silver lining by finding new opportunities for commerce and trade.

Oil companies might be the most likely beneficiaries, as the receding polar ice cap opens more of the sea floor to exploration. The oil giant Exxon Mobil recently signed a sweeping deal to drill in the Russian sector of the Arctic Ocean. But shipping, mining and fishing ventures are also looking farther north than ever before.

"It is paradoxical that new opportunities are opening for our nations at the same time we understand that the threat of (p. B13) carbon emissions have become imminent," Iceland's president, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, said at a recent conference on Arctic Ocean shipping held in this Russian port city not far south of the Arctic Circle.

At the same forum, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia offered a full-throated endorsement of the new business prospects in the thawing north.

"The Arctic is the shortcut between the largest markets of Europe and the Asia-Pacific region," he said. "It is an excellent opportunity to optimize costs."




For the full story, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER. "Amid the Peril, a Dream Fulfilled." The New York Times (Tues., October 18, 2011): B1 & B13.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 17, 2011 and has the title "Warming Revives Dream of Sea Route in Russian Arctic.")



VladimirTikhonovTankerBeringStrait2011-11-04.jpg"The tanker Vladimir Tikhonov in the Bering Strait." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





October 22, 2011

Easter Island Was Ravaged by Rats, Peruvian Slaving Parties and Nonnative Diseases, Not by Ecocide



Statues-That-WalkedBK.jpg















Source of book image: http://0.tqn.com/d/archaeology/1/0/g/L/1/Statues-That-Walked-sm.jpg





The natives call Easter Island "Rapa Nui."



(p. C5) With the forest gone, Rapa Nui's soil degraded; unable to feed themselves, Mr. Diamond argued in his best-selling "Collapse" (2005), Easter Islanders faced "starvation, a population crash, and a descent into cannibalism." The fall was abrupt and overwhelming; scores of giant statues were abandoned, half-finished. Roggeveen had discovered a ruin--and a powerful eco-parable.

Books and articles by the hundred have pointed to Rapa Nui as the inevitable result of uncontrolled population growth, squandered resources and human fecklessness. "The person who felled the last tree could see it was the last tree," wrote Paul G. Bahn and John Flenley in "Easter Island, Earth Island" (1992). "But he (or she) still felled it." "The parallels between Easter Island and the whole modern world are chillingly obvious," Mr. Diamond proclaimed. "The clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources," he said, Rapa Nui epitomizes "ecocide," presenting a stark image of "what may lie ahead of us in our own future."

No, it doesn't, write archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo in "The Statues That Walked," a fascinating entry in the pop-science genre of Everything You Know Is Wrong. Messrs. Hunt and Lipo had no intention of challenging Mr. Diamond when they began research on Rapa Nui. But in their fourth year of field work, they obtained radiocarbon dates from Anakena Beach, thought to be the island's oldest settlement. The dates strongly indicated that the first settlers appeared around A.D. 1200--eight centuries later than Heyerdahl and other researchers had thought.

Wait a minute, the authors in effect said. Rapa Nui is so remote that researchers believe it must have been settled by a small group of adventurers--a few dozen people, brave or crazy, in boats. The new evidence suggested that their arrival had precipitated catastrophic deforestation "on the scale of decades, not centuries." The island then probably had only a few hundred inhabitants. Some ecologists estimate that the island originally had 16 million palm trees. How could so few people have cut down so much so fast?


. . .


The real culprit, according to "The Statues That Walked," was the Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans), which stowed away on the boats of the first Polynesian settlers. In laboratory settings, Polynesian rat populations can double in 47 days. Throw a breeding pair into an island with no predators and abundant food and arithmetic suggests the result: ratpocalypse. If the animals multiplied as they did in Hawaii, the authors calculate, Rapa Nui would quickly have housed between two and three million. Among the favorite food sources of R. exulans are tree seeds and tree sprouts. Humans surely cleared some of the forest, but the real damage would have come from the rats that prevented new growth.

"Rather than a case of abject failure," the authors argue, "Rapa Nui is an unlikely story of success." The islanders had migrated, perhaps accidentally, to a place with little water and "fundamentally unproductive" soil with "uniformly low" levels of phosphorus, an essential mineral for plant growth. To avoid the wind's dehydrating effects, the newcomers circled their gardens with stone walls known as manavai. Today, the researchers discovered, abandoned manavai occupy about 6.4 square miles, a tenth of the island's total surface.

More impressive still, about half of the island is covered by "lithic mulching," in which the islanders scattered broken stone over the fields. The uneven (p. C6) surface creates more turbulent airflow, reducing daytime surface temperatures and warming fields at night. And shattering the rocks exposes "fresh, unweathered surfaces, thus releasing mineral nutrients held within the rock." Only lithic mulching produced enough nutrients--just barely--to make Rapa Nui's terrible soil cultivable. Breaking and moving vast amounts of stone, the islanders had engineered an entirely new, more productive landscape.

Their success was short-lived. As Messrs. Hunt and Lipo point out, the 18th and 19th centuries were terrible times to reside in a small, almost defenseless Pacific nation. Rapa Nui was repeatedly ravaged by Peruvian slaving parties and nonnative diseases.


. . .


Easter Island's people did not destroy themselves, the authors say. They were destroyed.


. . .


Oral tradition said that the statues walked into their places. Oral tradition was correct, the authors say. By shaping the huge statues just right, the islanders were able to rock them from side to side, moving them forward in a style familiar to anyone who has had to move a refrigerator. Walking the statues, the authors show in experiments, needed only 15 or 20 people.

In a 2007 article in Science, Mr. Diamond estimated that hundreds of laborers were needed to move the statues, suggesting that the eastern settlements of the island alone had to have "a population of thousands"--which in turn was proof of the island's destructive overpopulation. By showing that the statues could have been moved by much fewer people, Messrs. Hunt and Lipo have removed one of the main supports of the ecocide theory and the parable about humankind it tells.



For the full review, see:

CHARLES C. MANN. "Don't Blame the Natives; It was a rat that caused the sudden collapse of Easter Island's civilization." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., JULY 30, 2011): C5-C6.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)


Source of book under review:

Hunt, Terry, and Carl Lipo. The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island. New York: Free Press, 2011.





October 15, 2011

Nuclear Energy Much Safer than Previously Thought



(p. A14) ROCKVILLE, Md. -- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is approaching completion of an ambitious study that concludes that a meltdown at a typical American reactor would lead to far fewer deaths than previously assumed.

The conclusion, to be published in April after six years of work, is based largely on a radical revision of projections of how much and how quickly cesium 137, a radioactive material that is created when uranium is split, could escape from a nuclear plant after a core meltdown. In past studies, researchers estimated that 60 percent of a reactor core's cesium inventory could escape; the new estimate is only 1 to 2 percent.


. . .


Big releases of radioactive material would not be immediate, and people within a 10-mile radius would have enough time to evacuate, the study found. The chance of a death from acute radiation exposure within 10 miles is therefore near zero, the study projects, although some people would receive doses high enough to cause fatal cancers in decades to come.

One person in every 4,348 living within 10 miles would be expected to develop a ''latent cancer'' as a result of radiation exposure, compared with one in 167 in previous estimates.

''Accidents progress more slowly, in some cases much more slowly, than previously assumed,'' Charles G. Tinkler, a senior adviser for research on severe accidents and one of the study's authors, said in an interview at a commission office building here. ''Releases are smaller, and in some cases much smaller, of certain key radioactive materials.''



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "N.R.C. Lowers Estimate of How Many Would Die in Meltdown." The New York Times (Sat., July 30, 2011): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 29, 2011.)

(Note: I am not sure the whole article appeared on p. A14---only saw the online version.)





September 26, 2011

Solyndra Debacle Illustrates Why Feds Should Not Pick Tech Winners



The clip above is embedded from the Jon Stewart "The Daily Show" episode that was aired on Thurs., September 15, 2011.



Government "industrial policy" is likely to fail for many reasons. One is that the government decision makers are unlikely to know which future technologies will turn out to be the best ones. Another reason is that even if they know, government decision makers often decide based on what is politically expedient or what is beneficial to their friends.

Solyndra is a case in point, as Jon Stewart hilariously reveals.






September 1, 2011

Natural Causes of Rapid Temperature Change



(p. C4) Some three decades after Laki, 1816 was known as the "year without a summer" thanks to a big eruption in Indonesia. Even Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 caused a brief, though small, drop in world temperatures.

Other abrupt coolings have been bigger but less explicable. Earlier this year, two scientists from Brown University used lake sediments to conclude that the sharp cooling in Greenland during the late Middle Ages, which extinguished the Norse colonies, saw temperatures drop by seven degrees Fahrenheit in 80 years, much faster than recent warming there. Conversely, Greenland's temperature shot up by around 13 degrees in 50 years as the world came out of the last ice age 12,000 years ago and the ice sheets of North America and northern Europe retreated--again, unlike today's slow increase.



For the full commentary, see:

MATT RIDLEY. "MIND & MATTER; Will Volcanoes Cool Our Warming Earth?" The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUGUST 6, 2011): C4.






August 22, 2011

Gas Lighting Did Not Appeal to Those Who Had Servants to Light Their Candles




(p. 123) Gas was particularly popular in America and Britain. By 1850 it was available in most large cities in both countries. Gas remained, however, a (p. 124) middle-class indulgence. The poor couldn't afford it and the rich tended to disdain it, partly because of the cost and disruption of installing it and partly because of the damage it did to paintings and precious fabrics, and partly because when you have servants to do everything for you already there isn't the same urgency to invest in further conveniences. The ironic upshot, as Mark Girouard has noted, is that not only middle-class homes but institutions like lunatic asylums and prisons tended to be better lit - and, come to that, better warmed - long before England's stateliest homes were.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





August 20, 2011

Cougar Dies in Connecticut Three Months AFTER Government Declares It Extinct



(p. A19) Boulder, Colo.

You have to admit, the cat had moxie.

The 140-pound cougar that was spotted last month among the estates of Greenwich -- and was later struck and killed on the Wilbur Cross Parkway -- has been the talk of southern Connecticut. New England, along with most of the Eastern United States, hasn't been cougar country since the 19th century, when the animals were exterminated by a killing campaign that started in colonial times. So where had this cougar come from?

Now we know the answer, and it couldn't be more astonishing. Wildlife officials, who at first assumed the cat was a captive animal that had escaped its owners, examined its DNA and concluded that it was a wild cougar from the Black Hills of South Dakota. It had wandered at least 1,500 miles before meeting its end at the front of an S.U.V. in Connecticut. That is one impressive walkabout.

You have to appreciate this cat's sense of irony, too. The cougar showed up in the East just three months after the Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar extinct, a move that would exempt the officially nonexistent subspecies of the big cat from federal protection. Perhaps this red-state cougar traveled east to send a message to Washington: the federal government can make pronouncements about where cougars are not supposed to be found, but a cat's going to go where a cat wants to go.



For the full commentary, see:

DAVID BARON "The Cougar Behind Your Trash Can." The New York Times (Fri., July 29, 2011): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated July 28, 2011.)






July 29, 2011

Resistance to New Technology




(p. 59) . . . , not everyone was happy with the loss of open hearths. Many people missed the drifting smoke and were convinced they had been healthier when kept "well kippered in wood smoke," as one observer put it. As late as 1577, a William Harrison insisted that in the days of open fires our heads did never ake." Smoke in the roof space discouraged nesting birds and was believed to strengthen timbers. Above all, people complained that they weren't nearly as warm as before, which was true. Because fireplaces were so inefficient, they were constantly enlarged. Some became so enormous that they were built with benches in them, letting people sit inside the fireplace, almost the only place in the house where they could be really warm.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 27, 2011

Cow Burps and Farts Cause 28% of Methane Release "Due to Human Activity"



(p. 6A) LOS ANGELES -- Scientists have isolated a bacterium from the gut of Australian Tam­mar wallabies that allows the animals to consume and digest grasses, leaves and other plant material without producing co­pious amounts of methane, as cattle do.

The microbe was discovered through a process described in a report published online recently by the journal Science.

Ultimately, the microbe might be put to use to reduce the car­bon footprint of cows and other ruminants, said report co-author Mark Morrison, a microbial bi­ologist in St. Lucia, Queensland.


. . .


The methane-rich burps and flatulence of cattle have been blamed for 28 percent of that greenhouse gas's global emis­sions due to human activity. Like other cud-chewing mammals, they produce methane as their systems work to break down and ferment the plant matter they eat.



For the full story, see:

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES. "Wallaby microbe may one day help cut cows' methane footprint." Omaha World-Herald (Monday, July 4, 2011): 6A.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 25, 2011

Medieval Pollution




(p. 58) One thing that did not escape notice in medieval times was that nearly all the space above head height was unusable because it was so generally filled with smoke. An open hearth had certain clear advantages--it radiated heat in all directions and allowed people to sit around it on all four sides--but it was also like having a permanent bonfire in the middle of one's living room. Smoke went wherever passing drafts directed it--and with many people coming and going, and all the windows glassless, every passing gust must have brought somebody a faceful of smoke--or otherwise rose up to the ceiling and hung thickly until it leaked out a hole in the roof.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





July 21, 2011

"People Condemned to Short Lives and Chronic Hardship Are Perhaps Unlikely to Worry Overmuch about Decor"




If "necessity is the mother of invention," then why did it take so long for someone to invent the louvered slats mentioned at the end of this passage?


(p. 55) In even the best homes comfort was in short supply. It really is extraordinary how long it took people to achieve even the most elemental levels of comfort. There was one good reason for it: life was tough. Throughout the Middle Ages, a good deal of every life was devoted simply to surviving. Famine was common. The medieval world was a world without reserves; when harvests were poor, as they were about one year in four on average, hunger was immediate. When crops failed altogether, starvation inevitably followed. England suffered especially catastrophic harvests in 1272, 1277, 1283, 1292, and 1311, and then an unrelievedly murderous stretch from 1315 to 1319. And this was of course on top of plagues and other illnesses that swept away millions. People condemned to short lives and chronic hardship are perhaps unlikely to worry overmuch about decor. But even allowing for all that, there was just a great, strange slowness to strive for even modest levels of comfort. Roof holes, for instance, let smoke escape, but they also let in rain and drafts until somebody finally, belatedly invented a lantern structure with louvered slats that allowed smoke to escape but kept out rain, birds, and wind. It was a marvelous invention, but by the time it (p. 56) was thought of, in the fourteenth century, chimneys were already coming in and louvered caps were not needed.



Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





July 17, 2011

Medieval Halls of the Rich Incubated Plague in a Nest of "Filth Unmentionable"




(p. 51) In even the best houses, floors were generally just bare earth strewn with rushes, harboring "spittle and vomit and urine of dogs and men, beer that hath been cast forth and remnants of fishes and other filth unmentionable," as the Dutch theologian and traveler Desiderius Erasmus rather crisply summarized in 1524. New layers of rushes were laid down twice a year normally, but the old accretions were seldom removed, so that, Erasmus added glumly, "the substratum may be unmolested for twenty years." The floors were in effect a very large nest, much appreciated by insects and furtive rodents, and a perfect incubator for plague. Yet a deep pile of flooring was generally a sign of prestige. It was common among the French to say of a rich man that he was "waist deep in straw."


Source:

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life. New York: Doubleday, 2010.





July 11, 2011

Warm Yourself Over a "Dung Fire, and You Will Know What Pollution Really Is"



(p. D4) To the Editor:

The idea that ancient man had fewer tumors because he lived in a less polluted atmosphere ("Unearthing Prehistoric Tumors, and Debate," Dec. 28) can be held only by those who have limited experience living in a preindustrial way. Try cooking over an open fire burning half-rotten wood, or sitting in a cave warming yourself with a peat or dung fire, and you will know what pollution really is.

Carol Selinske

Rye Brook, N.Y.



Source of NYT letter to the Editor:

Carol Selinske. "LETTERS; Cancer, Then and Now." The New York Times (Tues., January 4, 2011): D4.

(Note: the online version of the letter is dated: January 3, 2011.)






June 10, 2011

New Jersey Citizens Rebel Against "Ugly" Solar Panels



SolarPanelsFailLawnNewJersey2011-06-02.jpg "Solar panels along Fifth Street in Fair Lawn, N.J. Residents elsewhere were upset they had not been notified before installation." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) ORADELL, N.J. -- Nancy and Eric Olsen could not pinpoint exactly when it happened or how. All they knew was one moment they had a pastoral view of a soccer field and the woods from their 1920s colonial-style house; the next all they could see were three solar panels.

"I hate them," Mr. Olsen, 40, said of the row of panels attached to electrical poles across the street. "It's just an eyesore."


. . .


(p. A3) New Jersey is second only to California in solar power capacity thanks to financial incentives and a public policy commitment to renewable energy industries seeded during Gov. Jon S. Corzine's administration. . . .

Some residents consider the overhanging panels "ugly" and "hideous" and worry aloud about the effect on property values.

Though nearly halfway finished, the company's crews have encountered some fresh resistance in Bergen County, where cities, villages and boroughs are in varying stages of mortification. Local officials have forced a temporary halt in many towns as they seek assurances that they will not be liable in case of injury, but also to buy time for suggesting alternative sites -- like dumps -- to spare their tree-lined streets.

And here in Oradell, at least one panel has gone missing.


. . .


The case of the missing panel has been referred to local law enforcement.

"PSE&G takes a very dim view of people tampering with the equipment," said Francis Sullivan, a company spokesman, "but that's secondary to the fact that it's just a dangerous idea." All the units are connected to high-voltage wires.

Richard Joel Sr., a lawyer in town, said a panel close to his house had been removed, but demurred when asked if he knew details.

"I'm not saying what happened," he said.



For the full story, see:

MIREYA NAVARRO. "Solar Panels Rise Pole by Pole, Followed by Gasps of 'Eyesore'." The New York Times (Thurs., April 28, 2011): A1 & A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story is dated April 27, 2011.)





June 3, 2011

Denmark (Yes, Sanctimoniously 'Green' Denmark) Seeks to Exploit the BENEFITS of Global Warming



(p. A7) Denmark plans to lay claim to parts of the North Pole and other areas in the Arctic, where melting ice is uncovering new shipping routes, fishing grounds and drilling opportunities for oil and gas, a leaked government document showed Tuesday.


For the full story, see:

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. "WORLD BRIEFING | EUROPE; Denmark: Leaked Document Reveals Plans to Claim Parts of the North Pole." The New York Times (Weds., May 18, 2011): A7.

(Note: the online version of the story is dated May 17, 2011.)





June 2, 2011

"When There Is a Massive Release of Methane, the Ocean Can Compensate"



KesslerJohnBiologist2011-05-19.jpg "Dr. John Kessler, lead author of the study, examining a water sample." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A3) Bacteria made quick work of the tons of methane that billowed into the Gulf of Mexico along with oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout, clearing the natural gas from the waterway within months of its release, researchers reported Friday.

The federally funded field study, published online in the journal Science, offers peer-reviewed evidence that naturally occurring microbes in the Gulf devoured significant amounts of toxic chemicals in natural gas and oil spewing from the seafloor, which researchers had thought would persist in the region's water chemistry for years.

"Within a matter of months, the bacteria completely removed that methane,"said microbiologist David Valentine at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "The bacteria kicked on more effectively than we expected," he said.


. . .


"We were shocked," said chemical oceanographer John Kessler at Texas A&M, who was the lead author of the Science study. "We thought the methane would be around for years."


. . .


"They showed that, even when there is a massive release of methane, the ocean can compensate," said federal microbiologist Terry Hazen at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who has long championed the use of methane-oxidizing microbes to biodegrade oil spills.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT LEE HOTZ. "Microbes Mopped Up After Spill; Bacteria Swiftly Devoured Methane Unleashed Into the Gulf of Mexico, Study Says." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., January 7, 2011): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The Science article mentioned above, is:

Kessler, John D., David L. Valentine, Molly C. Redmond, Mengran Du, Eric W. Chan, Stephanie D. Mendes, Erik W. Quiroz, Christie J. Villanueva, Stephani S. Shusta, Lindsay M. Werra, Shari A. Yvon-Lewis, and Thomas C. Weber. "A Persistent Oxygen Anomaly Reveals the Fate of Spilled Methane in the Deep Gulf of Mexico." Science (Jan. 6, 2011).


MethaneConsumedGraph2011-05-19.jpg














Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.







April 30, 2011

Press Routinely Puffs Up Phony Scares



(p. 107) In the winter of 2001, . . . , a New York Times page-one lead story declared in breathless phrasing that the White House had just "canceled" regulations limiting arsenic in drinking water; taking their leads from the Times, all national newscasts that night declared that arsenic protection had been "canceled." The Times went on to editorialize that government actually wanted Americans to "drink poisoned water" because this would serve the sinister interests of corporations, though how the conspiracy would serve sinister corporate interests was not explained, since the arsenic in drinking water occurs naturally. Government poisoning your water--a report you don't want to miss tonight!

Except that nothing had been canceled. The White House had held up a pending rule to make arsenic protection more strict; while the pending rule was reviewed, prior rules remained in effect. The Environmental Protection Agency continued regulating arsenic in drinking water during the entire period when such protection was supposedly "canceled." Then, in November 2001, the White House ended its review and put the much stricter rule into force. The New York Times did not play this as (p. 108) a headline lead, where the original scare story had been; enactment of the strict rule was buried in a small box on page A18. Network newscasts that had presented a shocking scandal of "canceled arsenic protection" as their big story also said little or nothing when instead stronger rules went into effect. This sort of puffing up of a phony scare, followed by studious ignoring of subsequent events that deflate the scare, is not rare. It is standard operating procedure in many quarters of journalism, including at the top.



Source:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

(Note: ellipsis added; italics in original.)





April 18, 2011

"Elites Like Bad News"



(p. 101) Many elites love writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, who viewed all human action as meaningless, or Thomas Pynchon, whose novels, such as Gravity's Rainbow purport to present hard-science arguments that ours is a pointless universe doomed to meaningless demise. Pynchon's grasp of physics is debatable; what matters is that when he claimed to have found scientific proof the universe is pointless, many of a certain ilk were eager to believe him. Eighty years ago, elites of the United Stares and Europe gushed in praise over the social historian Oswald Spen-(p. 102)gler's work The Decline of the West, which argued not only that American and European civilization "one day will lie in fragments, forgotten" but that the downfall of Western civilization was imminently at hand. Similarly, William Butler Yeats in the early twentieth century was praised by Western intellectuals for predicting pending social disintegration through his famed phrase, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." Spengler even maintained that the collapse of Western civilization would be a beneficial development, because America and Europe were contemptible. Eight decades later, the West is far stronger, richer, more secure, more diverse, and more free than when Spengler declared it a decaying relic about to vanish. Nevertheless, his work and similar predictions of impending Western collapse are still spoken of reverentially among intellectual elites, a portion of whom delight to hear anything American and European called bad.

If elites like bad news, then the eagerness of intellectuals, artists, and tastemakers to embrace claims of ecological doomsday, population crash, coming global plagues, economic down fall, cultural wars, or the end of this or that become, at least, comprehensible.



Source:

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

(Note: italics in original.)





April 8, 2011

Huge "Green" Homes are "Monuments to Sanctimony"



(p. W9) In North Carolina, the owners of a 4,600-square-foot home that cost $1.2 million wanted it to be as "green" as possible, so they spent $120,000 on solar power.

In Colorado, using recycled materials, an architecture professor built a 4,700-square-foot home that uses geothermal heating and cooling and was on the market recently for $930,000.

And in Southern California, a husband-and-wife architect team who say that they "came of age during the '60s and '70s at U.C. Berkeley" also relied on recycled materials -- in building a second home six hours from their primary residence.

By now these environmentally conscious "green" houses are a staple of home design magazines, where they are presented as exemplars of both good taste and good intentions. The Colorado house, for instance, has won awards from the state and the Colorado Renewable Energy Society and has appeared in the Washington Post and on Home and Garden TV.

The question, of course, is what on earth are all these people thinking? How "green" can huge and, in many cases, isolated houses be? Wouldn't it be better to risk traumatizing the children by squeezing into a 3,000-square-foot home, especially one close to shopping, schools and work? How many less affluent, less guilt-ridden Americans can afford to build such environmental show houses?

These houses aren't just ridiculous; they're monuments to sanctimony.



For the full commentary, see:

DANIEL AKST. "Green House Gasbags." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., January 13, 2006): W9.





April 1, 2011

Autos Give Us Autonomy



OpenRoad2011-03-10.jpgThe open road. Source of photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 60) I've been converted by a renegade school of thinkers you might call the autonomists, because they extol the autonomy made possible by automobiles. Their school includes engineers and philosophers, political scientists like James Q. Wilson and number-crunching economists like Randal O'Toole, the author of the 540-page manifesto ''The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths.'' These thinkers acknowledge the social and environmental problems caused by the car but argue that these would not be solved -- in fact, would be mostly made worse -- by the proposals coming from the car's critics. They call smart growth a dumb idea, the result not of rational planning but of class snobbery and intellectual arrogance. They prefer to promote smart driving, which means more tolls, more roads and, yes, more cars.


. . .


(p. 65) . . . Macaulay . . . observed in the 19th century that ''every improvement of the means of locomotion benefits mankind morally and intellectually, as well as materially.''


. . .


In an essay called ''Autonomy and Automobility,'' Loren E. Lomasky, a professor of political philosophy at the University of Virginia, invokes Aristotle's concept of the ''self-mover'' to argue that the ability to move about and see the world is the crucial distinction between higher and lower forms of life and is ultimately the source of what Kant would later call humans' moral autonomy. ''The automobile is, arguably, rivaled only by the printing press (and perhaps within a few more years by the microchip) as an autonomy-enhancing contrivance of technology,'' he writes. The planners determined to tame sprawl, Lomasky argues, are the intellectual heirs of Plato and his concept of the philosopher-king who would impose order on the unenlightened masses.



For the full commentary, see:

Tierney, John. "The Autonomist Manifesto (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Road)." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., September 26, 2004): 57-65.

(Note: ellipsis added.)


