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Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 19:09:15 -0500


15 Times Major Media Outlets Used a Statistic about Plastic Straws Based on Research by a 9-Year-Old

Fri, 26 Jan 2018 15:41:00 -0500

Yesterday, I reported that the oft-cited, debate-driving statistic that Americans use 500 million plastic straws a day was the product of a 9-year-old's guesstimations. Despite those shaky factual foundations, the 500 million figure has quickly spread, virus-like, across the media landscape and even into our shops and schools. Visitors to the D.C. tea house Teaism—just a short walk from Reason's D.C. office—will be confronted with the questionable fact on a small poster adorning the restaurant's single-use straw dispenser, replete with a picture of a cute sea turtle. Meanwhile, impressionable children at the Mount Vernon Community School in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, are coming home with "Straw Wars" handouts citing the same dubious figure. It's easy to understand how the school could have been led astray, given how ubiquitous this claim is in the media. Please see below for a list of just a few of the news outlets that have cited this "fact"—or otherwise quoted people saying it without any critical pushback—in their reporting: CNN The Washington Post Reuters People Time Al Jazeera National Geographic The Guardian The Independent (UK) Seattle Weekly San Francisco Chronicle The Sacramento Bee The Los Angeles Times Saveur Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Activist groups are also quick to promote the claim. Among them: The Lonely Whale Foundation The Plastic Pollution Coalition The Sierra Club And of course government officials have embraced the number too. The National Park Service has touted it. So has California Assemblyman Ian Calderon. It's in the text of a Hawaii bill that would ban the distribution of plastic straws in the state. It's sad that so many outlets are treating the rigorous survey work of an elementary school student as the statistic about plastic straw use. But it's not very surprising. Attempts to ban plastic straws—or indeed any plastic product—have as much to do with signaling your environmentalist bona fides as they do with actually cleaning up the oceans or saving the planet. So people pushing the claim have little incentive to investigate it. And the media have every incentive to hype the impact of a phenomenon they're covering. Let this serve as a reminder: A statistic's popularity does not prove its accuracy.[...]

Brickbat: That Sucks

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) A California bill would ban restaurants from giving straws to customers unless they specifically ask for one. The bill's sponsor explained, "We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans."

Global Warming Less Likely to Be Catastrophic, Says New Nature Study

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 17:30:00 -0500

(image) Probably the most vexing problem in climate change science is determining how hot the planet would become if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles from it pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million. Known as equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change's Fifth Assessment Report put the likely range of ECS as being between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius.

The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is around 403 parts per million. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now increasing annually at about 3 parts per million. If that rate of increase keeps up, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will double by the end of the century.

As bad as an increase of 4.5 degrees Celsius would be - and it would be really bad considering that the difference between now and an ice age is 4 to 7 degrees Celsius - a big concern has been that researchers have not been able to rule out that future temperatures might exceed the 4.5 degrees Celsius. In a new study published in Nature, University fo Exeter mathematician Peter Cox and his colleagues claim that they have constrained ECS to a lower range of values. From the abstract:

Here we present a new emergent constraint on ECS that yields a central estimate of 2.8 degrees Celsius with 66 per cent confidence limits (equivalent to the IPCC 'likely' range) of 2.2–3.4 degrees Celsius. ... [Their procedure] enables tighter constraints to be placed on ECS, reducing the probability of ECS being less than 1.5 degrees Celsius to less than 3 per cent, and the probability of ECS exceeding 4.5 degrees Celsius to less than 1 per cent.

To greatly simplify, Cox and his colleagues compared how climate models handled year-to-year variations in surface temperatures with the historical temperature record. In doing so, they found that the climate models that yielded higher ECS values failed to replicate what has been happening to actual temperature trends.

