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



Published: Tue, 27 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2017 01:12:52 -0400

 



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 and actually meet its goal would require nothing short of the climate change equivalent of Mao's Cultural Revolution to socially engineer a complete global lifestyle shift. What will this entail? Certainly something far beyond President Obama's coal regulations, which still wiped out (along with fracking) the coal industry in West Virginia—and, along w[...]



'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, Generation Atomic, is backing measures to keep current nuclear power plants operating and also advocating the deployment of new advanced reactors. For example, Generation Atomic activists are now going door-to-door in Ohio urging voters to pressure state legislators to support the ZEN (Zero Emissions Nuclear) bill, which aims to keep both Davis-Besse and Per[...]



To Reduce Food Waste, Government Must Get Out of the Way

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 07:52:00 -0400

Waste may soon meet its match. No, not government waste. That's still fashionable. Rather, I'm talking about food waste, which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines as "food that completes the food supply chain up to a final product, of good quality and fit for consumption, but still does not get consumed because it is discarded, whether or not after it is left to spoil." The issue of food waste, which was barely on the radar of most journalists, policymakers, and eaters only a decade or so ago, has become a globally recognized problem. Forbes, for example, declared "zero-waste markets" a key element of 2017's top food trends. The data on food waste, which I discuss at length in my recent book, Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, are stark. Americans waste nearly 40 percent of all food, or 133 billion pounds each year. Forty million tons of that food waste ends up in our landfills annually. Put in economic terms, Americans waste $165 billion worth of food every year, or ten percent of the money we spend on food. But the impact of food waste isn't merely economic. "Consider, for example, the water, land, pesticides, fuel, and labor that were used to produce and dispose of food that wasn't eaten," I wrote earlier this year. "The uneaten food typically ends up belching methane—a potent greenhouse gas—in fields or landfills. Food that goes to waste also can't be used to combat hunger." In response to this data, local, state, national, and international efforts to combat food waste have exploded recently. In 2015, for example, the USDA and EPA pledged to halve domestic food waste by 2030. And a new Kentucky law enhances protections for those who donate food that would otherwise go to waste. Corporate and nonprofit efforts to fight food waste are also growing. For example, some food companies are using food—including some that might have gone to waste—to create food packaging. And scientists have developed genetically modified apples that don't brown immediately after they're sliced, which makes them less likely to go to waste. A new report released this month by Harvard Law School's Food Law & Policy Clinic, Opportunities to Reduce Food Waste in the 2018 Farm Bill, proposes—as its title suggests—several ways that Congress can help reduce food waste. Among the report's suggestions is that Congress authorize a study to look at ways that USDA produce-grading rules promote food waste. As the recommendations indicates, law and regulations are a key ingredient in perpetuating our food-waste mess. "[H]idden behind many of these government campaigns to reduce food waste is the frequent cause of that food waste: other government regulations," I wrote last year. "Much of our wasted food isn't due to the excesses or carelessness of individuals and food companies. Rather, it's often caused by idiotic and outrageous rules that force us to waste food." In Oakland, in an example I discuss in Biting the Hands that Feed Us, the city signed a waste contract that effectively forced restaurants that had been composting their food waste voluntarily to throw it away instead. A more recent—and even more outrageous—example of rules run amok comes from England. There, the founder of a charity that collects fruits and vegetables and other foods that are approaching their use-by dates and sells them at pay-what-you-can prices faces up to two months in prison and a steep fine for storing food past its expiration date. Adam Smith, the aptly named benevolent founder of the Real Junk Food Project, apparently ran afoul of the country's Police and Criminal Evidence Act and its Food Safety and Hygiene Regulations. Smith says the charity has fed over a million people without hearing any complaints of foodborne illness. The average food inspectors flagged in the warehouse of the Real Junk Food Project, which was founded three years ago to combat both food waste and hunger, was just two weeks p[...]



The Progressive Left Devours Its Own [Reason Podcast]

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 16:15:00 -0400

"What we're witnessing now is the progressive left eating its own," says Reason's Nick Gillespie. "They've gotten everything they want in terms of political correctness from the right, and now they're going after Bernie Sanders' supporters."

