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Topic: Environmental issues (Read 28794 times)
Madness of the Crowd, I
Reply #100 on:
December 11, 2009, 09:09:53 AM »
10 December 2009
The Copenhagen summit is in full force, and so too is the idea that man-made global warming is incontrovertible. But Martin Cohen argues that the consensus is less a triumph of science and rationality than of PR and fear-mongering
Is belief in global-warming science another example of the "madness of crowds"? That strange but powerful social phenomenon, first described by Charles Mackay in 1841, turns a widely shared prejudice into an irresistible "authority". Could it indeed represent the final triumph of irrationality? After all, how rational is it to pass laws banning one kind of light bulb (and insisting on their replacement by ones filled with poisonous mercury vapour) in order to "save electricity", while ploughing money into schemes to run cars on ... electricity? How rational is it to pay the Russians once for fossil fuels, and a second time for permission (via carbon credits) to burn them (see box page 36)? And how rational is it to suppose that the effects of increased CO2 in the atmosphere take between 200 and 1,000 years to be felt, but that solutions can take effect almost instantaneously?
Whether rational or not, global warming theory has become a political orthodoxy. So entrenched is it that those showing any resistance to it are described as "heretics" or even likened to "Holocaust deniers".
Paul Krugman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University and columnist for The New York Times, has said: "Is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn't it politics as usual? Yes, it is - and that's why it's unforgivable ... the deniers are choosing, wilfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it's in their political interest to pretend that there's nothing to worry about. If that's not betrayal, I don't know what is."
Another columnist, this time for The Boston Globe, has written: "I would like to say we're at a point where global warming is impossible to deny. Global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, although one denies the past and the other denies the present and future."
Such pronouncements from these commentators and from other people highly placed in government, international organisations, the press, academia and science make the debate seem closed and the conclusion beyond dispute. Yet the plain fact is that there is something deeply unscientific about the theory of global warming. Despite this, it has gained such widespread, uncritical acceptance that any scientist expressing a doubt often finds his or her actions tarred with accusations of the rankest political and personal motivations.
How this situation came about says much about how science is co-opted to sway public opinion. The case is built, deliberately or not, on misleading images and interpretations that have been perpetuated by parties with a vested interest. It morphs into a tool for governments to intimidate their populations into passive acceptance of very real changes: from the tiny, such as accepting miserable fluorescent light instead of the incandescent light we've been used to; to the major, like welcoming nuclear power plants and obliging rainforest tribes to make way for biofuel plantations.
Indeed, much of what is presented as hard scientific evidence for the theory of global warming is false. "Second-rate myth" may be a better term, as the philosopher Paul Feyerabend called science in his 1975 polemic, Against Method.
"This myth is a complex explanatory system that contains numerous auxiliary hypotheses designed to cover special cases, as it easily achieves a high degree of confirmation on the basis of observation," Feyerabend writes. "It has been taught for a long time; its content is enforced by fear, prejudice and ignorance, as well as by a jealous and cruel priesthood. Its ideas penetrate the most common idiom, infect all modes of thinking and many decisions which mean a great deal in human life ... ".
But call it what you will, as long as you don't think that by calling it "science" it becomes irrefutable. Because that it ain't.
Consider the presentation in one of the most popular works arguing the case for global warming and the need for action. In Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, the scientists are reduced to a walk-on part: they are, in essence, an audience invited to applaud the decisions of politicians. The former Vice-President unveils as the "scientific" highlight of his presentation a graph offering a clear correlation between CO2 and temperature, as discovered in core samples of polar ice. He goes on to state that as levels of carbon dioxide rise, the Earth's temperature increases because the atmosphere traps more heat from the Sun.
Driving his point home, Gore extends the lines on the graph to terrifying, if distorted, levels (see box, opposite).
To show that these effects are already being felt, the film presents striking images of "global warming", from forlorn boats in dried-up seas to that haunting image at the end of the film of polar bears clinging desperately to a shrinking block of ice (see box, above).
The film - like the theory it is advancing - is not defensible in terms either of factual accuracy or of argumentative logic.
Fine, you may say, but even if the case for global warming really boils down to a few media tricks, how come everyone believes in it? Yet, as Solomon Asch, a social psychologist, discovered in the 1950s via a series of experiments, people are quite prepared to change their minds on even quite straightforward factual matters in order to "go along with the crowd".
You can't blame folk for doing that. Especially when to do otherwise would mean taking a close look at the scientific issues in climate-change theory. Much of the argument for global warming is based on modelling. The mathematics is sophisticated and certainly intimidating to everyone but experts.
As some of the top climate-change modellers have remarked: "Modellers have an inbuilt bias towards forced climate change because the causes and effect are clear." (That comes from the paper "General circulation modelling of Holocene climate variability", by Gavin Schmidt, Drew Shindell, Ron Miller, Michael Mann and David Rind, published in Quaternary Science Review in 2004.)
And there is an impressive degree of consensus in their predictions. Take the modelling of one of the key components of "greenhouse theory", the degree to which warming of the oceans leads to more water vapour in the atmosphere "trapping" the Sun's heat. Advocates of the theory rely on this to show how a little bit of warming owing to CO2 can create very significant changes in the way the climate system operates.
A paper by Richard Lindzen and Yong-Sang Choi, called "On the determination of climate feedbacks from ERBE data", published in July 2009 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, examined the modellers' case for CO2-induced global warming. It offered 12 graphs, 11 of them based on the most sophisticated climate models, all but one of which showed that as the temperature of the surface of the seas increases slightly, the amount of heat then trapped in the atmosphere by water vapour increases - a key element in accelerating the "greenhouse effect". We should be worried.
Yet there was that odd graph out, the 12th one. As Lubo? Motl, a sceptical physicist, joked, could it be that this was a tainted model - with its assumptions "tweaked" to fit prejudices by climate-change "deniers" funded by the oil industry? But no - the graph that contradicted all the others was the one based not on a model but on satellite measurements. It showed the Earth's oceans dampening the heating effect.
So what sort of factors mess up the models? Things like changes in ocean currents, changes in the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, changes in cloud cover - just about everything that determines climate, really. Alas, there is as yet no way to calculate these. And so, the simple fact is, in our climate modellers' own words: "At present, no climate models have included the full range of effects."
Policymakers seem not to be aware of what the modellers know: that the results of their climate simulations are "likely to remain speculative for some time to come" and that people should be "extremely wary of extrapolating results to longer periods".
This demonstrates that the present climate-change models aren't just useless - by offering spurious precision, they are worse than useless.
How, then, does a theory that is incomplete and missing essential data become orthodoxy?
The reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - whose landmark 2001 report paved the way to ratification of the Kyoto Protocol - are not based on any new or original research, but merely reflect the efforts of participants, including government representatives, to overcome uncertainties in knowledge. Policymakers then use the IPCC reports, nuanced findings or not, to demand that the public change their ways. And most of the public are inclined to fall in line.
Social scientists call it "cascade theory": the idea is that information cascades down the side of an "informational pyramid", like a waterfall. It is easier for people, if they do not have either the ability or the interest to find out for themselves, to adopt the views of others. This is, without doubt, a useful social instinct. As it has been put, cascade theory reconciles "herd behaviour" with rational choice, because it is often rational for individuals to rely on information passed on to them by others.
Unfortunately, it is less rational to follow wrong information, and that is what can often happen. We find people cascading uselessly - like so many wildebeest fleeing a non-existent lion - in so many everyday ways. A lot of economic activity and business behaviour, including management fads, the adoption of new technologies and innovations, not to mention the vexed issues of health and safety regulation, reflect exactly this tendency of the herd to follow poor information.
Some people say that what is needed in response is to encourage a range of views to be heard, even when they are annoying to the "majority" - for instance, one should allow people to contest global warming. Or let teachers in schools and universities decide what they are going to teach. But more people say, on the contrary, that what is needed is stricter control of information to stop "wrong views" being spread. It is that view that is cascading down the pyramid now.
One of the best examples of cascade theory is that of the entirely false consensus that built up in the 1970s around the danger of "fatty foods". In fact, this consensus still exists, even though it has never had any scientific basis.
The theory can be traced back to a single researcher, Ancel Keys, who published a paper saying that Americans were suffering from "an epidemic" of heart disease because their diet was more fatty than their bodies were used to after thousands of years of evolution.
In 1953, Keys added additional evidence from a comparative study of the US, Japan and four other countries. Country by country, this showed that a high-fat diet coincided with high rates of heart disease.
