Tag: Environmental Issues

Who’ll Start the Rain?

California is in the grips of a very bad drought? How bad? This bad:

The current drought in California is not only the worst in modern history, but is among the worst in half a millennium. We know this by studying the growth rings of long-lived trees like the Giant Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada, and the Bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of eastern California. In fact, the state has weathered six very dry years since 2007, this year being by far the lowest.

It’s actually worse than the press is letting on. In response to the drought, many areas are drilling down to aquifers and draining them. These are not an easily replenished resource; in fact, the changes that occur after an aquifer is drained may prevent it from ever being filled again. The problem has been exacerbated by California over-allocating water rights by a factor of five and forcing water to be sold at below-market rates.

(And for God’s sake, what’s the heck, California?! It’s the year 2014. Do people still not realize what happens when you force things to be priced below market value?)

Much of the debate going on is about global warming. That’s a useless conversation to have right now. First of all, while there are some indications that global warming may make droughts more likely, it’s impossible to tie any particular event to global warming. This area had an even more severe drought five hundred years ago without any SUVs. Second, blaming global warming does not solve the immediate problem. And third, even if we embarked on a massive campaign to stop global warming today, it would take decades for the effects to be felt. Whatever the cause, this is happening and it needs to be dealt with. And moreover, if we are going to have a drier world, we need to come up with strategies that can be used for future droughts.

Fortunately, there is precedent:

Australia has already pioneered many policies could help. Supplying free and below-cost water encourages users to drain rivers, leaving fish and riparian species high and dry. So the first step is to decide how much water based on the best available science should be allocated to environmental flows. Obviously this process will be politically fraught, but after water rights are allocated they can be purchased to further enhance environmental flows. In Australia, the government has spent $2 billion to purchase private water rights to increase river flows. Currently in California, about 50 percent of freshwater flows are reserved for the environment, although that varies greatly by river basin.

In Australia, water rights were historically tied to specific pieces of land. The reform severed these ties and divided rights into water access entitlements and water allocations. For example, if there is a moderate drought, state agencies might set water allocations to 80 percent of each water entitlement. A person owning 10 acre-feet of water would be able to use eight acre-feet of water that year. Owners can sell their entitlement or their annual allocations. If an irrigator who is allocated 8 acre-feet adopts methods that cut his water use to 6 acre-feet, he can then sell the extra 2 acre-feet for whatever price the market will bear.

This policy guided southeastern Australia through the recent millennium drought. It did so while keeping the vineyards and orchards that needed lots of water intact. At the peak of the drought, water right were very expensive. But now that the drought has ended, they are back to being cheap.

What he’s talking about is essentially cap-and-trade. Cap-and-trade is a little tricky. It’s an idea that arose in conservative think tanks in the 80’s and worked spectacularly to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions and acid rain. But sulphur dioxide was a small market and it was comparatively easy to find way to reduce the emissions of something that wasn’t essential. Cap-and-trade with more abundant substance — carbon dioxide or water — is much more fraught with problems. I have opposed cap and trade for greenhouse gases, for example, because it became obvious that putting cap-and-trade on something so universal would create a huge cesspool of political influence and corruption (and probably not work anyway).

But trading water rights worked very well in Australia. It worked because water is something people consume rather than emit. And so simply providing a market encourages people to cut their consumption the best way they can.

California is slowly moving in that direction. They are also trying other idiotic policies involving micromanagement and dumb politics. But allowing markets in water should be a no brainer. This is Econ 101. Prices are not something that appear by magic or are set by the Illuminati. Prices are information. When the price of something is high that tells you it is scarce and you need to conserve it. Let water prices reflect the realities of California’s situation and you’ll find that people find ways to consume less of it.

This will require some changes at the local level. Many areas in California and other western states have codes that require green lawns despite being in naturally dry areas. But the pressure to change those policies will be much higher when water costs what it costs rather than what state agencies think it should cost.

