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



Published: Fri, 18 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 18 Aug 2017 20:21:56 -0400

 



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

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

A draft version of the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report has been leaked to The New York Times. Notwithstanding the Times' alarmist headline suggesting "drastic" climate impacts on the U.S., a glance through the 545-page report finds that it is essentially an aggregation of climate change studies that support the scientific consensus that man-made global warming is occurring. According to the report, the global annual average temperature has increased by more than 1.6°F (0.9°C) from 1880 to 2015; the average annual temperature of the contiguous U.S. has increased by about 1.2°F (0.7°C) between 1901 and 2015. Climate models project increases of at least 2.5°F (1.4°C) over the next few decades, which means that recent record-setting years in the U.S. will be relatively "common" in the near future. The report concurs with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's conclusion that it is "extremely likely that most of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 was caused by human influence on the climate." The report also finds that extremely cold days in the U.S. have become fewer while the number of extremely hot days has increased. In addition, extreme percipitation events have become more common in the U.S. The report notes that there is still considerable controversy among researchers when it comes to future trends in hurricane frequency and intensity. Politicians, like most people, don't want to hear bad news that appears to contradict their views. The saga of how the the first National Climate Assessment fared under the George W. Bush administration is cautionary tale. Basically, Bush administration officials edited the report in ways that suggested greater uncertainty about scientific findings than the researchers who put together the report thought were warranted. That effort backfired when the administration's artful editing was leaked to and reported by the media. The new report states that "it does not include an assessment of the literature on climate change mitigation, adaptation, economic valuation, or societal responses, nor does it include policy recommendations." This appears to be accurate, though the report does note that "significant reductions in global CO2 emissions relative to present-day emission rates" would be needed to meet the Paris Agreement on Climate Change's goal of limiting future warming to below 2°C. Scientific data can identify a problem, but they do not tell policy makers the right way to handle a problem. Maybe the best thing to do is to let emissions increase while growing the economy as fast possible, so as to create the wealth and technologies that will enable future generations to deal with whatever problems climate change may generate. Or perhaps more research needs to be directed toward developing cheap low-carbon energy technologies. The report was no doubt leaked by someone with an agenda, and I don't blame anyone in the Trump administration who thinks a shadow science group of Obama leftovers is trying to thwart what it perceives as the president's climate and energy policies. In any case, since that the draft report is available to anyone with an internet connection, it would be ridiculous for officials to try to "suppress" it now. Update: Climate report found over at Internet Archive. Fox News cites several researchers who assert that that means it's been public for months. When the National Academy of Sciences released its report evaluating the process for how the draft Special Report was put together, I did a fairly extensive online search for the draft report and could not find it. Even now over at the official federal U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) website the link to any copy of the report appears to be absent - maybe because the comment period is over? Even so, why not leave the report available on the website for interested members of the public to read? The final report is supposed to be released by August 18. Assuming that the deadline is met, it will be interesting to see what changes have been made in t[...]



Why the Left Can't Solve Global Warming

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

I note:

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

Go here to read the whole thing.




Apocalypse Abuse and 'Climate Doomism'

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

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



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[...]



'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 u[...]



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 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

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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 [...]



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 o[...]



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[...]



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 th[...]



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.