Unfortunately for this theory, it turned out that prehistoric "traditional diets" were not especially low-fat after all - indeed, even the hunter-gatherers of yore, if they relied on eating their prey, would have had more fat in their diet than most people do today. As Science magazine pointed out, in the most relevant period of 100 years before the supposed "epidemic" of heart disease, Americans were actually consuming large amounts of fatty meat, so the epidemic followed a reduction in the amount of dietary fat Americans consumed - not an increase.
Keys' country-by-country comparison had also been skewed, with countries that did not fit the theory (such as France and Italy with their oily, fatty cuisines) being excluded. The American Heart Association (AHA), considered to be the voice of experts, issued a report in 1957 stating plainly that the fats-cause-heart-disease claims did not "stand up to critical examination". The case for there being any such epidemic was dubious, too - the obvious cause of higher rates of heart disease was that people were living longer, long enough to develop heart disease. But it was too late: the cascade had started.
Three years later, the AHA issued a new statement, reversing its view. It had no new evidence but it did have some new members writing the report, in the form of Keys himself and one of his friends. The new report made the cover of Time magazine and was picked up by non-specialists at the US Department of Agriculture, who then asked a supporter of the theory to draw up "health guidelines" for them. Soon, scarcely a doctor could be found prepared to speak out against such an overwhelming "consensus", even if a few specialised researchers still protested. And all this was good enough for the highest medical officer in the US, the Surgeon General, in 1988 to issue a doom-laden warning about fat in foods, and claiming that ice-cream was a health menace on a par with tobacco smoking.
It was a pretty silly theory, and certainly not one based on good evidence. In fact, in recent years, in large-scale studies in which comparable groups have been put on controlled diets (low fat and high fat) a correlation has at last been found. It turns out that the low-fat diet seems to be unhealthy. But no one is quite sure why.
The fact is, science has always been about PR, and as this example shows, it is easy for opinion leaders and experts to be misled. These days, it is not merely fellow researchers but professional marketeers vying to press their agenda and that of their clients (see box, page 34).
At the Kyoto summit in 1997, Fenton Communications, a New York PR firm, was working with "green NGOs and leaders", including Gore and the IPCC, to advise on how to "mainstream the climate threat" and to "harness the public 'tipping point'" on the issue and inspire action, as its website today boasts. And indeed, the public have been well and truly tipped.
Madness of the Crowd, II
Reply #101 on:
December 11, 2009, 09:10:16 AM »
The IPCC reports, which are dull but widely used by governments as the basis for their policy discussions, have become steadily more dramatic. (Not for nothing does the head of the IPCC, R.K. Pachauri, have his own dedicated marketing adviser.) Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis says that "numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed (including) changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones".
Yet none of this is science. It certainly offends against the principle that Karl Popper calls "falsification" - in the case of climate change, there is no possibility of falsification. If you listen to proponents of climate-change theory, there is apparently nothing that counts as evidence against it. Increased rainfall in the northern hemisphere is evidence of climate change, but so is decreased rainfall in the southern hemisphere. Melting of ice in the Arctic is evidence of global warming, but cooling of the Antarctic is not evidence against, but attributed to "other effects".
The fact is, the IPCC report's statement quoted above is speculation and fear-mongering. So how did such language get in the report? Alas, it seems that the social and scientific reality is as Feyerabend describes, and that the language of fear has now "penetrated the most common idiom and infected all modes of thinking".
I have seen the effects of this up close, witnessing how truth can go out of the window in the rush to save the planet. I was co-ordinator of a small Yorkshire Friends of the Earth group, charged with protecting, among other things, the local river, the Wharfe, from a water company. In 1995, Yorkshire experienced just slightly less rain than normal, and the local water company found itself faced with the prospect of empty reservoirs. As standpipes went up in the cities of Leeds and Bradford, and trucks brought water in from afar, it desperately turned to the local rivers to try to make up the shortfall. The national press featured large photos of dried-up reservoir beds, waxed lyrical about how British society would soon break down in water wars, and urged its readers to sympathise with Yorkshire Water.
But our local group was not sympathetic because we felt that the company had failed to invest in its reservoirs and infrastructure. We proposed to put an advert in the Yorkshire Post highlighting this. And at this point, an official of Friends of the Earth formally instructed us that this independent line could not be permitted because it was national policy to attribute the shortages of water in the county that summer to runaway climate change. The "small is beautiful", "start locally" element of environmental tradition had disappeared. We were instructed that if we continued to argue that Yorkshire's water shortages were the result of anything other than global warming, we had to do so outside Friends of the Earth.
This highlighted the dangerous tendency of pressure groups to make specific statements for some supposed worthy campaign end. Ten years on, with Yorkshire racked by the usual floods, the director of Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper, was pleased to warn against companies using climate change as an excuse. In The Observer on 3 July 2005, he said: "This situation emerges with depressing regularity, where you find insufficient capacity to meet people's needs because there's been a minor fluctuation in rain."
But that wasn't the line in the summer of 1995. Fortunately, our local group ignored the order to abandon our river to a water company and voted to continue to highlight what we saw as the "real causes" of the water supply problems, as an independent group.
Alas, in the climate-change debate, there is a worrying amount of irrationality, incomplete science and skewed presentation. The scientists apparently "cherry-picking" and hiding their data revealed recently in the University of East Anglia email scandal are only following in a long tradition that includes even Galileo "cheating" by saying that the Earth must orbit round the Sun - in a perfect circle. Yet, surely most objectionable of all is the use of gullibility and fear as tactics in campaigns. And if fear requires a world of zero risk, that certainly won't include those mercury-filled light bulbs and nuclear power stations.
Today, global-warming "deniers" have all been told they must fall into line with "the science". But this is not science, this is propaganda. And we are not being asked to be more rational but to suspend our own judgment completely. That, not "runaway climate change", is the most dangerous threat to the world today.
There are many ways to fool people, and linking images with complex theories is a good one.
One of the most potent images used to show the impact of rising global temperatures was that of fishing boats stranded in a desert that was once the world's largest freshwater sea. It features in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and in his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit.
But the Aral Sea is actually not a sea, but rather a huge lake supplied by rivers, which have been gradually choked off since the end of the Second World War by Soviet-era irrigation schemes. Its plight has nothing to do with global warming.
Nor do polar bears.
When Gore used a picture of two polar bears supposedly stranded on a melting iceberg to support his claims about global warming, he chose a photo that had been taken by Amanda Byrd, a marine biology student, on a research cruise in August 2004, a time of year when the fringe of the Arctic ice cap normally melts. The image was later distributed by Environment Canada, a Canadian government department, to media agencies.
With that polar bear picture on the screen behind him, Gore says, "Their habitat is melting ... beautiful animals, literally being forced off the planet. They're in trouble, got nowhere else to go."
However, Byrd says that when she took the picture, the bears didn't appear to be in any danger. An Environment Canada spokesman, Denis Simard, told The National Post, a Canadian newspaper, that you "have to keep in mind that the bears aren't in danger at all. It was, if you will, their playground for 15 minutes ... they were not that far from the coast, and it was possible for them to swim."
The polar bear is still the symbol of the effects of global warming - but it is a cleverly designed marketing symbol, and not a rational, scientific marker.
Although global warming theorists say they are concerned for the fate of the planet, it does not necessarily mean that their methods are beyond critique. Indeed, much of the "evidence" that makes up the "scientific case" is flawed.
In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore unveils as the "scientific" highlight a graph offering a clear correlation between temperature and CO2, as discovered in core samples of polar ice, with these words: "The relationship is actually very complicated, but there is one relationship that is far more powerful than all the others - and it is this. When there is more carbon dioxide, the temperature gets warmer, because it traps more heat from the Sun inside."
He then asks "Do they go together?" and extends the lines on the graph to terrifying levels.
Well, hang on a minute. First of all, historically, CO2 levels and temperatures have not marched in "lock step". Over geological time, the only thing the two variables share is a random walk. The Late Ordovician period saw CO2 concentrations nearly 12 times higher than those of today - and it was also an Ice Age. In fact, over the past 600 million years, only on two occasions have CO2 levels been as low as they are now, at below 400 parts per million.
Even restricting our survey to the past 100,000 years, the relationship is not as Gore and others think. Far from increases in CO2 leading to higher temperatures, the ice-core record shows rises in temperatures preceding (by between 200 and 1,000 years) increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Which is what you would expect. Slightly higher temperatures mean more plant and animal life, and that means more CO2.
Nor do claims of record high temperatures have anything to do with the theory of anthropogenic global warming. The theory concerns the amount of heat radiated back into space at night, not how much heat "gets in" during the day. It is interested only in the supposed warming of the surface of the seas at night under a cocoon of atmospheric CO2 - the greenhouse. And is that happening? Er, no, as recent satellite surveys have found.