The Lomasky essay is:

Lomasky, Loren E. "Autonomy and Automobility." The Independent Review
2, no. 1 (Summer 1997): 5-28.



The Macaulay quote is from:

Macaulay, Thomas Babington. "Chap. 3, State of England in 1685." The History of England from the Accession of James II. 1848.


The O'Toole book is:

O'Toole, Randal (sic). The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth Will Harm American Cities. Camp Sherman, Oregon: The Thoreau Institute, 2000.



The Wilson essay is:

Wilson, James Q. "Cars and Their Enemies." Commentary 104, no. 1 (July 1997): 17-23.





March 26, 2011

Kilimanjaro Snow Has "Come and Gone Over Centuries"



KilimanjaroSnow2011-03-09.jpg "Mount Kilimanjaro's top, shown in June, has lost 26 percent of its ice since 2000, a study says." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) The ice atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania has continued to retreat rapidly, declining 26 percent since 2000, scientists say in a new report.

Yet the authors of the study, to be published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reached no consensus on whether the melting could be attributed mainly to humanity's role in warming the global climate.

Eighty-five percent of the ice cover that was present in 1912 has vanished, the scientists said.

To measure the recent pace of the retreat, researchers relied on data from aerial photographs taken of Kilimanjaro over time and from stakes and instruments installed on the mountaintop in 2000, said Douglas R. Hardy, a geologist at the University of Massachusetts and one of the study's authors.


. . .


. . . Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the Institute for Geography of the University of Innsbruck in Austria, said that the ice measured was only a few hundred years old and that it had come and gone over centuries.

What is more, he suggested that the recent melting had more to do with a decline in moisture levels than with a warming atmosphere.

"Our understanding is that it is due to the slow drying out of ice," Dr. Kaser said. "It's about moisture fluctuation."



For the full story, see:

SINDYA N. BHANOO. "Mt. Kilimanjaro's Ice Cap Continues Its Rapid Retreat, but the Cause Is Debated." The New York Times (Tues., November 3, 2009): A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated November 2, 2009 and has the title "Mt. Kilimanjaro Ice Cap Continues Rapid Retreat.")





March 16, 2011

Unclear Regulations Reduce Energy Innovation Investment



TerraPowerNuclearReactor2011-02-08.jpg


















"Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. R3) Bill Gates reshaped the computer industry by pumping out new versions of Microsoft Windows software every few years, fixing and fine tuning it as he went along.

He's now betting that he can reshape the energy industry with a project akin to shipping Windows once and having it work, bug-free, for 50 years.

Thanks to his role funding and guiding a start-up called TerraPower LLC, where he serves as chairman, Mr. Gates has become a player in a field of inventors whose goal is to make nuclear reactors smaller, cheaper and safer than today's nuclear energy sources. The 30-person company recently completed a basic design for a reactor that theoretically could run untouched for decades on spent nuclear fuel. Now the company is seeking a partner to help build the experimental reactor, and a country willing to host it.

It's a long-term, risky endeavor for Mr. Gates and his fellow investors. The idea will require years to test, billions of dollars (not all from him) and changes in U.S. nuclear regulations if the reactor is to be built here. Current U.S. rules don't even cover the type of technology TerraPower hopes to use.

"A cheaper reactor design that can burn waste and doesn't run into fuel limitations would be a big thing," Mr. Gates says. He adds that in general "capitalism underinvests in innovation," particularly in areas with "long time horizons and where government regulations are unclear."


. . .


The company has made pitches in France and Japan, Mr. Myrhvold says; both have big nuclear-power industries. He's also made the rounds in Russia, China and India, he says. So far, there have been no takers.

One country he is certain won't be a customer anytime soon is the U.S., which doesn't yet have a certification process for reactors like TerraPower's. It would likely be a decade or more before the reactor could be tested on U.S. soil. "I don't think the U.S. has the willpower or desire to build new kinds of nuclear reactors," Mr. Myrhvold says. "Right now there's a long, drawn-out process."


. . .


Mr. Myrhvold says he hopes the process will speed up and spark innovation to meet the world's growing energy demand. "Let's try 20 ideas," he says. "Maybe five of them work. That's the only way to invent our way out of the pickle we're in."



For the full story, see:

ROBERT A. GUTH. "A Window Into the Nuclear Future; TerraPower--with the backing of Bill Gates--has a radical vision for the reactors of tomorrow." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., FEBRUARY 28, 2011): R3.

(Note: ellipses added.)





March 8, 2011

Russia Boldly Seeks Oil in Arctic



RussianArcticOilPlatform2011-02-27.jpg"The Prirazlomnaya oil platform was brought to the Arctic seaport of Murmansk, 906 miles north of Moscow, to be adjusted." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) MOSCOW -- The Arctic Ocean is a forbidding place for oil drillers. But that is not stopping Russia from jumping in -- or Western oil companies from eagerly following.

Russia, where onshore oil reserves are slowly dwindling, last month signed an Arctic exploration deal with the British petroleum giant BP, whose offshore drilling prospects in the United States were dimmed by the Gulf of Mexico disaster last year. Other Western oil companies, recognizing Moscow's openness to new ocean drilling, are now having similar discussions with Russia.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER and CLIFFORD KRAUSS. "Russia Embraces Arctic Drilling." The New York Times (Weds., February 16, 2011): B1-B2.

(Note: the online version of the article was dated February 15, 2011 and had the title "Russia Embraces Offshore Arctic Drilling.")




ArcticOilAndGasMap2011-02-27.jpg
















Source of map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.







February 12, 2011

"Powerful Pressure for Scientists to Conform"



HypingHealthRisksBK2011-02-05.jpg













Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) In "Hyping Health Risks," Geoffrey Kabat, an epidemiologist himself, shows how activists, regulators and scientists distort or magnify minuscule environmental risks. He duly notes the accomplishments of epidemiology, such as uncovering the risks of tobacco smoking and the dangers of exposure to vinyl chloride and asbestos. And he acknowledges that industry has attempted to manipulate science. But he is concerned about a less reported problem: "The highly charged climate surrounding environmental health risks can create powerful pressure for scientists to conform and to fall into line with a particular position."

Mr. Kabat looks at four claims -- those trying to link cancer to man-made chemicals, electromagnetic fields and radon and to link cancer and heart disease to passive smoking. In each, he finds more bias than biology -- until further research, years later, corrects exaggeration or error.


. . .


I know whereof Mr. Kabat speaks. In 1992, as the producer of a PBS program, I interviewed an epidemiologist who was on the EPA's passive-smoking scientific advisory board. He admitted to me that the EPA had put its thumb on the evidentiary scales to come to its conclusion. He had lent his name to this process because, he said, he wanted "to remain relevant to the policy process." Naturally, he didn't want to appear on TV contradicting the EPA.



For the full review, see:

RONALD BAILEY. "Bookshelf; Scared Senseless." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., AUGUST 11, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the first paragraph quoted above has slightly different wording in the online version than the print version; the second paragraph quoted is the same in both.)


The book under review is:

Kabat, Geoffrey C. Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.





February 5, 2011

Polar Bears Can Survive Global Warming



(p. 3A) ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- . . .

A study report published Wednesday rejects the often­ used concept of a "tipping point," or point of no return, when it comes to sea ice and the big bear that has become the symbol of climate change woes. . . .

Another research group proj­ects that even if global warming doesn't slow, a thin, icy refuge for the bears would still remain between Greenland and Canada.


. . .


A . . . study was to be pre­sented Thursday at the Ameri­can Geophysical Union confer­ence in San Francisco. That research considers a future in which global warming continues at the same pace.

And it shows that a belt from the northern archipelago of Canada to the northern tip of Greenland will likely still have ice because of various winds and currents.

The sea ice forms off Siberia in an area that's called "the ice factory" and is blown to this belt, which is like an "ice cube tray," said Robert Newton of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observa­tory at Columbia University.

That "sea ice refuge" will be good for polar bears and should continue for decades to come, maybe even into the next cen­tury, he said.



For the full story, see:

AP. "Scientists: It's Not Too Late for Polar Bears After All." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., December 16, 2010): 3A.

(Note: ellipses added.)


The first article mentioned is:

Amstrup, Steven C., Eric T. DeWeaver, David C. Douglas, Bruce G. Marcot, George M. Durner, Cecilia M. Bitz, and David A. Bailey. "Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Can Reduce Sea-Ice Loss and Increase Polar Bear Persistence." Nature 468, no. 7326 (December 16, 2010): 955-58.


A poster on an earlier version of the second paper can be found at:

Pfirman, Stephanie, Bruno Tremblay, Charles Fowler, and Robert Newton. "The Arctic Sea Ice Refuge." March 2010.


The reference to the second paper is:

Pfirman, Stephanie, Robert Newton, Bruno Tremblay, and Brenden P. Kelly. "The Last Arctic Sea-Ice Refuge?" In Presented at meetings of American Geophysical Union, December 2010.





January 24, 2011

Fluorescent Bulbs Burn Out Much Faster than Utility Predicted



(p. A5) When it set up its bulb program in 2006, PG&E Corp. thought its customers would buy 53 million compact fluorescent bulbs by 2008. It allotted $92 million for rebates, the most of any utility in the state. Researchers hired by the California Public Utilities Commission concluded earlier this year that fewer bulbs were sold, fewer were screwed in, and they saved less energy than PG&E anticipated.

As a result of these and other adjustments, energy savings attributed to PG&E were pegged at 451.6 million kilowatt hours by regulators, or 73% less than the 1.7 billion kilowatt hours projected by PG&E for the 2006-2008 program.

One hitch was the compact-fluorescent burnout rate. When PG&E began its 2006-2008 program, it figured the useful life of each bulb would be 9.4 years. Now, with experience, it has cut the estimate to 6.3 years, which limits the energy savings. Field tests show higher burnout rates in certain locations, such as bathrooms and in recessed lighting. Turning them on and off a lot also appears to impair longevity.



For the full story, see:

REBECCA SMITH. "The New Light Bulbs Lose a Little Shine; Compact Fluorescent Lamps Burn Out Faster Than Expected, Limiting Energy Savings in California's Efficiency Program." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., JANUARY 19, 2011): A5.





January 16, 2011

Cornucopians Win Another Bet with Malthusians



(p. D1) Five years ago, Matthew R. Simmons and I bet $5,000. It was a wager about the future of energy supplies -- a Malthusian pessimist versus a Cornucopian optimist -- and now the day of reckoning is nigh: Jan. 1, 2011.

The bet was occasioned by a cover article in August 2005 in The New York Times Magazine titled "The Breaking Point." It featured predictions of soaring oil prices from Mr. Simmons, who was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the head of a Houston investment bank specializing in the energy industry, and the author of "Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy."

I called Mr. Simmons to discuss a bet. To his credit -- and unlike some other Malthusians -- he was eager to back his predictions with cash. He expected the price of oil, then about $65 a barrel, to more than triple in the next five years, even after adjusting for inflation. He offered to bet $5,000 that the average price of oil over the course of 2010 would be at least $200 a barrel in 2005 dollars.

I took him up on it, not because I knew much about Saudi oil production or the other "peak oil" arguments that global production was headed downward. I was just following a rule learned from a mentor and a friend, the economist Julian L. Simon.

As the leader of the Cornucopians, the optimists who believed there would always be abundant supplies of energy and other resources, Julian figured that betting was the best way to make his argument. Optimism, he found, didn't make for cover stories and front-page headlines.


. . .


(p. D3) When I found a new bettor in 2005, the first person I told was Julian's widow, Rita Simon, a public affairs professor at American University. She was so happy to see Julian's tradition continue that she wanted to share the bet with me, so we each ended up each putting $2,500 against Mr. Simmons's $5,000.


. . .


The past year the price has rebounded, but the average for 2010 has been just under $80, which is the equivalent of about $71 in 2005 dollars -- a little higher than the $65 at the time of our bet, but far below the $200 threshold set by Mr. Simmons.

What lesson do we draw from this? I'd hoped to let Mr. Simmons give his view, but I'm very sorry to report that he died in August, at the age of 67. The colleagues handling his affairs reviewed the numbers last week and declared that Mr. Simmons's $5,000 should be awarded to me and to Rita Simon on Jan. 1, . . .



For the full commentary, see:

JOHN TIERNEY. "Findings; Economic Optimism? Yes, I'll Take That Bet." The New York Times (Tues., December 28, 2010): D1 & D3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 27, 2010.)





January 4, 2011

Bronson Alcott's Environmentalist Utopia Failed from Too Much Verbal Manure and Too Little Real Manure



(p. 21) Like many educational theorists, Bronson Alcott found his own children hard to manage. And, again like many visionaries, he also found it hard to hold down a job. As a result, the family moved 29 times in as many years. In 1843 Bronson helped found Fruitlands, a utopian community 15 miles west of Boston. Members of the commune, which numbered 13 people at its height, advocated abolitionism, environmentalism, feminism and anarchism, forswearing meat, alcohol, neckcloths, haircuts, cotton (because it was grown by slaves) and leather (because it was harvested from animals). Their rejection of one more animal product, manure, helps explain why Fruitlands failed after only eight months: this new Eden remained barren in the absence of fertilizer.

In "Transcendental Wild Oats," a satiric memoir Louisa based on the diary she kept at Fruitlands, one character asks "Are there any beasts of burden on the place?" and is answered, "Only one woman!" In real life, the expulsion of the lone female convert, probably for helping herself to some fish on the sly, left Louisa's mother, Abigail, to do all the women's work and much of the men's -- especially since Bronson and his sidekick, Charles Lane, made a habit of disappearing on recruiting trips at the very moment farm labor was required.



For the full review, see:

LEAH PRICE. "American Girl." The New York Times Book Review (Sun., December 12, 2010): 21.

(Note: the online version of the review is dated December 10, 2010.)



The books under review are:

Cheever, Susan. Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Francis, Richard. Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010.





November 30, 2010

Syrian Government Wastes Water in Drought:         "No Money, No Job, No Hope"



SyrianRefugeesDrought2010-11-14.jpg "Refugees have left their farmlands and are living in tents in Ar Raqqah, Syria, because of a drought." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) AR RAQQAH, Syria -- The farmlands spreading north and east of this Euphrates River town were once the breadbasket of the region, a vast expanse of golden wheat fields and bucolic sheep herds.

Now, after four consecutive years of drought, this heartland of the Fertile Crescent -- including much of neighboring Iraq -- appears to be turning barren, climate scientists say. Ancient irrigation systems have collapsed, underground water sources have run dry and hundreds of villages have been abandoned as farmlands turn to cracked desert and grazing animals die off. Sandstorms have become far more common, and vast tent cities of dispossessed farmers and their families have risen up around the larger towns and cities of Syria and Iraq.

"I had 400 acres of wheat, and now it's all desert," said Ahmed Abdullah, 48, a farmer who is living in a ragged burlap and plastic tent here with his wife and 12 children alongside many other migrants. "We were forced to flee. Now we are at less than zero -- no money, no job, no hope."


. . .


(p. A17) The drought has become a delicate subject for the Syrian government, which does not give foreign journalists official permission to write about it or grant access to officials in the Agriculture Ministry. On the road running south from Damascus, displaced farmers and herders can be seen living in tents, but the entrances are closely watched by Syrian security agents, who do not allow journalists in.

Droughts have always taken place here, but "the regional climate is changing in ways that are clearly observable," said Jeannie Sowers, a professor at the University of New Hampshire who has written on Middle East climate issues. "Whether you call it human-induced climate change or not, much of the region is getting hotter and dryer, combined with more intense, erratic rainfall and flooding in some areas. You will have people migrating as a result, and governments are ill prepared."

The Syrian government has begun to acknowledge the scale of the problem and has developed a national drought plan, though it has not yet been put in place, analysts say. Poor planning helped create the problem in the first place: Syria spent $15 billion on misguided irrigation projects between 1988 and 2000 with little result, said Elie Elhadj, a Syrian-born author who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the topic. Syria continues to grow cotton and wheat in areas that lack sufficient water -- making them more vulnerable to drought -- because the government views the ability to produce those crops as part of its identity and a bulwark against foreign dependence, analysts say.



For the full story, see:

ROBERT F. WORTH. "Parched Earth Where Syrian Farms Thrived." The New York Times (Thurs., October 14, 2010): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 13, 2010 and has the title "Earth Is Parched Where Syrian Farms Thrived.")



SyriaMaps2010-11-14.jpg

















Source of maps: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





November 21, 2010

Noise Pollution from "Clean" Wind Energy



(p. A1) VINALHAVEN, Me. -- Like nearly all of the residents on this island in Penobscot Bay, Art Lindgren and his wife, Cheryl, celebrated the arrival of three giant wind turbines late last year. That was before they were turned on.

"In the first 10 minutes, our jaws dropped to the ground," Mr. Lindgren said. "Nobody in the area could believe it. They were so loud."

Now, the Lindgrens, along with a dozen or so neighbors living less than a mile from the $15 million wind facility here, say the industrial whoosh-and-whoop of the 123-foot blades is making life in this otherwise tranquil corner of the island unbearable.

They are among a small but growing number of families and homeowners across the country who say they have learned the hard way that wind power -- a clean alternative to electricity from fossil fuels -- is not without emissions of its own.

Lawsuits and complaints about turbine noise, vibrations and subsequent lost property value have cropped up in Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, among other states.



For the full story, see:

TOM ZELLER Jr. "For Those Living Nearby, That Miserable Hum of Clean Energy." The New York Times (Weds., October 6, 2010): A1 & A3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 5, 2010 and has the title "For Those Near, the Miserable Hum of Clean Energy.")






November 4, 2010

Consumers Sack Noisy Green Bags



SunChips2010-10-23.jpg














"Frito-Lay aims to quell complaints about SunChips bags by dumping the new bags for the old packaging." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article cited below.



The Omaha World-Herald ran a similar article to the WSJ article quoted below, in which they noted that the noisy Sun Chip bags are made from Inego which is a plastic made from corn at a Cargill facility in Blair, Nebraska.


(p. B8) Frito-Lay, the snack giant owned by PepsiCo Inc., says it is pulling most of the biodegradable packaging it uses for its Sun Chips snacks, following an outcry from consumers who complained the new bags were too noisy.

Touted by Frito-Lay as 100% compostable, the packaging, made from biodegradable plant material, began hitting store shelves in January. Sales of the multigrain snack have since tumbled.


. . .


Consumers have posted videos on the Web poking fun at the new bags and lodged fierce complaints on social-networking sites. Since January, year-on-year sales of Sun Chips have decreased each month, according to SymphonyIRI, a Chicago market-research firm that tracks sales at retailers.



For the full story, see:

SUZANNE VRANICA. "Sun Chips Bag to Lose Its Crunch." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., OCTOBER 6, 2010): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: I noticed the "sack" pun in a commentary by Eric Felton, WSJ, 10/8/2010.)


The Omaha World-Herald article mentioned above, is:

AP. "Frito-Lay Is Pulling Most Noisy Bags from Shelves." Omaha World-Herald (Tuesday, October 5, 2010): 1D & 2D.

(Note: the online version of the article has the title "Frito-Lay pulls most noisy bags.")





November 2, 2010

William Rosen's "The Most Powerful Idea in the World"



Most-Powerful-Idea-in-the-WorldBK2010-10-24.jpg














Source of book image: http://ffbsccn.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/the-most-powerful-idea-in-the-world.jpg




The range of William Rosen's fascinating and useful book is very broad indeed. He is interested in THE question: why did the singular improvement in living standards known as the industrial revolution happen where and when it did?

The question is not just of historical interest---if we can figure out what caused the improvement then and there, we have a better shot at continuing to improve in the here and now.

I especially enjoyed and learned from William Rosen's discussion, examples and quotations on the difficult issue of whether patents are on balance a good or bad institution.

Deirdre McCloskey taught me that the most important part of a sentence is the last word, and the most important part of a paragraph is the last sentence, and the most important part of a chapter is the last paragraph.

Here are the last couple of sentences of Rosen's book:


(p. 324) Incised in the stone over the Herbert C. Hoover Building's north entrance is the legend that, with Lincoln's characteristic brevity, sums up the single most important idea in the world:

THE PATENT SYSTEM ADDED

THE FUEL OF INTEREST

TO THE FIRE OF GENIUS



In the next few weeks I will occasionally quote a few of the more illuminating passages from Rosen's well-written account.


Book discussed:

Rosen, William. The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention. New York: Random House, 2010.





October 24, 2010

Wilderness Act Makes Wilderness Inaccessible and Dangerous



(p. A19) ONE day in early 1970, a cross-country skier got lost along the 46-mile Kekekabic Trail, which winds through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. Unable to make his way out, he died of exposure.

In response, the Forest Service installed markers along the trail. But when, years later, it became time to replace them, the agency refused, claiming that the 1964 Wilderness Act banned signage in the nation's wilderness areas.


. . .


Over the decades an obvious contradiction has emerged between preservation and access. As the Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management -- each of which claims jurisdiction over different wilderness areas -- adopted stricter interpretations of the act, they forbade signs, baby strollers, certain climbing tools and carts that hunters use to carry game.

As a result, the agencies have made these supposedly open recreational areas inaccessible and even dangerous, putting themselves in opposition to healthy and environmentally sound human-powered activities, the very thing Congress intended the Wilderness Act to promote.



For the full commentary, see:

TED STROLL. "Aw, Wilderness!." The New York Times (Fri., August 27, 2010): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 26, 2010.)






October 20, 2010

Wind Energy Produces Warm Fuzzy Feelings, But Little Energy and No Reduction in Carbon Dioxide



(p. A15) Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don't go dark, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal- or gas-fired generators (called "cycling"). But coal-fired and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don't, fuel consumption and emissions generally increase. A car analogy helps explain: An automobile that operates at a constant speed--say, 55 miles per hour--will have better fuel efficiency, and emit less pollution per mile traveled, than one that is stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

Recent research strongly suggests how this problem defeats the alleged carbon-reducing virtues of wind power. In April, Bentek Energy, a Colorado-based energy analytics firm, looked at power plant records in Colorado and Texas. (It was commissioned by the Independent Petroleum Association of the Mountain States.) Bentek concluded that despite huge investments, wind-generated electricity "has had minimal, if any, impact on carbon dioxide" emissions.

Bentek found that thanks to the cycling of Colorado's coal-fired plants in 2009, at least 94,000 more pounds of carbon dioxide were generated because of the repeated cycling. In Texas, Bentek estimated that the cycling of power plants due to increased use of wind energy resulted in a slight savings of carbon dioxide (about 600 tons) in 2008 and a slight increase (of about 1,000 tons) in 2009.


. . .


Perhaps it comes down to what Kevin Forbes, the director of the Center for the Study of Energy and Environmental Stewardship at Catholic University, told me: "Wind energy gives people a nice warm fuzzy feeling that we're taking action on climate change." Yet when it comes to CO2 emissions, "the reality is that it's not doing much of anything."



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT BRYCE. "Wind Power Won't Cool Down the Planet; Often enough it leads to higher carbon emissions." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., August 24, 2010): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated August 23, 2010.)



To request a full copy of the Bentek Energy report, or to download a PDF executive summary of the report, you can visit:

http://www.bentekenergy.com/WindCoalandGasStudy.aspx



Robert Bryce's recent book on energy issues is:

Bryce, Robert. Power Hungry; the Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010.


power_hungry_robert_bryce.jpg











Source of book image: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_4ify7vDXrDs/S98Go4-H9WI/AAAAAAAAFt0/pZ7rYtV1YbE/s1600/power_hungry_robert_bryce.jpg







October 17, 2010

The Dirt on Government Detergent Laws



JonesEliseDirtyDishes2010-09-19.jpg "Elise Jones has noticed "a white dusty film" on her dishes and attributes it to reduced phosphates in dishwasher detergent." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1) Some longtime users were furious.

"My dishes were dirtier than before they were washed," one wrote last week in the review section of the Web site for the Cascade line of dishwasher detergents. "It was horrible, and I won't buy it again."

"This is the worst product ever made for use as a dishwashing detergent!" another consumer wrote.

Like every other major detergent for automatic dishwashers, Procter & Gamble's Cascade line recently underwent a makeover. Responding to laws that went into effect in 17 states in July, the nation's detergent makers reformulated their products to reduce what had been the crucial ingredient, phosphates, to just a trace.


. . .


(p. 4) Phosphorus in the form of phosphates suspends particles so they do not stick to dishes and softens water to allow suds to form.

Now that the content in dishwasher detergent has plummeted to 0.5 percent from as high as 8.7 percent, many consumers are just noticing the change in the wash cycle as they run out of the old product.

"Low-phosphate dish detergents are a waste of my money," said Thena Reynolds, a 55-year-old homemaker from Van Zandt County, Tex., who said she ran her dishwasher twice a day for a family of five. Now she has to do a quick wash of the dishes before she puts them in the dishwasher to make sure they come out clean, she said. "If I'm using more water and detergent, is that saving anything?" Ms. Reynolds said. "There has to be a happy medium somewhere."


. . .


. . . Jessica Fischburg, a commerce manager in Norwich, Conn., for CleaningProductsWorld.com, which sells janitorial supplies in bulk, said she was not surprised that many of her clients rejected products marketed as environmentally friendly.

"The reality of any green product is that they generally don't work as well," she said. "Our customers really don't like them."


. . .


. . . in its September issue, Consumer Reports reported that of 24 low- or phosphate-free dishwasher detergents it tested, including those from environmentally friendly product lines that have been on the market for years, none matched the performance of products with phosphates.




For the full story, see:

MIREYA NAVARRO. "Cleaner for the Environment, But the Dishes? Not So Shiny." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., September 19, 2010): 1 & 4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated September 18, 2010, and had the title "Cleaner for the Environment, Not for the Dishes.")





October 14, 2010

"A Novel Way to Extract CO2 from the Atmosphere"



(p. 96) UNDERSTANDING how the oceans absorb carbon dioxide is crucial to understanding the role of that gas in the climate. It is rather worrying, then, that something profound may be missing from that understanding. But if Jiao Nianzhi of Xiamen University in China is right, it is. For he suggests there is a lot of carbon floating in the oceans that has not previously been noticed. It is in the form of what is known as refractory dissolved organic matter and it has been put there by a hitherto little-regarded group of creatures called aerobic anoxygenic photoheterotrophic bacteria (AAPB). If Dr Jiao is right, a whole new "sink" for carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been discovered.