In his perspetive article in Nature, Leeds University climatologist Piers Forster explains, "Their analysis revealed that only climate models that produce relatively small values of ECS match the variability seen in the historical temperature record." Forster adds, "If the upper limit of ECS can truly be constrained to a lower value than is currently expected, then the risk of very high surface-temperature changes occurring in the future will decrease. This, in turn, would improve the chances of keeping the temperature increase well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, the target of the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change."

That would be good news indeed.

Proposed California Car Ban a Perfect Mix of Hubris and Silliness

Fri, 19 Jan 2018 00:15:00 -0500

It's about time that members of Congress and the California legislature got really serious about combating the nation's pollution problem. Just as Jonathan Swift had a "modest proposal" to keep poor Irish children from being a burden to their families and their country (by selling them to wealthy English people as food), I, too, have a modest proposal for dealing with the unconscionable level of pollutants that are emitted in the U.S. to produce electricity. Let's propose a plan to shut down the nation's power plants. The facts are unmistakable: An environmental group in 2009 reported that the "nation's power plants emitted 2.56 billion tons of global warming pollution... which is equivalent to the pollution from nearly 450 million of today's cars—nearly three times the number of cars registered in the United States in 2007." Even cleaner natural-gas fired plants, which have become more prevalent in ensuing years, "release 21—120 times more methane than earlier estimates," according to a summary of a Purdue University/Environmental Defense Fund report from last year. Do you care about clear air, the health of our children and the future of the planet? Of course you do. So there's little reason to complain about this idea. Before you chalk it up to one columnist's silliness, consider that some California policy makers are proposing something equally "modest" and ludicrous. Yet they seem totally serious about it. Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and some other Assembly members have introduced legislation that would ban the registration of passenger vehicles that are not "zero emissions." Assembly Bill 1745 would, beginning in 2040, prohibit the California Department of Motor Vehicles "from accepting an application for original registration of a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is a zero emissions vehicle." Likewise, California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols told Bloomberg in an interview that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) "has expressed an interest in barring the sale of vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines." The governor reportedly wondered why China is able to do this and lawmakers haven't considered it in California. So now California's legislature is indeed considering something that would, according to the article, "send shockwaves through the global car industry due to the heft of California's auto market." Shockwaves for such a modest proposal? It's not as if the underlying concept—banning stuff that our political leaders don't like—is anything new. As a colleague noted, perhaps California lawmakers ought to simply ban the production and sale of meat-based products, also, given the ill effects of slaughterhouses on the environment, our diets, and on the quality of life of the animals that end up on our dinner tables. We've got to think out of the box. The bill would exempt large commercial vehicles and cars brought to California from other states. Perhaps legislators aren't thinking big enough. Sure, this column has a mocking tone and hasn't dealt with the actual arguments in favor of a ban on gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles, but there really aren't any serious arguments for doing this. The apparent goal is to reduce pollution, but the real goal may be about making a moral statement and grabbing headlines. Journalist H.L. Mencken wrote that politics is about keeping people alarmed "with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." That's a bit overstated, sure. Pollution remains a serious problem, but it's best handled through market advancements, not by allowing politicians to scare us into embracing fake "solutions." It's reality time. California is not going to get rid of polluting vehicles—or power plants, for that matter—by banning them. It would mostly harm the poor, who cannot afford the pricey new electric vehicles. But maybe they can consider selling their children to help afford the latest Tesla. EVs are great advancements, but even though they have no tailpipe, they will in[...]

