Category Archives: environmentalism

Does climate campaigner Michael Oppenheimer not know how much sea level has risen?

Today I read this quote from an AP story:

It is not correct to say Sandy was caused by global warming, but “the damage caused by Sandy was worse because of sea level rise,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. He said the sea level in New York City is a foot higher than a century ago because of man-made climate change.

There’s just one problem with Oppenheimer’s statement. Sea level hasn’t risen a foot over the last century because of man-made climate change. It has risen some, but definitely not a foot. How do I know this? Because the total rise over the last century for global sea level rise is about 9 inches:

Trends_in_global_average_absolute_sea_level%2C_1870-2008_%28US_EPA%29[1]

Not only has sea level not risen by a foot, but there is a natural component to this sea level rise. That’s because sea level has been rising for the last 20,000 years.

Post-Glacial_Sea_Level[1]

(Image from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Current_sea_level_rise)

You can argue how much of the sea level rise was caused by humans, but you can’t honestly argue that a foot has been caused by humans over the last 100 years.

Michael Oppenheimer has to know this basic fact about sea level rise. He served as the chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, was one of the people who began the U.N. conferences that created the Kyoto Protocol, and is on the National Academies’ Board on Energy and Environmental Studies. So why he is breathtakingly ignorant about some of the basic science about climate change?

What if global warming alarmists stuck to science?

It is really hard for me to become alarmed about global warming when the promoters of global warming alarms do not make scientific claims and instead instead spout untruths and faith-based claims. Peter Gleick is a good example. He writes

Violent tornadoes throughout the southeastern U.S. must be a front-page reminder that no matter how successful climate deniers are in confusing the public or delaying action on climate change in Congress or globally, the science is clear: Our climate is worsening.

Note that the conclusion is not a scientific claim, was a normative claim. In a scientific sense, climate does not become “worse,” instead of might become warmer or cooler, but there’s not scientific justification for using a normative description like “worsening.” 

But that’s not all, Gleick wants it both ways. He claims this paragraph doesn’t actually attribute the tornadoes to rising CO2 levels, which is silly since how else can you read the paragraph?

Gleick is a classic fear monger. He’s even written that “fear is an effective tool.”

I can’t take people like Gleick seriously. He is not constrained by truth or science.

Roger Pielke Jr. and Steve McIntyre dismantle Gleick here and here.

The implausibility of mass transit in America

This is truly mind blowing. Peter Gordon writes:

I am interested in U.S.-western Europe city comparisons and found "Transit and Density: Atlanta, the U.S. and Western Europe" by Alain Bertaud and Harry Richardson (chapter 17 in Richardson and Bae).  Here is the paragraph I liked best:

Hypothetically, suppose that the city of Atlanta wanted to provide its population with the same metro accessibility that exists in Barcelona, i.e. 60 percent of the population within 600 meters from a metro station.  Atlanta would have to build an additional 3,400 kilometers of metro tracks and about 2,800 new metro stations.  This huge new capital investment would allow Atlanta’s MARTA to potentially transport the same number of people that Barcelona does with only 99 kilometers of tracks and 136 stations.  The effect of density on the viability of transit is far from trivial. (p. 307)

U.S. planners have learned about this the hard way.  Look at rail transit’s performance in U.S. cities. 
Or have they?  The response is actually, "build it and they will come."  "Transit-oriented development" will make Atlanta more like Barcelona.

The unpalatable truth is that the environmentalist lobby has misled us

George Monbiot, the environmentalist-in-residence at the Guardian, has discovered that the anti-nuclear lobby has been lying to world. Nice work George!  But the truth is that it just isn’t anti-nuke campaigners, but environmentalism in general is based on mistruths.  But let’s start with the anti-nuke people:

Over the last fortnight I’ve made a deeply troubling discovery. The anti-nuclear movement to which I once belonged has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health. The claims we have made areungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged, and wildly wrong. We have done other people, and ourselves, a terrible disservice.