. . .


. . . , Dr Jiao and his (p. 97) colleagues propose that AAPB, and possibly other, similar microbes, have a predominant role in pumping carbon into a pool of compounds that cannot be turned back into carbon dioxide by living creatures, thereby building up a large reservoir that keeps carbon out of the atmosphere. If that idea is confirmed, it will need to be incorporated into the computer models used to understand the Earth's carbon cycle and its effect on the climate. But it also raises a more radical thought. The newly discovered microbial carbon pump could provide a novel way to extract CO2 from the atmosphere, should that ever be deemed necessary to combat climate change.



For the full story, see:

"Bacteria and climate change; Invisible carbon pumps; A group of oceanic micro-organisms just might prove a surprising ally in the fight against climate change." The Economist (September 11, 2010): 96-97.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 9, 2010.)





October 10, 2010

Frank Sliney Defends His Lexus and His Big House



(p. D8) Frank Sliney, 75, former marine and chief executive of the 25-year-old Franmar Chemical (motto: "solutions from soybeans"), in Bloomington, Ill., which originally manufactured nontoxic soy-based cleaning products for industrial workers and has now expanded into green cleaning products for home use, replies: "My house is 4,800 square feet. I'm a rich guy. We lived in a little apartment, I worked for 20-plus years building this company. I drive a Lexus 460. I worked like hell all my life and paid my bills and never was on public aid."

But isn't your house too big for two people?

"Right," he answered. "Why don't we go out and bring in a family of 12 and adopt them? There are those who would prefer to plow golf courses under because of the water and chemicals they use. There's no end to it. On a daily basis, I do more to save the earth than 10 people -- I replace 32 tanker cars of mineral spirit with one tanker of soy. The soy will biodegrade in 28 days, the mineral spirits will go on a long time."

Oops, Sorry, We Appear to Have Put Mr. Sliney in the Wrong Section

"People who say, 'We could grow our own fuel?' that is really silly," Mr. Sliney continues. "Call the American Soy Bean Board -- you know how many gallons of fuel they'll tell you you can get out of an acre of land? Three or four gallons per bushel per year. How many gallons of gasoline do we use in a day? Twenty-two million."

Make That the Wrong Story

Mr. Sliney: "You know what I think? If you wake up in the morning and your biggest concern is trash cans or what kind of window sprays you're using, you are having it good. There are people who wake up and their biggest concern is getting fed."



For the full story, see:

JOYCE WADLER. "Green Guilt." The New York Times (Thurs., September 30, 2010): D1 & D8.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 29, 2010 and has the title "Green, but Still Feeling Guilty.")

(Note: sub-heads in original and bolded in original.)





September 13, 2010

Ecosystems May Benefit from Gulf Oil Spill



ColdSeepTubewormCroppedLarge2010-09-01.jpg"In a cold-seep community a third of a mile down in the Gulf of Mexico, the orange mat in the foreground is a colony of microbes that live on oil and gas seeping up from the seabed, starting a complex food chain that results in a dark ecosystem. In the background are tubeworms, which can grow eight feet long and live for centuries. Near the tubeworms are snail and clam shells, which appear to be empty."


Source of caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. Source of photo: http://www.plosbiology.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.0030102.g001&representation=PNG_M (The photo on the NYT site was identical, but was in a more user-friendly format at the URL just-cited.)


(p. D1) . . . , in 1977, oceanographers working in the deep Pacific stumbled on bizarre ecosystems lush with clams, mussels and big tube worms -- a cornucopia of abyssal life built on microbes that thrived in hot, mineral-rich waters welling up from volcanic cracks, feeding on the chemicals that leached into the seawater and serving as the basis for whole chains of life that got along just fine without sunlight.

In 1984, scientists found that the heat was not necessary. In exploring the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, they discovered sunless habitats powered by a new form of nourishment. The microbes that founded the food chain lived not on hot minerals but on cold petrochemicals seeping up from the icy seabed.

Today, scientists have identified roughly one hundred sites in the gulf where cold-seep communities of clams, mussels and tube worms flourish in the sunless depths. And they have accumulated evidence of many more -- hundreds by some estimates, thousands by others -- most especially in the gulf's deep, unexplored waters.

"It wouldn't surprise me if there were 2,000 communities, from suburbs to cities," said Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who studies the dark ecosystems.


. . .


(p. D4) "There's lots of uncertainty," said Charles R. Fisher, a professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, who is leading a federal study of the dark habitats and who observed the nearby community. "Our best hope is that the impact is neutral or a minor problem."

A few scientists say the gushing oil -- despite its clear harm to pelicans, turtles and other forms of coastal life -- might ultimately represent a subtle boon to the creatures of the cold seeps and even to the wider food chain.

"The gulf is such a great fishery because it's fed organic matter from oil," said Roger Sassen, a specialist on the cold seeps who recently retired from Texas A&M University. "It's preadapted to crude oil. The image of this spill being a complete disaster is not true."



For the full story, see:

WILLIAM J. BROAD. "Cold, Dark and Teeming With Life." The New York Times, Science Times Section (Tues., June 22, 2010): D1 & D4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date June 21, 2010.)





September 12, 2010

More than a Quarter of Weathercasters Believe "Global Warming is a Scam"



(p. A1) Joe Bastardi, . . . , a senior forecaster and meteorologist with AccuWeather, maintains that it is more likely that the planet is cooling, and he distrusts the data put forward by climate scientists as evidence for rising global temperatures.

"There is a great deal of consternation among a lot of us over the readjustment of data that is going on and some of the portrayals that we are seeing," Mr. Bastardi said in a video segment posted recently on AccuWeather's Web site.

Such skepticism appears to be widespread among TV forecasters, about half of whom have a degree in meteorology. A study released on Monday by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin found that only about half of the 571 television weathercasters surveyed believed that global warming was occurring and fewer than a third believed that climate change was "caused mostly by human activities."

More than a quarter of the weathercasters in the survey agreed with the statement "Global warming is a scam," the researchers found.



For the full story, see:

LESLIE KAUFMAN. "Scientists and Weathercasters at Odds over Climate Change." The New York Times (Tues., March 30, 2010): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was dated March 29, 2010 and had the title "Among Weathercasters, Doubt on Warming.")





September 7, 2010

Environmentalist Blue Planet Prize Winner Lovelock Endorsed Nuclear Power



LovelockJames2010-09-01.jpg






"The scientist James E. Lovelock during an interview at the Algonquin Hotel in New York." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. D2) Few scientists have elicited such equivalent heaps of praise and criticism as James E. Lovelock, the British chemist, inventor and planetary diagnostician who has long foreseen a clash between humans and their planet.

His work underpins much of modern environmentalism. The electron capture detector he invented in the 1950's produced initial measurements of dispersed traces of pesticides and ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, providing a foundation for the work of Rachel Carson and for studies revealing risks to the atmosphere's protective ozone layer.

His conception in 1972 of the planet's chemistry, climate and veneer of life as a self-sustaining entity, soon given the name Gaia, was embraced by the Earth Day generation and was ridiculed, but eventually accepted (with big qualifications), by many biologists.

Dr. Lovelock, honored in 1997 with the Blue Planet Prize, which is widely considered the environmental equivalent of a Nobel award, has now come under attack from some environmentalists for his support of nuclear power as a way to avoid runaway "global heating" -- his preferred alternative to "global warming."

In his latest book, "The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth Is Fighting Back -- and How We Can Still Save Humanity" (Perseus, 2006), Dr. Lovelock says that any risks posed by nuclear power are small when compared with the "fever" of heat-trapping carbon dioxide produced by burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels.



For the full interview, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "A Conversation With James E. Lovelock; Updating Prescriptions for Avoiding Worldwide Catastrophe." The New York Times, Science Times Section (Tues., September 12, 2006): D2.





September 3, 2010

Our Cro-Magnon Forbears Adapted Readily to Extreme Climatic Change



In the passage that follows, Brian Fagan describes our best guess at the landscape of part of France about 18,000 years ago, and then describes how the landscape dramatically changed in a short period. (We usually do not know exactly how short---maybe as long as a few hundred years, maybe as short as a month.)


(p. xiv) There would have been black aurochs with lyre-shaped horns, perhaps arctic foxes in their brown summer fur feeding off a kill, perhaps a pride of lions resting under the trees. If you'd been patient enough, you'd have seen the occasional humans, too. But you would have known they weren't far away--informed by the smell of burning wood, trails of white smoke from rock-shelter hearths, the cries of children at play. Then I imagined this world changing rapidly, soon becoming one of forest and water meadow, devoid of reindeer and wild horses, much of the game lurking in the trees. I marveled at the ability of our forebears to adapt so readily to such dramatic environmental changes.

Few humans have ever lived in a world of such extreme climatic and environmental change.


. . .


(p. xvi) The story of the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons tells us much about how our forebears adapted to climatic crisis and sudden environmental change. Like us, they faced an uncertain future, and like us, they relied on uniquely human qualities of adaptiveness, ingenuity, and opportunism to carry them through an uncertain and challenging world.



Source:

Fagan, Brian. Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





September 1, 2010

Energy Department Wastes Energy



(p. A17) WASHINGTON -- Like flossing or losing weight, saving energy is easier to promise than to actually do -- even if you are the Department of Energy.

Its Web site advises that choosing new lighting technologies can slash energy use by 50 to 75 percent. But the department is having trouble taking its own advice, according to an internal audit released on Wednesday; many of its offices are still installing obsolete fluorescent bulbs.

And very few have switched to the most promising technology, light-emitting diodes, which the department spent millions of dollars to help commercialize.

Many of the changes would generate savings that would pay back the investment in two years or so, according to the report, by the department's inspector general.

In one case, the Department of Energy made most of the investment by installing timers to shut off lights at night when it moved into a new building in 1997. But it got no benefit: as of March of this year, it had not bought the central control unit needed to run the system.



For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Energy Department: Make Thyself Fuel Efficient." The New York Times (Thurs., July 8, 2010): A17.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 7, 2010, and has the title "Energy Department Lags in Saving Energy.")





August 3, 2010

Expert Says Australian Cow Burps Add to Global Warming



KlieveAtholCattleBurpExpert2010-07-23.jpg"Athol Klieve, an expert on cattle stomachs, with steers used for research on reducing methane emissions from belching cattle." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A14) GATTON, Australia -- To hear Athol Klieve tell it, a key to reducing Australia's enormous carbon emissions is to make a cow more like this country's iconic animal -- the kangaroo.


. . .


Australia contributes more greenhouse gases per capita than just about any other country, with its coal-fired power plants leading the way. But more than 10 percent of those gases come from what bureaucrats call livestock emissions -- animals' burping.

At any given point, after munching and regurgitating grass, tens of millions of Australian cattle, as well as sheep, are belching methane gases nonstop into the air. With methane considered 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere, the burping has given ammunition to environmentalists, vegetarians and other critics of beef while initially putting the large meat industry on the defensive.


. . .


Ruminants release methane because of the peculiar way they digest their food. Inside a cow's foregut, which can contain more than 200 pounds of grass at any given time, fermentation of the food leads to the release of hydrogen, a byproduct that would slow down the fermentation. Microbes known as methanogens help the ruminants get rid of the excess hydrogen by producing methane gases that the animals release into the atmosphere.

In other animals known as hindgut fermenters, including humans -- in which food is fermented after going through their stomachs -- methane is sometimes released through flatulence, a fact that, Mr. Klieve said, has led to misunderstanding about his work

"We've had to put up with that all the time," Mr. Klieve said. "It comes from the front end! In the cow, it comes from the front end. But if you're a hindgut fermenter, it goes the other way."


. . .


Like cattle, kangaroos are also foregut fermenters. But instead of relying on methanogens to get rid of the unwanted hydrogen, kangaroos use different microbes that reduce hydrogen by producing not methane, but harmless acetic acids, the basis of vinegar.


. . .


"It's going to be very difficult to meet the current production needs, particularly for the current global population, with kangaroo," Ms. Henry said. "You need something like 10 kangaroos to produce the same amount of meat as one steer. You can't herd them or fence them in."

Undaunted, a few kangaroo meat entrepreneurs are pressing ahead, seeing methane emissions as a business opportunity.




For the full story, see:

NORIMITSU ONISHI. "Gatton Journal; Trying to Stop Cattle Burps From Heating Up Planet." The New York Times (Weds., July 14, 2010): A14.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 13, 2010.)

(Note: ellipses added.)


GattonAustraliaMap2010-07-23.jpg










Source of map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





July 25, 2010

More on How Federal Regulations Delay Oil Cleanup



(p. A15) First, the Environmental Protection Agency can relax restrictions on the amount of oil in discharged water, currently limited to 15 parts per million. In normal times, this rule sensibly controls the amount of pollution that can be added to relatively clean ocean water. But this is not a normal time.

Various skimmers and tankers (some of them very large) are available that could eliminate most of the oil from seawater, discharging the mostly clean water while storing the oil onboard. While this would clean vast amounts of water efficiently, the EPA is unwilling to grant a temporary waiver of its regulations.

Next, the Obama administration can waive the Jones Act, which restricts foreign ships from operating in U.S. coastal waters. Many foreign countries (such as the Netherlands and Belgium) have ships and technologies that would greatly advance the cleanup. So far, the U.S. has refused to waive the restrictions of this law and allow these ships to participate in the effort.

The combination of these two regulations is delaying and may even prevent the world's largest skimmer, the Taiwanese owned "A Whale," from deploying. This 10-story high ship can remove almost as much oil in a day as has been removed in total--roughly 500,000 barrels of oily water per day. The tanker is steaming towards the Gulf, hoping it will receive Coast Guard and EPA approval before it arrives.



For the full story, see:

PAUL H. RUBIN. "Why Is the Gulf Cleanup So Slow? There are obvious actions to speed things up, but the government oddly resists taking them.." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 2, 2010): A15.






July 21, 2010

Defenders of Climategate Benefit from Global Warming Fears



(p. A15) Last November there was a world-wide outcry when a trove of emails were released suggesting some of the world's leading climate scientists engaged in professional misconduct, data manipulation and jiggering of both the scientific literature and climatic data to paint what scientist Keith Briffa called "a nice, tidy story" of climate history. The scandal became known as Climategate.

Now a supposedly independent review of the evidence says, in effect, "nothing to see here."


. . .


One of the panel's four members, Prof. Geoffrey Boulton, was on the faculty of East Anglia's School of Environmental Sciences for 18 years. At the beginning of his tenure, the Climatic Research Unit (CRU)--the source of the Climategate emails--was established in Mr. Boulton's school at East Anglia. Last December, Mr. Boulton signed a petition declaring that the scientists who established the global climate records at East Anglia "adhere to the highest levels of professional integrity."

This purportedly independent review comes on the heels of two others--one by the University of East Anglia itself and the other by Penn State University, both completed in the spring, concerning its own employee, Prof. Michael Mann. Mr. Mann was one of the Climategate principals who proposed a plan, which was clearly laid out in emails whose veracity Mr. Mann has not challenged, to destroy a scientific journal that dared to publish three papers with which he and his East Anglia friends disagreed. These two reviews also saw no evil. For example, Penn State "determined that Dr. Michael E. Mann did not engage in, nor did he participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that seriously deviated from accepted practices within the academic community."

Readers of both earlier reports need to know that both institutions receive tens of millions in federal global warming research funding (which can be confirmed by perusing the grant histories of Messrs. Jones or Mann, compiled from public sources, that are available online at freerepublic.com). Any admission of substantial scientific misbehavior would likely result in a significant loss of funding.

It's impossible to find anything wrong if you really aren't looking.



For the full commentary, see

PATRICK J. MICHAELS. "The Climategate Whitewash Continues; Global warming alarmists claim vindication after last year's data manipulation scandal. Don't believe the 'independent' reviews.." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., JULY 12, 2010): A15.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated JULY 10, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





July 20, 2010

Why We Should Drill in Our Backyards



(p. A15) As oil continues to gush from BP's Macondo well and politicians posture, it is time for us to ask why we are drilling in such risky places when there is oil available elsewhere. The answer lies in the mantra NIMBY--"not in my back yard."


. . .


In early June there was a blowout in western Pennsylvania. Did you see it on the nightly news? No, because it was capped in 16 hours.


. . .


Drilling can be done with greater environmental sensitivity onshore. For many years the Audubon Society actually allowed oil companies to pump oil for its privately owned sanctuaries in Louisiana and Michigan, but did so with strict requirements on the oil companies so that they would not disturb the bird habitat.


. . .


When kids play baseball, there is a risk that windows will get broken. Playing on baseball fields rather than in sand lots, however, lowers the risk considerably. Putting so much onshore land off limits to oil and gas development is like closing baseball parks. More windows will be broken and more blowouts result where they are difficult to prevent and stop.



For the full commentary, see:

TERRY ANDERSON. "Why It's Safer to Drill in the 'Backyard'; Texas has had 102 oil and gas well blowouts since the start of 2006, without catastrophic consequences." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., June 25, 2010): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)





July 18, 2010

Federal Regulations Slow Oil Cleanup Innovation



CostnerKevinOilWaterSeparator2010-07-04.jpg"One promising device is an oil-water separator backed by the actor Kevin Costner, right." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Two decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, cleanup technology has progressed so little that the biggest advancement in the Gulf of Mexico disaster -- at least in the public's mind -- is an oil-water separator based on a 17-year-old patent and promoted by the movie star Kevin Costner.


. . .


(p. A20) Ms. Kinner [co-director of the Coastal Response Research Center at the University of New Hampshire] and others cite many . . . reasons why cleanup technologies lag.

In testimony this month before Congress, Mr. Costner told of years of woe trying to market his separator, a centrifuge originally developed and patented in 1993 by the Idaho National Laboratory, for use in oil spills. One obstacle, he said, was that although his machines are effective, the water they discharge is still more contaminated than environmental regulations allow. He could not get spill-response companies interested in his machines, he said, without a federal stamp of approval.




For the full story, see:

HENRY FOUNTAIN. "Since Exxon Valdez, Little Has Changed in Cleaning Oil Spills." The New York Times (Fri., June 25, 2010): A1 & A20.

(Note: ellipses added; and bracketed words added from previous paragraph of article.)

(Note: the date of the online version of the article was June 24, 2010 and had the title "Advances in Oil Spill Cleanup Lag Since Valdez.")





July 14, 2010

India Government Spends Billions to Subsidize Fuel Use



IndiaGasDrumOnBike2010-06-29.jpg"An employee filled an oil drum in New Delhi on Friday. India's government has decided to reduce popular fuel subsidies." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


I smiled when I saw the ironic photo that appears above. It seems to imply that with government subsidies, even bicycle riders will buy motor fuel.


(p. B3) MUMBAI, India -- The Indian government on Friday reduced popular fuel subsidies, a long-delayed change that will help policy makers reduce a big budget deficit but one that will also worsen already high inflation.

Policy makers said the government would stop subsidizing gasoline. Diesel, kerosene and natural gas would continue to receive support at a slightly lower level. India spent about $5.6 billion to subsidize fuel in the last fiscal year, which ended in March. State-owned energy companies added the equivalent of an additional $4.4 billion by selling fuel below its cost.

India and other big countries committed to eliminating energy subsidies at a Group of 20 meeting last year, but policy makers here had repeatedly put off the politically difficult change.



For the full story, see:

VIKAS BAJAJ. "India Cuts Subsidies for Fuels." The New York Times (Sat., June 26, 2010): B3.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 25, 2010.)





July 1, 2010

Fed Scientist Says Oil Spill Did Not Kill Most of Dead Turtles



(p. A9) A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist says he believes most of the dead turtles that have been examined since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill died not from the oil or the chemical dispersants put into the water after the disaster, but from being caught in shrimping nets, though further testing may show otherwise.

Dr. Brian Stacy, a veterinary pathologist who specializes in reptiles, said that more than half the turtles dissected so far, most of which were found shortly after the spill, had sediment in their lungs or airways, which indicated they might have been caught in nets and drowned.

"The only plausible scenario where you would have high numbers of animals forcibly submerged would be fishery interaction," he said. "That is the primary consideration for this event."

Many times the usual number of turtles have been found stranded this year, but NOAA has cautioned from the beginning that the oil spill is not necessarily to blame.



For the full story, see:

SHAILA DEWAN. "Turtle Deaths Called Result of Shrimping, Not Oil Spill." The New York Times (Sat., June 26, 2010): A9.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated June 25, 2010.)





June 6, 2010

Exposing the Hot Air of Wind Power




PowerHungryBKwsj.jpg
















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.






(p. A15) So you want to build a wind farm? OK, Mr. Bryce says, to start you'll need 45 times the land mass of a nuclear power station to produce a comparable amount of power; and because you are in the middle of nowhere you'll also need hundreds of miles of high-voltage lines to get the energy to your customers. This "energy sprawl" of giant turbines and pylons will require far greater amounts of concrete and steel than conventional power plants--figure on anywhere from 870 to 956 cubic feet of concrete per megawatt of electricity and 460 tons of steel (32 times more concrete and 139 times as much steel as a gas-fired plant).

Once you've carpeted your tract of wilderness with turbines and gotten over any guilt you might feel about the thousands of birds you're about to kill, prepare to be underwhelmed and underpowered. Look at Texas, Mr. Bryce says: It ranks sixth in the world in total wind-power production capacity, and it has been hailed as a model for renewable energy and green jobs by Republicans and Democrats alike. And yet, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the state's electricity grid, just "8.7 percent of the installed wind capability can be counted on as dependable capacity during the peak demand period." The wind may blow in Texas, but, sadly, it doesn't blow much when it is most needed--in summer. The net result is that just 1% of the state's reliable energy needs comes from wind.




For the full review, see

TREVOR BUTTERWORTH. "BOOKSHELF; The Wrong Way To Get to Green; Once you've carpeted the wilderness with wind-farm turbines, and crushed any guilt about the birds you're about to kill, prepare to be underwhelmed and underpowered." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., APRIL 27, 2010): A15.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated APRIL 30, 2010.)


The book under review is:

Bryce, Robert. Power Hungry; the Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010.





May 30, 2010

MidAmerican Energy Gives Ben Nelson a $1.1 Million Ride from Georgia to Omaha



(p. 3B) LINCOLN -- MidAmerican Energy is suing the state after state officials grounded a $1.1 million sales tax refund the company expected on the purchase of a corporate jet.

Under Nebraska's 1987 economic development act, LB 775, companies can get sales tax refunds for such aircraft.

But the Nebraska Department of Revenue rejected the refund because MidAmerican's multimillion-dollar Falcon 50EX jet, purchased in 2004, was used to transport U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., on a trip between Albany, Ga., and Omaha on Nov. 28, 2006.

Using such planes for fundraising or transporting an elected official disqualifies a company from getting the sales tax benefit, State Tax Commissioner Doug Ewald ruled, citing prohibitions in LB 775.

MidAmerican, an Iowa-based energy firm headed by Omaha businessman David Sokol, is appealing.

The company is asking the Lancaster County District Court to overturn the department's March ruling.

MidAmerican argued that a single trip taken by Nelson should not be enough to deny the refund. It also maintained that the state, under LB 775, should have based its ruling on the intended purpose of the airplane and can test that use only when the plane is purchased.



For the full story, see:

Paul Hammel. "MidAmerican Sues State Over Tax Credit on Jet." Omaha World-Herald (Friday, May 7, 2010): 3B.

(Note: the online version of the article was dated Thursday, May 6, 2010 and had the title "MidAmerica (sic) sues Neb. for refund.")





May 25, 2010

Walter Scott Endorses Nuclear as Only Economically Viable Green Energy Source



SokolScottAbelBuffett2010-05-18.jpg
















"MidAmerican shareholders. David Sokol, Walter Scott, Greg Abel and Warren Buffett." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below. (Note: bold added.)


(p. 1D) Despite recent steps to encourage wind-generated electricity in Nebraska, Omaha businessman and philanthropist Walter Scott said Thursday that nuclear power is the only economically viable way to generate electricity without carbon-dioxide emissions.

"To me, that is the ultimate answer if you want to reduce carbon dioxide," Scott told about 150 people at a breakfast session of the Omaha chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth, held at Happy Hollow Club.

Solar and wind-generated electricity require government subsidies, Scott said. And because the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, Pa., shut down nuclear energy construction in the United States, this country will have to buy its new nuclear-generating equipment from France and Japan, which dominate that industry, he said.

"Isn't that a wonderful thing?" asked Scott, who also said electric vehicles eventually will capture a significant market.

The Three Mile Island accident "shook people up" even though no one was killed and the containment vessel worked as designed by engineers to prevent radioactive material from spreading, said Scott, chairman-emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc. and a director of several corporations, including Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Kiewit has been involved in the energy industry for decades, he noted, and Berkshire's energy division, MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., has substantial wind farms in Iowa and several other states. But those wind farms are viable only because they operate under government rules that guarantee a return on investment, even with their higher costs, Scott said.



For the full story, see:

Steve Jordon. To Cut Carbon, Go Nuclear; It's the Ultimate Answer for Reducing Emissions, the Kiewit Official Suggests in a Speech." Omaha World-Herald (Friday, May 14, 2010): 1D-2D.

(Note: the online version of the article had the title "Scott: To go green, go nuclear.")





April 29, 2010

New York City Would Creatively Adapt to Global Warming



NewYorkWaterfrontNewLandscape2010-04-26.jpg "Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront In this MoMA show, a model by Architecture Research Office marries a wholly new landscape to Lower Manhattan's streets." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Much is in doubt about "global warming" including how much the globe will warm, and how fast, to what extent the benefits of global warming would balance the costs, and what actions (such as Nathan Myhrvold's creative plan) might be taken to counteract global warming.

