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All Reason.com articles with the "Environment" tag.



Published: Tue, 24 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2017 03:22:08 -0400

 



Nova Offers an Unusual Environmental Whodunnit Starring Volcanoes

Fri, 20 Oct 2017 15:30:00 -0400

Nova: Killer Volcanoes. Wednesday, October 25, 9 p.m. After two wretchedly solid months of hurricanes, everybody who lives on the U.S. coast anywhere east of New Mexico will welcome a chance to wallow in somebody else's misery at the hands of nature. Which makes Killer Volcanoes, an episode of the PBS science series Nova, perfectly timed. The hell with tropical depressions and vortex fixes! We salute you, magma chambers and explosive caldera eruptions! Admittedly, I may be showing signs of post-Irma stress disorder. But Killer Volcanoes is an interesting piece of work, the tale of a hunt for the source of a monstrous 13th-century eruption so cataclysmic it would eventually claim the lives of about a fifth the population of a European capital half a world away. The story begins in the 1980s, when British archeologists excavating what they thought was an ancient Roman cemetery—Brit fascination with Roman mortuary science is as endless and inexplicable as their conviction that offal is the foundation of gourmet cuisine—discovered mass, unmarked graves containing 4,000 or so skeletons. Radiocarbon dating placed their deaths around 1250 AD, several hundred years past the Romans, but also a hundred or so years before the next most logical suspect, the black plague. From there, Killer Volcanoes assumes the trappings of a noir-tinged CSI episode. Somebody remembers an ancient British monk's description—not on his deathbed, unfortunately; nobody was reading Agatha Christie yet—of a frigid summer around that time that triggered a famine that killed 15,000 people in London, something like a fifth of the city. Other reports surface of lethally cold weather across Europe and even into Japan. The most likely culprit for anything like that is a volcanic eruption, which spews ashes and gases into the air, blocking sunlight for days, weeks, and even months at a time. The 2010 eruption of a volcano in Iceland with an unpronounceable (and, more importantly for the purposes of this review, unspellable) name spewed so much subterranean crud that some people seriously wondered if it might lead to global cooling. (No word on what that would have meant for Al Gore's Nobel Prize.) And an earlier Icelandic volcano's temperature is said to have touched off the French Revolution and frozen part of the Mississippi River. Great as it might be to declare Iceland a geologic war criminal and impose U.N. sanctions on reindeer poop or whatever it is they export, it turns out the earth is riddled with sociopathic volcanoes, some 1,500 of them, going off 50 times a year, according to Killer Volcanoes. Consider Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, whose 1991 eruption sent a plume of gas 22 miles into the air and dropped the entire planet's average temperature one degree Fahrenheit for two years. Or Indonesia's Mount Tambora, whose eruption so befogged the earth with sulfurous clouds that 1815 would be remembered as The Year Without Summer, with 200,000 dead of famine. Or even Italy's Mount Vesuvius, which not only obliterated the city of Pompeii in 79 AD but saddled us for all eternity with the literary works of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose very name has become synonymous with barbaric hackdom. The indefatigable volcano nerds of Killer Volcanoes work through all these suspects and more by, among other things, digging into the polar ice caps in search of frozen atmosphere samples that contain volcanic gases and ash. Comparing its location to known wind patterns establishes that the guilty volcano must be located along the equator, and the sulfur content provides a sort of fingerprint that will identify the volcano positively when it's found. No spoilers here, just my assurance that there's lots of fun faux-tabloid narration ("it seemed the trail had gone cold until a clue appeared in the frozen polar ice") and even what passes for PBS dirty talk: The description of the earth's tectonic plates mounting one another and spewing magma is beyond, well, description. And stay tuned next year for the sequel, in which Nova reports on how Donald Trump is de[...]



California Wants to Ban All Gas-Powered Cars

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 13:00:00 -0400

(image) California Gov. Jerry Brown is reportedly considering a ban on all gas-powered cars.

No, seriously.

