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Posts Tagged ‘fossil-fuels’

Help Keep Electric Rates Low – No Extra Fees On Solar Energy

Thu ,19/03/2015

Article Photo

Many states are now seeing laws being introduced like Oklahoma SB 1456 , dubbed the Sun Tax. It is not a tax, but allows power companies to assess an extra fee on distributed generation (DG) customers who install renewable energy systems and hook to the power grid for backup. The end result will be higher electric rates as they reduce competition from renewable energy. Here is why.

ALEC: At the 2013 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meeting in Chicago, the Energy Committee, dominated by power and fossil fuel companies, decided one of  ALEC’s goals should be to discourage the spread of renewable energy. Their plan to do so was by weakening renewable portfolio standards (RPS), by claiming that renewable energy systems would make electric rates go up, and by promoting the idea that net energy metering (NEM) customers who install their own solar panels and use the grid for backup were “free riders” who did not pay their fair share of infrastructure costs. Legislation has since been introduced in a number of states intended to increase fees on NEM customers and to reduce the state’s RPS requirements.

SB 1456: Oklahoma passed SB 1456 the next year, which allows power companies to assess an extra fee on distributed generation (DG) customers who install renewable energy systems and hook to the power grid for backup. The law was designed to discourage the investment in renewable energy by private individuals, but it may have unintended consequences for the power companies pushing the fees. Under the law, both PSO and OG &E have filed a request with the Corporation Commission to assess additional fees on DG customers. Public hearings on the law will be held in Oklahoma City on March 31 at 1:30 on the third floor of the Corporation Commission Building. Studies (see below) have shown, when all things are considered, that DG customers provide a net benefit for all other customers. It is in the public’s best interest to request that not only should the fees be denied but, to be fair, the power companies should be required to compensate NEM customers for the extra power they produce.

Fairness: The rationale for SB 1456 was fairness, so the decision should be fair to NEM customers as well. First, NEM customers should be charged as any other customer for the electricity they use. DG  customers who use the grid for backup are required to have a net energy metering (NEM) contract with their power company which requires they pay for the installation and inspection of safety equipment. They also pay a customer fee which goes toward fixed costs and infrastructure, and they are currently not reimbursed for any extra power they produce, essentially providing free energy for the other customers, and they help to conserve energy. AEP/PSO’s states one of its mission is to “help customers use less energy and spend less for it”. Is it fair, then, that customers who cut their energy use in half by installing extra insulation are appreciated while those who cut their energy use in half by installing solar energy are charged an extra fee?

Second, NEM customers should be compensated fairly for the excess energy they provide. Research shows that states which encourage NEM customers have found they provide a small positive benefit both to other customers and to the power grid.  Why, then, should they be charged an extra fee?

Research: Studies have found that states which encourage net energy metering (NEM) experience a net benefit to all electric customers. A study by Crossborder Energy in 2014 found NEM allows utilities to avoid costs of generation and fuel, maintenance and upgrade of transmission and distribution infrastructure, transmission losses (which account to 7% of losses), capacity purchases, and compliance with renewable energy standards. The study concluded,” The cost which utilities avoid when they accept NEM power exported to their grid shows that NEM does not produce a cost to nonparticipating ratepayers; instead it creates a small net benefit on average across the residential markets.” While it does cause power companies to have to adjust their loads accordingly, NEM reduces peak loads, transmission losses, and the need for new power plants.  In California, the study found NEM “delivers more than $92 million in annual benefits to non-solar customers”.

Another important study was performed at the request of the Vermont Legislature who specifically charged the Vermont Department of Public Service with determining if there is a cross-subsidization with net metering and other retail customers. They were also asked to examine any benefits or cost of NEM customers to the distribution and transmission system.  The report found the specific ratepayer benefits, the statewide, and societal benefits of NEM as: “Avoided energy costs, including costs of line losses, capacity costs, and avoided internalized greenhouse gas emission costs; avoided regional transmission costs; avoided in-state transmission and distribution costs; solar’s coincidence with times of peak demand; and the additional benefit of the economic multiplier associated with the local investment and jobs created from the local manufacturing and installation of net metering systems. The report concludes, “ Even considering subsidies, solar net metering is a net-positive for the state of Vermont.”

These studies show that NEM customers provide a net benefit to ratepayers in states which encourage investments in solar and wind generation by private individuals. To be fair, NEM customers should be charged for the energy they use just as any other customer and they should be compensated for the extra energy they produce just as any other energy provider.

Unintended Consequences: Though SB 1456 was intended to discourage private investment in renewable energy, it may not turn out that way. Upon signing the bill, Gov. Mary Fallin attached a letter requiring “the Corporation commission to conduct a transparent evaluation of distributed generation consistent with the Oklahoma First Energy Plan. It also said, ” This evaluation mandates inclusion of all stakeholders including representatives of the solar distributed wind energy industries and utilities.” and “A proper and required examination of these other rate reforms will ensure an appropriate implementation of the Oklahoma first energy plan while protecting future distributed generation customers.”

The Oklahoma First Energy Policy encourages development of wind and solar energy, but it relies heavily on the increasing development of our natural gas resources. However, fracking and the associated disposal wells may be related to the increased incidences of earthquakes in Oklahoma.  If a definite link is established between fracking activities and earthquakes, it might greatly curtail Oklahoma’s production of natural gas. Oklahoma is now in the process of replacing some of its coal-fired power plants with natural gas plants. It would be prudent for Oklahoma to encourage the development of renewable energy systems. Recently, OG&E asked to increase its customer charges by $1.1 billion for federal environmental compliance and to replace an aging natural gas plant. Encouraging distributed generation customers to install extra capacity would not only help with the environmental compliance, but could eventually reduce the need to replace aging plants. Requiring that DG investors be compensated fairly for excess energy they provide would encourage them to install excess capacity to meet future demands.