I began to see the extent of the problem after a debate last week withHelen Caldicott. Dr Caldicott is the world’s foremost anti-nuclear campaigner. She has received 21 honorary degrees and scores of awards, and was nominated for a Nobel peace prize. Like other greens, I was in awe of her. In the debate she made some striking statements about the dangers of radiation. So I did what anyone faced with questionable scientific claims should do: I asked for the sources. Caldicott’s response has profoundly shaken me.

First she sent me nine documents: newspaper articles, press releases and an advertisement. None were scientific publications; none contained sources for the claims she had made. But one of the press releases referred to a report by the US National Academy of Sciences, which she urged me to read. I have now done so – all 423 pages. It supports none of the statements I questioned; in fact it strongly contradicts her claims about the health effects of radiation.

I pressed her further and she gave me a series of answers that made my heart sink – in most cases they referred to publications which had little or no scientific standing, which did not support her claims or which contradicted them. (I have posted our correspondence, and my sources, on my website.) I have just read her book Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer. The scarcity of references to scientific papers and the abundance of unsourced claims it contains amaze me.

For the last 25 years anti-nuclear campaigners have been racking up the figures for deaths and diseases caused by the Chernobyl disaster, and parading deformed babies like a medieval circus. They now claim 985,000 people have been killed by Chernobyl, and that it will continue to slaughter people for generations to come. These claims are false.

Quote of the day

Actually, it’s from a couple days ago. Roger Pielke Jr., no climate change denier writes:

Paul Krugman joins the crowd who think that they can see the signal of greenhouse emissions in noisy, short-term data on food prices, and then construct a chain of causality to the ongoing unrest in the Middle East.  Such tenuous claims of attribution have about as much scientific standing as Pat Robertson saying that Hurricane Katrina was the result of the vengeful wrath of God.

High Speed Rail is no panacea

Richard Florida loves trains. He loves them so much he advocates for trains when little evidences shows they will help achieve the goals he desires. He argues that our current system has reached the end of its useful life

It has led to overinvestment in housing, autos, and energy and contributed to the crises we are trying so hard to extricate ourselves from today. It’s also no longer an engine of economic growth. With the rise of a globalized economy, many if not most of the products that filled those suburban homes are made abroad. Home ownership worked well for a nation whose workers had secure, long-term jobs. But now it impedes the flexibility of a labor market that requires people to move around. My own research shows that the most innovative, most productive, and most highly skilled regions have rates of homeownership of 55-to-60 percent, while those where homeownership exceeds 75 or 80 percent are economically distressed.

I could buy the argument that homeownership harms labor mobility a makes economic transition harder. And I’m sympathetic to Florida’s argument that we over-subsidize homeownership. But I don’t think the data is saying that Florida thinks it is saying. The productive, highly-skilled regions Florida favors are dominated by San Francisco, San Jose, Austin, San Diego, New York, and Los Angeles. I don’t think policy, such as heavily subsidizing trains, as Florida later suggests, is going to turn Detroit or Cleveland, into San Diego or San Francisco. One reason these cities have lower home ownership rates is that, except for New York, they have pretty climates that people flock to and they have serious naturally imposed growth boundaries. They limit the supply of housing, increase the price, and make it more difficult to buy a home.

Florida goes on to describe what he see as the fix. High speed rail: 

Infrastructure is key to powering spatial fixes. The railroads and streetcar, cable car, and subway systems speeded the movement of people, goods, and ideas in the late 19th century; the development of a massive auto-dependent highway system powered growth after the Great Depression and World War II. It’s now time to invest in infrastructure that can undergird another round of growth and development. Part of that is surely a better and faster information highway. But the real fix must extend beyond the cyber-economy to our physical development patterns—the landscape of the real economy.

 

That means high-speed rail, which is the only infrastructure fix that promises to speed the velocity of moving people, goods, and ideas while also expanding and intensifying our development patterns. If the government is truly looking for a shovel-ready infrastructure project to invest in that will create short-term jobs across the country while laying a foundation for lasting prosperity, high-speed rail works perfectly. It is central to the redevelopment of cities and the growth of mega-regions and will do more than anything to wean us from our dependency on cars. High-speed rail may be our best hope for revitalizing the once-great industrial cities of the Great Lakes. By connecting declining places to thriving ones—Milwaukee and Detroit to Chicago, Buffalo to Toronto—it will greatly expand the economic options and opportunities available to their residents. And by providing the connective fibers within and between America’s emerging mega-regions, it will allow them to function as truly integrated economic units.