Mary Nichols, head of California's Air Resources Board, told Bloomberg News this week that Brown has been pestering her about getting a gas-car ban on the books.

"I've gotten messages from the governor asking, 'Why haven't we done something already?'" she said, adding that Brown is particularly worried that his planet-saving efforts might be outshined by those of other countries.

The United Kingdom and France have both said they will ban the sale of gas and diesel by 2040. Norway's transportation plan calls for all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2025. India wants to make the switch to electric by 2030.

But it's the People's Republic of China, currently drafting its own ill-defined ban on the production and sale of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, that is giving Brown the most grief.

Says Nichols, "The governor has certainly indicated an interest in why China can do this and not California."

Apart from envying the autocratic powers of a communist dictatorship, Brown has not said what a ban on gas and diesel vehicles might look like. Nichols herself offers scant detail, other than saying that a complete ban on the sale of new combustion-powered vehicles could arrive as early as 2030 and that all combustion would have to be phased out by as early as 2040.

That's...optimistic. California currently has a goal of getting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on the road by 2025, and the prospects of reaching even this far more modest goal are in question.

Despite generous subsidies, purchases of ZEVs still hover below 3 percent of new vehicles sales. Only 13,804 were sold in California in the first quarter of 2017, out of 506,745 in total new vehicle sales.

Only 300,000 "clean vehicles," of which roughly half are partially gas-powered hybrids, have been sold in California. Purely electric vehicles are about .4 percent of the nearly 35 million registered vehicles on the state's roads.

To achieve Brown's goals, he will have to compel 99.6 percent of California drivers to trade in their gas guzzlers for electric vehicles that they currently find too expensive or too impractical. And that doesn't even touch on the issue of providing enough charging stations for these vehicles, or of generating enough electricity to power those stations.

Nor does it cover the issue of affordability. Right now, electric cars are the domain of the well-to-do. A 2016 Berkeley study found that 83 percent of those making use of California's electric vehicle subsidy program made over $100,000.

Getting the rest of the state into these cars would require massive subsidies. Even then, many might end up going without personal transportation.

How any of these practical considerations might be addressed is unknown. Right now, the ban is still just talk. But it's talk that Brown and his subordinates are taking seriously.




Does the Colorado River Have Rights?

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 14:00:00 -0400

"In a first-in-the-nation lawsuit filed in federal court, the Colorado River is asking for judicial recognition of itself as a 'person,' with rights of its own to exist and flourish." So declares a press release from the activist organization Deep Green Resistance. The lawsuit against Colorado's governor is being filed in federal district court by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which says it "seeks a ruling that the Colorado River, and its ecosystem, possess certain rights, including the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate, and restoration." In support of the legal theory that rivers have rights, the suit cites Supreme Court Justice William Douglas' famous dissent in Sierra Club v. Morton (1972). In that case, the Sierra Club sued to block the Disney company from building a ski resort at Mineral King in the Sequoia National Forest. The majority of the court ruled that the Sierra Club did not have legal standing—that is, that the group failed to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party's participation in the case. (As it happens, the ski resort was never built anyway.) In his dissent, Justice Douglas, with considerable legal poetry, argued: Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation sole—a creature of ecclesiastical law—is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases. The ordinary corporation is a "person" for purposes of the adjudicatory processes, whether it represents proprietary, spiritual, aesthetic, or charitable causes. So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes—fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water—whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger—must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction. The CELDF also cites a recently enacted provision in the constitution of Ecuador that confers rights on nature: Nature, or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. All persons, communities, peoples and nations can call upon public authorities to enforce the rights of nature. Let's just say that the law pertaining to the use of water is complex. I personally prefer common law riparian rights as a way to govern streams, rivers, and lakes. Riparian water rights give landowners along a stream rights to an undiminished quantity and quality of water. Consider the 1913 case Whalen v. Union Bag & Paper, in which a New York Court of Appeals ruled that a million-dollar paper mill employing 500 people did not have the right to pollute the water flowing past Robert Whalen's 255-acre farm on Kayaderosseras Creek, near Albany, New York. The Court reasoned: Although the damage to the [farmer] may be slight as compared with the [paper mill's] expense of abating the condition, that is not a good reason for refusing an injunction. Neither courts of equity nor law can be guided by such a rule, for if followed to its logical conclusion it would deprive the poor litigant of his little property by giving it to those already rich. It did not matter how much money had been invested or how many jobs were at stake; the paper company had violated Whalen's right to an undimini[...]