But one certainty is that if governments leave innovative entrepreneurial capitalism alone, human creativity will find ways to adapt in order to increase the benefits and reduce the costs.

Few cities have displayed as much creative destruction in architecture as New York. (One book on New York architecture was even called The Creative Destruction of Manhattan"). The article quoted below describes some visions of how New York City might adapt to an increase in sea level that might result from global warming.


(p. C21) "Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront," a new show at the Museum of Modern Art, reflects a level of apocalyptic thinking about this city that we haven't seen since it was at the edge of financial collapse in the 1970s, a time when muggers roamed freely, and graffiti covered everything.

Organized by Barry Bergdoll, the Modern's curator of architecture and design, the show is a response to the effects that rising sea levels are expected to have on New York City and parts of New Jersey over the next 70 or so years, according to government studies. The solutions it proposes are impressively imaginative, ranging from spongelike sidewalks to housing projects suspended over water to transforming the Gowanus Canal into an oyster hatchery.


. . .


(p. C23) A general interest in re-examining parts of the urban fabric that we take for granted, like streets, piers and canals -- as opposed to the more familiar desire to create striking visual objects -- is one of the main strengths of the exhibition. A team led by Matthew Baird Architects, for example, has focused on a huge oil refinery in Bayonne, N.J., that, if current estimates hold, will be entirely under water before our toddlers have hit retirement age. Rather than taking the predictable and bland route of transforming the industrial site into a park, the team proposes a system of piers that would support bio-fuel and recycling plants, including one that would produce the building blocks for artificial reefs out of recycled glass.

Those large, multipronged objects, which the architects call "jacks," could be dumped off boats in strategically chosen locations, where their forms would naturally interlock to create artificial reefs once they settled at the bottom of the harbor. The jacks are magical objects, at once tough and delicate, and when you see examples of them from across the room at MoMA, their heavy legs and crushed glass surfaces make them look almost like buildings.

But here again, what's really commendable about the design is the desire to look deeper into how systems -- in this case, global systems, both natural and economic -- work. According to Mr. Baird's research, the melting of the ice cap could one day create a northern shipping passage that would make New York Harbor virtually obsolete. The manufacturing component of the design is meant as part of a broader realignment of the city's economy that anticipates that shift.




For the full story, see:

NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF. "Architecture Review; The Future: A More Watery New York." The New York Times (Fri., March 26, 2010): C21 & C23.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: The online version of the article is dated March 25, 2010 and has the title "Architecture Review; 'Rising Currents: Projects for New York's Waterfront'; Imagining a More Watery New York.")


The book I mention in my comments is:

Page, Max. The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, 1900-1940. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.





April 22, 2010

"By Far the Greatest Pollution Crisis the Earth Has Ever Endured"



(p. 79) While oxygen is the third most common element in the universe, we know that free oxygen was exceedingly rare in the Earth's initial atmosphere, until roughly two billion years ago, when an ancestor of modern cyanobacteria hit upon a photosynthetic process that used the energy from the sun to extract hydrogen from the abundant supply of water on the planet. That metabolic strategy was spectacularly successful--the organism quickly covered the surface of the planet--but it had a pollution problem: it expelled free oxygen as a waste product. During this period, now known as the Proterozoic, the oxygen content of the atmosphere exploded from 0.0001 percent to 3 percent, beginning its long march to the current levels of 21 percent. (Even today, Earth's atmosphere is actually dominated by nitrogen, which makes up 78 percent of its overall volume: other gases. like argon and carbon dioxide, constitute less than a single percent.) The massive increase of oxygen in the atmosphere triggered what has been called "by far the greatest pollution crisis the earth has ever endured," destroying countless microbes for whom the cocktail of sunlight and oxygen was deadly.

In time, though, organisms evolved that thrived in an oxygen-heavy environment. We are their descendants.



Source:

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.





April 19, 2010

Underwater Power Cables Maximize Profits and Improve Environment



TransBayCableSanFrancisco2010-04-17.jpg"Laying line in San Francisco for the Trans Bay Cable project, which submerged 33 miles of cable." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Generating 20 percent of America's electricity with wind, as recent studies proposed, would require building up to 22,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines. But the huge towers and unsightly tree-cutting that these projects require have provoked intense public opposition.

Recently, though, some companies are finding a remarkably simple answer to that political problem. They are putting power lines under water, in a string of projects that has so far provoked only token opposition from environmentalists and virtually no reaction from the larger public.


. . .


(p. B7) . . . , the underwater approach solves some intractable problems. In San Francisco, for example, old power plants that burn natural gas are about to be retired because a new transmission company has succeeded in running a line 33 miles across the San Francisco Bay.

Mr. Stern said his company's Neptune Cable, which runs from Sayreville, N.J., to Levittown, N.Y., on Long Island, now carries 22 percent of Long Island's electricity. His company is trying to complete a deal for a cable that would run from Ridgefield, N.J., to a Consolidated Edison substation on West 49th Street in Manhattan.

Those two cables were not motivated primarily by environmental goals -- they are meant to connect cheap generation to areas where power prices are high. Mr. Stern's company, PowerBridge, is now considering two renewable energy projects, however. One cable would connect proposed wind farms on the Hawaiian islands of Molokai and Lanai to the urban center on Oahu, and another would bring wind power from Maine along the Atlantic coast to Boston.




For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "A Power Line Runs Through It; Underwater Cable an Alternative to Electrical Towers." The New York Times (Weds., March 17, 2010): B1 & B7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version is dated March 16, 2010 and has the shorter title "Underwater Cable an Alternative to Electrical Towers.")





April 16, 2010

L.A. 5% Electric Rate Increase to Pay for Uneconomical Solar Subsidies



(p. A17) . . . , the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the largest municipal utility in the United States, is poised to pass a roughly 5 percent rate increase on electricity use. The proceeds would be earmarked for renewable energy purchases and programs, including one that would repay people or businesses that use solar panels to contribute to the power grid.


. . .


The money would also be used to help pay for what is known as a feed-in tariff, under which the utility will pay a set rate for electricity from customers who install solar panels.


. . .


But "feed-in tariffs for solar power is not good use of money," Professor Borenstein said. "Solar power at the residential level is not close to economical. There are many things you should do before you subsidize it."

Californians have been squeezed by high unemployment and fee increases, and Los Angelenos may not cotton easily to a rate increase.

"Californians are environmentally conscious," said Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. "But much less so if it causes them economic difficulty."



For the full story, see:

JENNIFER STEINHAUER. "Los Angeles Electric Rate Linked to Solar Power." The New York Times (Thurs., March 11, 2010): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated March 10, 2010.)





April 7, 2010

Smaller, Compact Design Makes Nuclear Reactor Cheaper, Safer and Quicker to Build and Expand



NuclearReactorSmall2010-04-03.jpgSource of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) A new type of nuclear reactor--smaller than a rail car and one tenth the cost of a big plant--is emerging as a contender to reshape the nation's resurgent nuclear power industry.

Three big utilities, Tennessee Valley Authority, First Energy Corp. and Oglethorpe Power Corp., on Wednesday signed an agreement with McDermott International Inc.'s Babcock & Wilcox subsidiary, committing to get the new reactor approved for commercial use in the U.S.


. . .


The smaller Babcock & Wilcox reactor can generate only 125 to 140 megawatts of power, about a tenth as much as a big one. But the utilities are betting that these smaller, simpler reactors can be manufactured quickly and installed at potentially dozens of existing nuclear sites or replace coal-fired plants that may become obsolete with looming emissions restrictions.

"We see significant benefits from the new, modular technology," said Donald Moul, vice president of nuclear support for First Energy, an Ohio-based utility company.

He said First Energy, which operates four reactors at three sites in Ohio and Pennsylvania, has made no decision to build any new reactor and noted there's "a lot of heavy lifting to do to get this reactor certified" by the NRC for U.S. use.


. . .


(p. A16) One of the biggest attractions, however, is that utilities could start with a few reactors and add more as needed. By contrast, with big reactors, utilities have what is called "single-shaft risk," where billions of dollars are tied up in a single plant.

Another advantage: mPower reactors will store all of their waste on each site for the estimated 60-year life of each reactor.


. . .


. . . , some experts believe that if the industry embraces small reactors, nuclear power in the U.S. could become pervasive because more utilities would be able to afford them.

"There's a higher likelihood that there are more sites that could support designs for small reactors than large ones," said David Matthews, head of new reactor licensing at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


. . .


Experts believe small reactors should be as safe, or safer, than large ones. One reason is that they are simpler and have fewer moving parts that can fail. Small reactors also contain a smaller nuclear reaction and generate less heat. That means that it's easier to shut them down, if there is a malfunction.

"With a large reactor, the response to a malfunction tends to be quick, whereas in smaller ones, they respond more slowly" which means they're somewhat easier to control, said Michael Mayfield, director of the advanced reactor program at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Once on site, each reactor would be housed in a two-story containment structure that would be buried beneath the ground for added security. They would run round the clock, stopping to refuel every five years instead of 18 to 24 months, like existing reactors.

Jack Baker, Energy Northwest's head of business development, says he was initially skeptical about small reactors because of the "lack of economies of scale." But he says he now thinks small reactors "could have a cost advantage" because their simpler design means faster construction and "you don't need as much concrete, steel, pumps and valves."

"They have made a convert of me," he says.

Babcock & Wilcox's roots go back to 1867 and it has been making equipment for utilities since the advent of electrification, even furnishing boilers to Thomas Edison's Pearl Street generating stations that brought street lighting to New York City in 1882.

Based in Lynchburg, Va., the company has been building small reactors for ships since the 1950s. In addition to reactors for U.S. Navy submarines and aircraft carriers, it built a reactor for the USS NS Savannah, a commercial vessel which is now a floating museum in Baltimore harbor. It also built eight big reactors, in the past construction cycle, including one for the ill-fated Three Mile Island plant.

When a U.S. nuclear revival looked imminent, the company debated what role it could play.

"Instead of asking, 'How big a reactor could we make?,' this time, we asked, 'What's the largest thing we could build at our existing plants and ship by rail?' " said Christofer Mowry, president of Modular Nuclear Energy LLC, Babcock's recently created small-reactor division. "That's what drove the design."




For the full story, see:

REBECCA SMITH. "Small Reactors Generate Big Hopes ." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., Feb. 18, 2010): A1 & A16.

(Note: ellipses added.)


ElectricPowerPieGraph.gif













Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.






March 22, 2010

Small Nuclear Reactor Will Run on Spent Fuel From Big Reactors



GeneralAtomicsEM2reactor2010-03--01.jpg "An artist's modeling of the proposed EM2 reactor, which would be small enough to be transported by truck." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) Nuclear and defense supplier General Atomics announced Sunday it will launch a 12-year program to develop a new kind of small, commercial nuclear reactor in the U.S. that could run on spent fuel from big reactors.

In starting its campaign to build the helium-cooled reactor, General Atomics is joining a growing list of companies willing to place a long-shot bet on reactors so small they could be built in factories and hauled on trucks or trains.

The General Atomics program, if successful, could provide a partial solution to one of the biggest problems associated with nuclear energy: figuring out what to do with highly radioactive waste. With no agreement on where to locate a federal storage site, that waste is now stored in pools or casks on utilities' property.

The General Atomics reactor, which is dubbed EM2 for Energy Multiplier Module, would be about one-quarter the size of a conventional reactor and have unusual features, including the ability to burn used fuel, which still contains more than 90% of its original energy. Such reuse would reduce the volume and toxicity of the waste that remained. General Atomics calculates there is so much U.S. nuclear waste that it could fuel 3,000 of the proposed reactors, far more than it anticipates building.

The decision to proceed with its 12-year program indicates that General Atomics believes the time is right to both make a nuclear push and to try to gain approval for an unconventional design proposal despite the likely difficulty of getting it certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The EM2 would operate at temperatures as high as 850 degrees Centigrade, which is about twice as hot as a conventional (p. B2) water-cooled reactor. The very high temperatures would make the reactor especially well suited to industrial uses that go beyond electricity production, such as extracting oil from tar sands, desalinating water and refining petroleum to make fuel and chemicals.




For the full story, see:

REBECCA SMITH. "General Atomics Proposes a Plant That Runs on Nuclear Waste." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., February 22, 2010): B1 & B2.






March 18, 2010

Minnesota Windmills Do Not Turn in Cold Weather



WindmillStandStill2010-03-01.jpg "Inspecting a windmill in Chaska, Minn. The blades on some in the area have been stationary." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A12) For those who suspect residents in places like Minnesota of embellishment when it comes to their tales of bitterly cold winter weather, consider this: even some wind turbines, it seems, cannot bear it.

Turbines, more than 100 feet tall, were installed last year in 11 Minnesota cities to provide power, and also to serve as educational symbols in a state that has mandated that a quarter of its electricity come from renewable resources by 2025.

One problem, though: The windmills, supposed to go online this winter, mostly just sat still, people in cities like North St. Paul and Chaska said, rarely if ever budging. Residents took note. Schoolchildren asked questions. Complaints accumulated.

"If people see a water tower, they expect it to stand still," said Wally Wysopal, the city manager of North St. Paul. "If there's a turbine, they want it to turn."

No one knows for sure why these turbines do not. Officials believe there may be several reasons, but weather is the focus of much speculation.




For the full story, see:

MONICA DAVEY. "When Windmills Don't Spin, People Expect Some Answers." The New York Times (Fri., February 5, 2010): A12.

(Note: the online version of the article was dated February 4, 2010)





March 10, 2010

Briffa's Tree Ring Evidence Undermines "Hockey Stick" Global Warming Graph



(p. A12) The problem: Using Mr. Briffa's tree-ring techniques, researchers in the '90s built charts suggesting temperatures in the late 20th century were the highest in a millennium. The charts were dubbed "hockey sticks" because they showed temperatures relatively flat for centuries, then angling higher recently.

But Mr. Briffa fretted about a potential issue. Thermometers show temperatures have risen since the '60s, but tree-ring data don't move in tandem, and sometimes show the opposite. (Average annual temperatures reached the highest on record in 2005, according to U.S. government data. They fell the next three years, and rose in 2009. All those years remain among the warmest on record.)

In his same 1999 email, Mr. Briffa said tree-ring data overall did show "unusually warm" conditions in recent decades. But, he added, "I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1,000 years ago."

In other words, maybe the chart shouldn't resemble a hockey stick.

The data were the subject of heated back-and-forth before the IPCC's 2001 report. John Christy, one of the section's lead authors, said at the time that he tried in vain to make sure the report reflected the uncertainty.

Mr. Christy said in an interview that some of the pressure to downplay the uncertainty came from Michael Mann, a fellow lead author of that chapter, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University, and a developer of the original hockey-stick chart.

The "very prominent" use of the hockey-stick chart "overrules what tentativeness some of us actually intended," Mr. Christy wrote to the National Research Council in the U.S. a month after the report was published. Mr. Christy, a climate scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, provided that email.

"I was suspicious of the hockey stick," Mr. Christy said in an interview. Had Mr. Briffa's concerns been more widely known, "The story coming out of the [report] may have been different in tone and confidence."




For the full story, see:

JEFFREY BALL And KEITH JOHNSON. "Push to Oversimplify at Climate Panel." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., February 26, 2010): A1 & A12.




GlobalWarmingOversimplifiedGraph2010-02-28.gif
























Hockey stick graph is on top; more accurate, but much less publicized graph, is on bottom. Source of graphs: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.
















March 4, 2010

Doubts on Sainthood for U.N.'s Global Warming Nobel Prize Winning Pachauri



GorePachauriNobelPrizes2010-02-28.jpg "Rajendra K. Pachauri, right, the United Nations climate panel's leader, at a Nobel Peace Prize ceremony with Al Gore in 2007." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) Just over two years ago, Rajendra K. Pachauri seemed destined for a scientist's version of sainthood: A vegetarian economist-engineer who leads the United Nations' climate change panel, he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the panel, sharing the honor with former Vice President Al Gore.

Critics, writing in Britain's Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Dr. Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm -- a claim he denies.

They have also unearthed and publicized problems with the intergovernmental panel's landmark 2007 report on climate change, which concluded that the planet was warming and that humans were likely to blame.

The report, they contend, misrepresents the state of scientific knowledge about diverse topics -- including the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers and the rise in severe storms -- in a way that exaggerates the evidence for climate change.

But Dr. Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are now under intense scrutiny, facing accusations of scientific sloppiness and potential financial conflicts of interest from climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists. Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, called for Dr. Pachauri's resignation last week.

Critics, writing in Britain's Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Dr. Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm -- a claim he denies.

They have also unearthed and publicized problems with the intergovernmental panel's landmark 2007 report on climate change, which concluded that the planet was warming and that humans were likely to blame.

The report, they contend, misrepresents the state of scientific knowledge about diverse topics -- including the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers and the rise in severe storms -- in a way that exaggerates the evidence for climate change.




For the full story, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "U.N. Climate Panel and Its Chief Face a Siege on Their Credibility." The New York Times (Tues., February 9, 2010): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: The online version of the article is dated February 8, 2010, and has the title "Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel.")





February 16, 2010

When the Green Pedalers Went Home, the Grid Powered the Christmas Tree



CopenhagenPedalPoweredXmasTree2010-01-23.jpg









"The pedal-powered Christmas tree at City Hall Square." Source of caption: the print version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below. Source of photo (which appeared in the print, but not the online, version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below): http://www.chriskeam.com/blog/uploaded_images/Copenhagen-Xmas-tree-792971.jpg



(p. A16) Copenhagen has splashed out on every kind of green widget to shore up its environmental credentials as host of the world's biggest climate change conference in years. Most of the emissions-free wizardry is familiar, such as electric cars. Here's one you may not have seen yet: An extra "green" Christmas tree.

At the Danish capital's City Hall Square, 15 to 20 volunteers can sit on stationary bikes located around a massive, decorated tree and pedal away to keep it light, at least during the day. The bikes are connected to electrical tie-ups that ultimately power hundreds of lights on the tree.


. . .


Late at night, the big tree continues to sparkle--but thanks to traditional power outlets, not pedal power--once the volunteers have gone home.




For the full story, see:

Spencer Swartz. "Copenhagen Dispatches: Pedal Power: Copenhagen Lights Christmas Tree With Bikes." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 16, 2009): A16.

(Note: the title of the online version of the article is "Pedal Power: Copenhagen Lights Christmas Tree With Bikes" and is dated December 15, 2009.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





February 13, 2010

"Conservation Is About Managing People," Not Wildlife



(p. C27) People are hard-wired to be fearful of large carnivores. What's more, it's hard for the poor to see the economic advantage of rewilding. Humans don't like conservationists telling them what they can and can't do with the land that surrounds them. As one conservationist counterintuitively points out to Ms. Fraser: "Conservation is about managing people. It's not about managing wildlife."


For the full review, see:

DWIGHT GARNER. "Books of The Times; Conservation as a Matter of Managing People." The New York Times (Fri., January 22, 2010): C1 & C27.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 21, 2010.)


The book under review, is:

Fraser, Caroline. Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009.





January 28, 2010

U.N. Glacial Melt Prediction Based on Decade-Old "Misquoted" Interview with One Scientist



In an earlier entry, evidence was quoted suggesting that many Himalayan glaciers are growing, rather than contracting as is widely claimed. Now The New York Times reveals that a "much-publicized" U.N. prediction of Himalayan glacier disappearance by 2035, was based on an old misquoted interview with a single scientist who now repudiates the prediction.


(p. A8) A much-publicized estimate from a United Nations panel about the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers from climate change is coming under fire as a gross exaggeration.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in 2007 -- the same year it shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore -- that it was "very likely" that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 if current warming trends continued.

That date has been much quoted and a cause for enormous consternation, since hundreds of millions of people in Asia rely on ice and snow melt from these glaciers for their water supply.

The panel, the United Nations' scientific advisory body on climate change, ranks its conclusions using a probability scale in which "very likely" means there is greater than 90 percent chance that an event will occur.

But it now appears that the estimate about Himalayan glacial melt was based on a decade-old interview of one climate scientist in a science magazine, The New Scientist, and that hard scientific evidence to support that figure is lacking. The scientist, Dr. Syed Hasnain, a glacier specialist with the government of the Indian state of Sikkim and currently a fellow at the TERI research institute in Delhi, said in an e-mail message that he was "misquoted" about the 2035 estimate in The New Scientist article. He has more recently said that his research suggests that only small glaciers could disappear entirely.




For the full story, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "U.N. Panel's Glacier Warning Is Criticized as Exaggerated." The New York Times (Tues., January 19, 2010): A8.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated January 18, 2010.)





January 27, 2010

Warming of Arctic Would Allow Faster, Safer Cable Route



NorthwestPassageFiberOpticCableRoute2010-01-23.jpg Source of map: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.


(p. 4A) ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Global warming has melted so much Arctic ice that a telecommunication group is moving forward with a project that was unthinkable just a few years ago: laying underwater fiber optic cable between Tokyo and London by way of the Northwest Passage.

The proposed system would nearly cut in half the time it takes to send messages from the United Kingdom to Asia, said Walt Ebell, CEO of Kodiak-Kenai Cable Co. The route is the shortest underwater path between Tokyo and London.

The quicker transmission time is important in the financial world where milliseconds can count in executing profitable trades and transactions. "Speed is the crux," Ebell said. "You're cutting the delay from 140 milliseconds to 88 milliseconds."


. . .


"It will provide the domestic market an alternative route not only to Europe - there's lots of cable across the Atlantic - but it will provide the East Coast with an alternative, faster route to Asia as well," he said.

The cable would pass mostly through U.S., Canadian international waters and avoid possible trouble spots along the way.

"You're not susceptible to 'events,' I should say, that you might run into with a cable that runs across Russia or the cables that run down around Asia and go up through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea. You're getting away from those choke points."




For the full story, see:

DAN JOLING, Associated Press Writer. "Loss of Arctic Ice Opens Up New Cable Route." Omaha World-Herald (Fri., January 22, 2010): 4A.

(Note: the online version of the article had the title: Global warming opens up Arctic for undersea cable" and was dated January 21, 2010.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 21, 2010

Green Danes Embrace Hot Air Escaping Through Open Doors



PedalPoweredSmoothies2010-01-16.jpg"Environmental displays in Copenhagen's City Hall Square include pedal-powered smoothies." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


I mainly liked the article cited below for the photo displayed above.

But there also was this bit, showing that beyond some silly green pretensions, not all is rotten in Denmark:


(p. A11) . . . , cracks in Copenhagen's green facade were easy to spot on Friday at the nearby Stroget, a popular car-free shopping area in the city center. In the late afternoon every shop door was propped open, sending clouds of heated air into the chilly street.

Some cities impose fines on shopkeepers who allow excess energy to escape through open doors.

But Jan Michael Hansen, the executive director of Copenhagen City Center, an organization representing shops along the three-quarter-mile-long corridor, was nonplused. A closed door keeps customers away, which is bad for business, he explained.

He seemed puzzled that the visitor brought it up. "I have never had an inquiry like this before," he said.




For the full story, see:

TOM ZELLER Jr. and ANDREW C. REVKIN. "Reporter's Notebook; Global and Local Concerns Meet in 'Hopenhagen'." The New York Times (Fri., December 10, 2009): A11.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 10, 2009.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 20, 2010

Global Warming "Consensus" Achieved by Suppressing Skeptical Research



(p. A25) When scientists make putative compendia of that literature, such as is done by the U.N. climate change panel every six years, the writers assume that the peer-reviewed literature is a true and unbiased sample of the state of climate science.

That can no longer be the case. The alliance of scientists at East Anglia, Penn State and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (in Boulder, Colo.) has done its best to bias it.

A refereed journal, Climate Research, published two particular papers that offended Michael Mann of Penn State and Tom Wigley of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. One of the papers, published in 2003 by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas (of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), was a meta-analysis of dozens of "paleoclimate" studies that extended back 1,000 years. They concluded that 20th-century temperatures could not confidently be considered to be warmer than those indicated at the beginning of the last millennium.

In fact, that period, known as the "Medieval Warm Period" (MWP), was generally considered warmer than the 20th century in climate textbooks and climate compendia, including those in the 1990s from the IPCC.

Then, in 1999, Mr. Mann published his famous "hockey stick" article in Geophysical Research Letters (GRL), which, through the magic of multivariate statistics and questionable data weighting, wiped out both the Medieval Warm Period and the subsequent "Little Ice Age" (a cold period from the late 16th century to the mid-19th century), leaving only the 20th-century warming as an anomaly of note.

Messrs. Mann and Wigley also didn't like a paper I published in Climate Research in 2002. It said human activity was warming surface temperatures, and that this was consistent with the mathematical form (but not the size) of projections from computer models. Why? The magnitude of the warming in CRU's own data was not as great as in the models, so therefore the models merely were a bit enthusiastic about the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Mr. Mann called upon his colleagues to try and put Climate Research out of business. "Perhaps we should encourage our colleagues in the climate research community to no longer submit to, or cite papers in, this journal," he wrote in one of the emails. "We would also need to consider what we tell or request of our more reasonable colleagues who currently sit on the editorial board."

After Messrs. Jones and Mann threatened a boycott of publications and reviews, half the editorial board of Climate Research resigned. People who didn't toe Messrs. Wigley, Mann and Jones's line began to experience increasing difficulty in publishing their results.




For the full commentary, see:

PATRICK J. MICHAELS. "OPINION; How to Manufacture a Climate Consensus; The East Anglia emails are just the tip of the iceberg." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., DECEMBER 18, 2009): A25.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated DECEMBER 17, 2009.)





January 15, 2010

The Decline of Motive Power in Socialist Venezuela



VenezuelaEnergy2010-01-10.jpg"In Venezuela, which faces power shortages, blackouts have spurred protests like this demonstration in Caracas." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A11) CARACAS -- Venezuela, a country with vast reserves of oil and natural gas, as well as massive rushing waterways that cut through its immense rain forests, strangely finds itself teetering on the verge of an energy crisis.


. . .


The government has forced draconian electricity rationing on certain sectors, which could make matters worse for an economy already racked by recession. Critics say the socialist government is trying to snuff out capitalist-driven sectors with the rationing, while allowing government-favored industries in good standing to continue with business as usual.