On today's podcast, Gillespie joins Andrew Heaton, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and Matt Welch to discuss topics in the news, including the responses to the London terrorist attack; the Trump administration's decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord; the fallout from Bill Maher's use of the n-word; Kathy Griffin's picture with Trump's severed, bloodied head (and claim that he had successfully destroyed her career); and the meltdown at Evergreen State College after activists asked white students and faculty to leave campus for the school's annual "Day of Absence."

"The incident at Evergreen is a perfect example of how a lack of understanding of the difference between negative liberty and positive liberty puts you into a weird political place," says Mangu-Ward. "'I should be allowed to do what I want as long as I don't hurt other people,' is not the same thing as saying, 'other people have to do what I want.'"

Produced by Ian Keyser.

Mentioned in the podcast

Reason Science Correspondent Ron Bailey on why the Paris Agreement was never a "treaty"

Nick Gillespie's Q&A with Bjorn Lomborg on why the U.S. was right to withdraw.

Video of the student takeover at Evergreen State College

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

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Photo credit: Los Angeles Daily News/ZUMA Press/Newscom




Trump Exaggerates Price of Paris Climate Accord

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 10:15:00 -0400

Donald Trump's chief argument for withdrawing from the Paris climate accord is that it would destroy jobs, stifle growth, cause electricity blackouts, and raise energy prices to ruinous levels. His decision is proof that he and his allies have no knowledge of the past and no regard for the future. Americans have had to deal with environmental dangers before. Back in the 1960s, our air was filthy. Our rivers and lakes were dying. Our kids were being poisoned by lead. Alligators, bald eagles and other species were threatened with extinction. But not everyone cared. Such ills, we were told, were the price of progress. We could have a cleaner environment, or we could have jobs and modern comforts. Require factories and cars to pollute less and our prosperity would vanish, leaving us all cold, hungry and poor. It didn't turn out that way. A Republican president, Richard Nixon, signed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and created the Environmental Protection Agency. Things began to improve. Auto and factory emissions declined. Skies cleared, and rivers became safe for swimming. Endangered creatures came roaring back. Lead levels in humans fell. Better air saved hundreds of thousands of lives by reducing heart disease and asthma. Not only that but the economy flourished. Trump and his budget director have been promising a return to GDP growth rates of 3 percent per year. Back in the 1970s and '80s, despite those new environmental rules, growth often topped 4 and even 5 percent. The doomsayers were wrong. The cost of protecting the environment turned out to be much less than critics had claimed. We proved beyond doubt that it is possible to solve serious environmental problems while making our people richer, healthier and more comfortable. Yet Trump and his allies have dug the old arguments out of the grave and lined them up like zombies to do battle. In his announcement Thursday, the president took a moment to brag about the jobs added since he took office—overlooking that they materialized in spite of Barack Obama's environmental regulations, many of which are still in place. The U.S. emissions targets in the Paris agreement were not onerous. Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center in Washington, has pointed out, "We're already two-thirds of the way toward meeting" them. All that is needed to complete the job is to merely accelerate the shift from coal to natural gas that is already underway. If Trump were keen on job growth, he might note that the oil and gas business has added more jobs since 2006 than there are jobs in the entire coal industry. The evidence suggests that by 2030, if left in place, the Clean Power Plan (which is designed to cut carbon emissions) would create 15,000 jobs on net. Today, as in the past, the opponents of environmental protection vastly exaggerate the expense of reducing pollution. As before, they give no weight to the rewards. The benefits are not limited to saving the polar bears and the Greenland ice sheet decades from now. A study in the scientific journal PLOS ONE concluded that in the U.S., "air quality improvements associated with climate mitigation policies can be large, widespread, and occur nearly immediately once emissions reductions are realized." The scientific basis for curtailing greenhouse gas emissions is powerful. But it's been clear for a long time that no amount of evidence will convince the opponents. First they denied the planet is warming. Then they said the planet is warming, but from natural causes. Then they admitted humans are partly to blame but insisted we don't know how much warming will occur. Their latest line is that people are cooking the earth but the Paris accord would make only a trivial difference. Their conclusion, however, never changes: Do nothing. But the mild uncertainty and modest costs that we face are no grounds for complacency. Taking steps to reduce carbon emissions would show a prudent approach to peril, an appreciation of [...]