But let's return to that graph. It's not that complicated. We can start by looking at the recent history of the climate and the so-called hockey stick curve. The chart, which correlates temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, is called the hockey stick because it depicts the northern hemisphere's temperatures over the past 1,000 years as a fairly regular flat line until the late 20th century, when it curves sharply upwards as runaway warming appears.
The graph contradicted all the previous research into climate, which had indicated that there was a warm period about 1,000 years ago followed by the "Little Ice Age" in the 14th century.
By the time climatologists had pointed out that the graph had missed both the well-known warm periods and ice ages alike, and by the time mathematicians had had a chance to challenge the methodology and sample size, it was too late.
The exact relationship between CO2 and temperature remains elusive.
BIG GREEN MACHINE
Those making the case for global warming present the theory as the unvarnished work of hard-working and sober scientists who have been guided by evidence.
That view would be underlined by anyone reading the glowing endorsement of the "science" behind An Inconvenient Truth published by the website RealClimate.org, which is edited by Gavin Schmidt, a mathematician at Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
There, Eric Steig of the University of Washington's Earth and Space Sciences Centre answers the question "How well does the (Gore) film handle the science?" by saying unambiguously: "Admirably, I thought. It is remarkably up to date, with reference to some of the very latest research."
RealClimate's site is hosted by Environmental Media Services (EMS), which sounds very suitable until one discovers that EMS was a creation of Fenton Communications, a New York public relations firm.
The scientists writing on the site are not being paid for their campaigning. But clearly the debate is attracting groups outside science and policy that have interests of their own.
Global warming's believers are quick to note the presence of the fossil-fuel industry behind a variety of lobby groups and reports.
But the green side has its allies, too. Take Fenton, which prefers to be known as "a public interest communications firm". It describes itself as using "sophisticated communications tools that Madison Avenue executives and corporations use and harness[ing] them for progressive change".
And so, of course, it was at the Kyoto summit in 1997 working with people and groups including Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to "highlight" the climate threat.
It has a presence in Gore's circle through Amy "Kalee" Kreider, Gore's communications director and environmental adviser, who can be spotted standing alongside him whenever he testifies on environmental matters to Senate committees, and who was a staffer at Fenton when the firm was advising Gore. Before that, she was a campaigner for Ozone Action in charge of handing out "ozone-friendly" strawberries to the press.
Fenton may hold no sway over Gore, but its involvement shows how sophisticated the forces involved in the debate are.
Fenton's campaigns are never random issues. It specialises in scary stories of the potential human health dangers of many substances such as Alar (a chemical used to control the growth of apples and improve their appearance), plasticisers (chemicals, especially phthalates, used in plastics) and bovine growth hormones.
In 1989, the firm played a pivotal role in the anti-Alar campaign, which resulted in sales of apples and apple products plummeting in the US.
Years after what would come to be known as "the great Alar scare", Fenton's biggest project is climate change. Among its clients are all the most respected names in the environmental business, from Greenpeace USA and Friends of the Earth US to the National Geographic Society and the UN Environment Programme.
Climate change is a big business, and it's not surprising that they want to have the world's biggest "public interest" PR firm running the campaign.
WITH ALL THE GAS AROUND, THERE'S SOME BLOAT
"We are witnessing the birth of the greatest and most complex commodity market the world has seen," wrote The Times' environment editor, Jonathan Leake, in a November 2008 article.
Carbon-trading schemes originate from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Governments adhering to the protocol impose limits on the CO2 that companies can emit; the firms are then obliged to buy annual permits to exceed them. Permits are bought from governments or from carbon traders in the City who charge a commission. In terms of dollars, the World Bank has estimated that the size of the carbon market was $11 billion (£6.6 billion) in 2005, $30 billion in 2006 and $64 billion in 2007. The money collected by the UK Treasury, for example, came mainly from UK power companies, with the cost added directly to heating bills.
Meanwhile Russia - because when the Kremlin signed up to the Kyoto treaty it was given an annual emissions limit based on the dirty old Soviet industries - has accumulated emissions permits for about 4 billion tonnes of CO2. Call it a £50 billion early Christmas present from Western consumers.
Many companies, too, have found the initiative profitable. SRF Ltd, which produces refrigeration gases at a chemical plant in India, made £300 million from selling certificates to transnationals including Shell and Barclays. It spent just £1.4 million on equipment to reduce its emissions, and used the profit to expand production of another greenhouse gas 1,000-fold.
Martin Cohen is editor of The Philosopher, and himself an environmental activist involved in many campaigns. His latest book is Mind Games (in press), which discusses the psychology of societies, and he is actively researching a critique of climate change for Pluto Press provisionally titled Climate, Chaos and Irrationality: How the Green Agenda Was Hijacked by Global Warming Theorists.
Eco-Nazis Go Over the Top
Reply #102 on:
October 01, 2010, 11:27:57 PM »
Wow, I thought this was a parody, but it appears this video was seriously meant to persuade:
Re: Environmental issues
Reply #103 on:
October 02, 2010, 11:40:13 AM »
BBG, That video was unbelievable without even considering that it was produced by advocates of the policy or that taxpayer funds (UK) played a major role along with major corporations. Nice rip in the 'Telegraph' story: Be not surprised that The Guardian is their ‘media partner’.
The non apology in the story: "Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn’t and we sincerely apologise to anybody we have offended." (Any strange individual who may be offended by young schoolchildren blown up into strewn blood, guts and body parts for not following the totalitarian state thought police guidelines gets their sincerest apology.)
Re: Environmental issues
Reply #104 on:
March 07, 2011, 03:04:51 PM »
Just in case anyone still believes in Al Gores' science.
Re: Environmental issues
Reply #105 on:
September 02, 2011, 10:18:54 PM »
Sounds like a cat fight...
Posted on July 26, 2011 by onthelevelblog
By Joshua Hart MSc
We send out a lot of press releases here at Stop Smart Meters! Some of them get picked up by the mainstream media. Most undoubtedly get relegated to the trash bins of reporters. But it is rare to get a request from them to actually remove their e-mail address from our list. They are the media, after all; part of their job is to receive press releases from a variety of sources and then–using a complex formula of political and economic interests, combined with the need to appear ‘objective’—decide which they will report on.
That is why we were so surprised to receive such a request last September from none other than Paul Rauber, the Editor of Sierra Magazine, the official magazine of the Sierra Club:
On Tue, Sep 7, 2010 at 8:16 PM, Paul Rauber
Please take me off your list. PR
We replied to Paul, a bit taken aback that the Sierra Club was not even interested in hearing about mounting evidence that ‘smart’ meters are harming human as well as animal and plant health:
From: Stop Smart Meters! <
Date: 09/07/2010 08:21PM
More than happy to oblige, but isn’t this something that the Sierra Club should be concerned with? People are getting sick from these new meters and being forced from their homes. There’s also evidence that EMF’s harm wildlife and trees.
Josh: What hurts wildlife, trees, and humans more: climate change or barely measurable EMFs? These are serious times, and nothing I have read about supposed health claims regarding these meters convinces me that this is a serious issue. Best, PR
We responded with numerous peer-reviewed studies documenting harm by wireless technology to humans, animals, insects, amphibians, and plants as well as many first person accounts of harm. No reply.
This response really should surprise no one. The “big three” corporate environmental organizations in the US- the Sierra Club, NRDC, and EDF- have all been cheerleaders for the ‘smart’ grid for years. It’s not surprising that the national Sierra Club would rather not hear about how the lovechild of their technological obsession and corporate ‘partnerships’- the ‘smart’ meter- is unleashing significant damage to the natural environment. If you listen to some ‘smart’ grid proponents and their ‘environmentalist’ supporters, it’s a little like they are worshipping an idol the way they refer to “Smart Grid” without an article. As in, ‘Smart Grid’ will save the planet. “Smart Grid” will solve homelessness. “Smart Grid” will save the polar bear. Bow down before “Smart Grid.”
Yes these are serious times, Mr. Rauber. The seriousness of our predicament makes it all the more important that we find real climate solutions rather than getting distracted by false climate solutions- especially ones that carry their own steep ecological pricetag. Perhaps it helps your organization to have an idol to give people hope, keep calm, and carry on- even if that idol is made of straw, empty promises, carbon pollution and lots of corporate cash.
These are the same groups that are still suffering fallout from the publication of “The Wrong Kind of Green” in The Nation last year, an article that revealed how mainstream ‘environmental’ organizations are increasingly behaving like ‘satellite PR offices for the corporations who support them.’