Shopping malls, which analysts say use less than 1% of the power consumed in Venezuela, have nonetheless been a main focus for the government.

Malls have been told most stores can only be open between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m.

"In a certain way, Chávez is attacking capitalism with the orders on shopping malls," said Emilio Grateron, mayor of Caracas's Chacao municipality, a bastion of those opposed to Mr. Chávez. "By limiting the hours we can go to malls, he is trying to slowly take away liberties, to create absolute control over things such as shopping."

In Venezuela, whose capital Caracas is consistently ranked among the world's most dangerous cities, residents see shopping malls as one of few havens in the country.

The government's rationing efforts are also hitting metal producers. Their production has already been cut as much as 40%. Mr. Rodriguez, the electricity minister, said they may have to be completely closed to save more electricity.




For the full story, see:

DAN MOLINSKI. "Energy-Rich Venezuela Faces Power Crisis." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JANUARY 8, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





January 13, 2010

Obama Leaves Exciting Global Warming Summit Early Due to D.C. Blizzard



CopenhagenClimateConferenceSleepC2010-01-07.jpg"A delegate from China sleeps during a break in an all-night plenary meeting at the UN Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen." Source of caption and photo: http://img4.allvoices.com/thumbs/event/900/570/44914193-delegate-from.jpg.


(p. A17) COPENHAGEN -- The global effort to combat climate change is stuck in essentially the same place after a massive United Nations summit that it was before the confab: with major emitters deadlocked over how much each of them should have to do to curb the rising output of greenhouse gases.


. . .


Mr. Obama . . . left before the final vote to try to beat a snowstorm that pounded the Washington, D.C., area this weekend.




For the full story, see:

JEFFREY BALL. "Summit Leaves Key Questions Unresolved; U.N. Effort in Copenhagen Sets Stage for Further Haggling Over Emissions Caps, Funds for Poor Nations." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., DECEMBER 21, 2009): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)


CopenhagenClimateConferenceSleepB2010-01-07.jpg"A delegate sleeps during a break in an all-night plenary meeting at the UN Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen December 19, 2009." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.


CopenhagenClimateConferenceSleep2010-01-07.jpg"A French delegate sleeps during all-night discussions at Copenhagen." Source of caption and photo: http://www.rfi.fr/actuen/images/120/FRANCECOPEN432.jpg.





January 12, 2010

World's Poor Care More About Food and Illness than Global Warming



(p. A21) The saddest fact of climate change--and the chief reason we should be concerned about finding a proper response--is that the countries it will hit hardest are already among the poorest and most long-suffering.

In the run-up to this month's global climate summit in Copenhagen, the Copenhagen Consensus Center dispatched researchers to the world's most likely global-warming hot spots. Their assignment: to ask locals to tell us their views about the problems they face. Over the past seven weeks, I recounted in these pages what they told us concerned them the most. In nearly every case, it wasn't global warming.

Everywhere we went we found people who spoke powerfully of the need to focus more attention on more immediate problems. In the Bauleni slum compound in Lusaka, Zambia, 27-year-old Samson Banda asked, "If I die from malaria tomorrow, why should I care about global warming?" In a camp for stateless Biharis in Bangladesh, 45-year-old Momota Begum said, "When my kids haven't got enough to eat, I don't think global warming will be an issue I will be thinking about." On the southeast slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, 45-year-old widow and HIV/AIDS sufferer Mary Thomas said she had noticed changes in the mountain's glaciers, but declared: "There is no need for ice on the mountain if there is no people around because of HIV/AIDS."




For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "OPINION; Time for a Smarter Approach to Global Warming; Investing in energy R&D might work. Mandated emissions cuts won't.." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., DECEMBER 15, 2009): A21.





January 11, 2010

NSF Study Shows Many Himalayan Glaciers Growing Larger



HimalayasWesternIce2010-01-07.jpg"This photo taken from the International Space Station in 2004 shows the abundance of ice in the Himalayas, upon which much of the continent of Asia relies for water." Source of caption and photo: online version of the Omaha World-Herald article quoted and cited below.


(p. 1A) Two UNO professors have discovered that some glaciers in Pakistan are growing in size -- a discovery that could toss them into the center of a climate-change controversy.


. . .


(p. 2A) News of the research is beginning to leak into science publications. "Science" magazine, for instance, mentioned the as-yet unpublished University of Nebraska at Omaha research in a November story about the debate over Himalayan glaciers.

The UNO research team will attract more attention Friday, when Shroder and Bishop give their presentation at the American Geophysical Union's annual conference.

What they'll present is decades in the making: Shroder first received federal funding to study Afghanistan's geography and geology in 1977, and he has taken 20 research trips to Pakistan since then.

Using a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Shroder and Bishop and a team of graduate students trekked to a group of glaciers clustered around K2, the second-highest mountain in the world, in 2005.

What they found was startling: Their on-the-ground research and satellite images show that many of the glaciers are growing in the rugged, mostly uninhabited region on the Pakistani-Chinese border.


. . .


Shroder achieved brief fame in intelligence circles when he snuck from Kabul to the Salang Pass in northern Afghanistan in the 1980s. There, he took photos of North Korean troops who had crossed the border to support the Red Army -- knowledge that American intelligence agencies didn't have until Shroder handed over the photos.

Now the veteran professor is bracing himself for a potential backlash when the UNO team's research paper comes out in the next few weeks.




For the full story, see:

Matthew Hansen. "UNO Scientists Pinpoint Global Warming Oddity in Himalayas." Omaha World-Herald (Thurs., December 17, 2009): 1A-2A.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article had the title "These glaciers are growing.")



ShroderJack2010-01-07.jpg












Regents Professor Jack Shroder. Source of photo: http://www.unomaha.edu/glims/img/Portraits/Jack%20shroder-visa.jpg






January 4, 2010

"Claims that Climate Change Is Accelerating Are Bizarre"



The author quoted below on global warming is a Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


(p. A19) Is there a reason to be alarmed by the prospect of global warming? Consider that the measurement used, the globally averaged temperature anomaly (GATA), is always changing. Sometimes it goes up, sometimes down, and occasionally--such as for the last dozen years or so--it does little that can be discerned.

Claims that climate change is accelerating are bizarre. There is general support for the assertion that GATA has increased about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the middle of the 19th century. The quality of the data is poor, though, and because the changes are small, it is easy to nudge such data a few tenths of a degree in any direction. Several of the emails from the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) that have caused such a public ruckus dealt with how to do this so as to maximize apparent changes.

The general support for warming is based not so much on the quality of the data, but rather on the fact that there was a little ice age from about the 15th to the 19th century. Thus it is not surprising that temperatures should increase as we emerged from this episode.




For the full commentary, see:

RICHARD S. LINDZEN. "The Climate Science Isn't Settled; Confident predictions of catastrophe are unwarranted." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., December 1, 2009): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated NOVEMBER 30, 2009.)





December 31, 2009

Global Warming Climatologist Leaves Post Due to His "Efforts to Keep the Work of Skeptical Scientists Out of Major Journals"



(p. A6) The head of the British research unit at the center of a controversy over the disclosure of thousands of e-mail messages among climate-change scientists has stepped down pending the outcome of an investigation.

Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England, said that he would leave his post while the university conducted a review of the release of the e-mail messages. The university has called the release and publication of the messages a "criminal breach" of the school's computer systems.

The e-mail exchanges among several prominent American and British climate-change scientists appear to reveal efforts to keep the work of skeptical scientists out of major journals and the possible hoarding and manipulation of data to overstate the case for human-caused climate change.

In a related announcement, Pennsylvania State University said it would review the work of a faculty member who is cited prominently in the e-mail messages, Michael Mann, to assure that it meets proper academic standards.



For the full story, see:

JOHN M. BRODER. "Climatologist Leaves Post in Inquiry Over Leaks." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., December 2, 2009): A6.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated December 1, 2009 and has the slightly different title "Climatologist Leaves Post in Inquiry Over E-Mail Leaks.")





December 26, 2009

Emails Reveal Global Warming Scientists Exclude Contrary Views



ClimateGateEmails.gifSource of photo and email images: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



One can imagine Michael Crichton looking down on us with a sad smile:


(p. A3) The scientific community is buzzing over thousands of emails and documents -- posted on the Internet last week after being hacked from a prominent climate-change research center -- that some say raise ethical questions about a group of scientists who contend humans are responsible for global warming.

The correspondence between dozens of climate-change researchers, including many in the U.S., illustrates bitter feelings among those who believe human activities cause global warming toward rivals who argue that the link between humans and climate change remains uncertain.

Some emails also refer to efforts by scientists who believe man is causing global warming to exclude contrary views from important scientific publications.

"This is horrible," said Pat Michaels, a climate scientist at the Cato Institute in Washington who is mentioned negatively in the emails. "This is what everyone feared. Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult for anyone who does not view global warming as an end-of-the-world issue to publish papers. This isn't questionable practice, this is unethical."

John Christy, a scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville attacked in the emails for asking that an IPCC report include dissenting viewpoints, said, "It's disconcerting to realize that legislative actions this nation is preparing to take, and which will cost trillions of dollars, are based upon a view of climate that has not been completely scientifically tested--but rather orchestrated."

In all, more than 1,000 emails and more than 2,000 other documents were stolen Thursday from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University in the U.K. The identity of the hackers isn't certain, but the files were posted on a Russian file-sharing server late Thursday, and university officials confirmed over the weekend that their computer had been attacked and said the documents appeared to be genuine.


. . .


In one email, Benjamin Santer from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., wrote to the director of the climate-study center that he was "tempted to beat" up Mr. Michaels. Mr. Santer couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.

In another, Phil Jones, the director of the East Anglia climate center, suggested to climate scientist Michael Mann of Penn State University that skeptics' research was unwelcome: We "will keep them out somehow -- even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!" Neither man could be reached for comment Sunday.




For the full story, see:

KEITH JOHNSON. "Climate Strife Comes to Light; Emails Illustrate Anger of Scientists Who Believe Humans Are Root of Global Warming." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOVEMBER 23, 2009): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the printed version of the article is mostly the same as the online version, but has some differences in order and content. The part quoted above is consistent with the printed version. The passages quoted are the same in both versions, except that the paragraph on the views of John Christy appears later in the online version, and the online version omits his phrase "but rather orchestrated." [I skimmed for differences, but am not absolutely sure that I caught them all.])

(Note: the title of the online version of the article is: "Climate Emails Stoke Debate; Scientists' Leaked Correspondence Illustrates Bitter Feud over Global Warming.")





December 24, 2009

Heretics to the Religion of Global Warming



SuperFreakonomicsBK.jpg















Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.



(p. A19) Suppose for a minute--. . . --that global warming poses an imminent threat to the survival of our species. Suppose, too, that the best solution involves a helium balloon, several miles of garden hose and a harmless stream of sulfur dioxide being pumped into the upper atmosphere, all at a cost of a single F-22 fighter jet.


. . .


The hose-in-the-sky approach to global warming is the brainchild of Intellectual Ventures, a Bellevue, Wash.-based firm founded by former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold. The basic idea is to engineer effects similar to those of the 1991 mega-eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines, which spewed so much sulfuric ash into the stratosphere that it cooled the earth by about one degree Fahrenheit for a couple of years.

Could it work? Mr. Myhrvold and his associates think it might, and they're a smart bunch. Also smart are University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and writer Stephen Dubner, whose delightful "SuperFreakonomics"--the sequel to their runaway 2005 bestseller "Freakonomics"--gives Myhrvold and Co. pride of place in their lengthy chapter on global warming. Not surprisingly, global warming fanatics are experiencing a Pinatubo-like eruption of their own.


. . .


. . . , Messrs. Levitt and Dubner show every sign of being careful researchers, going so far as to send chapter drafts to their interviewees for comment prior to publication. Nor are they global warming "deniers," insofar as they acknowledge that temperatures have risen by 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century.

But when it comes to the religion of global warming--the First Commandment of which is Thou Shalt Not Call It A Religion--Messrs. Levitt and Dubner are grievous sinners. They point out that belching, flatulent cows are adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than all SUVs combined. They note that sea levels will probably not rise much more than 18 inches by 2100, "less than the twice-daily tidal variation in most coastal locations." They observe that "not only is carbon plainly not poisonous, but changes in carbon-dioxide levels don't necessarily mirror human activity." They quote Mr. Myhrvold as saying that Mr. Gore's doomsday scenarios "don't have any basis in physical reality in any reasonable time frame."

More subversively, they suggest that climatologists, like everyone else, respond to incentives in a way that shapes their conclusions. "The economic reality of research funding, rather than a disinterested and uncoordinated scientific consensus, leads the [climate] models to approximately match one another." In other words, the herd-of-independent-minds phenomenon happens to scientists too and isn't the sole province of painters, politicians and news anchors

.


For the full commentary, see:

BRET STEPHENS. "Freaked Out Over SuperFreakonomics; Global warming might be solved with a helium balloon and a few miles of garden hose." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., OCTOBER 27, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





December 23, 2009

Copenhagen Global Warming Performer Asks for More Summer "Because It's Too Cold to Be Out Here"



(p. 12) . . . a small contingent of climate skeptics and libertarians opposed to caps on heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions derided the United Nations talks.

"We want to be able to live our lives like we've always led them before -- as free citizens in free democracies," said David Pontoppidan, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Copenhagen, who addressed passers-by through a megaphone over the chatter of two helicopters hovering far above. "We want free debate; we want to be able to be taken seriously even though we don't agree with the U.N."


. . .

Leading the march from the square this afternoon, a man in blue coveralls, with vaudevillian face paint and a faux Cyrano nose, could be seen sweeping the street and peering into a rolling trash bin painted to resemble the planet. It emitted plumes of white dust and mournful musical notes.

"This is our comment on global warming," said the sweeper, Jens Kloft, a Danish performance artist. "We want to have an international compromise on global warming -- a better climate, but two more months of summer in Denmark please. Because it's too cold to be out here."




For the full story, see:

TOM ZELLER Jr. "Thousands March in Copenhagen, Calling for Action." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., December 13, 2009): 12.

(Note: the last two paragraphs quoted above are from the print version; the NYT deleted them from the online version. Also, the first paragraph quoted, is from the print version of that paragraph, and not the shortened online version. The online version of the article is dated Sat., December 12, 2009.)

(Note: ellipses added.)





December 19, 2009

Safe Drinking Water Matters More than Global Warming



(p. A17) Getting basic sanitation and safe drinking water to the three billion people around the world who do not have it now would cost nearly $4 billion a year. By contrast, cuts in global carbon emissions that aim to limit global temperature increases to less than two degrees Celsius over the next century would cost $40 trillion a year by 2100. These cuts will do nothing to increase the number of people with access to clean drinking water and sanitation. Cutting carbon emissions will likely increase water scarcity, because global warming is expected to increase average rainfall levels around the world.

For Mrs. Begum, the choice is simple. After global warming was explained to her, she said: "When my kids haven't got enough to eat, I don't think global warming will be an issue I will be thinking about."

One of Bangladesh's most vulnerable citizens, Mrs. Begum has lost faith in the media and politicians.

"So many people like you have come and interviewed us. I have not seen any improvement in our conditions," she said.

It is time the developed world started listening.




For the full commentary, see:

Bjørn LOMBORG. "Global Warming as Seen From Bangladesh; Momota Begum worries about hunger, not climate change." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., NOVEMBER 9, 2009): A17.





December 6, 2009

Wind Power is Volatile and Unreliable, Especially When Power Demand is Highest



BPA_real_time_wind_ForJuly2009.png Graph of total electric power load and total wind power generation from the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) for a week in late July 2009. Source of graph: http://blog.oregonlive.com/environment_impact/2009/07/real_time_wind.jpg


(p. A14) For more than a century, producing power has been a matter of flipping a switch. Need more electricity? Fire up some fuel. Need less? Dial the flame back down.

Things won't be that easy in a world that gets much of its energy from renewable sources, which come and go at nature's whim. Wind tends to blow hardest at night -- a problem, since people use electricity mostly during the day. Sunshine can lose its intensity in seconds if eclipsed by a cloud -- inconvenient for people who like their air conditioners to run steadily on summer days.


. . .


Most of the electricity in Bonneville's service area comes from hydroelectric power. To compensate for the volatility of wind, Bonneville tweaks the amount of water it lets through the dams. But that doesn't work for the most extreme shifts in wind. Sometimes, when the wind is blowing hard, Bonneville releases extra water over the tops of dams without using it to generate electricity. Otherwise, electrical wires might get overloaded. And when the wind is so strong that Bonneville can't ditch enough water, the utility orders wind turbines shut off.

"Everything changes with wind," says Bart McManus, a wind expert at Bonneville.

Sudden doldrums can be as troublesome as sudden gusts. That was the problem on Feb. 26, 2008, in Texas, which produces more wind power than any other state.

At 3 p.m. that afternoon, Texas's wind farms, concentrated in the western part of the state, were throwing off about 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to serve about one million households. Then a cold front blew in. By 6:30 p.m. -- when electricity demand typically peaks -- wind production in Texas had cratered to about 360 megawatts.

Exacerbating matters, Texans began turning up their heat -- much of which, in rural parts of the state, comes from electricity. So, just as wind power unexpectedly plummeted, demand for power spiked.



For the full commentary, see:

JEFFREY BALL. "Unbridled Energy: Predicting Volatile Wind, Sun
Utilities Ramp Up Focus on Forecasting When Renewable Fuel Is at a Peak to Avoid Squandering Power That Still Can't Be Stored." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 5, 2009): A14.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the last sentence of the quoted passage, appeared in the print edition, but was inexplicably deleted from the online version.)


For an updated "Near-Real-Time" graph of BPA load and wind generation, see:

http://www.transmission.bpa.gov/Business/Operations/Wind/baltwg.aspx






December 4, 2009

Calderón's Decision Is Bigger than Reagan's Firing of Air Traffic Controllers



ElectriciansProtestMexico2009-10-29.jpg"The Mexican Union of Electricians protests the government's decision to liquidate the state-owned electricity company in Mexico City." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A19) Eight days ago, just after midnight on a Sunday morning, Mexican President Felipe Calderón instructed federal police to take over the operations of the state-owned electricity monopoly, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC), which serves Mexico City and parts of surrounding states. The company's assets will stay in the hands of the government but will now be run by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), a national state-owned utility and the major supplier of LyFC's energy.

The net effect of the move is to dethrone 42,000 members of the Mexican Union of Electricians, which had won benefits over the decades to make Big Three auto workers in Detroit blush. When the liquidation is complete, it is expected that the company will employ about 8,000. To appreciate the magnitude of Mr. Calderón's decision, think of Ronald Reagan's firing of the air traffic controllers--only bigger. As one internationally renowned Mexican economist remarked on Sunday, it is "the most important act of government in 20 years."



For the full commentary, see:

MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY. "Mexico's Calderón Takes on Big Labor; Its state-owned electricity company was bleeding the national treasury dry." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., October 19, 2009): A19.





November 23, 2009

Global Warming Did Not Cause Southeast Drought



(p. A13) The drought that gripped the Southeast from 2005 to 2007 was not unprecedented and resulted from random weather events, not global warming, Columbia University researchers have concluded. They say its severe water shortages resulted from population growth more than rainfall patterns.

The researchers, who report their findings in an article in Thursday's issue of The Journal of Climate, cite census figures showing that in Georgia alone the population rose to 9.54 million in 2007 from 6.48 million in 1990.

"At the root of the water supply problem in the Southeast is a growing population," they wrote.

Richard Seager, a climate expert at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who led the study, said in an interview that when the drought struck, "people were wondering" whether climate change linked to a global increase in heat-trapping gases could be a cause.

But after studying data from weather instruments, computer models and measurements of tree rings, which reflect yearly rainfall, "our conclusion was this drought was pretty normal and pretty typical by standards of what has happened in the region over the century," Mr. Seager said.

Similar droughts unfolded over the last thousand years, the researchers wrote. Regardless of climate change, they added, similar weather patterns can be expected regularly in the future, with similar results.




For the full story, see:

CORNELIA DEAN. "Study Links Water Shortages in Southeast to Population, Not Global Warming." The New York Times (Fri., October 2, 2009): A13.

(Note: the online version of the article is dated Oct. 1st and has the title "Southeast Drought Study Ties Water Shortage to Population, Not Global Warming.")


The research summarized in the passages above can be read in its full and original form, at:

Seager, Richard, Alexandrina Tzanova, and Jennifer Nakamura. "Drought in the Southeastern United States: Causes, Variability over the Last Millennium, and the Potential for Future Hydroclimate Change." Journal of Climate 22, no. 19 (Oct. 1, 2009): 5021-45.





November 13, 2009

Global Warming Is Least Worry of Vanuatu Island's Poor



(p. A19) In a warning often repeated by environmental campaigners, the Vanuatuan president told the United Nations that entire island nations could be submerged. "If such a tragedy does happen," he said, "then the United Nations and its members would have failed in their first and most basic duty to a member nation and its innocent people."

Torethy Frank, a 39-year-old woman carving out a subsistence lifestyle on Vanuatu's Nguna Island, is one of those "innocent people." Yet, she has never heard of the problem that her government rates as a top priority. "What is global warming?" she asks a researcher for the Copenhagen Consensus Center.


. . .


Torethy and her family of six live in a small house made of concrete and brick with no running water. As a toilet, they use a hole dug in the ground. They have no shower and there is no fixed electricity supply. Torethy's family was given a battery-powered DVD player but cannot afford to use it.


. . .


What would change her life? Having a boat in the village to use for fishing, transporting goods to sell, and to get to hospital in emergencies. She doesn't want more aid money because, "there is too much corruption in the government and it goes in people's pockets," but she would like microfinance schemes instead. "Give the money directly to the people for businesses so we can support ourselves without having to rely on the government."

Vanuatu's politicians speak with a loud voice on the world stage. But the inhabitants of Vanuatu, like Torethy Frank, tell a very different story.



For the full commentary, see:

BJøRN LOMBORG. "The View from Vanuatu on Climate Change; Torethy Frank had never heard of global warming. She is worried about power and running water." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., OCTOBER 23, 2009): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version is dated Thurs., Oct. 22.)





November 3, 2009

Biofuels Fail to Meet Fed Industrial Policy Goal



(p. B10) In 2007, Congress set a national goal of creating an advanced biofuel industry, and established a quota for gasoline marketers to blend a modest 100 million gallons of such fuel into gasoline by 2010.


. . .

The industry is likely to miss Congress's initial quota of 100 million gallons next year, acknowledging that it will make a few million gallons of the advanced fuel, at most. It could fall even further behind the 2011 quota, 250 million gallons. The quota eventually rises to 16 billion gallons by 2022.

The industry partly blames the credit crisis for its slow pace, but acknowledges that getting the conversion techniques to work is the biggest problem.

"It's certainly turned out to be more complicated technically than people thought it would be," said Brian Foody, the president and chief executive of Iogen, which hopes to build a large-scale facility.




For the full story, see:

MATTHEW L. WALD. "Industry Built From Scratch." The New York Times (Thurs., October 15, 2009): B1 & B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article is dated October 14th.)





October 18, 2009

Feds Spent $850,000 to "Green" Buildings, and then Tore Them Down



(p. 4A) WASHINGTON -- The four drafty buildings had been fix­tures of the Energy Depart­ment complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for more than half a cen­tury. They burned energy like 1950s sedans.


The buildings seemed like perfect candidates for a federal conservation retrofit program that relies on private contrac­tors that receive a percentage of the money they save. A deal was struck in 2001. The con­tractor reworked lighting and heating systems, among other things, and began collecting payments.


The project was count­ed among the department's "green" successes -- until auditors discovered that the buildings had been torn down several years ago, and the gov­ernment had paid $850,000 for energy savings at facilities that no longer existed.


The audit findings show the potential for waste and abuse at a time when the department is poised to launch billions of dollars more in stimulus spend­ing on an unprecedented welter of green projects across the country.


. . .


The problems are not exclu­sive to Oak Ridge. The audi­tors, from the department's inspector general's office, also determined that $565,000 had been paid over six years un­der the same arrangement to a contractor in Texas for a high­efficiency laundry that was no longer in use.


The department also paid out $3.4 million on another project without checking whether the conservation measures worked -- and $160,000 for measure­ments that were never taken.



For the full story, see:

THE WASHINGTON POST. "Audit finds 'green' projects resulted in waste, abuse; The findings point to a need for oversight as the government readies stimulus projects." Omaha World-Herald (Sun., Sept. 27, 2009): 4A.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





October 8, 2009

Adaptation Greatly Reduces Negative Effects from Global Warming



One of the advantages of flexible economic systems, such as capitalism, is that they can adapt to unexpected or exogenous changes in the environment (e.g., changes in the weather). In the empirical analysis quoted from below, the primary finding is that roughly half of the short-term negative effects on income from rising temperatures, "are offset in the long run through adaptation."

Almost all of the countries in the sample of 12 deviate substantially from the ideal of entrepreneurial capitalism. So the reduction by half is probably a much smaller amount of adaptation than would occur in a sample of countries that had adopted policies that allowed a flourishing of entrepreneurship.


(p. 203) Using subnational data from 12 countries in the Americas, we show that the negative crosssectional relationship between temperature and income exists within countries, as well as across countries. We then provide a theoretical framework for reconciling the substantial, negative association between temperature and income in cross section with the even stronger short-run effects of temperature shown in panel models. The theoretical framework suggests that half of the negative short-term effects of temperature are offset in the long run through adaptation.



Source:

Dell, Melissa, Benjamin F. Jones, and Benjamin A. Olken. "Temperature and Income: Reconciling New Cross-Sectional and Panel Estimates." American Economic Review 99, no. 2 (May 2009): 198-204.





October 7, 2009

Global Warming Creates Benefit of Arctic Shipping Shortcut



GermanShipArtcticPassage.jpg "A German ship, following a Russian icebreaker, is about to complete a shipment from Asia to Europe via Arctic waters." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) MOSCOW -- For hundreds of years, mariners have dreamed of an Arctic shortcut that would allow them to speed trade between Asia and the West. Two German ships are poised to complete that transit for the first time, aided by the retreat of Arctic ice that scientists have linked to global warming.