Brickbat: Stifling Intellectual Competition

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Following a 14-month investigation, Canada's Competition Bureau has closed a probe of three groups accused by environmentalists of making misleading claims about global warming. But the bureau says it may reopen the investigation if it receives new information.




Climate Models Run Too Hot: Settled Science Again

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 10:30:00 -0400

Climate computer model projections of future man-made warming due to human emissions of carbon dioxide are running too hot, says a fascinating new study in Nature Geoscience. Consequently, researchers reckon that humanity has more time to prevent dangerous future climate change than had been suggested earlier by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This is really good news. This new article shows that climate science is not yet "settled science." Of course, this is just one article among many thousands addressing aspects of man-made climate change. While its authors are members in good standing in the climate science establishment, they could be wrong. In fact, on the same day as the Nature Geoscience study was published, the United Kingdom's Met Office issued a report that says this: "After a period during the early 2000's when the rise in global mean temperature slowed...the long-term rate of global warming has now returned to the level seen in the second half of the 20th century." The Met Office attributes the temperature slowdown in the early 21st century to natural climate variations. Specifically, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation had flipped to its cool phase, thus masking ongoing man-made global warming between 1999 and 2014. If true, this would suggest that the climate models are right after all about the long-term temperature trends and that the carbon budget is smaller than the new study calculates. So what did the Nature Geoscience researchers do? They began by calculating what the global carbon budget should be in order to keep future temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. Why that level? Because the signatories to the Paris Agreement on climate change committed to "holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels." The researchers next pointed out that the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report, from 2013, estimated that cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since 1870 would have to remain less than 2,260 gigatons of carbon dioxide to stay below the 1.5 C threshold. But as of 2014, cumulative emissions stood at just over 2,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Since humanity is currently emitting about 36 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually, that implies that humanity would blow through the remaining IPCC carbon budget around 2021. Here's where it gets interesting. The average global temperature now stands at about 0.9 C above the pre-industrial baseline, which implies that global temperature would have to increase by 0.6 C between now and 2021 if the IPCC carbon budget calculations were right. This is highly implausible since such an increase would be about 10 times faster than than what has actually heretofore been observed. "Taking an average across ESMs [Earth systems models] suggests that our cumulative emissions to date would correspond to about 0.3 C more than best estimates of human-caused warming so far," lead author Richard Millar concludes at CarbonBrief. In the London Times another author of the paper—Myles Allen, a professor of geosystem science at the University of Oxford—said, "We haven't seen that rapid acceleration in warming after 2000 that we see in the models. We haven't seen that in the observations." In other words, climate computer models projected the global average temperature should be about 1.2 C above the pre-industrial baseline for the 2,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide already emitted. Instead, global average temperature is only 0.9 C higher. Running the models forward from a 2015 baseline yields a carbon budget of around 880 gigatons of additional carbon dioxide before passing through the 1.5 C threshold. That amounts to about 20 years of emissions. Glen Peters, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway, draws out some additional implications f[...]



Climate Change Will Reduce Incomes in 2100 from $97,000 to $95,000

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 11:05:00 -0400

(image) The Yale economist William Nordhaus has spent decades using a combination of econometric and climate models to estimate global warming's future effects. He isn't the only researcher who's been attempting to make such projections, and Nordhaus' latest study considers a range of different estimates. (Get your salt shaker ready.)