Let’s take a look at how that article reports that the Sierra Club uses its political muscle to “solve” climate change:
“In 2009 the EPA moved to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, which requires the agency to ensure that the levels of pollutants in the air are “compatible with human safety”–a change the Sierra Club supported. But the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the EPA to take this commitment seriously and do what the climate science says really is “compatible with human safety”: restore us to 350 parts per million (CO2 concentration in the atmosphere). (Kieran) Suckling (of CBD) explains, “I was amazed to discover the Sierra Club opposed us bitterly. They said it should not be done. In fact, they said that if we filed a lawsuit to make EPA do it, they would probably intervene on EPA’s side. They threw climate science out the window.”
In other words, there was something that made the Sierra Club and the other environmental organizations oppose what the science is telling us we need to do, and instead push for what is ‘politically feasible’ at the moment. Since reaching the 350ppm goal would necessitate cultural and lifestyle changes that would be considered unimaginable in the current political context, the Sierra Club made the decision to push for ‘realistic’ cuts that- according to the science- will likely doom us to runaway climate change and environmental catastrophe. But at least the organization wouldn’t be marginalized.
“By pretending the broken system can work–and will work, in just a moment, after just one more Democratic win, or another, or another–the big green groups are preventing the appropriate response from concerned citizens, which is fury at the system itself. They are offering placebos to calm us down when they should be conducting and amplifying our anger at this betrayal of our safety by our politicians. The US climate bills are long-term plans: they lock us into a woefully inadequate schedule of carbon cuts all the way to 2050. So when green groups cheer them on, they are giving their approval to a path to destruction–and calling it progress.
‘At Copenhagen, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” says Kevin Koenig of Amazon Watch, an organization that sides with indigenous peoples in the Amazon basin to preserve their land. “These groups are positioning themselves to be the middlemen in a carbon market. They are helping to set up, in effect, a global system of carbon laundering…that will give the impression of action, but no substance. You have to ask–are these conservation groups at all? They look much more like industry front groups to me.’”
We are seeing the same pattern in the way that the “big three” are behaving with respect to the ‘smart’ grid debacle. EDF has lately been acting as a propaganda machine dismissing widening reports of health damage without investigation, and making unsupported claims about the green credentials of their beloved idol. The organization (together with NRDC) is also taking thousands of dollars of public money from the California Public Utilities Commission- as well as the utilities themselves- for smart grid “consultation.”
SF Sierra Club Group Defects; Calls for Smart Meter Criminalization
Thankfully, it appears that local chapters of even corporate environmental organizations like the Sierra Club have the ability to think for themselves. In March 2011, the Executive Committee of the Sierra Club San Francisco group voted unanimously to send a letter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors requesting an ordinance prohibiting any further “smart” meter installations.
Their letter states:
“The concerns of the San Francisco group are:
• The increase in electromagnetic frequency radiation (EMF), in the absence of FCC standards for long-term exposure or exposure from multiple sources, that these wireless meters will add to the environment;
•The possibility that wireless meters will not save energy and may, in fact, require more energy for production, operation, and disposal; (and)
•The unknown impact that an increase in EMF could have on migrating birds and other wildlife……”
This is a courageous act. The group should be recognized for their independent thinking, leadership, and rejection of false, groupthink-led climate ‘solutions.’ Sierra Club members and the general public should now exert pressure on the national organization to reconsider its blind support of the “smart” grid, given mounting evidence of harm to ecosystems. Refusing to change their stance will further erode an already damaged reputation as having been co-opted by the corporate interests they are meant to defend against.
Real vs. False Climate Solutions
We’ve been down this road before. It’s easy to fall for the false techno-solutions we are offered. Compact fluorescent bulbs- promoted widely by these same environmental groups, are now being condemned for their mercury contamination and high EMF pollution. Catalytic converters in California’s cars have reduced smog- but at the cost of reducing fuel efficiency and increasing carbon emissions. Biofuels, promoted by industry as a way to cut fossil fuel consumption, have ended up causing skyrocketing food prices and riots in many countries, as calories bypass hungry mouths on their way to our gas tanks. Electric cars- often cited as justification for the “smart” grid, will simply relocate the pollution from the tailpipe to the smokestack.
There is no doubt that our society is facing serious times and that we cannot continue polluting like we have been- it is absolutely critical that we dramatically cut our carbon emissions, avoid widespread nuclear contamination and start closing down coal and nuclear power plants. This will necessarily involve major changes to our consumption and travel habits, an end to wasteful lifestyles, and an equitable agreement with the global south, who have barely contributed to climate change- yet are faced with most of the hardships. The industrialized economies of the north must make deep cuts to emissions – and soon- if we are to avoid unacceptable risks to the stability of life-support systems of the planet.
The problem is that governments and industry- using corporate environmental organizations as cover- are using the climate emergency to push forward an agenda that will likely fail to cut carbon emissions or benefit the environment, but will erode our privacy and civil rights, hurt our health, and strengthen corporate profits and power over governments. Just saying that something is green does not make it so- but people are so worried about the environmental crisis that they are willing to accept just about anything if there is even a vague promise that it will solve the problem. These so-called ‘false climate solutions’ are- in our opinion- a worse threat than maintaining the status quo- because they drain energy, money and political will from the real solutions that we’ll eventually be forced to adopt out of necessity by external events – specifically a re-localization of our economies and lives in response to a decline in global oil supplies and an unstable concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
“Smart Grid” — Is it Safe? Is it Green?
There are two questions raised by Mr. Rauber’s e-mail response. First, to what extent does non-ionizing microwave radiation (used for cell phones, wifi, and now ‘smart’ meters) negatively impact the health of living plants and animals? Second, will the “smart grid” as it’s currently being implemented move us in any significant way toward the low carbon future critical for sustaining life on Earth as we know it? And if it can, is it necessary that we utilize wireless technology and violate individual privacy to harness these alleged benefits? It appears that mainstream environmental groups are vastly underestimating the potential damage from wireless technology and overestimating the potential energy savings from techno-fixes like the ‘smart’ grid.
Let’s take a closer look at these questions.
Are ‘Smart’ Meters Really Safe?
One of forty public comments- all opposing “smart” meters at Santa Barbara County’s recent “smart” meter town hall forum. Is this what “environmental” organizations had in mind when they backed the smart grid, with its huge increase in microwave radiation exposure in our communities? We certainly hope not.
The truth- if the Sierra Club leadership would care to look past utility misrepresentations- is that ‘smart’ meters emit a whole lot more than ‘barely measurable EMF’s.’ According to an analysis by UC Nuclear Policy Lecturer Daniel Hirsch, the meters emit approximately 100-150 times the cumulative, full body microwave radiation exposure of a cell phone. And there is increasing evidence that cell phones are causing brain tumors. On May 31st the World Health Organization placed wireless non-ionizing radiation into carcinogen category 2B- shattering any notion of the safety of wireless tech (WHO press release pdf).
A study carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that cell phones increased glucose metabolism in the brain, adding more evidence that microwaves can disrupt biological systems even at sub-thermal levels. There is also evidence that the series of microwave spikes emitted by “smart” meters are more harmful than continuous exposure.
There are growing rumblings that the sudden proliferation of radiation in our environment is opening up a Pandora’s box of unknown- and in some cases terrifying- health effects, such as television personalities like Judge Judy suddenly suffering severe speech impediments around areas of strong wireless signals.
It appears that thousands of people are being sickened by strong pulses of microwave radiation from ‘smart’ meters, as well as radiation from cell towers, wifi base stations, and other sources. There are hundreds of firsthand reports of increasing electro-sensitivity from ‘smart’ meters– potentially from both the microwave radiation and from the powerful high-frequency currents that the meters’ switching mode power supply add onto the wiring of our homes.
But what about animals and plants who can’t voice their agony or tell us they are being injured? From severe systemic stress response from tomato plants exposed to sub-thermal levels of microwaves, to evidence that tadpoles suffer high mortality when exposed to cell phone tower radiation, the evidence of harm is as extensive as it is disturbing. Many species (including humans) have a substance called magnetite in their brain to navigate using the Earth’s natural magnetic field. There is growing evidence that artificial EMFs can interfere with this ability and disorient species like birds, bats and bees. Combined with climate disruptions and chemical pollution, the cumulative impact is likely to devastate many species. A study by researcher Alfonso Balmori of Spain found that:
“microwave and radiofrequency pollution constitutes a potential cause for the decline of animal populations and deterioration of health of plants living near phone masts.”
You would think that this would be of some concern to those organizations who purport to defend nature. But apparently access to iPhone wildlife apps is more of a priority than preserving the real thing.