A Model: Some electric co-ops , such as Oklahoma’s Indian Electric Cooperative, recognize the value of net energy metering. IEC allows net metering customers to accumulate credit for excess power and pays them at the end of the year for any excess credit at the wholesale rate, essentially treating them as any other power provider. If the Oklahoma Corporation Commission would adopt a similar model and require that NEM customers be compensated for the excess power they produce, it would greatly encourage private investments in renewable energy installations.

(C) 2015  J.C. Moore

The Cornwall Alliance: Dominionism vs. Science and Religion

Tue ,06/01/2015

The Cornwall Alliance has been transformed into a propaganda machine to cast doubt on climate science and to urge Christian churches to “Resist the Green Dragon” of environmental stewardship.

 

According to the Cornwall Alliance, the Christian environmental movement is a Green Dragon swallowing up our churches, saying “Both professing Protestants and o gdRoman Catholics bear a burden of guilt for the current political mess we are in with the global warming and other hysterias.” Further, NASA is complicit , ”The environmental lobby and your government [NASA] want to indoctrinate your children into envirospies watching your every move and harassing you until you change your behavior.” Such is the messages of the Cornwall Alliance under the leadership of Dr. E Calvin Beisner.

Why the attack on NASA? NASA‘s research has shown that the rising burden of carbon dioxide caused by burning fossil fuels is causing the Earth to warm and for our weather to be more severe. Dr. Beisner is upset that NASA put together a children’s website to help children understand using energy wisely to reduce climate change. Dr. James Hansen, former head of the NASA’s Institute for Space Studies is one of the most respected climatologists in the world. His most famous quotes is, “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, CO2 will need to be reduced from the current levels of 400 ppm to at most 350 ppm.” That can only be done if we greatly curtail our use of fossil fuels, which of course would hurt the profits of the fossil fuel industry. Attacking science. scientists, and Christian stewardship on behalf of the fossil fuel industry is what Dr. Beisner does best, and the Cornwall Alliance is his vehicle for doing so.

The Cornwall Alliance: The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, in 2000, developed the Cornwall Doctrine. Its main goal was to address the challenges faced by the very poor because of climate change. The doctrine was based on Genesis 1:28 which says, ” Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”  Generally, those who argue for Christian stewardship think that dominion means “benevolent rule”. Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, a Dominionist, apparently interprets the scripture to mean “subdue and exploit”.  It is likely that not everyone who signed the Cornwall Doctrine would agree, but Dr. Beisner  promotes his views as that of the Cornwall Alliance. The Cornwall Doctrine was viewed as guiding principles until about 2007 when Dr. Beisner formed an alliance with the Heartland Institute.

The Heartland Institute: It became apparent in the early 1980’s that carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels was causing changes in the environment that would impact mankind, particularly those in poor and indigenous societies who do not have the resources to adjust to the changing climate. Many churches have adopted statements encouraging environmentalism based upon good stewardship, some specifically mentioning the threat of greenhouse gases. The  Heartland Institute was identified by Riley Dunlap and Aaron McCright as a part of the Climate Change Denial Machine  which receives “dark money” from fossil fuel companies and funnel it to front groups that create propaganda casting doubt on climate science.  Dr. Beisner makes a special point that dominion is not domination; however, the men who wish to dominate and exploit the environment for profit certainly find his arguments useful. They found in him a way to counter the Christian Stewardship movement, and the Cornwall Alliance, under Dr. Beisner’s leadership, became part of the sounding board for the climate change denial machine.

The Green Dragon: In 2010, the Cornwall Alliance chose the “Green Dragon” to symbolize its campaign against the growth of the environmental stewardship movement in Christian churches. The campaign was based upon the book “Resisting the Green Dragon”, by James Wanliss.  A review of the book shows that though Dr. Wanliss is a physicist, the book was not soundly based upon physics, but upon Martin Durkin’s movie, The Great Global Warming Swindle, though the movie is based upon bad science and fraud. Mr. Durkin misrepresents his credentials, presents fabricated data, and distorts the work of scientists he quotes.  The Cornwall Alliance has produced a series of videos based upon Resisting the Green Dragon, assailing its hold on the churches. There is little truth and much propaganda in the videos. They seem designed more to protect the profits of the fossil fuel companies than to protect the Earth, or the people who depend on the Earth for survival.  Though the book and the videos try to make a case that Christian churches should abandon environmental stewardship, they are apparently having little impact.

Science: Dr. Beisner doesn’t understand science, despite claiming to be an authority on energy and environmental issues. When God created the Heavens and the Earth, he also created the laws of physics which governs them. While Dr. Beisner may interpret the scriptures to suit his purposes, the Earth will follow the laws of physics no matter what he claims. Dr. Beisner’s degree is in Scottish history, which in no way qualifies him to make judgments about climate science, nor does it give him the expertise to decide whether the science Skeptics he quotes are legitimate. Every major science organization in the world has adopted statements similar to that of the American Chemical Society which says,” the Earth’s  climate system is changing rapidly in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases and absorbing  aerosol particles. There is very little room for doubt that observed climate trends are due to human activities. The threats are serious and action is urgently needed to mitigate the risks of climate change.” Dr. Beisner’s pronouncements are in conflict with the theories of climate science, the empirical evidence, and the opinions of the 97% of the scientists who are active in research.