Bjorn Lomborg: The U.S. Was Right to Withdraw From the Paris Climate Accord [Reason Podcast]

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 15:30:00 -0400

"The two things you need to know about the Paris [climate] agreement are, one, it is not going to do very much to tackle climate [change]...and it is incredibly costly." So says Bjorn Lomborg, the president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. Make no mistake, the Danish political scientist believes climate change is happening and that human activity is the main cause. But as Lomborg stressed during an interview with Reason's Nick Gillespie, the Paris accord and the earlier Kyoto Protocol are terrible ways to tackle the problem and the United States was right to withdraw from the treaty. If you're interested in protecting the environment and helping the world's poor, says Lomborg, there are cheaper and more-effective ways to reach those goals. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/325745608%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-nZJaB&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> Don't miss a single Reason podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Audio production by Ian Keyser. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi. This is Nick Gillespie, and this is the Reason Podcast. We're talking with Bjorn Lomborg. He is the skeptical environmentalist. He's one of the most outspoken people on the planet who is an environmentalist and who believes that much of the environmentalist community is off base. Bjorn, thanks for talking to us. Bjorn Lomborg: My pleasure. Nick Gillespie: Paris Climate Accord. Tell us why it's a good thing that the United States has decided to rethink its participation. Bjorn Lomborg: Fundamentally, the two things you need to know about the Paris Agreement is one, it is not going to do very much to tackle climate. If you look at the UN's own estimate, if everyone had delivered everything they had promised, including Trump and the U.S., by 2030, the Paris Agreement would have delivered less than 1% of what it's promising, so a very, very tiny impact on climate. Nick Gillespie: It leaves 99% of the problem it says it's going to solve in place. Bjorn Lomborg: The second thing is it's incredibly costly. It's probably the most costly treaty ever to be signed in history. If you look at what is the likely cost across the main areas where we have good estimates, it indicates that it's probably around $1 trillion in cost if you do it in the most effective way. That means with carbon taxes in all the relevant regions. If you don't, which is typically the way you do a climate policy, it could easily be $2 trillion, so $1 to $2 trillion a year for the rest of this century, mostly in lost GDP growth, and the net benefit at the end of the century, even if you are very optimistic, will have been to reduce the temperature by about 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Spend $100 trillion to achieve virtually no climate benefit. That's a bad deal. Nick Gillespie: Emmanuel Macron, the newly elected president of France, said, "There is no plan B for the Paris Agreement because there is no planet B." Assuming that it will only achieve what you're talking about, is that better than doing nothing? Bjorn Lomborg: It depends on what the alternatives are, because you can always say, "We're doing a little bit. Yes, we know we're wasting an enormous amount of money, but at least we're doing a little bit." That money could have been spent much better at tackling global warming, which is basically about investing in green energy R and D, where we have a severe reduction or underfunding of R and D in many different areas. That's also true in green energy. That is one place where you could spend a lot more. Actually, this h[...]