2017 Was the Second Hottest Year Since 1880, Says NASA

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 16:08:00 -0500

2017 was the second-warmest year since 1880, according to NASA. Only 2016 was warmer. More specifically, NASA reports that globally averaged temperatures last year were 0.90° Celsius warmer than the mean temperature from 1951 to 1980. The three other major institutions that track global temperature trends find that 2017 is the third warmest year in their records. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports: The average temperature across the globe in 2017 was 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit (0.84 degrees Celsius) above the 20th century average of 57 degrees Fahrenheit (13.9 degrees Celsius). 2017 marks the 41st consecutive year (since 1977) with global land and ocean temperatures at least nominally above the 20th-century average. "The six warmest years on record for the planet," the agency adds, "have all occurred since 2010." Researchers at the Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit report that the global average temperature in 2017 was about 0.99° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and about 0.38° Celsius above the 1981–2010 average. The climatologists at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who oversee the satellite temperature data report that the average temperature in the lower troposphere over the globe in 2017 was 0.375° Celsius warmer than seasonal norms. These temperature trends are calculated relative to a 30-year average (1981–2010). The Huntsville satellite record trend, often cited by folks who are less concerned about climate model projections, is basically identical to the Hadley Centre's conclusions. Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) also uses satellite temperature data to calculate global temperature trends. It reports that 2017 was the second warmest recorded since satellite observations began in 1979. Last year, 2016, was the warmest ever recorded. The near-record warmth of 2017 is notable because an El Niño event did not occur in 2017. The other 3 warmest years, 1998, 2010, and 2016, were El Niño years. Except for 1998, all of the warmest years occur after 2000, providing clear evidence of global temperature increase in the troposphere. RSS notes that the although the recent warm years have brought climate model projections and measured temperature trends closer, it is still the case the "the troposphere has not warmed quite as fast as most climate models predict." The Huntsville researchers find that the globe is warming at 0.13° Celsius per decade, while RSS reports a warming trend of 0.18° Celsius per decade. The surface data trends fall within this range. It is generally agreed that the earth has warmed by about 1° Celsius since the 19th century. If the Huntsville rate of temperature increase is maintained for the rest of this century, the world would end up just a bit over 2° Celsius warmer than it was around 1900. If the RSS trend is sustained, that would yield a further increase of nearly 1.5° Celsius, resulting in a global average temperature that's 2.5° Celsius warmer than it was in 1900. It is worth noting that the temperature difference between now and the last ice age is between 4 to 7° Celsius. That increase occurred at a much slower pace.[...]

Butterflies, Border Walls, and Property Rights

Wed, 13 Dec 2017 11:15:00 -0500

Trump's border wall will be bad for people and bad for property rights. It will also be bad for butterflies. On Monday the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) filed a lawsuit in D.C. District Court alleging a pattern of intrusion and harassment by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials preparing for the construction of a border wall. Federal personnel and contractors, the lawsuit claims, have entered and cleared land on NABA's privately owned 100-acre Butterfly Center in southern Texas without the association's permission, in violation of several statutes as well as the Fifth Amendment to U.S. Constitution. "They've cleared vegetation that we wanted there that we placed there for butterflies. They stopped our employees from going on our private property," says NABA President Jeff Glassberg. Future plans to build a wall along a levee that bisects the Butterfly Center—an area that NABA has spent $7 million turning into a wildlife refuge for some 235 species of butterflies—would make over two thirds of the property inaccessible to visitors or staff, the lawsuit claims. "If you're an American citizen," Glassberg tells Reason, "you ought to be very concerned that the government can come on with no authorization and do whatever they want." The trouble began on July 20, when Marianna Trevino-Wright—the Butterfly Center's executive director—came across a team of uninvited workers using chainsaws and heavy equipment to clear vegetation along a private road that is wholly on the center's property. "I was like, 'Hi, what are y'all doing back here.' I mean was really that casual," says Trevino-Wright. "One of the guys with chainsaws said, 'We're clearing this land.' I said, 'You mean my land.'" A supervisor for the work crew told her that the men were there doing work for Customs and Border Protection. He did not elaborate, but he said that someone from the agency would be in touch with her shortly. Trevino-Wright immediately contacted a community liaison officer for the agency, who couldn't or wouldn't give her any information about what those workers were doing on her land. Neither could the five CBP agents who visited her the next day. Not until an August 1 meeting with Manuel Padilla Jr., the agency's sector chief for the Rio Grande Valley, did Trevino-Wright get any answers. According to Trevino-Wright, Padilla confirmed that the contractors were there on the agency's orders, that they were clearing the land to make way for the agency's "tactical infrastructure," and that they would return with "green uniformed presence"—that is, armed federal agents—to continue their work. Padilla, who is named as a defendant in NABA's lawsuit, reportedly told Trevino-Wright that any that locks or gates that interfered with this work would be cut down. Padilla also reportedly showed Trevino-Wright diagrams of the planned border wall, which would run through Butterfly Center property and which would require yet more of the center's land to be cleared for "secondary roads and government operations." In February, then–Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly—also named as a defendant—issued a memorandum instructing CBP to "immediately begin planning, design, construction and maintenance of a wall, including the attendant lighting, technology (including sensors), as well as patrol and access roads." Reason reached out to Customs and Border Protection to confirm many of these details, but was told it was against the agency's policy to comment on pending litigation. In his meeting with Trevino-Wright, Padilla also invoked the agency's power under the Immigration and Nationality Act to warrantlessly search any vehicles and people "within a reasonable distance" of the border. In 1953, this "reasonable distance" was set at 100 miles, an area that today contains 200 million people. The agency has claimed the additional authority to enter private property without a warrant within 25 mil[...]