Military: If Dr. Beisner will not listen to our scientists, then perhaps he should listen to our military leaders , ” Drastic weather, rising seas and changing storm patterns could become “threat multipliers” for the United States, vastly complicating security challenges faced by American forces.” Many low lying islands, and even some of our military bases, are threatened by rising sea levels and increased tidal surges. The accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict. It concluded that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating longstanding regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. The rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions like eastern India, Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam at risk and could lead to a new wave of refugees.

Religions:  Despite Dr. Beisner’s insistence that environmentalism is a Green Dragon, eating the heart of the church and leading it into sin, the leaders of our churches differ .  At its 2014 meeting in Geneva, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches , which represent some 590 million people in 150 countries, endorsed fossil fuel divestment, agreeing to phase out its own holdings and encourage its members to do the same.  Serene Jones, the President of Union Theological Seminary in the US, which recently committed to divest its entire $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuels says, “Scripture tells us that all of the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to care for and respect the health of the whole. As a seminary dedicated to social justice, we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”

The Catholic Church, who centuries ago made peace with science, is following suit. Pope Francis will release in March a comprehensive Vatican teachings on climate change, which will urge 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide to take action. “The document will take a position in favor of the scientific consensus that climate change is real … and link the deforestation and destruction of the natural environment to the particular economic model of which Pope Francis has been a critic.” The pope also plans to address the United Nations General Assembly and convene a summit of the world’s main religions in hopes of bolstering next year’s crucial U.N. climate meeting in Paris.

Representing the most conservative of Christians, the Evangelical Environmental Alliance  take great issue with Dr. Beisner’s claim that they are worshiping a false God. They assert: “ Pollution hurts the poor the most, and Christians are called to care for the poor and the less powerful (Mt. 25:37-40). Thus, caring for all of creation provides a Christian with the deepest sense of joy and contentment since it is part of loving God.” And, recently, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UNCC) adopted a strong resolution on climate change that calls upon church members to “make shareholder engagement on climate change an immediate, top priority for the next five years”, to “demand action from legislators and advocate for the creation and enforcement of carbon-reducing laws.” , to “make lifestyle changes to reduce the use of fossil fuels in our lives, our homes, our businesses and our churches”, and to “to reduce the use of fossil fuels, our carbon footprint, and our complicity with the fossil fuel industry.”

Funding: Dr. Beisner is vague about the funding sources for the Cornwall Alliance. Much of its funding is given through 501©(3) organizations that do not have to reveal the amount or the donors. Though it is difficult to trace the funds, many of the paths lead from the foundations aligned with the fossil fuel industry. When Leo Hickman, in a Guardian interview, asked Dr. Beisner directly about funding, he neatly evaded the question by replying  “ Here in the US, for a variety of different reasons, you can make a donation to one charitable foundation via another foundation and the receiving foundation does not know who you are. Sometimes it’s just as simple as, ‘Hey, Jesus, said don’t let the left hand know what the right it doing.” When he was asked in an interview with Bill Moyers about his role as a  resident scholar at the Acton Institute, he acted unaware that the Acton Institute for years has received steady support from Exxon-Mobil. Anyone who thinks that Dr. Beisner is not disingenuous in what he says, should read that interview. Think Progress traced the funding for the Cornwall Alliance back to what they call the “oily operators”,  showing that Dr. Beisner is likely hiding his main funding sources. Certainly, men who wish to dominate and exploit the environment for profit, and misguided  politicians, will find the Cornwall Alliance’s arguments useful, and be willing to pay for the propaganda.

 The Indigenous and poor: Though the Cornwall Alliance receives donations from individuals and corporations, there is no evidence that any of the money actually goes to help the poor. It’s main contribution seems to be a claim that environmentalism will keep them from having cheap energy from fossil fuels to develop into industrialized nations. Dr. Beisner should realize that civilization existed for thousands of years without fossil fuels and, though fossil fuels have been a great benefit to man, abusing their use is creating conditions on the Earth that threatens poor countries and indigenous people. If they are to develop energy sources, it would likely be from sustainable sources as they do not have the wealth or the infrastructure to support a fossil fuel system. He ignores the social justice element. The countries and the people feeling the greatest effects of climate change are those with the least infrastructure and economic capacity to deal with those impacts. And they’ve also contributed the least to the problem because they’re often small economically and small in terms of their carbon footprint. So as global leaders in countries that enjoy a very high standard of living, isn’t its partly our responsibility to do something that doesn’t wreck the climate for everybody else?

Though Dr. Beisner asserts that efforts to reduce climate change will hurt the poor and indigenous people, just the opposite is true.  The poor do not have the resources to adapt to climate change or to recover from climate disasters. In many cases, climate change is threatening the way of life that has sustained them for centuries. Last year’s drought on the Horn of Africa led to widespread famine and many deaths among the poor. The people of Kashmir are concerned that the glaciers that feed their streams in the summer are receding – making less water available. The Sherpa of Tibet worry that their villages may be flooded by lakes that now form each summer from melting glaciers, held back by unstable ice dams. The Inuit in Greenland cannot use their traditional hunting grounds at the ice is too thin for their dog sleds to traverse. Those in the Arctic are having to move their coastal villages to keep them from being eroded away by wave action of open seas, which used to be ice year-round. Their inland villages are threatened because the permafrost upon which they are built now becomes a quagmire in the summer. They are being forced to change a way of life that sustained them for centuries. While some may adapt, their way of life and culture will be destroyed, and many will likely end up among the poor and unemployed. As reported in The Guardian, thousands of indigenous people from the Andes, the Amazon, and neighboring South American countries invaded the Peruvian capital during the Climate Conference. They marched outside demanding a solution to climate change, and a solution to the corporate invasions of their traditional lands.