To be fair, markets won’t solve everything. The dangerous draining of aquifers does require government intervention. Aquifers are a public resource and you can’t create an environment where drilling and draining aquifers is a sound business plan. I suspect the best plan may be something like what we’ve seen used to replenish dangerously depleted fish stocks: the sale of aquifer “shares” that cap the amount that can be drained and encourage better management.

Whatever the solution, California’s water shortage and water crisis have been made by decades of idiot policies. Refining those policies or adding even more idiocy to them is not the solution. Turning to markets might be part of one.

Matt Fracking Damon and the Anti-Science Left

And to think, all the Hollywood celebs joke that the facts have a liberal bias:

Matt Damon and John Krasinski ran into a big problem while making their film “Promised Land”; how they solved it tells us a lot about Hollywood.

Some time ago, the two actors decided to make a movie about fracking — a method of getting once-inaccessible oil and gas out of the ground that has become the bête noire of many environmentalists.

The two wrote a screenplay they said was about “American identity . . . and what defines us as a country.”

It was the usual Hollywood script. We all know the . . . drill: Damon’s character works for an “evil” oil company. He comes to small-town America and sells locals a dangerous bill of goods.

So far, so good. Damon was building a movie around environmentalist concerns about fracking. But then reality intervened:

But while “Promised Land” was in production, the story of Dimock [Pennsylvania] collapsed. The state investigated and its scientists found nothing wrong. So the 11 families insisted EPA scientists investigate. They did — and much to the dismay of the environmental movement found the water was not contaminated.

There was Wolf Eagle Environmental Engineers in Texas, a group that produced a frightening video of a flaming house water pipe and claimed a gas company had polluted the water. But a judge just found that the tape was an outright fraud — Wolf Eagle connected the house gas pipe to a hose and lit the water.

Other “pollution” cases collapsed in Wyoming and Colorado. Even Josh Fox, who with his Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” first raised concerns about flammable water, has had to admit he withheld evidence that fracking was not responsible.

These frauds and misrepresentations created huge problems for the Damon/Krasinski script about “what defines us as a country.”

Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve been jerked around quite a bit by these bozos. I’m willing to listen to concerns about fracking. We should pay attention to concerns about new technology, especially one as dramatic as fracking. It’s the basic precautionary principle.

But many of these concerns have turned out to be overblown or outright fraudulent. And the people who should be maddest about this are the environmentalists. It’s their movement, their concerns, their compassion which is being hijacked by anti-corporate hucksters. Now if a legitimate concern were found with fracking, no one would listen because they’ve been lied to so many times.

Well, I’m sure they’ll find someone else to demonize. Maybe GM crops?

I used to think that nothing rivaled the misinformation spewed by climate change skeptics and spinmeisters.

Then I started paying attention to how anti-GMO campaigners have distorted the science on genetically modified foods. You might be surprised at how successful they’ve been and who has helped them pull it off.

I’ve found that fears are stoked by prominent environmental groups, supposed food-safety watchdogs, and influential food columnists; that dodgy science is laundered by well-respected scholars and propaganda is treated credulously by legendary journalists; and that progressive media outlets, which often decry the scurrilous rhetoric that warps the climate debate, serve up a comparable agitprop when it comes to GMOs.

In short, I’ve learned that the emotionally charged, politicized discourse on GMOs is mired in the kind of fever swamps that have polluted climate science beyond recognition.

The latest and greatest is a claim that GM crops cause tumors in rats. Turns out this research was so bogus it got instantly torn apart on the science blogs. Read the details at the link. Read also that Grist, Mother Jones and other liberal publications — who are constantly excoriating global warming skeptics — continue to praise the researchers and their bogus anti-GMO science.

The vast middle of the country is pro-science. I see it every time we do public outreach — the genuine fascination, enthusiasm and wonder in each of the thousand eyes that looks through a telescope on a dark night or peers at one of Hubble’s new images. America loves science and technology. Even the evil fracking is greeted with amazement by many people.

But the hard fringes of either side of our political spectrum do not love science. Fundamentalists of any stripe hate science because science produce results that are inconvenient to their ideology. The Hard Left, which is just as fundamentalist as the hard Right, will accept scientific results — like global warming — if it can be used to support an agenda. But that support will vanish once science comes up with things they don’t like, such as fracking and genetically-modified crops.