A Spectacularly Stupid Idea: Governing Land as a Global Commons

Fri, 02 Jun 2017 14:31:00 -0400

"Land must be considered as a global commons—conceptually by researchers and legally by the international community," argues Felix Creutzig, a climate change economist at the Technical University of Berlin. He makes this perplexing claim in "Govern land as a global commons," an article in the current issue of Nature. Creutzig cites the arguments of the philosopher Mathias Risse, who Creutzig believes has "made a powerful case for humanity's collective ownership of the Earth." Let's briefly consider Risse's position. In his 2008 working paper "Original Ownership of the Earth," Risse begins with two intuitions: "First, the resources of the earth are valuable and necessary for all human activities to unfold, most importantly to secure survival; second, those resources have come into existence without human interference." There is a prior question that Risse (and Creutzig) must answer: What is a resource? Surely edible plants and meat animals count. And just as surely, our forager ancestors claimed and defended territories containing wild edibles against encroachment by other groups. They had no notion that land was collectively owned by all human beings. In any case, Risse's second claim is basically wrong. The vast majority of resources come into existence as a result of what he is pleased to call "human interference." As Creutzig and Risse both note, the 17th century British philosopher John Locke argued that before the rise of civilization, land and natural resources were notionally held in common by mankind. They do not consider deeply another of Locke's arguments: that without the application of human ingenuity, "nature and the earth furnished only the almost worthless materials." Only with the development of private property rights and the rule of law to defend them did nature's worthless materials become useful and valuable. As Locke explained, a landowner has a strong incentive to increase the productivity of his land. By intensively cultivating it, he produces "a greater plenty of the conveniencies of life from ten acres, than he could have from an hundred left to nature, [and] may truly be said to give ninety acres to mankind." Locke also wrote that a privately owned cultivated acre in Britain produces 1,000 times more value than an uncultivated acre left in the commons in America. The same is true for other natural resources. For example, as I have pointed out elsewhere, a deposit of copper is just a bunch of rocks without the know-how to mine, mill, refine, shape, ship, and market it. Petroleum was a nuisance until Edwin Drake figured out in 1859 how to drill for it and refine it into lamp oil. In any case, Creutzig's model for global land governance is to adopt international agreements like the Antarctic Treaty, the Law of the Sea, and, yes, the Paris Agreement on climate change. This is exactly backwards: To the extent that those pacts are needed, it's because they deal with unowned, open-access commons—Antarctica, the oceans, the atmosphere. No treaties are needed when formerly open-access commons have been enclosed and protected by secure property rights. Creutzig does reassure us that "private property will remain protected with the common ownership of global land." But he doesn't appear to really mean that. "Land-use rights can be assigned for a limited period," he suggests. He then notes, with apparent approval, that "Chinese property law limits them to 40, 50 or 70 years." Creutzig doesn't just favor global common ownership; he wants what amounts to global zoning. Who would be the zoning board? The United Nations, of course. "The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals...don't call explicitly for global coordination of land uses," Cruetzig concedes. But he notes hopefully that the first steps toward such U.N.-led coordination might be taken when the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification publishes its Global Land Outlook later thi[...]



Trump Announces Withdrawal From Paris Climate Deal. What Happens Now?

Thu, 01 Jun 2017 15:50:00 -0400

President Donald Trump is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change, announcing today that he hopes to negotiate a new and "fair" climate deal. What will the withdrawal mean for the climate? Following the Paris agreement, the Obama administration pledged to cut the country's greenhouse gas emissions to 26-28 percent below their 2005 levels. According to Climate Interactive, that would account for 21 percent of the world's greenhouse gas reductions by 2030. In the unlikely scenario that the U.S. adopts no climate policies at all, Climate Interactive estimates that American emissions would amount to 6.7 gigatons of CO2 equivalents per year by 2025, compared to emissions of 5.3 gigatons per year if the U.S. follows through on its Paris commitments. Global annual emissions would be 57.3 gigatons per year instead of 55.8 gigatons per year, a difference of nearly 3 percent: In March, the Rhodium Group consultancy calculated what would happen to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions if President Trump's executive order rolling back most Obama-era energy and climate regulations were fully implemented: Basically, emissions would stabilize at around 14 percent below their 2005 levels—nowhere near Obama's 28 percent Paris pledge. So what would happen to global temperatures' trajectory if Trump repudiates the Paris Agreement and stops trying to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions? Climate Interactive calculates that implementing every country's carbon-reduction pledges made under the Paris Agreement would result in a global average temperature increase of 3.3 degrees Celsius: Humanity would have to stop emitting greenhouse gasses entirely by around 2065, if the goal is to keep the future temperature increase below 1.5 degree Celsius. The folks at the Climate Action Tracker basically concur that the Paris pledges would limit warming to about 2.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—or in probabilistic terms, that they would likely limit warming below 3.1 degrees Celsius. In the November 2016 issue of Global Environmental Change, a group of European climate researchers modeled the impact of the policies implied by the Paris Agreement on future global average temperatures: The researchers considered (1) all climate policies announced before the Paris Agreement; (2) each country's pledged emission reductions after Paris; and (3) the reductions it would actually take to keep the average global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. As you can see, merely implementing the Paris pledges would implies a global average temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius. In a November 2015 article published in Global Policy, Copenhagen Consensus Center head Bjorn Lomborg calculated that implementing just the Paris pledges over the course of the entire century would reduce future warming by 0.17 degree Celsius by 2100: Clearly all climate modelers calculate that much deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would have to be made in order to meet the Paris targets. Make the heroic assumption that the climate models are right: What should be done? In an article for Foreign Affairs, the eco-modernists over at the Breakthrough Institute advocate policies encouraging the innovation that would make carbon-free energy cheaper than that provided by burning fossil fuels. This might include, among other things, the entrepreneurial development of radically safer and cheaper nuclear power. My own solution for any problems that might arise from man-made climate change (and for most other challenges faced by humanity) is to adopt policies that boost technological innovation and wealth creation. For details on what that would entail, go here.[...]