Bill McKibben is the founder of 350.org, dedicated to reducing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to a safe 350 ppm. In his acceptance speech for the Right Livelihood Award, akin to a Nobel Prize for humanitarian work, he expressed it eloquently, “We stand in solidarity with Andean activists losing the glaciers that supply their drinking water, and with Bangladeshi activists watching the seas rise in the Bay of Bengal. We learn from African leaders like Desmond Tutu, who recently called climate change the greatest human rights challenge of our time, and from Sámi leaders from the top of the world, who are watching berserk winter weather wreck time-honored ways of life. We struggle alongside residents of Delhi and Beijing and the other smog-choked metropolises of our planet… We look with great inspiration to the countries like Germany that are demonstrating daily that it is entirely possible to turn to renewable energy for the power that we need on this planet.”

Conclusion: Dr. Beisner’s opinions are not only in conflict with climate scientists, our military leaders, and mainstream Christian churches, but with his own Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church stated in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2008, its “serious concern that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems.” While Dr. Beisner may believe what he wishes, he should not bear witness to ideas which are so much in conflict with those of his own faith and with the majority of scientists, nor should he encourage others to do so. Clearly, the conspiracies theories he spins and promotes in his newsletter have little evidence to support them.

Even the book, “Resisting the Green Dragon”, upon which his attacks upon stewardship are based, was published by WND Publishing which is well known for publishing conspiracies. It seems wrong for the Cornwall Alliance to use the power and respect that people have for ministers and Scripture to criticize the Christians who believe in good stewardship. The Cornwall Alliance does just that, as resisting the Green Dragon aligns more with profit motives than Christianity. There are millions of Christians around the world who consider the Cornwall Alliance’s views, as presented by Dr. Beisner, as a misinterpretation of the Scriptures and a failure to reflect what Jesus actually taught. The only time Jesus showed anger in the Bible was when he drove the money changers from the Temple. How might Jesus feel about the Cornwall Alliance bringing corporate interests into places of worship? Perhaps Dr. Beisner should rethink whether he really wishes to do that.

(C) 2015 J.C. Moore

Bits and Pieces: Two Misguided Attacks on Wind Turbines and Electric Cars

Sun ,25/05/2014

There were two op-ed pieces in the May 25, 2014 Tulsa World which were misguided attacks on renewable energy and electric cars.

The first was titled “The Killing Fields”, with the subheading “Perverse federal energy incentive is a threat to birds, bats.” The article was written by Dr. George Fenwick who is the president of the American Bird Conservancy. The article was illustrated by an Associated Press photo which shows cattle standing in front of a windfarm in a drought prone area of Texas. It well illustrated flaws in Dr. Fenwick’s reasoning, he is more concerned about the wind turbines than about a much greater threat to bird populations.

While Dr. Fenwick had some good points in the article about the value of birds and our need to conserve them, the sensationalized article missed the greatest threat to birds. He complained about the federal production tax credit which encourages the development of wind energy, about allowing exception to the Endangered Species Act, and about siting of wind farms in sensitive areas. Wind developers are already avoiding sensitive areas and they have changed the design of wind turbines so they would be less of a threat to birds. He should have been more concerned about the bigger threats to bird populations, which are severe weather and the destruction of habitat, both made worse by global warming. Delaying the construction of wind turbines will certainly lead to more carbon emissions, making global warming more of a problem

Research shows that wind turbines are not among the top 10 human causes of bird mortality – and windfarms are likely saving HPIM2053amany more birds than they are killing. A comprehensive study of bird mortality in Canada found most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by feral and domestic cats, collisions with buildings and vehicles, and electricity transmission and distribution lines.  A related peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality found that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. They concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

The fifth IPCC report says that the most important thing we can do to mitigate global warming is to switch to renewable energy as quickly as possible. If Dr. Fenwick’s sensationalized articles about “The Killing Fields” keeps us from developing renewable energy as quickly as possible, then he is working against the birds, and his own, best interest.

The second article, “Driving greener cars won’t save the Earth” by Megan McArdle essentially says efforts are futile to reduce our carbon emissions. She belittles her friend for buying an electric car and goes on that Americans are likely to do nothing significant to reduce our carbon emissions. She well documents all the ways that we waste energy and claims we are unlikely to change. She also points out that getting other countries, particularly China, to to reduce their carbon emissions is also futile. She concluded that if we want to get serious about reducing our carbon emissions then we need to find cheap renewable resources to replace our energy needs, to find a way to take greenhouse gases out of the air, or to keep the planet from warming because of those gasses that we have already put their .

Her last two suggestions show she does not have a good grasp of the scientific issues, but she is certainly right that we need cheap renewable resources. We have already found those in wind and solar, but they are not yet cheaper than fossil fuels because fossil fuels do not pay their external costs. The external costs for fossil fuels do not include health and environmental damage from particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, chromium, mercury, arsenic, and carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal –  if costs to the environment and to human health were included. If we include those  costs, then sustainable energy sources have a big cost advantage. If we wish to be serious, then we need to remove subsidies to fossil fuels, require fossil fuels to pay their external costs, and to  subsidize renewable energy sources at the same level for several decades.

This falls into a long list of defeatist articles, such as that by Robert Bryce, which says that we are not going to be able to do anything about global warming, so why try. Yes, driving greener cars alone won’t save the Earth, but conserving energy, developing renewable energy sources, changing the energy sources we subsidize, and having fossil fuels pay their external costs, will certainly help more than writing articles discouraging us from trying.

  (c) 2014  J.C. Moore

Legislating Away Climate Change

Mon ,17/03/2014

 

 “Any time a law discourages science, you can be sure  there is a special interest behind it.”