Why are mainstream environmental organizations turning a blind eye to the impacts of wireless? A lot of it is that- like much of the population- they are simply not informed about the science. You can blame the mainstream media for that. They are also probably afraid of being labelled as ‘tin foil hat eccentrics.’ In addition, many of their corporate partners make a lot of money from so-called ‘clean tech’ and they’re reluctant to put those profits- some of which flow to these organizations- in jeopardy. On a personal level, it’s often easier to stay in denial and believe the technology we have become addicted to will not hurt us despite the growing evidence to the contrary. Add wireless electrosmog to already severe air, water, noise and climate pollution, and it’s a lot for anyone to take in.
This might explain Mother Jones magazine’s inexplicably bad journalism when it came to covering the ‘smart’ meter revolt in January. Our sources tell us that writer Kiera Butler is a heavy user of her ‘smart’ phone. It must be hard for people like her to believe that a device that has become such a cornerstone of their lives is inflicting great harm on themselves and others. No wonder it was so appealing and comforting to digest and regurgitate PG&E’s talking points. The real Mother Jones- who fought for the rights and health of workers and communities- is no doubt turning over in her grave, as her namesake is being used in this context as a shill for corporate interests.
Are ‘Smart’ Meters Really Green?
A tree in Berkeley just before (on the left) and about a month after (on the right) a bank of 120 “smart” meters was installed behind it.
So what is the truth? Will ‘smart’ meters actually reduce our carbon emissions? Will the ‘smart’ grid really be a net benefit to the environment? Must we diminish our quality of life – suffering health impacts, ecological damage, privacy violations, and a significant financial hit — just so we can “save the planet?”
The phrase “Smart Grid” is in fact an oxymoron; a contradiction in terms. There is nothing “smart” about our national electrical grid. Generating power from coal burning, nuclear fission, and large dams exacts a huge toll on the environment and human health. Transmitting that electricity thousands of miles along high tension power lines- resulting in clearcuts, childhood leukemia and other diseases- with a significant loss of energy along the way- just adds to the list of problems. The sane response to the emergency of climate change and nuclear disasters- a so-called “wise grid”- would re-localize energy supplies, take the power out of the hands of energy monopolies and put it back under control of local communities, enabling low impact, renewable generation and more affordable power. The current ecological nightmare of the electrical grid is only made more hellish with the addition of millions of pulsing, cancer causing wireless devices on every building in America. Not “smart” and definitely not wise. If the public had been given a chance to decide whether to implement the “smart grid” there is no doubt they would have put the brakes on, as evidenced by the 45 local governments in California who have demanded that this boondoggle be stopped.
What’s the Footprint?
Unfortunately there is no way of knowing for certain how the “smart grid” will affect our overall carbon footprint. To date, there has not been an independent, exhaustive, cradle to grave analysis investigating the energy savings or loss from the ‘smart’ grid. This fact is truly shocking given that utilities around the country have used climate change as a pretext to tap billions of taxpayer and ratepayer funds to pay for the development of the ‘smart’ grid. If there is a full independent analysis that considers both the energy costs and benefits of the “smart grid” please post it here. Without that evidence, it’s simply not factual to claim that “smart” meters or the “smart” grid will save energy or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That hasn’t stopped the utilities for making outlandish, unsupported claims, inferring that if you oppose “smart” meters then you are not “green.” The real climate criminals of course are the utility companies who continue to dump millions of tons of greenhouse gases into an already fragile atmosphere, and the corrupt governments that enable them to laugh all the way to the bank while screwing future generations.
There are already troubling signs that ‘smart’ meters are likely to increase overall carbon emissions. There is a significant energy cost to the new meters’ manufacturing and transportation, their installation and continuous operation, as well as for the transportation and ultimate disposal of perfectly functional analog meters, and the startling amount of energy needed to keep ever increasing acres of server farms humming to store our second by second private home energy use data.
What’s more, energy usage data on the internet (that PG&E claims will help households reduce energy usage) will only be for periods at least 20-30 minutes earlier–not very helpful in analyzing the impact of using specific household devices in “real-time.” To obtain closer-to-real-time data, the customer would have to buy (both financially and environmentally) expensive new appliances that will constantly transmit data (and additional radiation). These too would be running 24/7 consuming substantial additional energy. The unproven conservation claims of “smart” meter boosters conveniently disregard all these additional drains on the energy supply, which a more honest accounting would require. Overall, the technology sector is one of the fastest growing sources of carbon emissions, and ‘smart’ meters are a significant contributor to that.
Another rationale given for the new meters is that they can enable time-of-use pricing (i.e. charging more for electricity when it is most in demand). In theory this could reduce both peak-time electricity use and the use of dirty ‘peaker’ power plants (that are only fired up when regular production falls short). Here too, no evidence exists that smart-meter-produced data would be any more valuable for the retail customer than simply increasing direct education efforts and electricity rebate incentives. Mindy Spatt of Northern California’s Utility Reform Network (TURN) says:
“Smart meters are energy measuring devices- they are not energy saving devices. People save energy- not meters. PG&E might have had more luck if they sent out fridge magnets encouraging conservation at peak times, along with a clothesline and clothespins. Thusfar TURN is not aware of any energy savings justifying the obscenely high costs of these meters.”
An analysis by Oxford University shows that ‘smart’ meters alone do not result in net energy savings. And a study of smart meters in actual operation- from Toronto Hydro- showed no significant increase in energy conservation, but a considerable increase in energy bills for customers. Still, the promise of the smart grid was that it would send price signals that would support conservation and make people more aware of their energy usage, and many people bought into the hype. The terms “clean tech” and “smart grid” sound great- especially when backed by multi-billion dollar marketing campaigns. The reality of course isn’t so pretty.
You often hear that the “smart” grid will facilitate renewable energy integration. Yet that seems to be the furthest thing from the minds of utility executives. For example, Southern California Edison (SCE) has not even developed a “smart” meter that is compatible with household solar arrays, and has the ability to run backwards. It seems that at the end of the day, they don’t really want the competition.
Official PG&E Report: Zero Energy Savings
PG&E is required to submit an annual report on the energy and cost savings from the “smart” grid to the CA Public Utilities Commission. Given that between 8 and 9 million of 10 million “smart” meters have been installed in California, you would expect that some of the promised benefits of the “smart” grid would start materializing. However, in Tables I and II of PG&E’s 2010 Program Year Demand Response and Energy Conservation Annual Report, an energy savings figure rather embarrassing to PG&E and “smart” grid proponents is revealed: Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch. We hear lots of promises of future savings, but after billions of dollars in expenditures and nearly 90% of the system in place there are no energy savings to demonstrate. So much for the “green” legacy of CPUC President Michael Peevey. And the “smart” grid’s large manufacturing and operational carbon footprint grows bigger every day….
Nevertheless, groups like Environmental Defense Fund continue to back the ill-fated project, ignoring the widespread reports of human health impacts, privacy violations, and increasing evidence of excess carbon emissions being generated. They (along with similar groups) also benefit from payouts of public funds from the CA Public Utilities Commission through cozy contractual relationships and smart grid demonstration projects like those in Austin and Charlotte.
Despite all this documented harm, PG&E and other California utilities failed to complete an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to assess potential environmental impact from their wireless systems. In fact the utility initially submitted a plan for wired (broadband over powerline or “BPL”) data transmission and based their environmental review documents on that system. After receiving an environmental exemption, they then pulled a bait and switch, adopting a wireless communication system without any additional environmental review, a tactic that has led CPUC administrative law judge Steven Weissman to declare that the utilities are vulnerable to CEQA lawsuits. Because of the widespread nature of the system, even minor damage may be exponentially magnified by the millions of meters and wireless antennae that are being installed rapidly. And the anecdotal health effects already visible are tiny compared to the longer term effects that the scientific evidence brings into the realm of possibility.
More About EDF and False Technological Market Based Solutions
EDF’s response to the ‘smart’ meter health crisis has been schizophrenic at best. They say they support PG&E’s ‘cop out’ opt out plan in which customers will be double charged but urge utility customers to keep their microwave transmitters switched on and say that ‘key benefits will be lost’ if many people opt out.
What’s going on here? It turns out that EDF’s conflicts of interest run deep. John Doerr of Woodside CA is one of the main venture capitalists backing Silver Spring Networks- the company responsible for the health damaging wireless technology in “smart” meters. He is on President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and is the 540th richest man in the world- worth approximately $2.2 billion- ironically the same amount as PG&E’s initial costs of smart meter deployment. When Obama visited the Bay Area in February, he (drove past our protests) and dined at Doerr’s house in Woodside. This guy has connections. His wife Ann Doerr- is on the board of directors of Environmental Defense Fund. Beginning to catch on? The trail leads to the most powerful people in the country. The advisory board of Silver Spring Networks includes none other than Al Gore. The growing debacle of the “smart grid” must be quite an inconvenient truth.