Scott Pruitt Refuted on 'Leveling Off' of Global Temperature Trends?

Wed, 31 May 2017 10:15:00 -0400

A new study purports to refute new Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt's claim that "over the past two decades satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming, which some scientists refer to as the 'hiatus'." According to the paper, which was published last week in Nature Scientific Reports, "Satellite temperature measurements do not support the recent claim of a 'leveling off of warming' over the past two decades." The researchers, led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory climate modeler Benjamin Santer, draws on the global temperature trends of three different satellite datasets for the mid-troposphere—the troposphere being the lowest, densest part of Earth's atmosphere, where most weather changes occur—from 1979 (when the records begin) to December 2016. One dataset, from the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), shows temperatures rising 0.09 degree C per decade; adjusting for measurements that are distorted by falling lower stratospheric temperatures, Santer and his colleagues calculate that the figure should actually be 0.142. The second dataset, from Remote Sensing Systems, seems to show a hike of 0.094 degrees C per decade; with the paper's adjustments, that becomes 0.199. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appears to indicate an increase of 0.128 degree C per decade; the paper adjusts that to 0.202. UAH climatologist John Christy argues in an email response that Santer's adjustment process "actually exaggerates the tropospheric warming rate (which is why we do not use it)." But his biggest problem with the study involves how those numbers are used, not how they're generated. In their paper, Santer and his colleagues compare those real (although adjusted) temperature data with 36 climate model outputs that are supposed to show how global temperatures would have evolved during the past 38 years in the absence of accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Such a comparison only works if the models are right about how much the climate would naturally vary in the absence of extra greenhouse gases. In Christy's words, it "depends on climate model natural variability being correct." That could be a problem: "Model-generated natural variability is known to be less than real variability - this makes it easier for small trends in the observations to appear to be significant when in fact Mother Nature can produce large trends on her own. It's a real apples and oranges comparison - real data being tested against model-generated variability." Earlier this month, another study in Nature recognized that the global warming hiatus that purportedly occurred from 1998 to 2015 has been defined differently in different sections of the scientific literature: It has been variously described as (1) no discernible increase in global average temperature, (2) a dramatic slowdown in the increase in warming, or (3) a slower increase than projected by climate computer models. If the Santer team's conclusions are correct, they have actually confirmed the second definition. Take a look at this chart from their paper: As Christy points out, the Santer team's tropospheric "trends ending in 2004 were two to four times the value for trends ending in 2015 - i.e. supporting Pruitt's statement that trends were 'leveling off' compared with earlier periods." The upturn in temperatures at the end is the result of the natural boost in global average temperatures following a big El Niño in 2015 and 2016. What about that third definition—the idea that global average temperature increases are lower than the climate models project? Oddly, another team of researchers led by Santer published a study in the January Journal of Climate that reached exactly that conclusion. That paper found that once temperature data are adjusted, the climate models are on average 1.7 time[...]



Earth's Forest Area 9 Percent Greater Than Thought

Fri, 12 May 2017 12:40:00 -0400

(image) Forests in drylands are much more extensive than previously reported and cover a total area similar to that of tropical rainforests or boreal forests, according to a new study published in Science. Researchers discovered these hidden forests by scrutinizing high resolution satellite images covering more than 200,000 half-hectare-sized plots. The survey used ultra–high-resolution Google Earth images with each pixel representing a patch of ground less than a meter wide.