The ships started their voyage in South Korea in late July and will begin the last leg of the trip this week, leaving a Siberian port for Rotterdam in the Netherlands carrying 3,500 tons of construction materials.

Russian ships have long moved goods along the country's sprawling Arctic coastline. And two tankers, one Finnish and the other Latvian, hauled fuel between Russian ports using the route, which is variously called the Northern Sea Route or the Northeast Passage.

But the Russians hope that the transit of the German ships will inaugurate the passage as a reliable shipping route, and that the combination of the melting ice and the economic benefits of the shortcut -- it is thousands of miles shorter than various southerly routes -- will eventually make the Arctic passage a summer competitor with the Suez Canal.

"It is global warming that enables us to think about using that route," Verena Beckhusen, a spokeswoman for the shipping company, the Beluga Group of Bremen, Germany, said in a telephone interview.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW E. KRAMER and ANDREW C. REVKIN. "Arctic Shortcut Beckons Shippers as Ice Thaws." The New York Times (Fri., September 10, 2009): A1 & A3.




NortheastPassageMap2009-09-26.jpg "A Shortcut Across the Top of the World." Source of caption and map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





September 28, 2009

Feds Ignore Birds Killed by Windmills



(p. A19) On Aug. 13, ExxonMobil pleaded guilty in federal court to killing 85 birds that had come into contact with crude oil or other pollutants in uncovered tanks or waste-water facilities on its properties. The birds were protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which dates back to 1918. The company agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees.

ExxonMobil is hardly alone in running afoul of this law. Over the past two decades, federal officials have brought hundreds of similar cases against energy companies. In July, for example, the Oregon-based electric utility PacifiCorp paid $1.4 million in fines and restitution for killing 232 eagles in Wyoming over the past two years. The birds were electrocuted by poorly-designed power lines.

Yet there is one group of energy producers that are not being prosecuted for killing birds: wind-power companies. And wind-powered turbines are killing a vast number of birds every year.

A July 2008 study of the wind farm at Altamont Pass, Calif., estimated that its turbines kill an average of 80 golden eagles per year. The study, funded by the Alameda County Community Development Agency, also estimated that about 10,000 birds--nearly all protected by the migratory bird act--are being whacked every year at Altamont.

Altamont's turbines, located about 30 miles east of Oakland, Calif., kill more than 100 times as many birds as Exxon's tanks, and they do so every year. But the Altamont Pass wind farm does not face the same threat of prosecution, even though the bird kills at Altamont have been repeatedly documented by biologists since the mid-1990s.


. . .

This is a double standard that more people--and not just bird lovers--should be paying attention to. In protecting America's wildlife, federal law-enforcement officials are turning a blind eye to the harm done by "green" energy.



For the full commentary, see:

ROBERT BRYCE. "Windmills Are Killing Our Birds; One standard for oil companies, another for green energy sources." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., SEPTEMBER 8, 2009): A19.

(Note: the online version of the commentary is dated September 7th.)

(Note: ellipsis added.)





September 25, 2009

Creator of Cap-and-Trade Now Says Plan is Ineffective and Inflexible



CrockerThomas2009-09-13.jpg











"When he was a graduate student in the 1960s working to reduce pollutants, Thomas Crocker devised a cap-and-trade system similar to one being considered in Congress." Source of photo and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. A7) In the 1960s, a University of Wisconsin graduate student named Thomas Crocker came up with a novel solution for environmental problems: cap emissions of pollutants and then let firms trade permits that allow them to pollute within those limits.

Now legislation using cap-and-trade to limit greenhouse gases is working its way through Congress and could become the law of the land. But Mr. Crocker and other pioneers of the concept are doubtful about its chances of success. They aren't abandoning efforts to curb emissions. But they are tiptoeing away from an idea they devised decades ago, doubting it can work on the grand scale now envisioned.

"I'm skeptical that cap-and-trade is the most effective way to go about regulating carbon," says Mr. Crocker, 73 years old, a retired economist in Centennial, Wyo. He says he prefers an outright tax on emissions because it would be easier to enforce and provide needed flexibility to deal with the problem.


. . .


Mr. Crocker sees two modern-day problems in using a cap-and-trade system to address the global greenhouse-gas issue. The first is that carbon emissions are a global problem with myriad sources. Cap-and-trade, he says, is better suited for discrete, local pollution problems. "It is not clear to me how you would enforce a permit system internationally," he says. "There are no institutions right now that have that power."

Europe has embraced cap-and-trade rules. Emissions initially rose there because industries were given more permits than they needed, and regulators have since tightened the caps. Meanwhile China, India and other developing markets are reluctant to go along, fearing limits would curb their growth. If they don't participate, there is little assurance that global carbon emissions will slow much even if the U.S. goes forward with its own plan. And even if everyone signs up, Mr. Crocker says, it isn't clear the limits will be properly enforced across nations and industries.

The other problem, Mr. Crocker says, is that quantifying the economic damage of climate change -- from floods to failing crops -- is fraught with uncertainty. One estimate puts it at anywhere between 5% and 20% of global gross domestic product. Without knowing how costly climate change is, nobody knows how tight a grip to put on emissions.

In this case, he says Washington needs to come up with an approach that will be flexible and easy to adjust over a long stretch of time as more becomes known about damages from greenhouse-gas emissions. Mr. Crocker says cap-and-trade is better suited for problems where the damages are clear -- like acid rain in the 1990s -- and a hard limit is needed quickly.

"Once a cap is in place," he warns, "it is very difficult to adjust." For example, buyers of emissions permits would see their value reduced if the government decided in the future to loosen the caps.



For the full story, see:

JON HILSENRATH. "Cap-and-Trade's Unlikely Critics: Its Creators; Economists Behind Original Concept Question the System's Large-Scale Usefulness, and Recommend Emissions Taxes Instead." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., AUGUST 13, 2009): A7.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





September 24, 2009

Noble Savages Were Not So Noble



(p. A20) The idea that primitive hunter-gatherers lived in harmony with the landscape has long been challenged by researchers, who say Stone Age humans in fact wiped out many animal species in places as varied as the mountains of New Zealand and the plains of North America. Now scientists are proposing a new arena of ancient depredation: the coast.

In an article in Friday's issue of the journal Science, anthropologists at the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Oregon cite evidence of sometimes serious damage by early inhabitants along the coasts of the Aleutian Islands, New England, the Gulf of Mexico, South Africa and California's Channel Islands, where the researchers do fieldwork.

"Human influence is pretty pervasive," one of the authors, Torben C. Rick of the National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, said in an interview. "Hunter-gatherers with fairly simple technology were actively degrading some marine ecosystems" tens of thousands of years ago.



For the full story, see:

CORNELIA DEAN. "Ancient Man Hurt Coasts, Paper Says." The New York Times (Fri., August 21, 2009): A20.






September 20, 2009

Global Warming Laws May Increase Food Prices



(p. A5) Some of the nation's biggest food and agriculture companies are planning to release a flurry of studies in coming weeks that scrutinize the potential impact of climate-change legislation, warning that it could lead to higher food prices.


. . .


In a letter sent last month to Sens. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat, and Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the coalition said the House bill "will increase food and feed prices and reduce the international competitiveness of our businesses."

The letter said Congress "must take extreme care to avoid adverse impacts on food security, prices, safety, and accessibility to necessary consumer products." The letter also criticized the House bill for failing to provide transitional assistance to "low-income households struggling with rising food prices."

When the group's studies are released, possibly by the end of August, they are likely to reignite tensions between food and ethanol producers that have raged since 2007 when Congress passed energy legislation that gave a big boost to the corn-ethanol industry.

The food industry has complained that the energy bill pushed up prices for corn and other key food ingredients that resulted in higher consumer prices as the ethanol industry siphoned more corn to make ethanol.



For the full story, see:

LAUREN ETTER. "Food Firms Fret Over Potential Impact of Climate Bill; Coalition, Including Agricultural Giants, Plans to Draw Attention to Concerns That Legislation Could Lead to Higher Food Prices." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Aug. 13, 2009): A5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





September 19, 2009

Omaha's MidAmerican Energy "Is Ready to Assist BYD's Foray into the U.S. Auto Market"



WangChuanfuBYDchairman2009--09-7.jpg "Wang Chuanfu, the chairman of Chinese auto maker BYD, with one of the company's cars at the automobile show in Detroit in January." Source of photo and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B5) XIAN, China -- BYD Co., the Chinese auto maker part-owned by Warren Buffett's company, is finalizing plans for an all-electric battery car that would be sold in the U.S. next year, ahead of the original schedule, Chairman Wang Chuanfu said.


. . .


One source of Mr. Wang's confidence in attacking the U.S. car market is BYD's ties with MidAmerican Energy Holding Co., the unit of Mr. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. that paid about $230 million for a 9.9% stake in BYD.

MidAmerican Chairman David Sokol, who was also interviewed in Xian, said MidAmerican is ready to assist BYD's foray into the U.S. auto market in "any way we could be helpful." MidAmerican also might invest in BYD's new initiatives in the U.S., which, in addition to automobiles, could involve solar panels and battery technology for power utilities.

Mr. Sokol also said MidAmerican hopes to boost its BYD stake if the chance arises. "If in the future there is an opportunity for us to continue to invest in BYD, we will be happy to increase our stake over time, but we will do it in cooperation with BYD," he said. Mr. Wang said an increase is "negotiable."



For the full story, see:

NORIHIKO SHIROUZU. "BYD to Sell Electric Car in U.S. Market Next Year." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., AUGUST 22, 2009): B5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)





August 17, 2009

Environmental Hypocrites



(p. C14) KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- European consumer groups and nongovernmental organizations have said they want environmentally friendly palm oil. Malaysian producers of palm oil that have made the switch are discovering that it is still a hard sell.

The price premium for palm oil certified as produced through sustainable plantation practices has been shrinking since the first eco-friendly palm oil was shipped to European markets last November, and producers say it may need to disappear if they are to regain business in the key European Union market.

Producers say the difficulty in selling higher-priced sustainable palm oils highlights the double standards of those who criticize the industry but buy the cheaper, uncertified oil that they say is harming the environment.



For the full story, see:

SHIE-LYNN LIM. "Backers Don't Buy 'Friendly' Palm Oil." Wall Street Journal (Weds., JULY 15, 2009): C14.





July 31, 2009

Obama EPA Censors Global Warming Skeptic



CarlinAlan2009-07-05.jpg














"Alan Carlin, 35-year Environmental Protection Agency veteran." Source of caricature and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A11) In March, the Obama EPA prepared to engage the global-warming debate in an astounding new way, by issuing an "endangerment" finding on carbon. It establishes that carbon is a pollutant, and thereby gives the EPA the authority to regulate it -- even if Congress doesn't act.

Around this time, Mr. Carlin and a colleague presented a 98-page analysis arguing the agency should take another look, as the science behind man-made global warming is inconclusive at best. The analysis noted that global temperatures were on a downward trend. It pointed out problems with climate models. It highlighted new research that contradicts apocalyptic scenarios. "We believe our concerns and reservations are sufficiently important to warrant a serious review of the science by EPA," the report read.

The response to Mr. Carlin was an email from his boss, Al McGartland, forbidding him from "any direct communication" with anyone outside of his office with regard to his analysis. When Mr. Carlin tried again to disseminate his analysis, Mr. McGartland decreed: "The administrator and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. . . . I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office." (Emphasis added.)

Mr. McGartland blasted yet another email: "With the endangerment finding nearly final, you need to move on to other issues and subjects. I don't want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change. No papers, no research etc, at least until we see what EPA is going to do with Climate." Ideology? Nope, not here. Just us science folk. Honest.



For the full commentary, see:

KIMBERLEY A. STRASSEL. "OPINION: POTOMAC WATCH; The EPA Silences a Climate Skeptic." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JULY 3, 2009): A11.

(Note: ellipsis in original; italics added by Strassel.)





July 27, 2009

Government Regulatory Costs Impede Energy Innovation



MetcalfeRobert_National_Medal_of_Technology.jpg














Robert Metcalfe receiving the National Medal of Technology in 2003. Source of photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Metcalfe



The author of the commentary quoted below is famous in the history of information technology. His Harvard dissertation draft on packet switching was rejected as unrealistic. So he left the academy and became the main innovator responsible for making packet switching a reality, through the ethernet.

(He is also the "Metcalfe" behind "Metcalfe's Law" about the value of a network increasing at a faster rate than the increase in the network's size.)


(p. A15) . . . new small reactors meet important criteria for nuclear power plants. With no control rods to jam, they are far safer than the old models -- you might well call them nuclear batteries. By not using weapons-grade enriched fuels, they are nonproliferating. They minimize nuclear waste. And they're economical.


. . .


As venture capitalists, we at Polaris might have invested in one or two of these fission-energy start-ups. Alas, we had to pass. The problem with their business plans weren't their designs, but the high costs and astronomical risks of designing nuclear reactors for certification in Washington.

The start-ups estimate that it will cost each of them roughly $100 million and five years to get their small reactor designs certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. About $50 million of each $100 million would go to the commission itself. That's a lot of risk capital for any venture-backed start-up, especially considering that not one new commercial nuclear reactor design has been approved and built in the United States for 30 years.


. . .

As we learned by building the Internet, fiercely competitive teams of research professors, graduate students, engineers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are the best drivers of technological innovation -- not big corporations, and certainly not government bureaucracies. So, if it's cheap and clean energy we want, we should clear the way for fission energy start-ups. We should lower the barriers at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the approval of new nuclear reactors, especially the new small ones. In particular, we should drop the requirement that the commission be reimbursed for reconsidering new fission reactor designs.



For the full commentary, see:

BOB METCALFE. "The New Nuclear Revolution; Safe fission power is our future -- if regulators allow it.." Wall Street Journal (Weds., JUNE 24, 2009): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)





July 10, 2009

Lomborg Warns of "Climate-Industrial Complex"



(p. A19) Some business leaders are cozying up with politicians and scientists to demand swift, drastic action on global warming. This is a new twist on a very old practice: companies using public policy to line their own pockets.

The tight relationship between the groups echoes the relationship among weapons makers, researchers and the U.S. military during the Cold War. President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned about the might of the "military-industrial complex," cautioning that "the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." He worried that "there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties."

This is certainly true of climate change. We are told that very expensive carbon regulations are the only way to respond to global warming, despite ample evidence that this approach does not pass a basic cost-benefit test. We must ask whether a "climate-industrial complex" is emerging, pressing taxpayers to fork over money to please those who stand to gain.



For the full commentary, see:

BJORN LOMBORG. "OPINION: The Climate-Industrial Complex; Some businesses see nothing but profits in the green movement." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., MAY 22, 2009): A19.





June 28, 2009

"Don't Kill the Goose"



(p. A11) I think there are two major but not fully formed or fully articulated fears among thinking Americans right now, and the deliberate obscurity of official language only intensifies those fears.

The first is that Mr. Obama's government, in all its flurry of activism, may kill the goose that laid the golden egg. This is as dreadful and obvious a cliché as they come, but too bad, it's what people fear. They see the spending plans and tax plans, the regulation and reform hunger, the energy proposals and health-care ambitions, and they--we--wonder if the men and women doing all this, working in their separate and discrete areas, are being overseen by anyone saying, "By the way, don't kill the goose."

The goose of course is the big, messy, spirited, inspiring, and sometimes in some respects damaging but on the whole brilliant and productive wealth-generator known as the free-market capitalist system. People do want things cleaned up and needed regulations instituted, and they don't mind at all if the very wealthy are more heavily taxed, but they greatly fear a goose killing. Economic freedom in all its chaos and disorder has kept us rich for 200 years, and allowed us as a nation to be generous and strong at home and in the world. But the goose can be killed--by carelessness, hostility, incrementalism, paralysis, and by no one saying, "Don't kill the goose."



For the full commentary, see:

PEGGY NOONAN. "What's Elevated, Health-Care Provider? Economy of language would be good for the economy." Wall Street Journal (Sat., MAY 15, 2009): A11.






June 25, 2009

Environmentalists Lay Guilt on Rafael for His New Set of Legos



BatkerRafaelLegos2009-06-10.jpg"David Batker with his son Rafael de la Torre Batker, 9, who worried it might hurt the environment if he bought a new set of Legos." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A1) The thick-lined drawings of the Earth, a factory and a house, meant to convey the cycle of human consumption, are straightforward and child-friendly. So are the pictures of dark puffs of factory smoke and an outlined skull and crossbones, representing polluting chemicals floating in the air.

Which is one reason "The Story of Stuff," a 20-minute video about the effects of human consumption, has become a sleeper hit in classrooms across the nation.


. . .


. . . many children who watch it take it to heart: riding in the car one day with his parents in Tacoma, Wash., Rafael de la Torre Batker, 9, was worried about whether it would be bad for the planet if he got a new set of Legos.

"When driving by a big-box store, you could see he was struggling with it," his father, David Batker, said. But then Rafael said, "It's O.K. if I have Legos because I'm going to keep them for a very long time," Mr. Batker recalled.


. . .


(p. A12) "There was not one positive thing about capitalism in the whole thing," Mr. Zuber said.

Corporations, for example, are portrayed as a bloated person sporting a top hat and with a dollar sign etched on its front.



For the full story, see:

LESLIE KAUFMAN. " In Schools, a Cautionary Video About America and Its 'Stuff'." The New York Times (Mon., May 11, 2009): A1 & A12.

(Note: ellipses added; the online version of the title is: "A Cautionary Video About America's 'Stuff'.")



EnvironmentalistVideoCapture.jpg"A section of the video on toxic chemicals and production." Source of image and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 23, 2009

"Evidence Suggests" that Bangladesh Can "Cheaply and Safely" Protect Itself Against Global Warming



BeelBhainaBangladeshNewLand2009-06-10.JPG"In Beel Bhaina, a low-lying 600-acre soup bowl of land on the banks of the Hari River, in Bangladesh, land that was once under water is now full of greenery." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A6) BEEL BHAINA, Bangladesh -- The rivers that course down from the Himalayas and into this crowded delta bring an annual tide of gift and curse. They flood low-lying paddies for several months, sometimes years, at a time. And they ferry mountains of silt and sand from far away upstream.

Most of that sediment washes out into the roiling Bay of Bengal. But an accidental discovery by desperate delta folk here may hold clues to how Bangladesh, one of the world's most vulnerable countries to climate change, could harness some of that dark, rich Himalayan muck to protect itself against sea level rise.

Instead of allowing the silt to settle where it wants, Bangladesh has begun to channel it to where it is needed -- to fill in shallow soup bowls of land prone to flooding, or to create new land off its long, exposed coast.

The efforts have been limited to small experimental patches, not uniformly promising, and there is still ample concern that a swelling sea could one day soon swallow parts of Bangladesh. But the emerging evidence suggests that a nation that many see as indefensible to the ravages of human-induced climate change could literally raise itself up and save its people -- and do so cheaply and simply, using what the mountains and tides bring.



For the full story, see:

SOMINI SENGUPTA. "In Silt, Bangladesh Sees Potential Shield Against Sea Level Rise." The New York Times (Fri., March 20, 2009): A6.



BeelBhainaBangladeshMap.jpg











"An influx of silt after a flood made Beel Bhaina higher." Source of map and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






June 21, 2009

"Save a Red, Eat a Gray!"



(p. D1) With literally millions of squirrels rampaging throughout England, Scotland and Wales at any given time, squirrels need to be controlled by culls. This means that hunters, gamekeepers, trappers and the Forestry Commission (the British equivalent of forest rangers) provide a regular supply of the meat to British butchers, restaurants, pâté and pasty makers and so forth.

The situation is more than simply a matter of having too many squirrels. In fact, there is a war raging in Squirreltown: invading interlopers (gray squirrels introduced from North America over the past century or more) are crowding out a British icon, the indigenous red squirrel immortalized by Beatrix Potter and cherished by (p. D5) generations since. The grays take over the reds' habitat, eat voraciously and harbor a virus named squirrel parapox (harmless to humans) that does not harm grays but can devastate reds. (Reports indicate, though, that the reds are developing resistance.)

"When the grays show up, it puts the reds out of business," said Rufus Carter, managing director of the Patchwork Traditional Food Company, a company based in Wales that plans to offer squirrel and hazelnut pâté on its British Web site, patchwork-pate.co.uk.

Enter the "Save Our Squirrels" campaign begun in 2006 to rescue Britain's red squirrels by piquing the nation's appetite for their marauding North American cousins. With a rallying motto of "Save a red, eat a gray!" the campaign created a market for culled squirrel meat.

British bon vivants suddenly couldn't get enough squirrel. Television chefs were preparing it, cookbooks were extolling it, farmers' markets were selling out of it and restaurants in many places were offering it on the menu.



For the full story, see:

MARLENA SPIELER. "Saving a Squirrel by Eating One." The New York Times (Weds., January 7, 2009): D1 & D5.



SquirrelPlate2009-06-10.jpg"Squirrel is appearing on more menus, as at Fergus Henderson's restaurant St. John, in London." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 17, 2009

Cooking with Cow Shit Adds to Global Warming (and Would Be Ended by Economic Growth)



SootFromCookingIndia.jpg"Cooking in Kohlua, India. Soot from tens of thousands of villages in developing countries is responsible for 18 percent of the planet's warming, studies say." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Economic growth is sometimes seen as increasing pollution. But the article quoted below shows that primitive cooking methods, which occur in the absence of economic growth, cause one of the most damaging forms of pollution: black carbon.


(p. A1) KOHLUA, India -- "It's hard to believe that this is what's melting the glaciers," said Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, one of the world's leading climate scientists, as he weaved through a warren of mud brick huts, each containing a mud cookstove pouring soot into the atmosphere.

As women in ragged saris of a thousand hues bake bread and stew lentils in the early evening over fires fueled by twigs and dung, children cough from the dense smoke that fills their homes. Black grime coats the undersides of thatched roofs. At dawn, a brown cloud stretches over the landscape like a diaphanous dirty blanket.

In Kohlua, in central India, with no cars and little electricity, emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, are near zero. But soot -- also known as black carbon -- from tens of thousands of villages like this one in developing countries is emerging as a major and previously unappreciated source of global climate change.

While carbon dioxide may be the No. 1 contributor to rising global temperatures, scientists say, black carbon has emerged as an important No. 2, with recent studies estimating that it is responsible for 18 percent of the (p. A12) planet's warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide. Decreasing black carbon emissions would be a relatively cheap way to significantly rein in global warming -- especially in the short term, climate experts say. Replacing primitive cooking stoves with modern versions that emit far less soot could provide a much-needed stopgap, while nations struggle with the more difficult task of enacting programs and developing technologies to curb carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.


. . .


Better still, decreasing soot could have a rapid effect. Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for years, soot stays there for a few weeks. Converting to low-soot cookstoves would remove the warming effects of black carbon quickly, while shutting a coal plant takes years to substantially reduce global CO2 concentrations.


. . .


Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of environmental engineering at Stanford, said that the fact that black carbon was not included in international climate efforts was "bizarre," but "partly reflects how new the idea is."



For the full story, see:

ELISABETH ROSENTHAL. "By Degrees; Black Carbon; Soot From Third-World Stoves Is New Target in Climate Fight." The New York Times (Thurs., April 16, 2009): A1, A12.

(Note: ellipses added; the title of the online version is "By Degrees - Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight." )


BlackCarbonMap.jpg





Source of maps: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.





June 1, 2009

"Infinitely Smart" Physicist and Futurist Expresses Global Warming Doubts



DysonFreeman2009-05-30a.jpg Dyson says that the "climate-studies people" have ". . . come to believe models are real and forget they are only models." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (The caption used here is adapted from the body of the article, and is not the caption used under the photo in the article.)



The cover story of the March 29, 2009 Sunday New York Times Magazine section was a breath of fresh air on an old hot topic. Here is a small sample of a large article:


(p. 32) FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson has quietly resided in Prince­ton, N.J., on the wooded former farmland that is home to his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study, this country's most rarefied community of scholars. Lately, however, since coming "out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned," as Dyson sometimes puts it, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors' letter boxes and Dyson's own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as "a pompous twit," "a blowhard," "a cesspool of misinformation," "an old coot riding into the sunset" and, perhaps inevitably, "a mad scientist." Dyson had proposed that whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a (p. 34 sic) good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow. Then he added the caveat that if CO2 levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred "carbon-eating trees," whereupon the University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner looked through the thick grove of honorary degrees Dyson has been awarded -- there are 21 from universities like Georgetown, Princeton and Oxford -- and suggested that "perhaps trees can also be designed so that they can give directions to lost hikers." Dyson's son, George, a technology historian, says his father's views have cooled friendships, while many others have concluded that time has cost Dyson something else. There is the suspicion that, at age 85, a great scientist of the 20th century is no longer just far out, he is far gone -- out of his beautiful mind.

But in the considered opinion of the neurologist Oliver Sacks, Dyson's friend and fellow English expatriate, this is far from the case. "His mind is still so open and flexible," Sacks says. Which makes Dyson something far more formidable than just the latest peevish right-wing climate-change denier. Dyson is a scientist whose intelligence is revered by other scientists -- William Press, former deputy director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and now a professor of computer science at the University of Texas, calls him "infinitely smart." Dyson -- a mathematics prodigy who came to this country at 23 and right away contributed seminal work to physics by unifying quantum and electrodynamic theory -- not only did path-breaking science of his own; he also witnessed the development of modern physics, thinking alongside most of the luminous figures of the age, including Einstein, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Witten, the "high priest of string theory" whose office at the institute is just across the hall from Dyson's. Yet instead of hewing to that fundamental field, Dyson chose to pursue broader and more unusual pursuits than most physicists -- and has lived a more original life.

. . .