 The 113th United States Congress has been busy making sure that money is not spent on climate research and that the research is not used to make rational decisions. Here is a sampling of some of the recent bills.

 Flood Insurance Rates: The House passed the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HR 3370) sponsored by Michael Grimm (R-NY) which would bar FEMA from increasing flood insurance premiums to reflect updated flood risk in certain areas or reducing subsidies for property that was insured.

You might wonder why Congress would wish to bar FEMA from doing its job. This is similar to a North Carolina law (HB 819) which imposed a four-year moratorium on any sea-level forecast to be used as the basis for regulations while the issue is studied. “North   Carolina should not ignore science when making public policy decisions,” Governor Bev Perdue said. And then she ignored science by refusing to veto HB 819. Research on rising sea levels would predict that more of the North Carolina coastal region would be in a floodplain. It’s a sweet deal, the North Carolina developers and builders profit by building homes in the floodplain, and the federal government picks up the tab when the homes flood. Apparently the legislature is not going to let a little science interfere with that sweet deal.

Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The House passed the Electricity Security and Affordability Act (HR 3826), sponsored by Ed Whitfield (R-KY), which restricts the ability of the EPA to issue a rule under the clean air act to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from new fossil fuel fired power plants.

Fossil fuel companies now get a competitive edge on sustainable energy sources, as they do not have to pay for the true cost of carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal, if costs to the environment and to human health were included. This law makes sure that the competitive edge for fossil fuels remains intact.

Social Cost of Carbon Emissions: This amendment to HR 2641, sponsored by David McKinley (R-WV), would bar regulatory agencies from using the social cost of carbon emissions as a factor when conducting environmental reviews of proposed construction projects. West Virginia produces a large amount of coal.

This law is designed to head off  a new report on the social cost of carbon from being used in rulemaking. A special panel of scientists has just issued  a 1,146-page draft report that details  the social costs of carbon. The report describes how climate change is already disrupting the health, homes and other facets of daily American life. It warns that those disruptions will increase in the future and the social costs will grow unless we reduce our carbon emissions.

Defunding climate research: The Weather Forecasting Improvement Act (HR 2413), sponsored by Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), is designed to shift much of the funding of climate change research to weather radar research.  Mr. Bridenstine apparently does not know or care that this would defund much of the climate and weather research  vital to our national interest. The reason for this bill is clear, what you don’t know can’t be used as a basis for regulation of CO2 emissions.

Many more laws like these are coming down the pipeline. Any time a law discourages the use of scientific research, you can be sure there is a special interest group behind it.

(c) 2014  J.C.Moore

The Climate Change Denial Machine: The Psychology of Denial

Mon ,03/03/2014

 “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society.” – AAAS

Similar statements have been adopted by every major scientific organization in the world, nearly 200 organizations. Yet, there are those who deny there is a scientific consensus as well as the evidence upon which it is based. They object to being labelled as “deniers”  so writers often use “dissenters”, “contrarians”, or “Skeptics”, with the capital “S” denoting their skepticism is based more on financial consideration or ideology than reason. The scientists who investigate human behavior use the term “denial”, as it is correct.

Denial: In psychology, denial is an aberrant behavior  exhibited by individuals choosing to deny reality as a way to avoid dealing with an uncomfortable truth. It is also a sociological concept, as author Michael Specter defined group denialism, “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.” Smokers, when confronted with the reality that their habit could shorten their lives, often denied the evidence – and the Tobacco companies were only too happy to provide the comfortable lies.  They funded scientific study after scientific study that found no link between smoking and lung disease and made commercials with doctors, or actors playing doctors, assuring people that smoking was safe. The tactics worked, as people still smoke today, harming themselves and everyone who inhales their secondhand smoke.

In tobacco’s denialism, money and misinformation were distributed through an organization of Conservative think tanks and front groups. Those who wish to deny climate change use many of the same organizations and tactics, with improvements. They are better funded,  support a far greater number of  Skeptics and politicians, and  use the Internet to widely disseminate their propaganda. Sociologists Riley Dunlap and Aaron McCright have investigated the denial system and named it the Climate Change Denial Machine . Its main components were examined and explained in their article in the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society . Their diagram of the machine showing how all the components interact is below.

 Oxford-figure-reprinted-revised

 

Corporations and Foundations: The climate denial machine is funded by wealthy corporations and foundations. It is difficult to track the funding as it is channeled through 501C(3)  tax exempt organizations, which makes it difficult to trace the donors or the money. The front groups add another layer of anonymity for the donors and help distribute the money in what they claim to be charity and education expenses, justifying the corporation’s tax-exempt status.

The citizens watchdog group Opensecrets.org reported that during the last six years, fossil fuel companies spent an average of $152 million per year on lobbying alone. The corporations see the money as an investment, as last year the US subsidized the fossil fuel industry by $13.6 billion, about six times as much as subsidies to develop sustainable energy sources. Their lobbying efforts result in laws favorable to the industry and help them avoid taxes and regulation, essentially transferring  health and environmental costs  of pollution to the public. Since the lobbying money is funneled through tax-exempt organizations, taxpayers are helping fund the climate denial machine, a machine which is undermining our scientific and democratic institutions.

Motivated reasoning . Those who support the climate denial machine often justify it by  “motivated reasoning”. A  study of climate change deniers found they tend to hold general beliefs in free-market ideology and conspiracy theories. University of Western Australia psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky  and two collaborators  investigated the dynamics of science doubters. They surveyed visitors to  climate change blogs  and asked them about free-market ideology, their views on climate science,  and their belief in conspiracy theories. The study,  published in Psychological Science, found :

 1. The more people believed in free-market ideology, the less they believed in climate science.

2.The more they accepted science in general, the more they accepted the conclusions of climate science.