In a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Nordhaus and his colleague Andrew Moffatt survey 36 different estimates (derived from 27 studies) of climate change's impact on gross world product by the year 2100. Nordhaus and Moffatt note that "there are many studies of theoretical temperature increases in the 2 to 4°C range, and that they cluster in the range of a loss of 0 to 4% of global output." After crunching the numbers, they report:

The estimated impact from the preferred regression is 1.63% of income at 3°C warming and 6.53% of income at a 6°C warming. We make a judgmental adjustment of 25% to cover unquantified sectors....With this adjustment, the estimated impact is -2.04 (+ 2.21)% of income at 3°C warming and -8.16 (+ 2.43)% of income at a 6°C warming.

The authors note that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report declined to make an estimate of future losses, but in the Fourth Report, the panel stated that "Global mean losses could be 1 to 5% of GDP for 4°C of warming." This means that Nordhaus and Moffatt's findings are broadly in line with the climate change consensus.

So what do these findings portend for people lucky enough to be alive in 2100? Let's consider the best-case scenario first. Annual gross world product is currently somewhere around $75 trillion, which without adjustments means that global income stands at around $10,000 per capita. Assume 3 percent economic growth from now until 2100, and a global population that year of 9 billion. Without climate change, world GDP would rise to $872 trillion and income would be $97,000 per capita. Assuming a 3°C increase in average temperature, that would reduce global GDP from $872 trillion to $854 trillion, and income to $95,000 per capita. At 6°C, the figures would be $800 trillion and $89,000 per capita.

In the unlikely event that global economic growth dawdles along at only 2 percent per year for the rest of this century, gross world product would rise to only $388 trillion and income to $43,000 per capita without warming. A 3°C rise in average temperature would reduce global GDP to $380 trillion and income to $42,000 per person; a 6°C increase would cut global GDP to $360 trillion and income to $40,000 per person.

The Nordhaus and Moffatt survey of studies also found "no indication from the damage estimates of a sharp discontinuity or high convexity." In other words, the studies do not identify threshold effects in which damages from climate change accelerate in the future.

These calculations bring up this question: How much should people living today making an average of $10,000 apiece spend in order to prevent the future incomes from falling from $97,000 to $95,000 per capita?

Now is the time to get out your salt shaker and liberally apply the sodium chloride to these calculations.




Calm People vs. the Apocalypse [Podcast]

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 17:35:00 -0400

"Maybe the way of thinking about discourse in America is not about right and left, or liberal and conservative, or green and carbon belcher," says Reason's Nick Gillespie, "but are you an apocalyptic or not?"

On today's podcast, Gillespie joins Katherine Mangu-Ward, Matt Welch, and Andrew Heaton to talk alarmism—over the debt ceiling and the causes of Hurricane Irma. They also discuss misguided policy responses to September 11th by liberals and conservatives.

Plus an abundance of economic fallacies, from the notion that natural disasters spur economic growth to prosperity through war.

Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

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Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians React to Solar Eclipse

Sun, 20 Aug 2017 17:44:00 -0400

How will Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, react to tomorrow's solar eclipse?

Probably with the same mixture of denial and panic that they bring to virtually every issue, from regulations to crime to climate change.

Fortunately, there is a third way, one grounded in rational debate, respect for the limits and power of science, and sound policy. Take a look.

Script and editing by Sarah Rose Siskind.

Starring Andrew Heaton, Sarah Rose Siskind, and Jim Epstein.

Produced by Andrew Heaton and Sarah Rose Siskind.

Subscribe at YouTube.

Like us on Facebook.

Follow us on Twitter.

Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.




The Administrative State Strikes Back: Federal Climate Change Draft Report Leaked