The remainder of EDF’s board of trustees reads like a who’s who in the U.S. corporate power structure. The organization promotes ‘market-based climate solutions’ such as California’s cap and trade program, which allows companies to purchase ‘carbon offsets’ rather than make cuts in their own emissions. Just like the ‘smart’ meter false climate solution, CA’s market-based cap and trade program is also coming under increasing attack, with a San Francisco Superior Court Judge recently ruling that the plan violates the state’s environmental quality act. Those in favor of the carbon trading/ offset approach argue that it doesn’t matter to the atmosphere where reductions in carbon emissions take place as long as they take place. However, in practice some offsets have been found to double- or even triple emissions, and are subject to all sorts of accounting tricks and shenanigans. The bottom line is that climate destabilization has been caused by unconstrained market forces. Do we really believe that the market can fix what the market created in the first place? As Albert Einstein once said, “Problems cannot be solved using the same level of thinking that created them in the first place.”
Corporate “Environmentalism” and the “Smart Grid” Must be Put Down
So what’s going on? We have seen that ‘smart’ meters are likely to increase climate damage rather than reduce it. And to make matters worse, they are creating new problems related to EMF illnesses, wildlife impacts, privacy violations, and fire safety risks. Yet organizations that are supposed to be fighting for a safe and sustainable future are strangely silent, sitting on their hands while electrosensitive people are being thrown out of their homes and elderly people are being threatened. Perhaps they don’t want to admit they were wrong, or even consider that possibility. Perhaps they don’t want to admit that they didn’t do their homework, instead relying on industry reassurances. But I believe it goes deeper. If they were to admit that we cannot blindly rely on technological false solutions to solve these massive, looming environmental threats, that would mean that we must begin considering real solutions, such as a shift away from personal car travel and aviation, smaller, denser walkable communities, locally controlled power generation, a more equitable distribution of wealth, and a stigmatization of overconsumption. All anathema to a philosophy that says if we don’t force economic growth to continue- by whatever means necessary- then we are all doomed. Of course, we can’t have infinite economic growth on a finite planet with finite resources. Everybody knows that, right?
The particularly scary thing about all this is the extent to which corporate interests seem willing to go in the name of achieving even unproven, tiny reductions in our carbon footprint. If governments, industry, and ‘environmental’ organizations are willing to accept people being thrown out of their homes and forced to live in their cars or in the woods as the price we have to pay for even unproven climate mitigations, what violation of our personal or civil rights is coming next? Re-location camps? Forced sterilization? Dangerous geoengineering experiments? The time to draw the line is now.
Over the past year we’ve spoken directly to a number of employees and directors of these corporate environmental organizations, presenting to them evidence of how people are suffering because of the “smart” grid. Often, their eyes will glaze over, and they will mutter something about how climate change is such an emergency and how there are so many people on the planet anyway, and how perhaps a little harm is justified if we can cut emissions. EXCUSE me? So it’s not moral to urge people to only have one child, but it is acceptable to essentially cull the population with powerful microwave emitting devices? That cell phone must really be frying your moral compass. From where I’m sitting, this is truly a dangerous trend that we all must confront and nip in the bud before it evolves into something truly terrible.
Another World is Possible
The sad thing about this is that another world is possible- one where quality of life comes before profit and power, where we achieve previously unimaginable carbon cuts AND enjoy life more. Real climate solutions are grassroots, inherently local, bottom up, equitable, and beneficial to quality of life. False climate solutions concentrate money and power, violate privacy and civil rights, and often increase carbon emissions. This is the choice we’re going to have to make. Without local leadership, we’re left with a vacuum that corrupt government, industry and “green” groups are happy to fill.
Real climate solutions have ancillary benefits that go beyond carbon reduction- improvements in social capital, cleaner air and water, and healthier happier fitter people. But for a culture run by an elite whose goal is to promote individualism, consumerism, and accumulation of wealth at the expense of almost everything else, to admit we need to pursue such a shift is the acceptance of the failure of an entire worldview. That worldview- the one that sees the Earth and all the sentient beings upon it as a machine to be manipulated, extracted, and bought and sold- along with its technocratic “smart” grid- cannot fail soon enough.
Obama Clubs Baby Seals
Reply #106 on:
September 03, 2011, 04:08:11 AM »
Lib's are so gullible
, (oh, I'm sorry, it's the holy subject of the enviroment), I'm shocked
that the President is using enviromental issues just to pander votes and then sells the true beliver's out the first chance he gets.
I'm sorry it's still funny.
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a dramatic reversal, President Barack Obama on Friday scrubbed a clean-air regulation that aimed to reduce health-threatening smog, yielding to bitterly protesting businesses and congressional Republicans who complained the rule would kill jobs in America's ailing economy.
Withdrawal of the proposed regulation marked the latest in a string of retreats by the president in the face of GOP opposition, and it drew quick criticism from liberals. Environmentalists, a key Obama constituency, accused him of caving to corporate polluters, and the American Lung Association threatened to restart the legal action it had begun against rules proposed by President George W. Bush.
The White House has been under heavy pressure from GOP lawmakers and major industries, which have slammed the stricter standard as an unnecessary jobs killer. The Environmental Protection Agency, whose scientific advisers favored the tighter limits, had predicted the proposed change would cost up to $90 billion a year, making it one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever imposed in the U.S.
However, the Clean Air Act bars the EPA from considering the costs of complying when setting public health standards.
Obama said his decision was made in part to reduce regulatory burdens and uncertainty at a time of rampant questions about the strength of the U.S. economy.
Underscoring the economic concerns: a new report Friday that showed the economy essentially adding no jobs in August and the unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent.
The regulation would have reduced concentrations of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, a powerful lung irritant that can cause asthma and other lung ailments. Smog is created when emissions from cars, power and chemical plants, refineries and other factories mix in sunlight and heat.
Republican lawmakers, already emboldened by Obama's concessions on extending Bush-era tax cuts and his agreement to more than $1 trillion in spending reductions as the price for raising the nation's debt ceiling, had pledged to try to block the stricter smog standards as well as other EPA regulations when they returned to Washington after Labor Day.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had muted praise for the White House Friday, saying that withdrawal of the smog regulation was a good first step toward removing obstacles that are blocking business growth.
"But it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stopping Washington Democrats' agenda of tax hikes, more government 'stimulus' spending and increased regulations, which are all making it harder to create more American jobs," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the move was "an enormous victory for America's job creators, the right decision by the president and one that will help reduce the uncertainty facing businesses."
White House officials said the president's decision was not the product of industry pressure, and they said the administration would continue to fight other efforts by Republicans to dismantle the EPA's authority.
But that was little consolation for many of the president's supporters. The group MoveOn.org issued a scathing statement, saying Obama's decision was one it would have expected from his Republican predecessor.
"Many MoveOn members are wondering today how they can ever work for President Obama's re-election, or make the case for him to their neighbors, when he does something like this, after extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich and giving in to tea party demands on the debt deal," said Justin Ruben, the group's executive director.
The American Lung Association, which had sued the EPA over Bush's smog standards, said it would resume its legal fight now that Obama was essentially endorsing the weaker limit. The group had suspended its lawsuit after the Obama administration pledged to change it.
Obama's decision, in fact, mirrors one made by Bush in 2008. After EPA scientists recommended a stricter standard to better protect public health, Bush personally intervened after hearing complaints from electric utilities and other affected industries. His EPA set a standard of 75 parts per billion, stricter than one adopted in 1997, but not as strong as federal scientists said was needed to protect public health.
In March, the EPA's independent panel of scientific advisers sent a letter to the agency's administrator, Lisa Jackson, saying it was its unanimous recommendation to make the smog standards stronger and that the evidence was "sufficiently certain" that the range proposed in January 2010 under Obama would benefit public health.
But the White House, which has pledged to base decisions on science, said Friday the science behind its initial decision needed to be updated, a process already under way at EPA. The smog standard now is to be revised until 2013.
Whether Obama still occupies the White House at that point depends on the outcome of next year's presidential election.
Cass Sunstein, the head of the White House regulatory office, said changing the smog regulation now, only to have it be reconsidered again in two years, would create unnecessary uncertainty for the private sector and local governments.
The stricter limits initially proposed by Obama would have doubled the number of counties in violation. Smoggy cities such as Los Angeles and Houston would have been joined by counties in California's Napa Valley and one in Kansas with a population of 3,000. They would have had up to 20 years to meet the new limits, once EPA settled on a final number, or would have faced federal penalties.
In his statement, the president said scrapping the stronger smog standards did not reflect a weakening of his commitment to protecting public health and the environment.
"I will continue to stand with the hardworking men and women at the EPA as they strive every day to hold polluters accountable and protect our families from harmful pollution," Obama said.