It is hard to take this argument seriously. Why will an inflexible, uneconomic, transportation system help the economy? High speed rail does not quickly move goods or ideas. Goods are moved by freight rail, and our freight rail system is the best in the world. Ideas are quickly moved by the internet.

High speed rail quickly moves people. But where is the evidence that high speed rail will help the economy? Japan has high speed rail and the building of high speed rail didn’t help Japan out of its economic malaise.

Florida recognizes that high speed rail might be expensive, “truly national high-speed rail system runs somewhere between $140 and $500 billion. That’s a lot of money, but measured in 2009 dollars, Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System cost $429 billion to build—which makes it look like something of a bargain.” There’s a major difference however—the Interstate Highway System paid for itself through gas taxes. High speed rail will never pay for itself. It doesn’t pay for itself in Europe, which is better suited than the U.S. for high speed rail.  Plus, Florida’s estimate of the cost of nationwide high speed rail is low—it will cost $100 billion in California alone.

It’s too bad that people like Florida don’t look at actual performance. For example, there good arguments that rail in Los Angeles should never have been built. In L.A., the push for rail has forced transit ridership down. 

As Randal O’Toole writes about rail in L.A. and is equally applicable to Richard Florida, “how many miles of rail costing how many billions of dollars will be needed before rail advocates finally concede that rail transit is a failure?”

U.S. freight rail is the world’s best

According to The Economist, the U.S. has the best freight rail system in the world, and high-speed passenger trains could ruin it.

It is too bad that romanticism about trains makes people loopy when they advocate for increased public funding of passenger rail. Passenger rail doesn’t work in America, and it’s about time we quit trying, instead of the Administration flushing billions down the toilet. Personally, I wish that we could just buy rail advocates Railworks Train Simulator and they can enjoy the romance of trains for their homes and not burden taxpayers with the outsized cost of their schemes.

Rare earth elements aren’t rare—if you are willing to dig for them

From Foreign Policy:

Today, however, rare-earth mining is almost nonexistent outside China, which came to dominate the market in the 1980s and ’90s by cutting world prices and now controls as much as 97 percent of the supply of some of the elements. The United States’ only major rare-earth mine, a complex in Mountain Pass, California, that was once the world’s leading producer of the minerals, shut down in 2002.

But the limited supply of the minerals in the marketplace is the result of economics and environmental concerns, not scarcity. Even with iPads flying off the shelves and high-end electric cars on showroom floors, the world consumes only a tiny amount of rare earth — about 130,000 metric tons of it a year, or just over a tenth of the amount of copper produced last February alone. Market forecasters expect the global trade in rare earths to reach $2 billion to $3 billion by 2014, but even that amounts to barely 1 percent of today’s iron market. And rare earth elements aren’t actually worth very much at the mine — most of their market value is added in the refining process.

Larry Summers says that Obama’s environmental policies are harming the economy

Of course that’s not how Larry put it, but it is exactly what he said:

In a speech at a U.S. Energy Information Administration conference, Summers said passing legislation would help reduce uncertainty that may be discouraging businesses from investing and hiring.

 

"The cheapest stimulus program in the world is enhanced confidence," Summers said.

 

The Senate has struggled to strike a compromise on a bill that would reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and boost alternative energy without unduly burdening businesses that are slowly recovering from a recession.

Summers said uncertainty over the timing and scope of energy legislation was hindering businesses from making major investments in projects, such as building new power plants, restraining hiring when the economy desperately needs jobs.

Why is there uncertainty? Because Obama is pushing policies that would increase the price of energy and make it more difficult to do business in the United States. Also, his EPA is busying regulating greenhouse gases and the results aren’t necessarily predictable.

So what is there a lack of confidence (in the context of what Summers is talking about)? Obama’s policies. In other words, Obama’s policies are harming the economy.