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 14:25:00 -0400

A draft version of the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report has been leaked to The New York Times. Notwithstanding the Times' alarmist headline suggesting "drastic" climate impacts on the U.S., a glance through the 545-page report finds that it is essentially an aggregation of climate change studies that support the scientific consensus that man-made global warming is occurring. According to the report, the global annual average temperature has increased by more than 1.6°F (0.9°C) from 1880 to 2015; the average annual temperature of the contiguous U.S. has increased by about 1.2°F (0.7°C) between 1901 and 2015. Climate models project increases of at least 2.5°F (1.4°C) over the next few decades, which means that recent record-setting years in the U.S. will be relatively "common" in the near future. The report concurs with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's conclusion that it is "extremely likely that most of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 was caused by human influence on the climate." The report also finds that extremely cold days in the U.S. have become fewer while the number of extremely hot days has increased. In addition, extreme percipitation events have become more common in the U.S. The report notes that there is still considerable controversy among researchers when it comes to future trends in hurricane frequency and intensity. Politicians, like most people, don't want to hear bad news that appears to contradict their views. The saga of how the the first National Climate Assessment fared under the George W. Bush administration is cautionary tale. Basically, Bush administration officials edited the report in ways that suggested greater uncertainty about scientific findings than the researchers who put together the report thought were warranted. That effort backfired when the administration's artful editing was leaked to and reported by the media. The new report states that "it does not include an assessment of the literature on climate change mitigation, adaptation, economic valuation, or societal responses, nor does it include policy recommendations." This appears to be accurate, though the report does note that "significant reductions in global CO2 emissions relative to present-day emission rates" would be needed to meet the Paris Agreement on Climate Change's goal of limiting future warming to below 2°C. Scientific data can identify a problem, but they do not tell policy makers the right way to handle a problem. Maybe the best thing to do is to let emissions increase while growing the economy as fast possible, so as to create the wealth and technologies that will enable future generations to deal with whatever problems climate change may generate. Or perhaps more research needs to be directed toward developing cheap low-carbon energy technologies. The report was no doubt leaked by someone with an agenda, and I don't blame anyone in the Trump administration who thinks a shadow science group of Obama leftovers is trying to thwart what it perceives as the president's climate and energy policies. In any case, since that the draft report is available to anyone with an internet connection, it would be ridiculous for officials to try to "suppress" it now. Update: Climate report found over at Internet Archive. Fox News cites several researchers who assert that that means it's been public for months. When the National Academy of Sciences released its report evaluating the process for how the draft Special Report was put together, I did a fairly extensive online search for the draft report and could not find it. Even now over at the official federal U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) website the link to any copy of the report appears to be absent - maybe because the comment period is over? Even so, why not leave the report availab[...]



Why the Left Can't Solve Global Warming

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 09:55:00 -0400

Environmentalists have been waxing apocalyptic about global warming for several decades now. But what do they have to show for it? America's president just pulled out of the Paris climate accord, leaving a rudderless and bereft global movement. And even if he hadn't, the nation has little appetite for meaningful political action on climate change. Why have environmentalists failed so utterly to push their cause forward after all this time? Because they've gone about it all wrong. Instead of treating global warming like a problem that needs to be addressed regardless of what caused it, the green left has been more obsessed with establishing humanity's culpability and embracing ever more extreme and painful mitigation steps, as if they were more concerned with punishing the perpetrators than solving the problem. Global warming guru Al Gore in 1992 called for the elimination of the internal combustion engine from the planet in 25 years. But the accursed engine is nowhere close to going away given that auto sales (and not hybrids and electrics) are projected to grow for decades to come. Many environmentalists want to eradicate fossil fuels. This will never happen—or at least won't happen for a long, long time—especially in emerging economies that need cheap fuel to spur development and deliver decent living standards. Undeterred, liberals are now saying that we should save the planet by having fewer kids, each of whom creates 58 tons of carbon dioxide each year (more for American parents). This is a ludicrous suggestion that will further drive a wedge between middle-class Americans who live for their families and yuppie, green Americans who live for the enviroment. But the further problem with all these remedies is that they suffer from what's called the collective action problem. Take, for example, forgoing children: If some people forgo but others don't, the former will suffer a deep personal loss and the planet will be no better off. Hence everyone waits for someone else to go first and the "solution" doesn't even get off the ground. If environmentalists want to succeed, they'll have to begin by transforming their own attitudes, focusing less on asking people to sacrifice to save the planet, and focusing much more on smart technological solutions that solve our climate problem without asking so much from us. Morally shaming people into voluntary action doesn't work. And the more attached people are to the things that they are being shamed into giving up, the less effective this strategy. Environmentalists' other strategy to overcome the collective action problem is government coercion to force polluters to cease and desist. But governments, especially democratic ones, don't have carte blanche to inflict endless pain on their citizens without being booted out. That's why Europe's cap-and-trade scheme—under which each industry got a free carbon quota beyond which it had to buy offsets from less polluting companies with permits to spare—has shown pathetic results. Countries simply gamed the program to give their industries a reprieve. A global carbon tax, though in theory a less messy solution, has even less chance of ever being embraced for all kinds of reasons, including that poor countries will expect rich countries to impose a higher tax because they caused the problem in the first place, while rich countries will expect poor countries to shoulder more of the burden as they are currently the bigger polluters. (Given that many global warming warriors fancy themselves to be progressives fighting for the underdog, they should bear in mind that in this battle, might will prevail over right and poor countries will have to face the brunt.) If the environmental movement is serious about addressing climate change, it will have to forget about the fact that humans caused (and are [...]