Even before Friday's decision — announced as many Americans were paying more attention to their Labor Day weekend plans than the news — the White House has faced some criticism for its record on the environment. Obama abandoned a campaign pledge to set the first-ever limits on the pollution blamed for global warming, and he announced an expansion of offshore drilling before the Gulf oil spill sidelined those plans.
However, he has successfully taken other steps to reduce air pollution, such as doubling fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, clamping down on pollution from power plants that blows downwind and setting the first national standard for mercury, a toxic metal, from power plants, all in the face of Republican and industry opposition.
The ground-level ozone standard is closely associated with public health — something the president said he wouldn't compromise in his regulatory review.
Oh, those mean old Republicans are making him do it.
Last Edit: September 03, 2011, 04:32:09 AM by prentice crawford
Environmental issues: Role of the EPA
Reply #107 on:
October 13, 2011, 10:39:09 AM »
Pulling out one point of CW from Politics: "main points I don't agree with the tea party... the EPA..."
I would think the federal role for protecting our air and water involves watching for gaps in necessary regulation and enforcement from across the 50 states and taking action in certain extreme circumstances that can't be solved a better way. I don't understand having a federal standard for something that is stricter than what the people in the states chose for their standard at home. But let's say 49 states have good and reasonable air and water protections and one state doesn't, and from that one state they spew filth or pollutants down wind or downstream outward across state lines. That is when a federal government role is appropriate and justified.
All I think a conservative or tea partier would want for environmental regulation is a practice that regulations are reasonable and based on real cost/benefit analysis. To unilaterally drive all factories off our shores alone does not reduce global carbon or anything else on the planet by a milligram.
WSJ: Pittsburgh-- more than meets the eye
Reply #108 on:
January 06, 2012, 10:20:24 AM »
By KRIS MAHER
PITTSBURGH—It has been decades since industrial soot blotted out the sun here and streetlights were needed during the day to cut through the gloom, but less-visible air pollution still ranks among the nation's worst.
So a new coalition including businesses and environmental groups has taken on the tricky task of persuading skeptical residents that their air isn't nearly as clean as it appears—an initial step toward making Pittsburgh's air fit its reputation as a city reinventing itself as a hub for science and technology.
"The air is so much better than it used to be, at least what you can see, that people are not aware that the air is still a challenge," said Bobby Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments.
The nonprofit group has contributed $4 million so far to the Breathe Project, the coalition that has drawn members from U.S. Steel Corp. to the Sierra Club. It is focused for now on raising awareness and promoting steps residents and companies can take voluntarily. Other ideas include steps to reduce vehicle pollution and, possibly, pushing for regulatory changes.
One example of Pittsburgh's new focus as a tech hub is Google Inc.'s 200-worker office here. The employees work on online commerce and data storage, among other things, a company spokesman said. The office added 50 people in 2011, but the city's air quality is a "big problem" when it comes to recruiting employees to work here, said Andrew Moore, a Google vice president and head of the operation.
Pittsburgh in 2010. The city has been recognized for its efforts to make the transition from an industrial city into a hub for science and technology.
."If we can't offer [clean air and clean water] to employees we need to recruit to fill the jobs of the future, then we will lose them to those cities that do," said Mr. Moore, who backs the Breathe Project.
Today's air-quality problems come primarily from tiny particles and chemical pollutants that are largely invisible but that health experts warn can contribute to problems such as asthma and heart disease. In 2010, the Pittsburgh area—with 2.4 million people—ranked third in the country for short-term particulate pollution, according to the American Lung Association, which lobbies for clean air. Pittsburgh has been among the top 10 cities since the rankings began in 2004.
The particulates come from local sources including diesel engines, remaining steel plants and other industrial sites. They are also carried to Pittsburgh from coal-burning power plants in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois and then trapped by the Allegheny Mountains and river valleys.
Pollution levels are just one factor that affects asthma, but Allegheny County—which includes Pittsburgh—has one of the highest rates in the state. Of 73 Pennsylvania counties and school districts, Allegheny County had the ninth-highest lifetime prevalence of asthma among children under 18, at 11.3% in 2009, according to the latest statistics available from the state Department of Health.
Close.The Breathe Project, formally unveiled in October, has studied efforts by other cities, including Houston and San Diego, to improve air quality by timing traffic lights to reduce idling and switching public buses to natural gas. Breathe, which hasn't received any government funding, also recently gave $1 million to a program to help small construction contractors cut emissions.
"We absolutely support the project," said Joanna Doven, press secretary for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who recently proposed running city trash trucks on natural gas to cut emissions.
The Pittsburgh effort comes as lawmakers and companies in states including Texas and West Virginia have pushed back against stricter federal air regulations. A spokesman said the coalition hasn't ruled out seeking stronger air-emission regulations. That is a cause for concern among some.
"It's very important to have clean air. It's also important that you're not hindering small businesses," said Eileen Watt, president of the Western Pennsylvania chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.
The focus now, though, is on spreading the word about the city's air quality and the importance of improving it, starting with steps like biking to work and planting trees.
More than half of the residents here aren't aware that Pittsburgh's air ranks among the worst in the nation, according to a survey commissioned by the Heinz Endowments. Only 15% of residents feel that a "lot of work" needs to be done on it.
"When you look back, we had problems when we had the mills," said Richard Wilson, who said he does tai chi outside without worrying about the air. "The air in Pittsburgh is pretty good."
Sentiments like that prompted Breathe to launch a $500,000 media campaign that includes ads on TV, in newspapers, on billboards, on the sides of buses and at the homes of the Steelers and Penguins.
A 30-second TV ad shows purple dots floating across images of a jogger on a sunny day, children playing and an elderly couple walking, contrasted with shots of factories emitting white smoke. A narrator says, "Pittsburgh is a great place to live, but if we could see the invisible pollution in our air we'd realize the air quality in our region is among the worst in the nation."
Bob Butter, principal of Veritas Communications Advisors, a communications-consulting firm, said the campaign has avoided reinforcing the city's former Rust Belt image. "That's what's disarming about this. The sky is blue and the air looks pretty clean" in the ads, he said. "They've teed up a subject that otherwise was relegated to a few people that had a concern," he said.
Re: Environmental issues - Missing in the WSJ Pittsburgh story...
Reply #109 on:
January 07, 2012, 09:43:02 AM »
Steven Hayward, author of 'Air Quality in America'
reminds us on Powerline yesterday that the WSJ is home of famous editorial page but the rest of the reporting is often right out of MSM script. You will need to read at the link to catch the graphs:
The Journal Blows a Story
The editorial page is the glory of the Wall Street Journal, which often reports the facts better than its news pages. Today the Journal’s news pages feature a truly pathetic example of conventional, follow-the-crowd journalism with a story entitled “Pittsburgh Tries to Clear the Air on Pollution.” It has every trope of superficial environmental news reporting and is simply a lazy and tarted-up version of an activist group’s press release—in this case, a local enviro group called the “Breathe Project,” which upon reading between the lines of the story is simply a cat’s paw for the usual suspects such as the Sierra Club. It is another vindication of an observation the Washington Post’s longtime media critic Howard Kurtz once acknowledged: “Some reporters say privately that it is difficult to write stories that debunk the conventional wisdom of environmental activists, whom the press treats more deferentially than industry spokesmen and other lobbyists.”
The piece is almost comical in the lengths it goes to try to persuade people that air pollution in Pittsburgh is a serious problem, which may require “more regulation,” naturally. As the story reports,
More than half of the residents here aren’t aware that Pittsburgh’s air ranks among the worst in the nation, according to a survey commissioned by the Heinz Endowments. Only 15% of residents feel that a “lot of work” needs to be done on it.
“When you look back, we had problems when we had the mills,” said Richard Wilson, who said he does tai chi outside without worrying about the air. “The air in Pittsburgh is pretty good.”
Sentiments like that prompted Breathe to launch a $500,000 media campaign that includes ads on TV, in newspapers, on billboards, on the sides of buses and at the homes of the Steelers and Penguins.
One of the real howlers in this excerpt is what I call the “reverse Lake Woebegone Effect,” namely, that Pittsburgh’s air is among “the worst in the nation.” Turns out the American Lung Association’s annual report on air pollution—a shoddy report I’ve repeatedly called “a smoldering stogie of misinformation”—always has local versions of a press release that say each metropolitan area suffers from “some of the worst air pollution” in the nation. I did a Nexis search for the phrase “smog” and “some of the worst” a few years ago, and discovered the phrase in press coverage in dozens of American cities. Of course, if everyone has about the same level (which is true for just about every place except the region that actually does have the highest air pollution levels—California), then no one has air that is notably “worse” than everybody else. But it’s always good for the harum-scarum narrative that environmentalists and regulators can’t do without.