3. And the more likely they were to be conspiracy theorists, the less likely they were to believe in climate science.

These results fit in with a longer literature on what has come to be known as motivated reasoning. Other things being equal, people tend to believe what they want to believe, and to disbelieve new information that might challenge them.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The study upset those denying climate science and they rejected the study,  claiming it was  just a part of the  global warming conspiracy .

Think Tanks: The Conservative think tanks are misnamed as they present climate change denial as a conservative cause, but there is nothing conservative about advocating for policies which result in changing the climate of the Earth. Think tanks are the brains of the climate denial machine, as they plan the strategy and generate the misinformation and comfortable lies that are passed on to the public. They also coordinate the production of misinformation by fake scientists, such as Lord Monckton, and, even worse, produce misleading statements by science Skeptics, such as John Christy, Roy Spencer, Judith Curry, and a few dozen others who regularly attend the NIPCC (Not the IPCC) meetings sponsored by fossil fuel corporations.  

The Sounding Board is in made up of politicians, media sources, and blog sites. Politicians, particularly those who claim to be conservatives, spread misinformation that ranges from “climate science is a hoax” to “scientists have not proved their case enough for us to take action”. The science Skeptics are invited to Congressional hearings where they cast doubt on the testimony of climate scientists and provide cover for the politicians. Politicians often speak at public gatherings and are quoted in newspapers, giving them many opportunities to spread propaganda.

Science Skeptics often present their ideas in interviews and op-ed articles in newspapers to bypass the peer review required by science journals. The media sources are complicit in this, claiming they are presenting both sides of the issue. This makes the Skeptic’s arguments, supported by little research, appear equal in weight to the arguments of climate scientist, supported by thousands of peer-reviewed research papers. A count of research papers from  1991 to 2012 found that 13,926 papers supported the consensus opinion, while only 24 rejected it.

Blog sites are one of the main ways that misinformation is spread to the public. Free from editors or peer review, the skeptics can, and do, distort information to suit themselves. Many of the science Skeptics have web sites which, along with sites like Wattsupwiththat and ClimateAudit, dispute the findings of peer-reviewed research. The misinformation they create is then picked up by other websites and Internet trolls who spread it across the Internet.

Astroturf organizations are fake grassroots organizations designed to make it appear that a cause has much more widespread support than it actually does. An example is an ad in support of clean coal that showed a large group with a banner reading “We Support Clean Coal”. The hoax was exposed when someone noticed that that the same photo was available on the Internet and that the clean coal banner had been Photoshopped in. The Internet can be used to create Astroturf organizations such as occurred on an Internet site protesting genetically modified food. A large number of bloggers in support GMO foods descended on the site to dispute the message and to shut down the discussions. The bloggers were exposed as trolls when their IP addresses were found to be registered to Monsanto – which sells genetically modified seeds, and ironically, also holds the patent for Astroturf.

Paid trolls are often called “sock puppets” as their message is controlled by those who create them.  Paid trolls are often given a target site, a set of talking points, and a program which allows them to set up a number of fake identities for additional sock puppets, to make it appear that many support their arguments . Sometimes a troll will create a sock puppet with weak, easily refuted arguments, to make the troll’s arguments seem stronger. Sock puppets do not follow the rules of debate and are often uncivil, using personal attacks in an attempt to shut down reasonable discussion. Research shows that sock puppets, and even unpaid trolls, often enjoy what they do because of negative personality characteristics.

Trolls: personality study correlated the activities enjoyed by Internet users with personality traits. The study  explored whether Internet trolls’ behavior fell into the Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others). The chart below shows the results.

sadism

It shows that the Dark Tetrad traits were positively correlated with self-reported enjoyment of trolling. Of the traits, the researchers  found sadism stands out among trolls.  The internet has given sadistic trolls, those who think that hurting people is exciting, a broader and more anonymous outlet to express their behavior. We have certainly all run across these trolls on climate change articles.

Trolling works: Popular Science shut down its comment section because of trolls,  citing a research report which showed that even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story. The results of the study by Dominique Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele was summarized by the authors in a New York Times article:

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.  Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with a technology.  Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

George Monbiot who covers environmental issues at the Guardian, wrote in Reclaim the Cyber-Commons, of the need to restore civility to internet discussions of climate change. In it he said:

“… two patterns jump out at me. The first is that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where companies stand to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health and corporate tax avoidance. These are often characterised by amazing levels of abuse and disruption.

The second pattern is the strong association between this tactic and a certain set of views: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-regulation. Both traditional conservatives and traditional progressives tend be more willing to discuss an issue than these right-wing libertarians, many of whom seek instead to shut down debate.”

His comments explain a lot about the motivation behind sock puppets and ideological trolls.

 In Summary: A study by McKee and Diethelm titled,  Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?,  describe the five tactics used by deniers as a means to identify them.  Their five tactics of denial were summarized very nicely on Rachel’s Blog  which,  with a  few changes, are:

1. Identifying conspiracies. In climate science denial, people have argued that scientists are doctoring the temperature records to make it look like warming is happening when it is not. This idea must be incredibly hard to justify to oneself as it is ridiculous to think that thousands of scientists from lots of different countries could be in on some conspiracy theory which will not benefit them in any way and which all of us want to be wrong.

2. Using fake experts. This technique was employed by the tobacco industry which had a strategy of employing scientists whose views were at odds with the consensus in the field. The same tactic can be seen in climate change. From the McKee article: “In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, involving the recruitment of ‘scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science [who can] help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases’.”