Trump Just Made Two National Monuments Smaller. How Big a Deal Is That?

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 14:40:00 -0500

President Donald Trump issued proclamations yesterday reducing the sizes of two national monuments in southern Utah. Bears Ears is being shrunk from 1.35 million acres to just over 200,000; Grand Staircase/Escalante is being brought down from 1.7 million acres to 1 million. President Barack Obama proclaimed the creation of the Bears Ears National Monument just three weeks before the end of his administration, and President Bill Clinton similarly created the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument in 1996. In both cases, many local Utahns and their representatives in Congress fiercely opposed the changes, arguing that the designations would bar their access to the mineral, timber, and grazing resources needed to support their communities. Earlier this year, the state legislature voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution urging the president "to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument designation." "The goal of the designations had been to convert multiple-use public lands into de facto national parks and wilderness areas, preventing traditional uses such as recreation, grazing, and any other economic uses of natural resources," says R.J. Smith, a senior fellow at the D.C.-based National Center for Public Policy Research. "It usurped the authority of Congress to designate parks and wildernesses, and it disenfranchised the people of the affected states—especially those in rural counties and communities. Worse, it accelerated the War on the West—destroying the economic well-being of much of rural America while undermining the tax base of county and small town governments and turning thriving communities into ghost towns." "National monuments are largely recognized as a stepping stone on the way to the creation of new national parks – a stepping stone that Utahns are all too familiar with," adds Matt Anderson, director of the Coalition for Self-Government in the West project at the Salt Lake City–based Sutherland Institute. "Four out of Utah's five national parks began as national monuments. Once a national park is created, hunting, ATV riding, rock collecting, and a host of other recreational opportunities are prohibited." According the management plan, the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument would not affect existing oil, gas, and mining operations, but it would prohibit new mineral leases, mining claims, prospecting or exploration activities, and oil, gas, and geothermal leases. In addition, its creation would not affect the State of Utah's jurisdiction over fish and wildlife management, including hunting and fishing. Livestock grazing would be allowed continue within the monument lands. Back in 1997, shortly after Clinton established the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, the Utah State Geological Survey estimated that coal deposits within the affected area could be worth as much as $312 billion when the real price of coal was $30 per ton. Although the demand for coal in the United States as fallen in recent years, coal from the nearby Uinta Basin region is now at $60 per ton. Bear Ears, on the other hand, does not seem to hold significant energy development potential. Does Trump's reduction really return management of the lands withdrawn from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase/Escalante to local control? Not really. Both proclamations essentially restore control to the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The main change is that those federal agencies would now have the power to approve greater economic development of natural resources in those regions. Utah's state House of Representatives passed a resolution this year urging that the state try to buy the Bears Ears National Monument from the federal government and manage it itself. But it is politically unlikely that the federal government will sell the tens of millions of acres that it manages. So what else might be done to increase local control and stew[...]