What the Left Is Doing Wrong in Fighting Global Warming: New at Reason

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 09:55:00 -0400

After three decades of trying, the environmental left is nowhere close to solving global warming. For reasonable people that would be time enough to(image) fundamentally rethink their strategy.

But not for this movement, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia.

It keeps demanding ever more outrageous sacrifices on the part of its fellow humans, the latest being that they should have fewer children. But if the movement hasn't succeeded in forcing people to give up their cars and ACs, how in the name of Gaia will it ever get them to give up kids? It's whole approach is riddled with the collective action problem.

There are ways to overcome it and avert planetary catastrophe. But that'll require the greens to give up the blame game and think of global warming more like a meteor strike: An event humanity didn't cause but from which it has to be saved.




Why Does the Left Keep Losing Its Fight Against Global Warming?

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 10:40:00 -0400

For three decades, environmentalists have been claiming that if we don't do something—and fast—to fight global warming, we'll all turn into pumpkins by(image) the end of the century or so. Yet they've made very little headway in getting humanity to act on their suggested remedies. Their latest recommendation is that people should have fewer children.

But I note in my morning column at The Week, the problem with all their "solutions" is that they suffer from the collective action problem, namely getting people to make painful sacrifices without knowing if others will follow suit. For example, if some people forgo children but others don't, the former will suffer a deep personal loss and the planet will be no better off. Hence everyone waits for someone else to go first and the "solution" doesn't even get off the ground.

I note:

If the environmental movement is serious about addressing climate change, it will have to forget about the fact that humans caused (and are causing) the warming and think of our problem like a meteor strike — a catastrophic event that humanity did not cause but from which it has to be saved. In other words, enviros will have to look for technological fixes that don't depend on the environmental equivalent of Mao's cultural revolution to get people to embrace carbon-free lifestyles.

Go here to read the whole thing.




Apocalypse Abuse and 'Climate Doomism'