3. Highlighting outliers. This happens in climate change when contrarians make a big deal out of research that claims figures for climate sensitivity lying outside the IPCC range. They are highlighting a few research papers that are outliers while ignoring the majority of evidence.

4. Placing impossible expectations on research. The repeated phrase that the “models failed to predict the pause” fits with this. No-one can predict the future exactly. Scientists do not work with ouija boards.  Climate models – just like all models of physical systems – contain uncertainty and it is unreasonable to expect them not to. But although the model projections do a remarkably accurate job of making future projections of climate, contrarians still place unreasonable expectations on what they can do.

5. Using misrepresentation and logical fallacies.  Logical fallacies include the use of red herrings, deliberate attempts to change the argument, and straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented to make it easier to refute. Other fallacies used by denialists are false analogy and the excluded middle fallacy (either climate change causes a wide range of severe weather events or causes none at all, so doubt about an association with one event, such as a hurricane, is regarded as sufficient to reject an association with any weather event).

To respond these tactics, the authors suggest it is important to recognize denialism when confronted with it. The normal civil response to an opposing argument is to engage it, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties have a willingness to  follows certain rules such as looking at the evidence as a whole, rejecting deliberate distortions, and acceptance principles of logic. They say, a ” meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects the rules. Yet it would be wrong to prevent the denialists having a voice. Instead, it is necessary to shift the debate from the subject under consideration, to instead exposing to public scrutiny the tactics denirs employ and identifying them publicly for what they are.”

Dealing with Trolls: Exposure would probably work with sock puppets, as those controlling them do not wish to be exposed. Those who troll for the fun of upsetting people would likely enjoy the diversion off topic, deny being a troll, and heap abuse on anyone who even suggested their motives were not pure. A good strategy is to just ignore trolls. If one wants to confront the lies and distortions, it is more effective to write a separate article refuting their premises.  Running up a large number of  comments on a troll’s article is simply “feeding the troll”, giving them more opportunities to respond and enriching paid trolls. Clicking on trolls’ links only runs up the hit count of denier sites, making them appear more important than they are and possibly adding to their advertising value.

In most  cases, ensuring civility is up to the blog moderators. Blog sites can discourage trolling with good policies and strong moderation. Those who attack others or claim obvious lies as fact should not get posted.  Repeat offenders should be banned or blacklisted. The trolls may claim violations of freedom of speech or censorship. If they do, invite them to resubmit their posts with valid references, in a civil manner, and without  personal attacks.  They will likely disappear. Don’t we wish?

(c) 2014  J.C. Moore

 

The Beauty and Power of Wind Energy

Wed ,12/02/2014

Before fossil fuels, wind was man’s major source of power for sailing ships, grinding grain, and pumping water.  The beauty of ships and windmills were an endless source of inspiration for painters and photographers. Windmills were once the source of power for providing water in rural America, such as the one in the picture with the giant wind turbines towering over it. Though some criticize the wind turbines for being unsightly, they have a majestic beauty of their own. Their real beauty is in their utility as,  windmill4once built, there are no fuel costs or emissions. Much of the criticism of wind power has come from the fossil fuel industry, as it is hard to compete against a technology with no fuel costs and few  regulatory problems.

Fossil fuels now have a near monopoly on providing energy, and consumers would benefit from more competition in that market. Fossil fuels have served us well and we will certainly need them far into the future – even to develop sustainable energy sources.  But there is a trap if we wait too long, as the rising  price of traditional fuels will also increase the cost of  building the renewable sources,  possibly leading to an energy shortage before renewable sources can make up the difference.

Cost: As the cost of building new coal fired plants has increased prohibitively, a number of US power companies have taken advantage of wind energy to  increase the supply to their customers and lower their costs.  Recently, AEP/PSO  in Oklahoma was able to meet the demand caused by the heat wave in 2012 by bringing 200 megawatts (MW) of wind energy online. It recently planned to purchase 200 MW more, but took advantage of an opportunity to contract for an additional 600 MW of wind energy from facilities being developed in northwestern Oklahoma. AEP/PSO said the cost was now less than building new coal fired plants, and that the purchase will save an estimated $53 million in the first year and even more thereafter. The declining cost of wind energy is making it competitive to natural gas as well. Wind contracts in Texas, about one quarter of all US installations, are now regularly below $30/MWh. Even with a tax incentive, this still puts wind well below $50/MWh, while the comparable cost for a new gas plant is above $60 /MWh. New design and siting where there are good wind conditions allows Texas wind farms to get capacity factors around 50%. Nearly half of that occurs during peak load, defying characterizations of wind as essentially an off-peak power source.

Capacity: One criticism of wind energy is that it will not be able to supply enough power to replace the fossil fuel sources.  WindWind currently supplies about 3% of the worlds electricity and is growing 25% each year, meaning that it will double about every three years.The graph on the right shows the worldwide growth of wind power. Last year, wind farms in the U.S. generated 60,000 megawatts of energy, enough to power 15 million homes, and provided 81,000 jobs nationwide. Another criticism, based on a misunderstanding, is that there is not enough available space. Each windmill requires about about 14 acres of air space to insure they do not interfere with each other but they  require much less land space,  about 0.3 acres per turbine. Landowners can use the area below the windmills for farming or livestock, and they are compensated by a 5% royalty, about $3000 to $5000, as  each turbine generates about $80,000 in electricity.