"We show that in 2015, 1327 million hectares of drylands had more than 10% tree-cover, and 1079 million hectares comprised forest," report the researchers. "Our estimate is 40 to 47% higher than previous estimates, corresponding to 467 million hectares of forest that have never been reported before. This increases current estimates of global forest cover by at least 9%."

To the extent that greater forest area helps mitigate environmental problems—soil erosion, declines in biodiversity, water retention issues—this adds to the good news that global deforestation rates are slowing. As the Food and Agricultural Organization reported two years ago: Over the past 25 years forest area has changed from 4.1 billion ha to just under 4 billion ha, a decrease of 3.1 percent. the rate of global forest area change has slowed by more than 50 percent between 1990 and 2015.

If Jesse Ausubel, head of the Human Environment Program at Rockefeller University, is right, humanity is on the cusp of peak farmland with the result that global forest cover could well expand by nearly 400 million hectares by 2060, an area nearly double the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River.




Should President Trump Keep His Promise to Cancel the Paris Agreement on Climate Change?

Thu, 04 May 2017 15:45:00 -0400

Presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to "cancel" the Paris Agreement on climate change during the campaign last year. Last week, during a rally to celebrate his first 100 days in office at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trump declared that a "big decision" would be forthcoming in the next two weeks on the Paris Agreement. A big fight has apparently broken out among Trump administration denizens over the question of leaving or staying in the accord. The Clexiters include strategic nationalist Steve Bannon and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and the stayers are First Daughter Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State of Rex Tillerson. During his confirmation hearing, Tillerson told lawmakers, "It's important that the U.S. maintains its seat at the table about how to address the threat of climate change, which does require a global response. No one country is going to solve this on its own." The opponents and proponents are focusing on a narrow and a broader issue. The narrow issue involves determining whether or not the agreement allows signatories to lower their nationally determined contributions, that is, the commitments that each country has made under the agreement with respect to their future emissions of greenhouse gases. Under the Paris Agreement, the Obama administration committed to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below their 2005 levels in 2025. At issue is the Article 4.11, which states that a nation "may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition." Ambition means doing more to mitigate climate change. Does this mean that a country's commitments can only be ratcheted upwards and never reduced? In the New York Times, legal analyst Christopher Horner of the free-market think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute, asserted, "Despite the mad rush to insist that plain language means either the opposite of what it says, or else nothing at all, under any canon of construction, Article 4 does not permit revisions downward." It's a ratchet. Contrariwise, Todd Stern who was the Obama administration's chief climate negotiator claimed that the flexibility to reduce targets was written into the agreement by careful design. "It wasn't like, 'Boy, nobody thought of that,'" he said to the Times. The plain language of the agreement does imply an upward ratchet, but since there are no explicit enforcement mechanisms in the accord, nothing would happen to a country that formally lowered its ambition, or even just ignored its nationanlly determined contribution commitments. The Bottom-Up Structure of the Paris Agreement The Paris Agreement might be thought of as a non-zero-sum bottom-up exercise. Countries are not being told what to do, but each one gets to propose for itself what it plans to do about man-made global warming. In addition, thousands of states, provinces, regions, cities, and businesses have piled on to make voluntary pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. (This is not to say their electorates agree with the decisions being made by their governors and mayors.) This pledging process avoids the divisive zero-sum gaming that characterized previous climate negotiations. Both the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the successor agreement that was supposed to be approved at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 were conceived as top-down legally binding regulatory systems. Both failed spectacularly. In any case, would nothing happen really happen if Trump were to submit lower U.S. greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the agreement? Opponents worry that the Paris Agreement would be interpreted as having the force of law by U.S. courts. This brings us the broader issue: Is the Paris Agreement a treaty? The United States Senate approved the United Natio[...]



Climate Computer Models Right After All: What Global Warming Hiatus?