And like it or not, these luddite attitudes influence the Democratic Party. You can read Ronald Bailey’s analysis of the 2012 DNC platform and how they have delivered on their 2008 promises. Some is good — oil production is booming, for example. But they’ve been dragging their heels on other issues. And, for all their bluster, federal R&D has fallen 8% under Obama. And if sequestration happens, the eagle will be coming for another chunk of our liver come January despite our never having been bulked up by the stimulus.

That’s the pro-science party?

As for Matt Damon, they are apparently rewriting their movie so that the fraudulent anti-fracking activists are moles for the industry. Okay. Good luck with that. I suspect this will simply be another “issue” movie that — like every issue movie for the last decade — no one watches.

CERN study more worried about politics than the scientific findings?

The U.K> based The Register has this article dealing with the recently published CERN paper entitled “Role of sulphuric acid, ammonia and galactic cosmic rays in atmospheric aerosol nucleation”. Their findings basically destroy the existing climate models used by the watermelon alarmists. Yes, the same ones we discovered where junk after the East Anglia scandal exposed them as rigged, are now going to need, according to the as politically correct as possible language being used to avoid pissing off the big government money machine banking on getting more power and control from selling the AGW myth, to quote the CERN scientists, some “major tweaking”.

CERN’s 8,000 scientists may not be able to find the hypothetical Higgs boson, but they have made an important contribution to climate physics, prompting climate models to be revised.

The first results from the lab’s CLOUD (“Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets”) experiment published in Nature today confirm that cosmic rays spur the formation of clouds through ion-induced nucleation. Current thinking posits that half of the Earth’s clouds are formed through nucleation. The paper is entitled Role of sulphuric acid, ammonia and galactic cosmic rays in atmospheric aerosol nucleation.

This has significant implications for climate science because water vapour and clouds play a large role in determining global temperatures. Tiny changes in overall cloud cover can result in relatively large temperature changes.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a politically sensitive topic, as it provides support for a “heliocentric” rather than “anthropogenic” approach to climate change: the sun plays a large role in modulating the quantity of cosmic rays reaching the upper atmosphere of the Earth.

CERN’s director-general Rolf-Dieter Heuer warned his scientists “to present the results clearly but not interpret them”. Readers can judge whether CLOUD’s lead physicist Jasper Kirkby has followed his boss’s warning.

“Ion-induced nucleation will manifest itself as a steady production of new particles that is difficult to isolate in atmospheric observations because of other sources of variability but is nevertheless taking place and could be quite large when averaged globally over the troposphere.”

So far their study validated that those of us that have been pointing out that solar activity – that’s practically where all of earth’s exposure to cosmic radiation comes from, for you rubes – was a massive driver of temperature and temperature/climate changes, completely undermining the decade old attempt by the watermelons to minimize solar impact in order to sustain that man-made narrative they plan to ride into more power, was correct. As it stands they determined that changes in this radiation from solar activity, even small ones, can have massive impact on the amount of cloud formation and hence drastically affect the amount of heat trapped or released. They even have to admit the role of water vapor, the most prolific greenhouse gas, in this newly revealed – that was sarcasm on my part – equation! Basically their study has yet again found/provided scientific evidence that solar activity affects water vapor content, it drives cloud formation, and that this cloud formation drastically impacts how much heat is trapped or released by the atmosphere, and hence remains the dominant and most important, if not outright exclusive, player in climate change and global temperatures. Not new to those of us that understood this relationship, but apparently something that if you want to be generous to the AGW cultists is seriously flawed in their models. The good research dealing with the impact of the cosmic radiation on the oceans, and the relationship between clouds and trapped heat, is out there and plentiful BTW, and I certainly feel no need to rehash it all here. Google it.