(p. 36) Not long ago Dyson sat in his institute office, a chamber so neat it reminds Dyson's friend, the writer John McPhee, of a Japanese living room. On shelves beside Dyson were books about stellar evolution, viruses, thermodynamics and terrorism. "The climate-studies people who work with models always tend to overestimate their models," Dyson was saying. "They come to believe models are real and forget they are only models." Dyson speaks in calm, clear tones that carry simultaneous evidence of his English childhood, the move to the United States after completing his university studies at Cambridge and more than 50 years of marriage to the German-born Imme, but his opinions can be barbed, especially when a conversation turns to climate change. Climate models, he says, take into account atmospheric motion and water levels but have no feeling for the chemistry and biology of sky, soil and trees. "The biologists have essentially been pushed aside," he continues. "Al Gore's just an opportunist. The person who is really responsible for this overestimate of global warming is Jim Hansen. He consistently exaggerates all the dangers."

Dyson agrees with the prevailing view that there are rapidly rising carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused by human activity. To the planet, he suggests, the rising carbon may well be a MacGuffin, a striking yet ultimately benign occurrence in what Dyson says is still "a relatively cool period in the earth's history." The warming, he says, is not global but local, "making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter." Far from expecting any drastic harmful consequences from these increased temperatures, he says the carbon may well be salubrious -- a sign that "the climate is actually improving rather than getting worse," because carbon acts as an ideal fertilizer promoting forest growth and crop yields. "Most of the evolution of life occurred on a planet substantially warmer than it is now," he contends, "and substantially richer in carbon dioxide." Dyson calls ocean acidification, which many scientists say is destroying the saltwater food chain, a genuine but probably exaggerated problem. Sea levels, he says, are rising steadily, but why this is and what dangers it might portend "cannot be predicted until we know much more about its causes."



For the full article, see:

NICHOLAS DAWIDOFF. "The Civil Heretic." The New York Times Magazine (Sun., March 29, 2009): 32-39, 54, 57-59.

(Note: ellipses in top photo caption, and in article quotes, are added.)


DysonFreeman2009-0530b.jpg
















"Freeman Dyson." Source of photo and caption: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.






May 24, 2009

Global Warming Environmentalists Propose to Tax Sheep Emissions



SheepBurp1.jpg













". . . , researchers rustle up sheep behind the lab in Palmerston North, New Zealand, . . . " Source of photo and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.



(p. A1) PALMERSTON NORTH, New Zealand -- On a typical day, researchers in this college town coax hungry sheep into metal carts. They wheel the fluffy beasts into sealed chambers and feed them grass, then wait for them to burp.

The exercise is part of a global effort to keep sheep, deer, cows and other livestock from belching methane when they eat and regurgitate grass. Methane is among the most potent greenhouse gases, and researchers now believe livestock industries are a major contributor to climate change, responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than cars are, according to the United Nations.

Plenty of people, including farmers, think the problem of sheep burps is so much hot air. But governments are coming under pressure to put a cork in it, and many farmers fear that new livestock regulations could follow. They worry that environmentalists will someday persuade the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to seek to tax bovine belches. Some activists are urging consumers to stop buying meat and thus slow climate change.

All of which is breathing new life into the study of sheep stomachs. Researchers have tried just about everything, from changing the animals' diets to breeding new sheep they hope will be less gassy. They've concocted (p. A9) cocktails of clover, garlic and cottonseed oil to try to curb methane. They have even tried feeding the animals chloroform, which can stymie the production of gas if it doesn't kill the animal.

But sure as grass grows, livestock keep producing methane.

. . .

. . . , roughly 48% of New Zealand's greenhouse gases come from agriculture, compared with less than 10% in such large, developed economies as the U.S. Agricultural leaders fear their livestock-heavy economy could be at risk if there's an international move to tighten rules on animal emissions.

Kiwis tried to get a leg up on the problem in 2003, when politicians proposed an emissions tax on livestock. Farmers thought they were getting fleeced and attacked what they called a "fart tax." The idea was tabled.




For the full story, see:

PATRICK BARTA. "Silencing the Lambs: Scientists Target Sheep Belching to Cut Methane; Reducing Gas in Livestock Could Help World Breathe Sigh of Relief Over Global Warming." Wall Street Journal (Thurs., FEBRUARY 26, 2009): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)


SheepBurp2.jpgSheepBurp3.jpg







[Researchers place sheep] "in a cart to be wheeled into sealed chambers to measure levels of the greenhouse gas methane the animals burp up."






Source of photos and caption: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.





May 18, 2009

Greenmarket Rules Are "Cumbersome, Confusing and Contradictory"



HesseDanteGreenmarket.jpg "Dante Hesse, . . . , of Milk Thistle Farm, thinks Greenmarket rules are too hard on dairies." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below. (Note: ellipsis in caption added.)


(p. D4) The basic aim of the producer-only rules is to ensure that all foods sold at market originate entirely or mostly on family farms within a half day's drive from New York City. The 10-page document detailing these rules, however, is anything but clear.

"Cumbersome, confusing and contradictory," was the assessment of Michael Hurwitz, the director of Greenmarket, which operates 45 markets in the five boroughs.

Pickle makers can sell preserved foods such as peppers in vinegar, but not processed foods such as hot sauce. Farmers, on the other hand, can sell processed hot sauce if it is made with their peppers. Dairies may purchase a higher percentage of their milk for cheese if the cheese is made from one type of milk rather than two milks, such as cow and sheep. Cider makers can buy 40 percent of the apples they press from local farmers, whereas wheatgrass juice sellers must grow all their wheatgrass.



For the full story, see:

INDRANI SEN. "Greenmarket Sellers Debate Maze of Producer-Only Rules." The New York Times (Weds., August 6, 2008): D4.





May 14, 2009

Global Warming Makes Arctic Less Hostile



StatoilHydroLNGplant2009-05-16.jpg "Statoilhydro's pioneering liquefied natural gas plant on an island off Hammerfest in Norway has encountered an array of problems." Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B1) HAMMERFEST, Norway -- A Norwegian oil company has gone to the ends of the earth -- almost literally -- to get at some of the world's last untapped energy resources.

StatoilHydro ASA operates a pioneering venture deep inside the Arctic Circle, energy's final frontier. The company pumps natural gas from under the freezing waters of the Barents Sea, cools it into a liquid and exports it to Europe and the U.S.

The project, called Snoehvit, has taken StatoilHydro and the entire oil and gas industry into uncharted territory. Before, no one had ever produced liquefied natural gas in the Arctic -- or in Europe, for that matter.

. . .


The oil companies are being aided by climate change. Lashed by storms and strewn with icebergs, the Arctic is one of the most hostile environments on earth. But global warming is melting the polar ice cap, opening up new shipping routes and unlocking once-inaccessible mineral deposits.

. . .


(p. B4) StatoilHydro, . . . , is upbeat. The plant is currently running at 80% to 90% of capacity, up from around 60% last year, company officials say. Outages are typical for the run-in period of a big LNG project, and flaring will soon be a thing of the past. Sure, they say, the start-up period has been troubled, but this is a field with a production life of up to 40 years.



For the full story, see:

GUY CHAZAN. "Norwegian Oil Firm Goes to Energy's Last Frontier." Wall Street Journal (Fri., FEBRUARY 13, 2009): B1 & B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: LNG in the quotes is the abbreviation for liquefied natural gas.)


ArcticOilReserves2009-02-16.gif Source of graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.





May 12, 2009

Life Thrived When Earth Was Far Warmer than Now



SnakeLargest2009-02-16.jpg "An artist's rendering of the prehistoric snake Titanoboa cerrejonensis, which was 42 feet long and lived 60 million years ago." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


(p. A7) Some 60 million years ago, well after the demise of the dinosaurs, a giant relative of today's boa constrictors, weighing more than a ton and measuring 42 feet long, hunted crocodiles in rain-washed tropical forests in northern South America, according to a new fossil discovery.


. . .


But the existence of such a large snake may also help clarify how hot the tropics became during an era when the planet, as a whole, was far warmer than it is now, and also how well moist tropical ecosystems can tolerate a much warmer global climate.

That last question is important in assessments of how human-driven global warming might affect the tropics.


. . .


The team examined how warm it had to be for a snake species to be that large by considering conditions favoring the largest living similar tropical snake, the green anaconda, said Jason J. Head, the lead author of the paper and a paleontologist at the University of Toronto. They concluded that Titanoboa could have thrived only if temperatures ranged from 86 to 93 degrees.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "Fossils of Largest Snake Give Hint of Hot Earth." The New York Times (Thurs., February 4, 2009): A7.

(Note: ellipses added.)





April 29, 2009

World Astonished that an American Tradesman Tamed Lightning



(p. 24) Within five years of his speculative note to Collinson, lightning rods had become a common sight on church steeples throughout Europe and America. Franklin's biographer Carl Van Doren aptly describes the astonishment that greeted these events around the world: "A man in Philadelphia in America, bred a tradesman, remote from the learned world, had hit upon a secret which enabled him, and other men, to catch and tame the lightning, so dread that it was still mythological."


Source:

Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.





April 22, 2009

Environmentalists Abandon Science



In honor of "Earth Day," some thoughtful comments by a co-founder of Greenpeace:

(p. A23) In 1971 an environmental and antiwar ethic was taking root in Canada, and I chose to participate. As I completed a Ph.D. in ecology, I combined my science background with the strong media skills of my colleagues. In keeping with our pacifist views, we started Greenpeace.

But I later learned that the environmental movement is not always guided by science. As we celebrate Earth Day today, this is a good lesson to keep in mind.

At first, many of the causes we championed, such as opposition to nuclear testing and protection of whales, stemmed from our scientific knowledge of nuclear physics and marine biology. But after six years as one of five directors of Greenpeace International, I observed that none of my fellow directors had any formal science education. They were either political activists or environmental entrepreneurs. Ultimately, a trend toward abandoning scientific objectivity in favor of political agendas forced me to leave Greenpeace in 1986.

The breaking point was a Greenpeace decision to support a world-wide ban on chlorine. Science shows that adding chlorine to drinking water was the biggest advance in the history of public health, virtually eradicating water-borne diseases such as cholera. And the majority of our pharmaceuticals are based on chlorine chemistry. Simply put, chlorine is essential for our health.

My former colleagues ignored science and supported the ban, forcing my departure. Despite science concluding no known health risks - and ample benefits - from chlorine in drinking water, Greenpeace and other environmental groups have opposed its use for more than 20 years.



For the full commentary, see:

PATRICK MOORE. "Why I Left Greenpeace." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., April 22, 2008): A23.






April 20, 2009

Houston Rejects Irrational Recycling Fad



RecyclingByCityGraph.gif
































Source of graph: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.



(p. A13) HOUSTON -- While most large American cities have started ambitious recycling programs that have sharply reduced the amount of trash bound for landfills, Houston has not.


. . .


Landfill costs here are cheap. The city's sprawling, no-zoning layout makes collection expensive, and there is little public support for the kind of effort it takes to sort glass, paper and plastics. And there appears to be even less for placing fees on excess trash.

"We have an independent streak that rebels against mandates or anything that seems trendy or hyped up," said Mayor Bill White, . . .



For the full story, see:

ADAM B. ELLICK. "Houston Resists Recycling, and Independent Streak Is Cited." The Wall Street Journal (Tues., July 29, 2008): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)





February 19, 2009

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide that is Probably Not Caused by Human Activity


JupiterLikePLanetDrawing.jpg "This artist's concept shows a cloudy Jupiter-like planet that orbits very close to its fiery hot star." Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A31) Astronomers testing techniques to search for extraterrestrial life have detected carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of a planet 63 light-years away.

This carbon dioxide, though, is certainly not coming from plants or automobiles. The planet, HD 189733b, is far too large (about the mass of the Jupiter) and too hot (1,700 degrees Fahrenheit) for any possibility of life.



For the full story, see:

KENNETH CHANG. "Carbon Dioxide (No S.U.V.'s) Detected on Distant Planet." The New York Times (Thurs., December 11, 2008): A31.




January 20, 2009

Global Warming Benefits Democracy in Greenland


Ice.jpg Source of captionless photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 20) . . . for the residents of the frozen island, the early stages of climate change promise more good, in at least one important sense, than bad. A Danish protectorate since 1721, Greenland has long sought to cut its ties with its colonizer. But while proponents of complete independence face little opposition at home or in Copenhagen, they haven't been able to overcome one crucial calculation: the country depends on Danish assistance for more than 40 percent of its gross domestic product. "The independence wish has always been there," says Aleqa Hammond, Greenland's minister for finance and foreign affairs. "The reason we have never realized it is because of the economics."

. . .

But the real promise lies in what may be found under the ice. Near the town of Uummannaq, about halfway up Greenland's coast, retreating glaciers have uncovered pockets of lead and zinc. Gold and diamond prospectors have flooded the island's south. Alcoa is preparing to build a large aluminum smelter. The island's minerals are becoming more accessible even as global commodity prices are soaring. And with more than 80 percent of the land currently iced over, the hope is that the island has just begun to reveal its riches.

. . .

In November, Greenlanders will vote on a referendum that would leverage global warming into a path to independence. The island's 56,000 predominantly Inuit residents have enjoyed limited home rule since 1978. The proposed plan for self-rule, drafted in partnership with Copenhagen, is expected to pass overwhelmingly.



For the full story, see:

STEPHAN FARIS. "Phenomenon; Ice Free; Will Global Warming Give Greenland Its Independence?" The New York Times, Magazine Section (Sun., July 27, 2008): 20.

(Note: ellipses added.)




January 8, 2009

Kantrowitz Failed at Fusion for Lack of Funding


KantrowitzArthur.jpg "Arthur Kantrowitz, the "father" of laser propulsion, with a cone-shaped model in 1989, first suggested the use of ground based lasers to launch vehicles into orbit." Source of the caption and photo: the online version of the somewhat different December 9th version of the obituary at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/science/09kantrowitz.html?scp=1&sq=Kantrowitz&st=cse


(p. B13) Arthur R. Kantrowitz, a physicist and engineer whose research on the behavior of superhot gases and fluid dynamics led to nose cones for rockets, heart-assist pumps and the idea of nuclear fusion in magnetic bottles, among many other things, died in Manhattan on Nov. 29. He was 95.

. . .

After receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in physics from Columbia in 1936, he went to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, the precursor to NASA, at Langley Field in Virginia. It was there, in 1938, that he and Eastman N. Jacobs, his boss, did an experiment that might have changed the world, had they succeeded.

The idea was to harness the energy source that powers the sun, the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium, by heating hydrogen with radio waves while squeezing the gas with a magnetic field. At the time, nobody had tried to produce a fusion reaction; the Manhattan Project and other attempts to create nuclear fission were still in their infancy.

Knowing that their superiors would disapprove of anything as outlandish as atomic energy, they labeled their machine the Diffusion Inhibitor, and worked on it only at night. The experiment failed, and before the experimenters could figure out why, their director found out about the project and canceled it. Physicists unaware of the Langley experiment later reinvented the idea of thermonuclear fusion in a magnetic bottle, and they are still trying to make it work.

''It was a heartbreaking experience,'' Dr. Kantrowitz recalled. ''I had just built a whole future around this; I wanted to make it a career.''



For the full obituary, see:

DENNIS OVERBYE. "Arthur R. Kantrowitz, 95, Is Dead; Physicist Who Helped Space Program." The New York Times (Weds., December 10, 2008): B13.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




December 30, 2008

Supporters of Whaling Industry Objected to Light from Gas


In the process of creative destruction, the industry that is being destroyed often seeks to protect itself from the new innovation:

(p. 45) In England, objectors to gaslight argued that it undercut the whaling industry.


Source:

Burke, James. The Pinball Effect: How Renaissance Water Gardens Made the Carburetor Possible - and Other Journeys. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1997.




December 3, 2008

Consumers Bear Costs of Global Warming Policies


CarbonCutsCostsGraph.gif













Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A10) Leaders of the Group of Eight major industrialized economies, meeting in Japan, issued their first long-term target for cutting global-warming emissions. But their pronouncement failed to address the two toughest questions: How will the world do it, and who will pay?

The answer to the money question is clear: Consumers will pay -- at the gasoline pump, at the car dealership and on the monthly electric bill. If the campaign against global warming gets serious, it will transform today's esoteric environmental threat into a fundamental pocketbook issue for people from Boston to Beijing.



For the full story, see:

JEFFREY BALL. "As Climate Issue Heats Up, Questions of Cost Loom." The Wall Street Journal (Fri., July 10, 2008): A10.




November 25, 2008

Oil Companies Often Drill Deep With No Payoff


DeepestOilWellMap.gif Source of map: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) McMoRan Exploration Co. is leading a renewed effort to find natural gas in a site known as one of the world's deepest dry holes.

Exxon Mobil Corp. walked away from the legendary Blackbeard prospect in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006 after drilling to more than 30,000 feet without a payoff. But high energy prices have emboldened the industry, stirring wildcatter passions and prompting companies to look anew at previously abandoned projects.

. . .

(p. B2) If industry reports, unconfirmed by Exxon, are correct, the company spent more than $200 million on the well, making it one of the most expensive dry holes ever drilled.

The industry is littered with expensive failures, but Blackbeard proved too tempting to let go, especially in today's record-price environment, where any reasonably promising prospect is worth a try. Indeed, there are more drilling rigs at work in the U.S. today than at any point since 1985, according to Baker Hughes Inc.

Mr. Moffett, the 69-year-old founder of McMoRan Exploration, is a geologist and inveterate risk taker. He discovered the giant Grasberg copper and gold mine in Indonesia, parlaying it into global mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. The oil-and-gas exploration company was spun off from the mining assets in 1994.

Last August, McMoRan paid $1.1 billion for a package of shallow Gulf of Mexico assets, including Blackbeard, from Newfield Exploration Co., Exxon's former partner on the well. Studying the geology, Mr. Moffett found it similar to successful wells drilled by other companies in the deeper parts of the Gulf.

He now says that if McMoRan decides to keep drilling to 35,000 feet, it will cost about $75 million.



For the full story, see:

RUSSELL GOLD "A Famed Dry Hole Gets a Second Shot." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., July 21, 2008): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

OilRigDrillingBlackbeard.jpgMoffettJames.jpg









Photo on left is "GorillaIV, the rig drilling Blackbeard." Image on right is the Co-Chairman of McMoRan. Source of photo, image, and caption on left photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.




November 21, 2008

Russia Expands Icebreaker Fleet to Exploit Benefits of Global Warming


HealyIceBreaker20080824.jpg "The Healy, shown in May 2007 in the Bering Sea, is an ice-breaking ship used mainly for science." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 6) A growing array of military leaders, Arctic experts and lawmakers say the United States is losing its ability to patrol and safeguard Arctic waters even as climate change and high energy prices have triggered a burst of shipping and oil and gas exploration in the thawing region.

The National Academy of Sciences, the Coast Guard and others have warned over the past several years that the United States' two 30-year-old heavy icebreakers, the Polar Sea and Polar Star, and one ice-breaking ship devoted mainly to science, the Healy, are grossly inadequate. Also, the Polar Star is out of service.

And this spring, the leaders of the Pentagon's Pacific Command, Northern Command and Transportation Command strongly recommended in a letter that the Joint Chiefs of Staff endorse a push by the Coast Guard to increase the country's ability to gain access to and control its Arctic waters.

In the meantime, a resurgent Russia has been busy expanding its fleet of large oceangoing icebreakers to around 14, launching a large conventional icebreaker in May and, last year, the world's largest icebreaker, named 50 Years of Victory, the newest of its seven nuclear-powered, pole-hardy ships.

Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, who toured Alaska's Arctic shores two weeks ago with the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, said that whatever mix of natural and human factors is causing the ice retreats, the Arctic is clearly opening to commerce -- and potential conflict and hazards -- like never before.



For the full story, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "A Push to Increase Icebreakers in the Arctic." The New York Times, First Section (Sun., August 17, 2008): 6.




November 7, 2008

Michael Crichton's Scariest Story


CrichtonMichael2003.jpg






Michael Crichton speaking on environmentalism at the Fairmont Hotel on September 15, 2003. Source of photo: Bill Adams' posting at http://www.pbase.com/bill_adams/image/21439440


The papers announced yesterday (11/6/08) that Michael Crichton had died of cancer a couple of days earlier (11/4/08).

I had mixed feelings about his stories. On the one hand, they seemed mainly to stir up unrealistic fears about technology, which I see as mainly a benefit to humanity. On the other hand, they often involved intelligent heroes who struggled against danger, and won (or at least partly won).

Crichton's best story may have been one of his last, State of Fear. In that book, he took on the environmental movement, and showed in a powerful appendix, how some scientists and scientific institutions have failed us, by creating fear that is not grounded in the free exchange of ideas and evidence.

Crichton did not have to take on this issue---it earned him vituperative enemies, and probably lost him some readers. But in the end, he too was an intelligent hero who struggled against danger---the danger of politically correct closed minds.

Michael Crichton, Rest in Peace.

P.S.: Crichton had some scientific credentials. Here are a couple of interesting facts about his life:

(p. A27) At Harvard, after a professor criticized his writing style, the younger Mr. Crichton changed his major from English to anthropology and graduated summa cum laude in 1964. He then spent a year teaching anthropology on a fellowship at Cambridge University. In 1966 he entered Harvard Medical School and began writing on the side to help pay tuition.

. . .

In 1969, after earning his medical degree, Mr. Crichton moved to the La Jolla section of San Diego and spent a year as a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Already inclining toward a writing career, he tilted decisively with "The Andromeda Strain," a medical thriller about a group of scientists racing against time to stop the spread of a lethal organism from outer space code-named Andromeda.



For the full obituary, see:

WILLIAM GRIMES. "Michael Crichton, Author of Thrillers, Dies at 66." The New York Times (Thurs., November 5, 2008): A27.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

CrichtonMichaelHarvard2002.jpg Michael Crichton during an April 11, 2002 lecture at the Harvard Medical School (from which he graduated). Source of photo: http://www.hno.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/11-crichton.html




October 18, 2008

U.S. Geological Survey Finds Huge New Gas and Oil Reserves in Arctic


ArcticOilGasMap.jpg

Source of the graphic: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) The Arctic contains just over a fifth of the world's undiscovered, recoverable oil and natural-gas resources, according to a review released Wednesday, confirming its potential as the final frontier for energy exploration.

A report by the U.S. Geological Survey found that the area north of the Arctic Circle has an estimated 1,670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- nearly two-thirds the proved gas reserves of the entire Middle East -- and 90 billion barrels of oil.

The report, the culmination of four years of study, is one of the most ambitious attempts to assess the Arctic's petroleum potential. One of its main findings is that natural gas is three times as abundant as oil in the Arctic, and most of that gas is concentrated in Russia.

The survey reflects interest in an area once off-limits to oil exploration. It has become more accessible as global warming reduces the polar icecap, opening valuable new shipping routes, oil fields and mineral deposits.



For the full story, see:

GUY CHAZAN. "Cold Comfort: Arctic Is Oil Hot Spot; Hard-to-Reach Energy Reserves Limit Potential." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 24, 2008): A9.

See also:

JAD MOUAWAD. "Oil Survey Says Arctic Has Riches." The New York Times (Thurs., July 24, 2008): C1 & C4.

WardHuntIceShelfCrack.jpg "A Canadian ranger looks along the length of one of the gaping new cracks in the large Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, in an April photo. Climate change is opening up the region's potential for energy exploration." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.





October 5, 2008

McCain Supports Construction of Nuclear Power Plants


McCainNuclearFermi2Plant.jpg "Sen. John McCain, center, visits the Enrico Fermi nuclear plant in Michigan. From left: shift manager Phil Skarbek, CEO Anthony Earley, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich." Source of caption and photo: http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2008-08-05-mccain-nuclear_N.htm


I believe that the market is the most efficient institution for deciding the best mix of technologies for providing energy. But I am 'pro-nuclear' in the sense that the government should reduce past regulatory barriers, that have unjustifiably increased the cost of nuclear power relative to other energy technologies.

(p. A16) NEWPORT, Mich. -- Senator John McCain toured a nuclear power plant in Michigan on Tuesday to highlight his support for the construction of 45 new nuclear power generators by 2030, a position that he said distinguished him from his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.

Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, portrayed his support of nuclear energy as part of an "all-of-the-above approach" to addressing the nation's energy needs at a time of $4-a-gallon gasoline. He called it "safe, efficient, inexpensive and obviously a vital ingredient in the future of the economy of our nation and in our mission to eliminate over time our dependence on foreign oil."

"If we really want to enable new technologies tomorrow like plug-in electric cars, we need electricity to plug into," he said in a statement after touring the Fermi 2 nuclear plant, its twin cooling towers spewing vapors used as a backdrop. "We need to do all this and more."

. . .

But market conditions have improved as demand for power has risen and the price of natural gas, a competing fuel, has jumped. Lately some environmental groups that had been critical of nuclear power have embraced it, seeing the technology as a way to meet the nation's growing energy demands without contributing more heat-trapping gases.

In addressing the nation's energy demands, Mr. Obama has focused on alternative energy sources like wind and solar, as well as conservation, which would apparently also be the main beneficiaries of the decade-long $150 billion government investment effort he promises if elected. He barely mentions nuclear power, usually just alluding to it in a sentence here or there.



For the full story, see:

MARY ANN GIORDANO and LARRY ROHTER. "McCain at Nuclear Plant Highlights Energy Issue." The New York Times (Weds., August 5, 2008): A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




September 30, 2008

Confused and Fed Up With Contradictory "Green Noise"


GreenNoiseDrawing.jpg Source of drawing: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.


Maybe the point of much of the urgent, contradictory eco-crusades, is not so much to save the earth as to make us feel guilty about consuming, as a way to undermine the human progress that comes from capitalism?

(p. 1) DESPITE the expense and the occasional back strain, Mary Burnham, a public relations consultant in San Francisco, felt good about the decision she made a few years ago to buy milk -- organic, of course -- only in heavy, reusable glass bottles. For the sake of the environment, she dutifully lugged them back and forth from the grocery store every week. Cutting out disposable paper cartons, she reasoned, meant saving trees and reducing waste.