Global Temperature Increases Are Lower and Slower, Says New Study

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 17:15:00 -0500

A new study using more than 38 years satellite and weather balloon temperature data hypothesizes that global temperatures are going up more slowly than projected by most climate models. And right on time, these results were challenged by other researchers who defend the scientific climate consensus as embodied in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. The new study done by University of Alabama in Huntsville climatologists John Christy and Richard McNider published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Atmospheric Science argues consensus models may not have accurately captured how storms in the tropics expel excess heat back into space and/or that they have failed to account for how heat is absorbed by the world's oceans. Christy and McNider took into account the effects of volcanic eruptions (cooling) and El Nino (heating) and La Nina (cooling) perturbations on global temperatures during the past 38 years. What they found was warming in the lower troposphere where the bulk of our planet's atmosphere is located at a rate of about 0.096 degrees Celsius per decade. This trend implies that global temperatures will be about 1.1 (± 0.26) degrees Celsius warmer at the time carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels and land use changes doubles in the atmosphere. This is about half of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) estimate of 2.31 (± 0.20) degrees Celsius warmer for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. "From our observations we calculated that value as 1.1 C (almost 2° Fahrenheit), while climate models estimate that value as 2.3 C (about 4.1° F)," Christy said in a press release. "Again, this indicates the real atmosphere is less sensitive to CO2 than what has been forecast by climate models. This suggests the climate models need to be retooled to better reflect conditions in the actual climate, while policies based on previous climate model output and predictions might need to be reconsidered." John Abraham, a professor of thermal and fluid sciences at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering in Minnesota, asserted in The Daily Mail that Christy and McNider have "manipulated the raw measurements to decrease warming by about 38 percent." If by manipulate, Abraham means that Christy and McNider have tried to take into account the effects of volcanic eruptions sending cooling sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere and the large swings in global average temperatures caused by the natural El Nino and La Nina phenomenon, then yes. They have done nothing underhanded or wrong. It is hard not conclude that Abraham is being disingenous when he accuses Christy and McNider of data manipulation. Abraham must know the surface temperature datasets relied upon by IPCC are also "manipulated," using homogenization procedures to take into account weather station moves, instrument changes, time of observation changes, and urban heat island biases. If the amount of warming expected from a doubling of carbon dioxide is much lower than most climate models project that implies that catastrophic climate outcomes are less likely and that humanity will have extra time to adjust to whatever warming eventually results from the increase in the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.[...]

Destroy Capitalism to Save the Climate, Argues New York Times Op-Ed

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 12:45:00 -0500

The New York Times is running an op-ed by Benjamin Y. Fong, essentially reprising progressive simpleton Naomi Klein's 2014 screed, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. In "The Climate Crisis? It's Capitalism, Stupid," the solution to anything Fong dislikes, just like Klein, is the abolition of private property and the imposition of socialism. Fong argues: The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It's capitalism that is at fault. In my review of Klein's book I explained: Canonical Marxism predicted that capitalism would collapse under the weight of its class "contradictions," in which the bourgeoisie profit from the proletariat's labor until we reach a social breaking point. In Klein's progressive update, capitalism will collapse because the pollution produced by its heedless overconsumption will build to an ecological breaking point. "Only mass social movements can save us now," she declares. Fong, faculty fellow at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University and the author of Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, similarly observes, "As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it's systemic change or bust. From a political standpoint, something interesting has occurred here: Climate change has made anticapitalist struggle, for the first time in history, a non-class-based issue." Klein dismisses the possibility that advances in modern science and technology incentivized through free markets can solve whatever problems that man-made climate change may pose as the 21st Century unfolds. Klein sneers that such thinking embodies the attitude that "We will triumph in the end because triumphing is what we do." Fong likewise asserts that as long as capitalism exists it is vain to expect intelligent people to come up with technical solutions to climate change. "The simple fact that the work of saving the planet is political, not technical," he argues. "For anyone who has really thought about the climate crisis, it is capitalism, and not its transcendence, that is in need of justification." As a guide to the glorious post-capitalist climate-stable future, Fong actually recommends, Communism for Kids by social theorist Bini Adamczak. "Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true?," reads the MIT Press promotional copy. "This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism." The book is accompanied "by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening." You really can't make this stuff up. It's hard to believe in the 21st century that folks like Fong seem totally unaware of the massive humanitarian, ecological, and economic disasters caused by communism. In contrast, the spread of free markets over the past two centuries causes people to live flourishing lives. In my 2012 article. "Free Markets = Sustainable Development," I point out: There is only one proven way to improve the lot of hundreds of millions of poor people, and that is democratic capitalism. It is in rich democratic capitalist countries that the air and water are becoming cleaner, forests are expanding, food is abundant, education is universal, and women's rights respected.... By vastly increasing knowledge and pursuing technological progress, past generations met their n[...]