However, to me at least, the most telling revelation, and what I see is the most disastrous one for the AGW cultists, is the admission by Kirby of the “political sensitivity of these findings”. Why should these findings be politically sensitive? So “sensitive” that they have to be explained in a scientific paper that tries its best to do a kabuki dance not to offend those that have dismissed the role of solar radiation and cloud formation in the past. So, how does politics factor into the scientific equation, if this is all about science?

Should not the paper and the research be completely about facts and the rigorous application of the scientific method and totally about what the results and facts obtained through that scientific process tells us? Why would the political class suddenly not like these findings that drastically undermine their premise that man is to blame for climate change, unless they have a plan predicated on that remaining the scientific consensus? The cultists have been telling us now for a long time that the science was settled and on their side, and that anyone that said otherwise was a denier, usually one motivated by politics and greed to boot, so is that why these CERN scientists felt the need to be political? Could avoiding that “denier” tag be the political sensitivity Kirby speaks about?

For those of us, of course, that realized that the exclusive and laser-like focus on CO2 – to the exclusion of all else – that is behind this schism dividing the two camps arguing about what was/is causing climate change, it was very clear that those refuting anything but the CO2 model pushed by the AGW proponents wasn’t based on much real respect for science, and clear that politics had tainted that “settled science” from the beginning, these findings of this aren’t a surprise at all. I would even hazard that it is not a surprise to the clergy of the AGW cult either. However, I don’t expect them to do anything but double down on their settled science, and come out with guns blazing over these findings. Well, that is, once they finally get to reporting on it, which I suspect will not happen until someone comes up with something that they figure allows them to dismiss the findings of this CERN study in the first place.

Think they will fix their broken models to account for these new revelations – to give cloud formation fueled by solar radiation the proper weight in them – then share them with us, though? No, me neither. I do expect them to tell us, regardless of any findings that undermine their plan, that we need to let them keep going with their program to control CO2 emissions with one or another kind of wealth redistribution scheme. At least we know that if we get more Sulfides into the air it will cause more clouds and thus more cooling. Let the games begin!

Coburn on the Move

Tom Coburn is on the warpath against the NSF for supposed wasteful spending on scientific research, citing such wasteful programs as running shrimp on treadmills and having robots fold towels as examples of NSF waste.

I’ve blogged on this subject before. NSF does not dole out research grants on a whim. They are, in fact, a paradigm of how government agencies can work. They stick to a strict budget. The rank proposals by peer review and then only fund the programs they have the money for. Regular reports are required to release funding in subsequent years. And funding is contingent on past performance. If Coburn had dug a little deeper, he would have found that many of these so-called wasteful programs are useful. The shrimp treadmill program, for example, is about monitoring the health of shrimp — shrimping being a multi-billion dollar industry. The towel folding experiment, while sounding trivial, was a key breakthrough in robotics. Even though folding towels seems simple, it’s a very complex task. Getting robots to do it is a big step toward getting them to do other things (and providing insight into how humans do complex tasks so easily).

To be fair, however, you will almost certainly find any list of government research grants to have more than its share of clunkers. Indeed, that’s the reason we have government-funded science — to put money into projects that don’t have an obvious and immediate payoff but may have big benefits down the road: the sort of high-risk, high-reward projects that can sometimes bump science along. Most scientific experiments fail, most scientific theories prove wrong. Scientific investigation often sounds dumb because … well, it often turns out to be dumb. This is why scientists get so defensive about ideas like AGW and evolution: because it’s rare to find a theory so supported by the available evidence.

The best thing to do is let NSF continue to control its budget. Accountability is always good. Let’s make sure there are no conflicts of interest and that money isn’t being put into clearly failed projects. NSF’s policy of publishing layman’s summaries of all approved research should be continued and highlighted. But micromanaging it is a recipe for disaster. As I said in the above linked post:

If we need to cut science funding to balance the budget—and I think it’s a bad place to start cutting—the way to do it simply to cut NSF’s budget and let NSF figure out what programs they can ditch. Maybe we can shift some gross budget items. But having 535 lawyers looking over scientists’ shoulders is bad medicine.