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 14:00:00 -0400

"There is a seduction in apocalyptic thinking. If one lives in the Last Days, one's actions, one's very life, take on historical meaning and no small measure of poignance," Eric Zencey wrote in 1988. "Apocalypticism fulfills a desire to escape the flow of real and ordinary time, to fix the flow of history into a single moment of overwhelming importance." Lawrence Buell has called apocalypse "the single most powerful master metaphor that the contemporary environmental imagination has at its disposal." The seduction of apocalyptic thinking is on full and lurid display in David Wallace-Wells' article "The Uninhabitable Earth," published in New York magazine earlier this week. The subtitle says it all: "Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak—sooner than you think." Wallace-Wells is engaging in "apocalypse abuse," a term I believe I first encountered in Edith Efron's magnificent and prescient book The Apocalyptics. As I wrote in my 1993 book Eco-Scam, "'apocalypse abusers' typically extrapolate only the most horrendous trends, while systematically ignoring any ameliorating or optimistic ones, offering worst-case scenarios in the guise of balanced presentations." "It is, I promise, worse than you think," Wallace-Wells begins. "Indeed, absent a significant adjustment to how billions of humans conduct their lives, parts of the Earth will likely become close to uninhabitable, and other parts horrifically inhospitable, as soon as the end of this century." Instead of relying on more mainstream projections, Wallace-Wells cherry-picks the worst-case scenarios for melting glaciers, rising sea levels, temperature increases, crop failures, species extinctions, and more. Reacting in a Facebook post, the Penn State climatologist Michael Mann—not a man who's known to underplay the dangers of man-made climate change—declared: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The article fails to produce it." Mann followed up today with a Washington Post op-ed. Wallace-Wells, he writes, "paints an overly bleak picture, arguing that climate change could render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century." He cites several examples of how the New York piece misleads readers, including its misrepresentations about the dangers posed by methane trapped arctic permafrost and recent adjustments to satellite temperature records. Mann is not alone in his criticisms. Another Washington Post article today, this one by Chris Mooney, cites a tweet from the University of Washington glaciologist Eric Steig: "What's written's actually beyond worst possible case. THIS is the 'alarmism' we get accused of. It's important to speak out against it." Many climate scientists object to the article because they fear that such doomism will induce a sense of fatalism in the public and among policy makers. If the end is nigh, why not just sit back and enjoy our time before the apocalypse? In 1989, the Stanford climatologist Stephen Schneider notoriously argued, "We have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both." Some climatologists evidently think that Wallace-Wells has gotten the balance badly wrong. In Eco-Scam, I wrote that apocalypse abusers offer "lurid scenarios of a devastated earth, overrun by starving hordes of humanity, raped of its precious nonrenewable resources, poisoned by pesticides, pollution, and genetically engineered plagues, and baked by greenhouse warming. The new millenarians no lon[...]



The Fatal Flaw in the Fights Against Global Warming and Global Terrorism

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 10:00:00 -0400

Donald Trump and Al Gore would no doubt cringe at the thought that politically speaking, they are brothers from different mothers. After all, what do the Republican president and the Democratic presidential wannabe have in common besides the fact that they are both old, white, pompous dudes who live in mansions and hate Hillary Clinton? Whether they realize it or not, they both believe in the precautionary principle—the notion that even a small chance of a catastrophic event requires sweeping measures to avert it. Nor do they care about the costs of these "sweeping measures"—both in terms of money and individual liberty. Their only disagreement is about the events in question: Trump invokes this principle in his crusade against Islamist terrorism—and Gore and his fellow global warming warriors against climate change. Dick Cheney famously declared that if there was even a "1 percent chance" of another 9/11-style attack by al Qaeda, "we have to treat it as a certainty in our response." For all of Trump's criticisms of the Iraq War, he has a natural instinct for this kind of excess. No sooner did the dastardly Manchester attack occur than Trump reiterated, as he had in his inaugural address, that this "wicked ideology must be obliterated." To that end, Trump, who has never explicitly rejected pre-emptive strikes against states that harbor terrorists, has significantly escalated America's military offensive against ISIS. He has eagerly embraced—and grown—the massive surveillance state he inherited from his predecessors to snoop and spy on Americans. He rejects basic due process rights not just for enemy combatants captured in the theater of war, but even domestic terror suspects such as the New York dumpster bomber. And then there is his plan to subject prospective refugees to "extreme vetting" to ensure with 100 percent certainty that no terrorist enters the country. (Not to be outdone, incidentally, after the London Bridge attack, British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded the authority to censor and control speech on the internet and has also suggested that human rights laws be scrapped if they come in the way of fighting terrorism.) Given that the odds that Americans will perish in any terrorist attack—not just those involving Islamists—on U.S. soil is 1 in 3.6 million per year—if the trends of the last four decades are any indication, such draconian steps to avert another 9/11-style event won't make Americans substantially safer. But they will make them substantially less free. Liberals understand this when it comes to dealing with global terrorism. Al Gore himself gave a great speech in 2006 lamenting all the constitutional protections that the war on terrorism was claiming and expressed alarm that the executive branch had been conducing warrantless surveillance of telephone calls, emails and other internet communication inside America. But when it comes to global warming, Gore's ideological blind spots are more dazzling than the sun. He condemned Trump's pullout from the Paris agreement as "indefensible" and "reckless." Likewise, the ACLU, which has been heroically fighting Trump's travel ban and other constitution-busting moves, bizarrely tweeted that the withdrawal would be a "massive step back for racial justice." But the fact of the matter is that a pre-emptive strike against climate change will be no less damaging for justice, racial or otherwise. The goal of the Paris agreement was to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Centigrade by 2100. But the most optimistic assessments suggest that even if all the signatories live up to their Paris pledges, it's still a Pollyannaish assumption that won't be met. To exceed the agreement a[...]