Trump Did Not 'Suppress' the New National Climate Science Special Report

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 16:15:00 -0400

Despite the fears of some climate activists, the Trump administration did not suppress any of the conclusions in the National Climate Assessment program's new Climate Science Special Report. The new report essentially bolsters the climate change consensus that the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere derived chiefly from burning fossil fuels is warming the planet at a relatively rapid rate. The new report is being issued just as the latest United Nations climate change conference gets ready to start up next week. So what does the report find? (1) Global annually averaged surface air temperature has increased by about 1.8°F (1.0°C) over the last 115 years (1901–2016). (2) Based on extensive is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century [emphasis in report]. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence. (3) Global average sea level has risen by about 7–8 inches since 1900, with almost half (about 3 inches) of that rise occurring since 1993. Human-caused climate change has made a substantial contribution to this rise since 1900, contributing to a rate of rise that is greater than during any preceding century in at least 2,800 years. (4) Relative to the year 2000, global mean sea level is very likely to rise by 0.3–0.6 feet (9–18 cm) by 2030, 0.5–1.2 feet (15–38 cm) by 2050, and 1.0–4.3 feet (30–130 cm) by 2100. (4) Annual average temperature over the contiguous United States has increased by 1.8°F (1.0°C) for the period 1901–2016; over the next few decades (2021–2050), annual average temperatures are expected to rise by about 2.5°F for the United States, relative to the recent past (average from 1976–2005).... (5) The frequency of cold waves has decreased since the early 1900s, and the frequency of heat waves has increased since the mid-1960s (the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s remains the peak period for extreme heat in the United States). Over at The Wall Street Journal, physicist Steven Koonin, who served as undersecretary of energy for science in the Obama years, describes the new report as "deceptive." He acknowledges that "much is right in the report" but thinks its tone is misleading in some important areas. Specifically, he notes that the recent rate of sea level rise is just as fast as during various periods in the 20th century, and that heat waves are no more frequent than they were in 1900. Koonin suggests: These deficiencies in the new climate report are typical of many others that set the report's tone. Consider the different perception that results from "sea level is rising no more rapidly than it did in 1940" instead of "sea level rise has accelerated in recent decades," or from "heat waves are no more common now than they were in 1900" versus "heat waves have become more frequent since 1960." Both statements in each pair are true, but each alone fails to tell the full story. Koonin wants to remedy what he thinks are deficiencies in the way climate science is assessed by "convening a 'Red/Blue' adversarial review to stress-test the entire report." Given the thorough politicization of climate science, I doubt that the results of such a review would satisfy either alarmists or deniers.* Watch this space next week for a more detailed analysis of the report. *The epithets that global warming partisans use to denounce their opponents.[...]

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 appear[...]

California Wants to Ban All Gas-Powered Cars

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

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 [...]

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 o[...]