Wed, 03 May 2017 16:50:00 -0400

"We are now much more confident than ever that human influence is dominant in long-term warming," declares a team of climate researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology led by Iselin Medhaug. Why? Because, among other things, they claim to have reconciled the differences between the computer model projections and observational temperature records. The article, "Reconciling controversies about the 'global warming hiatus'" appears today in Nature. First they note that there are definitional problems in the scientific literature. The global warming hiatus can describe the period between 1998 and 2015 in which there was (1) no discernible increase in global average temperature, (2) a dramatic slow-down in the increase warming from the prior late 20th century trend, and (3) a slower increase than projected by climate computer models. They also explore the proposed causes for the hiatus including external drivers such as solar variability and aerosols from volcanic eruptions; the possibility of a lower equilibrium climate sensitivity in response to added carbon dioxide; and internal variability, especially periodic long-term shifts in regional ocean temperatures. Another important concern is how the observational temperature records are measured and adjusted over time. For example, the U.K.'s Met Office's HadCRUT4 surface temperature data set was adjusted to take into account that the Met Office's previous datasets had used sea surface temperatures rather than air temperature measurements over the oceans. Overall, this adjustment resulted in higher global mean surface air temperatures. They also took note of the fact that the observational temperature records have poor coverage in remote areas like the poles, central Asia, and central Africa. Interestingly, the researchers used observational surface temperature datasets in their analysis, ignoring the satellite and weather balloon temperature datasets. Medhaug and his colleagues adjusted the computer climate model runs by taking into account factors like changes like variations in solar radiation. In addtion, they applied results from computer models that best mimicked the observed internal variability of ocean temperature changes to estimate their effects on global air temperature to update the overall projected model trends. They do reanalysis of the HadCRUT4 dataset using model outputs to estimate temperatures in regions that are not adequately covered by observations. This produces a new dataset with higher global average temperatures. They then compare the results of 84 simulations from 36 different climate models with the orginal HadCRUT4 and their adjusted HadCRUT4 data. Once the researcher make all of these adjustments they find that there is ... ... excellent agreement between models and observations (Fig. 5, dark blue versus dark orange lines). Most discrepancies between models and observations can therefore be explained by the state of the natural variability, incomplete or biased forcings, and observational limitations; a complete explanation requires a combination of all of these (Fig. 5). When the effects of short-term temperature variations such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), of volcanic aerosols and of solar variability are removed, the anthropogenically forced global warming signal has not decreased substantially. This supports the current scientific understanding that long-term global warming is extremely likely to be of anthropogenic origin. One point that the Swiss researchers stress is that climate models cannot and should not be expected to make projections encompassing relatively short periods such as a decade. Consequently, they argue that when climate variability from whatever source slows (or presumably) speeds up the rat[...]



Climate Change, Scientism, and the Politics of Certitude

Mon, 01 May 2017 12:30:00 -0400

The balance of the scientific evidence supports the claim that man-made climate change is happening. That being said, there are many uncertainties with regard to how fast the climate might warm over the course of this century, how much it might warm, how fast sea level will rise, and so forth. Climate scientists try to get a handle on the trajectory of climate change using computer climate models. When compared to observational temperature trends, the models' outputs have been somewhat less than robust. University of Alabama at Huntsville climatologist John Christy, who is a long-time skeptic of projections of future catastrophic warming, finds that computer model temperature increases average about 3 times greater than the actual temperature trends. A January 2017 paper in the Journal of Climate by researchers who unquestionably represent mainstream climate science corrected for satellite data trends and the inclusion of stratospheric cooling and also found that the models are warming 1.7 times faster than the observational temperatures. In his column "Climate of Complete Certainty," New York Times opinion writer Bret Stephens sought to account for the skepticism of high percentage of Americans toward the dire warnings from environmentalists about impending catastrophic climate change. Stephens accepts that man-made warming is real; however, he observes that much else is still a matter of probabilities. From his column: That's especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn't to deny science. It's to acknowledge it honestly.... Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one's moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts. None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know—as all environmentalists should—that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power. As it happens, hundreds of thousands of climate activists this past weekend participated in the Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C., along with subsidiary marches in 300 other cities. It is evident that many progressive marchers would eschew Stephens' warning against marrying uncertain science to political power and are entirely certain that climate change requires the complete transformation of the U.S. economy and society along more communitarian lines. It is not too much to say that environmentalists' apocalyptic climate rhetoric helped elect our current president. The New York Post is reporting the nasty progressive backlash against Stephens who aim to get him fired from the Times. For more background on the human wreckage of scientific errors made by political environmentalists see my book, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the 21st Century. I also reprise failed predictions of impending environmental catastrophe from the first Earth Day in 1970.[...]