The Journal story is entirely typical of media malpractice for its complete absence of data. Reporters ought to ask—but never do—what the underlying trend is, and how ambient conditions measure up against Clean Air Act standards. Air pollution in Pittsburgh, like everywhere else in America, is declining, as a check of the EPA’s data would show. Apparently this was too much trouble for the Journal reporter, Kris Maher, to do, even though the EPA now has a very user-friendly site where you can check both ozone levels and particle pollution levels on a monitor-by-monitor basis. Pittsburgh currently meets the Clean Air Act standard for particulates (fine particulate pollution levels have declined 22 percent over the last decade), and is only slightly above the current very tight ozone standard.
This makes all the more comical this paragraph:
One example of Pittsburgh’s new focus as a tech hub is Google Inc.’s 200-worker office here. The employees work on online commerce and data storage, among other things, a company spokesman said. The office added 50 people in 2011, but the city’s air quality is a “big problem” when it comes to recruiting employees to work here, said Andrew Moore, a Google vice president and head of the operation.
“If we can’t offer [clean air and clean water] to employees we need to recruit to fill the jobs of the future, then we will lose them to those cities that do,” said Mr. Moore, who backs the Breathe Project.
Hmm. How do ozone and particulate pollution levels compare between Pittsburgh and Google’s home office in Silicon Valley? Google also has a large office in Atlanta—are air pollution levels in Atlanta also an impediment to recruiting workers? Let’s look first at the data for fine particles (known as “PM2.5” in the trade).
Figure 1: Fine Particulate Levels in Pittsburgh and Atlanta
The story for ozone is a little more complicated, because there isn’t complete data for Sunnyvale (the closest EPA monitor to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View), but the figure below shows that Pittsburgh not only has a lower ozone level than Atlanta, but has been flirting with attainment of the 0.75 8-hour ozone standard for the last few years. Sunnyvale has been in attainment of the ozone standard, but as you can see from the figure Pittsburgh is not notably worse than Sunnyvale on ozone either.
Figure 2: Ozone Levels in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Sunnyvale
Conclusion: the Journal reporter is a dupe. The Google manager is a fool.
P.S. As my last witness, I offer Seymour Garte, professor of public health at the University of Pittsburgh (someone the Journal ought to have called as an expert source on this story) who wrote a terrific book entitled Where We Stand: A Surprising Look at the Real State of Our Planet. Prof. Garte relates the story of attending a professional conference in Europe, where he was struck by the data from a speaker showing steadily declining air pollution trends, being surprised by the data, and being even more surprised to hear the speaker say, “Everyone knows that air pollution levels are constantly decreasing everywhere.” “I looked around the room,” Prof. Garte writes:
I was not the only nonexpert there. Most of my other colleagues were also not atmospheric or air pollution specialists. Later I asked one of them, a close friend, if he had known that air pollution levels were constantly decreasing throughout Europe and the United States on a yearly basis. “I had no idea,” he said. It certainly was news to me. Even though I was a professor of environmental health and had been actively involved in many aspects of air pollution research for many years, that simple fact had somehow escaped me. . . I had certainly never seen it published in the media.
Well, if you’re reading the Wall Street Journal in Pittsburgh today, you still aren’t getting an accurate account of the story.
Lastly, if you want to know more about all of this generally, see my Almanac of Environmental Trends website, or track down the book I wrote on this with Joel Schwartz, Air Quality in America: A Dose of Reality on Air Pollution Levels, Trends, and Health Risks. - Steven Hayward at Powerline
Re: Environmental issues
Reply #110 on:
January 07, 2012, 10:26:37 AM »
Very interesting; good follow up to what I posted!
Clean Air Rankings
Reply #111 on:
January 07, 2012, 10:54:42 AM »
Re: Environmental issues
Reply #112 on:
January 07, 2012, 12:28:34 PM »
JDN, Thank you. Your link confirms much of Hayward's point, 5 cities in Calif and 6 in the southwest came in worse than Pittsburgh yet that piece was all about slamming one city. Also confirmed is the amazing improvements not mentioned in the original piece. Particulate is one measurement and the standards give a good benchmark, but are arbitrarily set IMO.
The same political movements decrying dirty air the loudest as I see it also want people to live more in centrally planned density. But the air we breathe tends to be cleaner further away from the central cities, out in those xurban sprawl communities the planners so despise.
The air quality monitors are mostly measured at the most dangerous intersections as I understand it but for scare purposes they count the number of people in danger for living anywhere in that county no matter the proximity. That doesn't seem right.
The current political argument over emissions is almost 100% over CO2, not the filth that everyone opposes. No one is proposing to build 1950s era autos, buses or coal plants today.
I wonder what the soot level would be if domestically produced clean natural gas was readily available as a transportation fuel? Ironically it is the same environmental groups working to block that production as well.
WSJ: The Bacteria did it
Reply #113 on:
January 09, 2012, 05:26:53 PM »
A fortuitous combination of ravenous bacteria, ocean currents and local topography helped to rapidly purge the Gulf of Mexico of much of the oil and gas released in the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, researchers reported on Monday.
After spewing oil and gas for nearly three months, the BP PLC well was finally capped in mid-July 2010. Some 200,000 tons of methane gas and about 4.4 million barrels of petroleum spilled into the ocean. Given the enormity of the spill, many scientists predicted that a significant amount of the resulting chemical pollutants would likely persist in the region's waterways for years.
According to a new federally funded study published Monday by the National Academy of Sciences, those scientists were wrong. By the end of September 2010, the vast underwater plume of methane, plus other gases, had all but disappeared. By the end of October, a significant amount of the underwater offshore oil—a complex substance made from thousands of compounds—had vanished as well.
"There was a lot of doomsday talk," said microbiologist David Valentine of the University of California at Santa Barbara and co-author of the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But it turns out "that the ocean harbors organisms that can handle a certain amount of input" in the form of oil and gas pollutants, he said.
A year ago, Dr. Valentine and other scientists published a paper describing how naturally occurring bacteria had apparently devoured much of the toxic chemicals released in the BP spill. That federally funded study, published in the journal Science, triggered disbelief among other researchers who questioned whether microbes could gobble up that much gas and oil so quickly.
Dr. Valentine and his colleagues have now used a computer model to explain just how that scenario might have played out. "The skepticism was certainly one of the contributing factors that spurred us to go and do this [new] study," he said.
It was an intricate challenge. The first step was to estimate the flow rate of the various hydrocarbons from the well over the 87 days that the spill continued. The researchers identified 26 classes of such chemicals; they then had to figure out which of these chemicals stayed in the deep plume that remained more than 1,000 meters underwater, and which ones rose up to the surface. For example, in the plume, certain chemicals dissolved completely in the water, including the methane gas, while some of the oil droplets were atomized and remained suspended in the water. A lot of the surface oil evaporated or washed up on Gulf shorelines.
Next, the scientists set about identifying the main species of oil-and-gas-eating bacteria that lived in the deep Gulf. They identified 52 main species of such microbes. The scientists also estimated how quickly the bacteria consumed oil and gas, and how much the bacteria colonies grew.
The final step was to model the complex movement of the water in the Gulf to determine where the oil and gas—and the bacteria—got transported. Igor Mezic, a colleague of Dr. Valentine's and also a co-author, had published a study in 2011 predicting where the BP oil slick had spread. That analysis included data from the U.S. Navy's model of the Gulf's ocean currents and observations of the water's movements immediately after the spill and for several months after it ended.
The UC Santa Barbara researchers decided to marry their two computer models—the one about the spill-eating bacteria with the one that captured the movement of water. When they ran the joint model, they found that it helped to explain the puzzle of the rapidly vanishing oil spill.
The model showed that the topography in the Gulf had played a vital role. Since the gulf is bounded on three sides by land—north, east and west—the water currents don't flow in a single direction as in river. Instead, the water sloshes around, back and forth, as if it were trapped in a washing machine.
An initial population of bacteria encountered the spill near the BP well, its population grew, and then it was swept away by the ocean currents. But when the water circled back—that washing-machine effect—it was already loaded with these hungry bacteria, which immediately went on the attack again, mopping up another round of hydrocarbons. These repeated forays over the BP well, by the ever-growing bacterial populations, sped up the rate at which the methane and offshore oil got devoured.
Dr. Valentine suggested that oil companies ought to ascertain the currents, water motion and native microbial community in the water before embarking on any major offshore drilling project. "Then, if there is an event, we'd be many steps ahead of understanding where the oil may go and what the environment's response may be," he said.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research.
Write to Gautam Naik at
fallout of BP oil spill
Reply #114 on:
March 04, 2012, 06:52:16 PM »
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