'Atomic Humanism' and the Eco-Modernist Campaign to Promote Nuclear Power

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 11:40:00 -0400

"Only nuclear can lift all humans out of poverty while saving the natural environment," Michael Shellenberger said in his keynote address at yesterday's annual meeting of the American Nuclear Society. "Nothing else—not coal, not solar, not geo-engineering—can do that." This, he declared, was one of the first principles of "atomic humanism." Shellenberger is the founder of the pro-nuclear green group Environmental Progress, which argues that the best tool for fighting climate change is the no-carbon power generated by nuclear reactors. His speech offered a tour through the sorry history of environmentalist falsehoods and exaggerations about nuclear power. He began with Ralph Nader, who started training activists on how to stop new nuclear plants in the 1960s. (At one inflammatory moment, Nader declared: "A nuclear plant could wipe out Cleveland, and the survivors would envy the dead.") The Sierra Club soon jumped on board the anti-nuclear campaign. Shellenberger quoted a secret 1974 memo from then-executive director Michael McCloskey: "Our campaign stressing the hazards of nuclear power will supply a rationale for increasing regulation...and add to the cost of the industry." Unfortunately, this strategy worked to perfection. What was the activists' alternative to nuclear power? Fossil fuels. For example, Nader argued that we didn't "need nuclear power" because we "have a far greater amount of fossil fuels in this country than we're owning up to...the tar sands...oil out of shale...methane in coal beds." In 1976 Sierra Club consultant Amory Lovins declared that coal "can fill the real gaps in our fuel economy with only a temporary and modest (less than twofold at peak) expansion of mining." That same year, California Gov. Jerry Brown actually advocated the construction of coal-fired plants in place of nuclear power stations. The results? According to Shellenberger, California's carbon dioxide emissions are now two and a half times higher than they would have been had the planned nuclear plants been allowed to go forward. Meanwhile, vastly more people have died as a result of pollution from fossil fuel power generation than from nuclear power. It gets worse. Many prominent environmentalists, worried that abundant nuclear power would lead to overpopulation, endorsed strong anti-human sentiments. As Shellenberger noted: "Giving society cheap and abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun," said Paul Ehrlich. "It'd be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of cheap, clean and abundant energy because of what we would do with it [emphasis original]," said Amory Lovins in 1977. "I didn't really worry about the accidents because there are too many people anyway....I think that playing dirty if you have a noble end is fine," confessed Martin Litton, the Sierra Club member who led the campaign to kill Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California. Shellenberger concluded by arguing for pro-nuclear activism including mass protests and sit-ins: There is no short-cut around political engagement. Nuclear energy's opponents are well-financed and well-organized. But they have this huge achilles heel: Their entire agenda rests on a rejection of simple physics and basic ethics. They are in the wrong factually and morally. As such, when they are confronted with the truth—when it is pointed out that the emperor is wearing no clothes—they lose their power.... It's time for action. We have to move. We must confront the truth, and confront the threat. By standing up to Sierra Club, NRDC, and other anti-nuclear greenwashers, we saved nuclear plants in Illinois and New York. A new grassroots movement, Gener[...]