Peoples Climate March This Saturday: New at Reason

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 13:30:00 -0400

(image) Tomorrow around 100,000 Americans are expected to join the Peoples Climate March, which plans to stream from the Capitol up Pennsylvania Avenue while demanding jobs, justice, and—oh, yes—action on climate change. The plan is to "literally" surround the White House, then stage a 100-second sit-in, symbolizing the first 100 days of Donald Trump's administration. (Perhaps President Trump will hear the protests tomorrow afternoon, but he plans to hold a rally in Pennsylvania that evening.) It's another example of social justice movements hijacking the problem of climate change and using it as a pretext for attacking our system of market-tested betterment and innovation.




Earth Day Dopes

Wed, 19 Apr 2017 00:15:00 -0400

Expect more craziness this weekend. Earth Day is Saturday. This year's theme: Government must "do more" about climate change because "consequences of inaction are too high to risk." They make it sound so simple: 1) Man causes global warming. 2) Warming is obviously harmful. 3) Government can stop it. Each claim is dubious or wrong. This weekend at a movie, I was surprised to be assaulted again by former Vice President Al Gore. In a preview, a puffy-looking Gore suddenly appeared, attacking Donald Trump and mocking critics of his previous movie, An Inconvenient Truth, the deceitful documentary that spreads fear in classrooms today. Yes, teachers play it in class. Now Gore claims "the most criticized" part of the film was his assertion that the 9/11 memorial site would flood. Then, during Hurricane Sandy, it did But Gore creatively misremembers his own movie. He had claimed the World Trade Center would flood because of a permanent 20-foot sea-level rise. Actual scientists called that nonsense. It would take hundreds of years for such a thing to possibly happen. But since the area flooded, briefly, Gore spins that as confirmation of his exaggerations. This preview was the first I learned that theaters will soon show a sequel to Gore's film. Google tells us that An Inconvenient Sequel got a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival. Trendy Hollywood is so dumb. At least critics who've watched it gave it poor reviews. Let's go back to points 1, 2 and 3: 1) Man's greenhouse gases contribute to warming, but scientists don't agree on how much. Of 117 climate models from the 1990s, 114 overpredicted warming. 2) Warming is harmful. Maybe. But so far it's been good: Over the last century, climates warmed, but climate-related deaths dropped. Since 1933, they fell by 98 percent. Life expectancy doubled. Much of that is thanks to prosperity created by free markets. But some is due to warming. Cold kills more people than heat. Carbon dioxide is also good for crop growth. Even The New York Times admits, "Plants have been growing at a rate far faster than at any other time in the last 54,000 years." But what if Al Gore is right? Maybe our greenhouse gases will eventually cause Greenland's icecaps to melt and flood our cities. Shouldn't government act now? No. 3) Nothing we do today will stop global warming. The Obama regulations that Trump recently repealed, horrifying the Earth Day crowd, had a goal that amounted to a mere one percent reduction in global carbon dioxide. And that was just the goal. Of course, some think any cut is better than nothing. But cuts are costly. They kill jobs, opportunity. All to accomplish... nothing the Earth will notice. If warming does become a problem, we're better off if our economy is very strong when the science tells us clearly that action will make a difference. We should be especially wary of expensive government projects given how often alarmists were wrong in the past. As Cato's Pat Michaels says, "I've lived through eight environmental apocalypses... overpopulation... resource depletion... Silent Spring... global cooling... acid rain... the ozone hole... global warming... the next one is going to be ocean acidification." In the '70s, environmentalist Paul Ehrlich won fame with his book The Population Bomb. Ehrlich predicted: "I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000." Oops. Ehrlich now admits: "When you predict the future, you get things wrong." But he says there's a grain of truth in his prediction, because: "If you look closely at England, what can I tell you? They're having all kinds of problems." Give me a break. Saturday's Earth Day nonsense will include a "March for Science." The m[...]