Or not. A friend, also a committed environmentalist, recently started questioning her good deed. "His argument was that paper cartons are compostable and lightweight and use less energy and water than the heavy bottles, which must be transported back to a plant to be cleaned and reused," she said. "I have no idea which is better, or how to find out."

Ms. Burnham, 35, recycles religiously, orders weekly from a community-supported farm, buys eco-friendly cleaning products and carries groceries in a canvas bag. But she admits to information overload on the environment -- from friends, advice columns, news media, even government-issued reports. Much of the advice is conflicting.

"To say that you are confused and a little fed up with the often contradictory messages out there on how to live lightly on the earth is definitely not cool," she said in an e-mail message. "But, heck, I'll come out and say it. I'm a little overwhelmed."

She is, in other words, a victim of "green noise" -- static caused by urgent, sometimes vexing or even contradictory information played at too high a volume for too long.

. . .

(p. 8) . . . , as Mr. Hawken said, "even people inside the movement have the same feeling -- burnout."



For the full story, see:

ALEX WILLIAMS. "That Buzz in Your Ear May Be Green Noise." The New York Times, SundayStyles Section (Sun., June 15, 2008): 1 & 8.

(Note: ellipses added.)




September 27, 2008

EPA Mandates that Texas Keep Digging Ethanol Hole


ReeveEthanolPlant.jpg "At the Reeve plant near Garden City, Kan., grain is made into ethanol, and the byproducts are fed to cattle in the adjacent feedlot." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

Unfortunately, the EPA rejected Gov. Paley's request, discussed in the article quoted below:

(p. C1) The ethanol industry, until recently a golden child that got favorable treatment from Washington, is facing a critical decision on its future.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily waive regulations requiring the oil industry to blend ever-increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline. A decision is expected in the next few weeks.

Mr. Perry says the billions of bushels of corn being used to produce all that mandated ethanol would be better suited as livestock feed than as fuel.

Feed prices have soared in the last two years as fuel has begun competing with food for cropland.

"When you find yourself in a hole, you have to quit digging," Mr. Perry said in an interview. "And we are in a hole."

His request for an emergency waiver cutting the ethanol mandate to 4.5 billion gallons, from the 9 billion gallons required this year and the 10.5 billion required in 2009, is backed by a coalition of food, livestock and environmental groups.

Farmers and ethanol and other biofuel producers are lobbying to keep the existing mandates.



For the full story, see:

DAVID STREITFELD. "Uprising Against the Ethanol Mandate." The New York Times (Weds., July 23, 2008): C1 & C5.




September 24, 2008

Higher Prices to Operate Cars, Increases Demand for Segways



SegwayPizza.jpg









Using a Segway to deliver pizza. Source of photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.


(p. B2) With gasoline prices and global warming on their minds, more Americans are getting out of their cars and riding to work -- and riding on the job -- on the once-maligned Segway.

Scott Hervey of Yorba Linda, Calif., bought one of the electric scooters on June 7 and has put 150 miles on it commuting to his custodian's job at Disneyland, about 12 miles away. He had considered buying a Segway for four years, and gasoline prices finally drove him to do it. Now he "glides," as Segway enthusiasts say, to work. "I like passing gas stations," says the 54-year-old.

The two-wheeled Segway, a self-balancing vehicle that runs on a rechargeable battery, debuted amid massive hype in 2001. Tech icons like Steve Jobs, Apple Inc.'s chief executive officer, and Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos predicted it would change the way people lived. But critics panned the high-tech scooter for its $5,000 price tag and portrayed it as a toy for geeks and the rich. Some cities banned it from sidewalks because of safety concerns.

Today, the Segway is gaining converts. It plugs into a standard electrical outlet and can get up to 25 miles per charge.

Sales at the scooter's maker, Segway Inc., have risen to an all-time high, says CEO Jim Norrod. The closely held Manchester, N.H., company doesn't release detailed numbers. (A September 2006 recall showed the company had sold 23,500 Segways.) But Mr. Norrod says he expects sales this quarter to jump 50% from a year earlier, versus a 25% year-over-year increase in the first quarter.



For the full story, see:

STU WOO. "Segway Glides as Gasoline Jumps; Maligned Scooter Winning New Fans; $5,000 Price Tag." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., June 16, 2008): B2.





August 17, 2008

Post Office Wastes Money on 30,000 Ethanol Capable Vehicles


PostalMinivanCustomizedEthanol.jpg "A General Motors Corp. Chevrolet Uplander flexible fuel vehicle customized for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is shown in this handout photo taken on April 22, 2008. The USPS bought more than 30,000 ethanol-capable trucks and minivans from 1999 to 2005, making it the biggest American buyer of alternative-fuel vehicles." Source of caption and photo: Bloomberg.com article quoted and cited below.

I saw a great CNN video clip on 8/11/08 showing some of the specially designed Post Office vehicles that were expensive, but that were mainly running on regular gasoline because it was too difficult to fill them with the high-ethanol blend that they were converted to use.

Before I finally found the clip on CNNMoney.com, by searching for it using the TRUVEO video search engine, I discovered that a version of the story had run back in May on Bloomberg.com. I quote from the story below.

May 21 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Postal Service purchased more than 30,000 ethanol-capable trucks and minivans from 1999 to 2005, making it the biggest American buyer of alternative-fuel vehicles. Gasoline consumption jumped by more than 1.5 million gallons as a result.

The trucks, derived from Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer sport- utility vehicle, had bigger engines than Jeeps from the former Chrysler Corp. they replaced. A Postal Service study found the new vehicles got as much as 29 percent fewer miles to the gallon. Mail carriers used the corn-based fuel in just 1,000 of them because there weren't enough places to buy it.



For the full story, see:

Peter Robison, Alan Ohnsman and Alan Bjerga. "Ethanol Vehicles for Post Office Burn More Gas, Get Fewer Miles." Last Updated: May 21, 2008 00:01 EDT Downloaded on August 8, 2008 from:
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601072&refer=energy&sid=aj.h0coJSkpw


On the CNN Money video clip:

Jason Carroll was the reporter on the CNN Money clip that was added to CNNMoney.com on August 12, 2008, under the title "Snail Mail by Ethanol," and is viewable at http://money.cnn.com/video/#/video/news/2008/08/12/news.usps.081108.cnnmoney


SnailMailEthanol.jpg Reporter Jason Carroll talks with mail carrier Richard Malik, who says he has never used ethanol in his expensive mail truck that had been specially designed to use ethanol. Source of photo: screen capture from the CNN Money video clip discussed above.




August 15, 2008

How to Save a Species by Eating It


RenewingAmericasFoodTraditionsBK.jpg








Source of book image:
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61cDbDl665L._SS500_.jpg

(p. D1) SOME people would just as soon ignore the culinary potential of the Carolina flying squirrel or the Waldoboro green neck rutabaga. To them, the creamy Hutterite soup bean is too obscure and the Tennessee fainting goat, which keels over when startled, sounds more like a sideshow act than the centerpiece of a barbecue.

But not Gary Paul Nabhan. He has spent most of the past four years compiling a list of endangered plants and animals that were once fairly commonplace in American kitchens but are now threatened, endangered or essentially extinct in the marketplace. He has set out to save them, which often involves urging people to eat them.

Mr. Nabhan's list, 1,080 items and growing, forms the basis of his new book, an engaging journey through the nooks and crannies of American culinary history titled "Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods" (Chelsea Green Publishing, $35).

. . .

(p. C5) Some of the items on the list, like Ojai pixie tangerines and Sonoma County Gravenstein apples, were well on their way back before Mr. Nabhan came along. But other foods are enjoying a renaissance largely as a result of the coalition's work.

The Makah ozette potato, a nutty fingerling with such a rich, creamy texture that it needs only a whisper of oil, is one of the success stories. It is named after the Makah Indians, who live at the northwest tip of Washington state and have been growing the potatoes for more than 200 years.

The Seattle chapters of Slow Food and the Chefs Collaborative adopted the rare potato. In 2006, Slow Food passed out seed potatoes to a handful of local farmers and gardeners, and chefs like Seth Caswell at the Stumbling Goat Bistro in Seattle began putting them on the menu.

Mr. Caswell says they are delicious roasted with a little hazelnut oil for salads or cut into wedges to go with burgers made with wagyu beef and Washington State black truffle oil.

There have been other revivals, the moon and stars watermelon and the tepary bean among them. The effort to reintroduce heritage turkeys to the American table was a precursor to the work of Mr. Nabhan and his collaborators.

The meaty Buckeye chicken, with its long legs suitable for ranging around, is considered one of five most endangered chicken breeds. Last year over 1,000 chicks were hatched and delivered to breeders, Mr. Nabhan said.

Justin Pitts, whose family has raised Pineywoods cattle in southern Mississippi for generations, credits the coalition with saving those animals. The small, lean cattle that provide milk, meat and labor spent centuries adapting to the pine barrens of the deep south, raised by families who can trace their herds back as far as anyone can remember. There are less than a dozen of those families left, and at one point the number of pure Pineywoods breeding animals fell to under 200. In the past few years, it has grown to nearly 1,000.

Mr. Pitts, who has "90 head if I can find them all," sells New York strips and other cuts at the New Orleans farmers' market and to chefs.

"I can't raise cattle fast as they eat them," he said.

He supports the notion that you've got to eat something to save it.

"If you're keeping them for a museum piece," he said, "you've just signed their death warrant."



For the full story, see:

KIM SEVERSON. "An Unlikely Way to Save a Species: Serve It for Dinner." The New York Times (Weds., April 30, 2008): D1 & D5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

Reference to book:

Nabhan, Gary Paul. Renewing America's Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent's Most Endangered Foods. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2008.

WatermelonMoonAndStar.jpg







Moon and stars watermelon. Source of image: http://bp0.blogger.com/_Tyq14YRMHCI/SBlWLE9tynI/AAAAAAAAAD8/gphhc3wgK-4/s1600/purplewatermelon266.jpg




August 14, 2008

Obama Beholden to Ethanol Special Interest Groups


ObamaIowaCorn.jpg "Senator Barack Obama last July in Adel, Iowa. His strong support of ethanol helped propel him to his first caucus victory there." Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) When VeraSun Energy inaugurated a new ethanol processing plant last summer in Charles City, Iowa, some of that industry's most prominent boosters showed up. Leaders of the National Corn Growers Association and the Renewable Fuels Association, for instance, came to help cut the ribbon -- and so did Senator Barack Obama.

Then running far behind Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in name recognition and in the polls, Mr. Obama was in the midst of a campaign swing through the state where he would eventually register his first caucus victory. And as befits a senator from Illinois, the country's second largest corn-producing state, he delivered a ringing endorsement of ethanol as an alternative fuel.

Mr. Obama is running as a reformer who is seeking to reduce the influence of special interests. But like any other politician, he has powerful constituencies that help shape his views. And when it comes to domestic ethanol, almost all of which is made from corn, he also has advisers and prominent supporters with close ties to the industry at a time when energy policy is a point of sharp contrast between the parties and their presidential candidates.

. . .

(p. A19) Many economists, consumer advocates, environmental experts and tax groups have been critical of corn ethanol programs as a boondoggle that benefits agribusiness conglomerates more than small farmers. Those complaints have intensified recently as corn prices have risen sharply in tandem with oil prices and corn normally used for food stock has been diverted to ethanol production.



For the full story, see:

LARRY ROHTER. "Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol." The New York Times (Mon., June 23, 2008): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




August 8, 2008

McCain "Shows a Lack of Understanding of the Insights of Joseph Schumpeter"


I agree with the Karl Rove's analysis below, that John McCain does not exhibit much understanding of Schumpeter's process of creative destruction. On the other hand, I have seen no evidence that Barack Obama has any such understanding either. (Nor have I seen any evidence that Rove's former boss, George W. Bush, has any such understanding, for that matter.)

And, in general, I am still of the belief that, overall, between the two of them, McCain will put fewer obstacles in the path of innovation than will Obama.

(p. A13) This past Thursday, Mr. McCain came close to advocating a form of industrial policy, saying, "I'm very angry, frankly, at the oil companies not only because of the obscene profits they've made, but their failure to invest in alternate energy."

But oil and gas companies report that they have invested heavily in alternative energy. Out of the $46 billion spent researching alternative energy in North America from 2000 to 2005, $12 billion came from oil and gas companies, making the industry one of the nation's largest backers of wind and solar power, biofuels, lithium-ion batteries and fuel-cell technology.

Such investments, however, are not as important as money spent on technologies that help find and extract more oil. Because oil companies invested in innovation and technology, they are now tapping reserves that were formerly thought to be unrecoverable. Maybe we are all better off when oil companies invest in what they know, not what they don't.

And do we really want the government deciding how profits should be invested? If so, should Microsoft be forced to invest in Linux-based software or McDonald's in weight-loss research?

Mr. McCain's angry statement shows a lack of understanding of the insights of Joseph Schumpeter, the 20th century economist who explained that capitalism is inherently unstable because a "perennial gale of creative destruction" is brought on by entrepreneurs who create new goods, markets and processes. The entrepreneur is "the pivot on which everything turns," Schumpeter argued, and "proceeds by competitively destroying old businesses."

Most dramatic change comes from new businesses, not old ones. Buggy whip makers did not create the auto industry. Railroads didn't create the airplane. Even when established industries help create new ones, old-line firms are often not as nimble as new ones. IBM helped give rise to personal computers, but didn't see the importance of software and ceded that part of the business to young upstarts who founded Microsoft.

So why should Mr. McCain expect oil and gas companies to lead the way in developing alternative energy? As with past technological change, new enterprises will likely be the drivers of alternative energy innovation.



For the full story, see:

KARL ROVE. "Obama and McCain Spout Economic Nonsense." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., June 19, 2008): A13.

(Note: I thank John Pagin and Dagny Diamond for alerting me to Rove's discussion of Schumpeter.)




July 27, 2008

Solar Energy Costs Soar in Germany



(p. C1) Thanks to its aggressive push into renewable energies, cloud-wreathed Germany has become an unlikely leader in the race to harness the sun's energy. It has by far the largest market for photovoltaic systems, which convert sunlight into electricity, with roughly half of the world's total installations. And it is the third-largest producer of solar cells and modules, after China and Japan.


Now, though, with so many solar panels on so many rooftops, critics say Germany has too much of a good thing -- even in a time of record oil prices. Conservative lawmakers, in particular, want to pare back generous government incentives that support solar development. They say solar generation is growing so fast that it threatens to overburden consumers with high electricity bills.

. . .

(p. C7) At the heart of the debate is the Renewable Energy Sources Act. It requires power companies to buy all the alternative energy produced by these systems, at a fixed above-market price, for 20 years.

. . .

Christian Democrats, . . . , say the law has been too successful for its own good. Utilities, they note, are allowed to pass along the extra cost of buying renewable energy to customers, and there is no cap on the capacity that can be installed -- as exists in other countries to prevent subsidies from mushrooming.

At the moment, solar energy adds 1.01 euros ($1.69) a month to a typical home electricity bill, a modest surcharge that Germans are willing to pay. That will increase to 2.14 euros a month by 2014, according to the German Solar Energy Association.

But the volume of solar-generated energy is rising much faster than originally predicted, and critics contend that the costs will soar. Mr. Pfeiffer, the legislator, said solar power could end up adding 8 euros ($12.32) to a monthly electricity bill, which would alienate even the most green-minded. With no change in the law, he says, the solar industry will soak up 120 billion euros ($184 billion) in public support by 2015.



For the full story, see:

MARK LANDLER. "Solar Valley Rises in an Overcast Land." The New York Times (Fri., May 16, 2008): C1 & C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)





July 23, 2008

Global Warming Would Result in FEWER Hurricanes


The NYT ran an article on Knutson's 2004 study that claimed that global warming would result in more hurricanes. But a search (on 6/19/08) of the online NYT database reveals no 2008 articles that include both "Knutson" and "global" in their content.

So apparently the NYT does not consider it newsworthy that Knutson's most recent research (see below) finds that global warming would result in fewer hurricanes.

WASHINGTON (AP) - Global warming isn't to blame for the recent jump in hurricanes in the Atlantic, concludes a study by a prominent federal scientist whose position has shifted on the subject.

Not only that, warmer temperatures will actually reduce the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic and those making landfall, research meteorologist Tom Knutson reported in a study released Sunday.

In the past, Knutson has raised concerns about the effects of climate change on storms. His new paper has the potential to heat up a simmering debate among meteorologists about current and future effects of global warming in the Atlantic.



For the full story, see:

"Study: Global warming not worsening hurricanes." MSN onllne Posted May 19, 2008 11:37 AM ET. Downloaded on 6/19/08 from: http://news.moneycentral.msn.com/provider/providerarticle.aspx?feed=AP&date=20080519&id=8664109

(Note: the AP article appeared in many outlets, including "Warming Absolved in Scientist's Altered View of Hurricane Frequency." Omaha World-Herald (Mon, May 19, 2008): 4A.)


The reference to the Knutson article is:

Knutson, Thomas, Joseph Sirutis, Stephen Garner, Gabriel Vecchi, and Isaac Held. "Simulated Reduction in Atlantic Hurricane Frequency under Twenty-First-Century Warming Conditions." Nature Geoscience 1 (2008): 359-64.




July 12, 2008

Air Conditioning Makes Life Better


SteinBenAirConditioner.jpg Source: screen capture from video clip referenced below.

Ben Stein commenting during CBS's "Sunday Morning" on July 6, 2008, delivered a wonderful tribute to the benefits of air conditioning.

The clip can be viewed at:

http://www.cbsnews.com/sections/i_video/main500251.shtml?id=4235362n


AirConditionerChildren.jpg Source: screen capture from video clip referenced above.




July 10, 2008

How the Government Caused the Dust Bowl


(p. A9) Washington never learns from its mistakes. In "The Worst Hard Time," Timothy Egan notes how federal price supports encouraged farmers in World War I to plow up millions of acres of dry grasslands and plant wheat. When the price of wheat crashed after the war, the denuded land lay fallow; then it blew away during the droughts of the 1930s, turning a big chunk of America into a Dust Bowl.


For the full commentary, see:


Ernest S. Christian and Gary A. Robbins. "Stupidity and the State." The Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). (Sat., June 7, 2008): A9.




June 29, 2008

Higher Oil Prices Are an Incentive for More Oil Drilling


(p. B5) Even natural-gas companies can't resist the draw of $100 oil. Though prices for both natural gas and oil have risen steeply, oil fetches nearly twice the price of gas per unit of energy and brings fatter profits.

That is prompting even the most natural-gas-focused companies to step up their oil drilling in the U.S. With the biggest, easiest-to-get deposits of domestic crude oil drained long ago, U.S. energy companies in recent years have concentrated most of their domestic production efforts on natural gas. Some companies, such as Chesapeake Energy Corp. and EOG Resources Inc. devoted nearly their entire production to natural gas.

EOG recently announced it had begun drilling for oil in Colorado and Texas, including in the Barnett Shale, a vast hydrocarbon reserve that had previously been known for gas, not oil. With prices rising faster for oil than natural gas, "you're probably better off searching for oil," said EOG Chief Executive Mark Papa.



For the full story, see:

BEN CASSELMAN. "Prices Prompt Natural-Gas Firms To Drill for Oil in U.S." The Wall Street Journal (Mon., April 7, 2008): B5.




June 26, 2008

Pollution from Refinery Producing "Earth-Friendly Fuel"


BlackWarriorRiverNelsonBrooke.jpg

"Nelson Brooke, the executive director of Black Warrior Riverkeeper, walked along an area of the river near Moundville, Ala." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A12) MOUNDVILLE, Ala. -- After residents of the Riverbend Farms subdivision noticed that an oily, fetid substance had begun fouling the Black Warrior River, which runs through their backyards, Mark Storey, a retired petroleum plant worker, hopped into his boat to follow it upstream to its source.

It turned out to be an old chemical factory that had been converted into Alabama's first biodiesel plant, a refinery that intended to turn soybean oil into earth-friendly fuel.

"I'm all for the plant," Mr. Storey said. "But I was really amazed that a plant like that would produce anything that could get into the river without taking the necessary precautions."

But the oily sheen on the water returned again and again, and a laboratory analysis of a sample taken in March 2007 revealed that the ribbon of oil and grease being released by the plant -- it resembled Italian salad dressing -- was 450 times higher than permit levels typically allow, and that it had drifted at least two miles downstream.

The spills, at the Alabama Biodiesel Corporation plant outside this city about 17 miles from Tuscaloosa, are similar to others that have come from biofuel plants in the Midwest. The discharges, which can be hazardous to birds and fish, have many people scratching their heads over the seeming incongruity of pollution from an industry that sells products with the promise of blue skies and clear streams.

. . .

"They're environmental Jimmy Swaggarts, in my opinion," said Representative Brian P. Bilbray, Republican of California, who spoke out against the $18 billion energy package recently passed by Congress that provides tax credits for biofuels.


For the full story, see:

BRENDA GOODMAN. "Pollution Is Called a Byproduct of a 'Clean' Fuel." The New York Times (Tues., March 11, 2008): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: At one point, the online version of the article, as quoted above, was very slightly different (and clearer) than the print version.)


BlackWarriorRiverPollution.jpg "Oil and grease from a biodiesel plant had been released." Source of the caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.




June 14, 2008

California's Unreliable Power Supply


(p. A11) . . . consider the story of the Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station. Opened in 1975, it was capable of generating over 900 megawatts (MW) of electricity, enough to power upward of 900,000 homes. Fourteen years after powering up, the nuclear reactor shut down, thanks to fierce antinuclear opposition. Eventually, the facility was converted to solar power, and today generates a measly four MW of electricity. After millions of dollars in subsidies and other support, the entire state has less than 250 MW of solar capacity.

. . .

. . . : California now imports lots of energy from neighboring states to make up for having too few power plants. Up to 20% of the state's power comes from coal-burning plants in Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Montana. Another significant portion comes from large-scale hydropower in Oregon, Washington State and the Hoover Dam near Las Vegas.

"California practices a sort of energy colonialism," says James Lucier of Capital Alpha Partners, a Washington, D.C.-area investment group. "They leave those states to deal with the resulting pollution."

. . .

The unreliable power grid is starting to rattle some Silicon Valley heavyweights. Intel CEO Craig Barrett, for instance, vowed in 2001 not to build a chip-making facility in California until power supplies became more reliable. This October, Intel opened a $3 billion factory near Phoenix for mass production of its new 45-nanometer microprocessors. Google has chosen to build the massive server farms that will fuel its expansion anywhere but in California.



For the full commentary, see:

MAX SCHULZ. "California's Energy Colonialism." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., May 3, 2008): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)





May 14, 2008

Why Most Economists Oppose the Gas Tax Holiday


(p. A31) Most economists oppose the Clinton-McCain gas tax holiday because they can't see how consumers will benefit. In fact, "most" is an understatement; when challenged to name one economist willing to back her plan, Mrs. Clinton's response was to disparage the whole profession.

Why are economists so opposed? In the short run, the supply of gasoline is basically fixed; it takes a while to build a new refinery. The demand for gasoline, in contrast, is more responsive to price; we're already seeing greater use of public transportation and brisk sales of fuel-efficient cars. When you combine fixed supply with flexible demand, it's suppliers, not demanders, who pocket the tax cut. That's Econ 101.

. . .

When the public rejects the mundane explanations for high gas prices -- big boring facts like rapid Asian growth -- politicians aren't going to correct them. The best we can expect is for Washington to try to channel the public's misconceptions in relatively harmless directions. We could do a lot worse than the gas tax holiday; in fact, we usually do.


For the full commentary, see:

BRYAN CAPLAN. "The 18-Cent Solution." The New York Times (Thurs., May 8, 2008): A31.

(Note: ellipsis added.)




May 10, 2008

"Nature" Article Forecasts Cooler Europe and North America Over Next Decade


The journal Nature (along with the journal Science) is often viewed as one of the two most prestigious journals in science. The NYT article below reports that a recent Nature article forecasts that temperatures in Europe and North America will be cooler over the next decade.

After the portion quoted below, the NYT article goes on to reassure global warming true-believers that a decade of cooling would in no way be evidence against the global warming maintained hypothesis.

(p. A10) After decades of research that sought, and found, evidence of a human influence on the earth's climate, climatologists are beginning to shift to a new and similarly daunting enterprise: creating decade-long forecasts for climate, just as meteorologists routinely generate weeklong forecasts for weather.

One of the first attempts to look ahead a decade, using computer simulations and measurements of ocean temperatures, predicts a slight cooling of Europe and North America, probably related to shifting currents and patterns in the oceans.

The team that generated the forecast, whose members come from two German ocean and climate research centers, acknowledged that it was a preliminary effort. But in a short paper published in the May 1 issue of the journal Nature, they said their modeling method was able to reasonably replicate climate patterns in those regions in recent decades, providing some confidence in their prediction for the next one.


For the full story, see:

ANDREW C. REVKIN. "Scientists Work on Decade-Based Forecast for the Climate." The New York Times (Thurs., May 1, 2008): A10.




May 2, 2008

Government Supported Biofuels Increase Global Warming


BiofuelGraph.gif











Source of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.




(p. A4) While the U.S. and others race to expand the use and production of biofuels, two new studies suggest these gasoline alternatives actually will increase carbon-dioxide levels.

A study published in the latest issue of Science finds that corn-based ethanol, a type of biofuel pushed heavily in the U.S., will nearly double the output of greenhouse-gas emissions instead of reducing them by about one-fifth by some estimates. A separate paper in Science concludes that clearing native habitats to grow crops for biofuel generally will lead to more carbon emissions.

The findings are the latest to take aim at biofuels, which have already been blamed for pushing up prices of corn and other food crops, as well as straining water supplies. The Energy Department expects U.S. ethanol production to reach about 7.5 billion gallons this year from 3.9 billion in 2005, encouraged by high prices and government support. The European Union has proposed that 10% of all fuel used in transportation should come from biofuels by 2020.

Some scientists have praised biofuels because growing biofuel feedstock would remove gases that trap the sun's heat from the air, while