The worst thing about Coburn’s rant is that is has inflamed the usual suspects into claiming that the GOP hates science. In the middle of an otherwise good debunking of talking points, the above blogger says:

Republicans don’t like science and scientists because they are sources of data that are independent of GOP-approved propaganda mills like Fox News. Pesky scientists and academics are always popping up to dispute the Roger Ailes-approved buzz-quote of the day — on climate change, on health care, on the effects of poverty on the rapidly evaporating middle class, on the diversity of American families, and on the importance of funding basic research instead of commercially-driven ventures constrained by short-term considerations like ROI.

Today’s GOP has a visceral distrust of scientists for the same reason that it has a visceral distrust of the “lamestream media” (particularly deeply reported news organizations like The New York Times), teachers, organized labor, regulatory agencies, National Public Radio, and protest movements that are have not been astroturfed for Fox News’ cameras by Koch Industries: They’re not with the program, whatever this week’s program might be — more windfalls to Big Oil, justifying torture, or floating amendments to officially brand gay people as second-class citizens.

Science, you could say, has a built-in left-wing bias, because it does not appeal to simplistic notions of God, country, tribal supremacy, or any of the other lesser angels of our nature that the GOP finds handy for its get-out-the-angry-vote drives.

This is absurd. Ronald Reagan was a tremendous supporter of science as were both Bushes. Here, from the NSFs own website, is NSF’s historical funding, which has risen steadily, including when Bush and the Republicans controlled the government. There was a short (and ill-advised) spike in funding in 2008.

As for not being on the Fox News approved message: the only prominent politicians who are openly questioning the War on Drugs and the War on Terror — I mean, when there isn’t a partisan advantage to doing so — are Republicans like Rand Paul and Gary Johnson. Turn on Fox News and you’ll sometimes find someone like Andrew Napolitano vigorously disagreeing with the GOP on constitutional issues. John McCain and Jon Hunstman have both said they agree that climate change is occurring. McCain, you may remember, is such a marginal figure that he was the Republican President nominee in 2008.

Furthermore, the Left is more than happy to ignore science they don’t like. When The Bell Curve was published, the Left responded with anger, not debate. When Larry Summers, in the midst of discussing how to get more women into science, had the temerity to suggest that sexism was not the root cause of the gender disparity, the Left didn’t just dispute him; they hounded him out of office for blasphemy.

The Left continues to support climate-change related pseudo-science like food miles, locavorism, electric cars and corn ethanol. They continue to treat scientific ignoramus Algore as some kind of prophet. The Democrats have specifically buried reports they don’t like, such as those showing Head Start to be a failure and Obamacare-style reforms to drive up healthcare costs. They continue to flog welfare spending, “fair” trade and raising the minimum wage despite decades of research showing the disastrous effects of such policies. They ignored the parts of Climategate in which scientists tried to silence climate dissenters and have said nothing about unfair and brutal attacks on climate realists like Bjorn Lomborg.

Hell, right fucking now, they are running around claiming the spate of tornados is a result of global warming despite the dearth of any evidence supporting this position. They’ve even said that the null hypothesis should be that any weird weather is a result of global warming. They’re calling for states to make long-term plans to deal with AGW even though no one really knows what those long-term effects will be beyond unscientific “narratives” conjured up out of the imagination.

And frankly, the profligate spending of both parties is the biggest menace threatening science today. Just the interest on the stimulus would be enough to fund a complete second NSF.

But … the Republicans are determined to make it easy to fling these charges at them. Their positions on AGW and evolution open the door wide. They recently cut funds to overhaul our weather satellite system — a crucial part of hurricane prediction. Eric Cantor put numerous small scientific programs on the ridiculous You Cut website.

As long as the GOP continues to act as if science is the enemy, they will be accused of … seeing science as the enemy. As long as they continue to tolerate ignorant anti-science screeds from politicians who can’t be bothered to read the publicly available layman’s summaries of funded research that explain what the research is and why it’s being done, they will be branded this way.

And that’s a pity. Because science won’t survive in the hands of the Democrats either. Science is many things; but it’s never politically correct.

(As always, disclosure: I’ve been funded by NSF programs at various points in my career.)