Startup costs: To compare the costs of building new plants, the levelized costs of primary energy sources have been estimated for different regions  of the country. CostLevelized costs include all the costs of building a new plant and running it for a 30-year cost recovery period, regardless of the expected lifetime of the plant. Wind turbines may have a much longer recovery period, as some windmills in Holland have been operating for two centuries, though some of the gears are made of wood.  Though the table show some types of gas fired plants to be less costly that wind energy, the levelized costs do not include external costs, i.e.,  the costs indirectly borne by society. The external costs for fossil fuels do not include health and environmental damage from particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, chromium, mercury, arsenic, and carbon emissions. An EU funded research study, Externalities of Energys ,  found that including externalities would increase the cost of producing electricity from fossil fuels by a factor of 30% for natural gas to about 90% for coal, if costs to the environment and to human health were included. If we include the  costs of letting fossil fuel release  their waste products into the environment, then sustainable energy sources have a big cost advantage.

Criticisms: The  intermittency of the wind is a problem, as is the lack of a way to store the energy. Putting wind electricity into the power grid solves some of the problem, as conventional sources can take up the slack. Each unit of wind energy put on the grid saves about three times as much in fuel energy, as conventional plants are only about 30% efficient. Better storage technology is under development , but conventional sources will be needed  as backup in the mean time.

Wind turbines are also criticized, somewhat unfairly, for their noise and for bird deaths. The noise underneath a well maintained turbine is not much louder than from the wind turning it. The turbines are responsible for bird deaths, but they are not among the top ten human causes of bird mortality. A peer reviewed Canadian study of bird mortality finds that less than 0.2% of the population of any bird species is currently affected by mortality or displacement by wind turbine development. The study concluded that even though the number of windmills are projected to grow ten times over the next two decades, “population level impacts on bird populations are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.”

Subsidies: While once the problem was getting electricity to rural America, the problem now is getting wind electricity from rural areas to population centers. It will require a large investment in research and infrastructure to develop wind energy. As Washington struggles to balance the U.S. budget, possible cuts in subsidies has created an uncertainty hindering investments in wind energy. While it is the national interest to subsidize the development of sustainable energy resources, a much larger share of tax breaks go to well established and profitable fossil fuel companies. The United States’ yearly subsidies to the fossil fuel industries amounts to about $13.6 billion, while all renewable energy subsidies together amount to about one sixth as much.

Our energy needs will best be served by a mixture of traditional and alternate energy sources, and we should not let unfair criticisms or politics keep us from developing the alternate sources.

(c) 2014  J.C. Moore    

A Politically Viable Alternative to Cap and Trade

Thu ,15/08/2013

Global warming could be addressed by a carbon tax if the tax revenue was divided and each taxpayer given an equal share as a dividend.

Dr. Theda Skocpol , a Harvard University scholar and a former president of the American Political Science Association, recently addressed an audience at Tulsa University about the futility of pursuing a cap and trade policy to reduce carbon emissions. Cap and trade was once considered to be the free market solution to pollution as it was used successfully by Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush to reduce the sulfur emissions causing acid rain. To address carbon emissions by cap and trade legislation seemed to have the support of both businesses and politicians when it came up in Congress in 2008. However, it failed by a wide margin, even though Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Dr. Skocpol was commissioned to study why. She quickly decided the question was not why the legislation failed, but why anyone thought it could pass. “Anybody who thought any issue having to do with environmental regulation or global warming was not a partisan issue … wasn’t looking at the data,” she said.

 Research: Dr. Skocpol’s research was aimed at understanding why the legislation failed. The League of Conservation Voter’s scores on environmental issues showed that about 55 % of the Congressional Democrats and 30% of the Republicans had pro-environmental scores in 1970. However, those began diverging in the middle 1990’s and by 2008 the scores averaged about 85 % for the Democrats and about 20% the Republicans. Clearly Congress had become more polarized on the issue, with many Republicans changing their position and Democrats, particularly those from fossil fuel producing states, having little incentive to support regulating carbon emissions.

The reasons had to do with popular attitudes about the cost and the actual threat posed by climate change. Addressing climate change would raise energy prices in the near future, while the benefits would mostly be to future generations. A survey examining tolerance for costs found those in the lower income brackets would be willing to pay up to 20% more for electricity while those in the top brackets would be willing to pay 10% more. Beginning about 2005, there was a stepped up media campaign to spread  misinformation about the cost to taxpayers and doubt about the scientific evidence for climate change. One false claim was that cap and trade would cost each U.S. household $3,100 a year. However, John Reilly, the MIT economist who authored the study, said that talking point was a serious distortion of his work. The EPA estimated more realistically that it would cost on average about $140 per household annually.

The opponents of regulating carbon emissions followed the successful path used by the tobacco industry. Rather than trying to address the evidence compiled in thousands of scientific research papers, the fossil fuel companies use their vast resources to spread doubt about the conclusions of the research and the effect it would have on the Earth’s ecosystems, climate, and weather. They used the same network of foundations, Libertarian think tanks, front groups, and hired grassroot organizations used by the tobacco industry to spread doubt. And, it worked. Many people were unwilling to support environmental regulations that might raise energy prices, particularly if there might be doubt about the scientific evidence. When it came right down to it, the public did not understand cap and trade well, and distrusted a system created by big business and politicians.

Dr. Skocpol’s graph below shows how the change in voter attitudes correlated with the propaganda campaign to spread doubt.

skop

Clearly, the opinion of  voters , particularly Republican voters , had changed. Dr. Skocpol commented that data shows the question really was “not why cap and trade didn’t pass, but why anyone thought it would”, given the polarization that existed in Congress and in the population. It was her opinion that any attempts to revive a cap and trade agreement would be futile. Dr. Skocpol pointed out that her assessment comes not from a climate-change denier, but from someone who believes irreparable damage might already have been done to the atmosphere. But as a political scientist, she said the data is quite clear: “Congress has no  interest in or incentive to act. ” What then can be done?

The Energy Dividend: Certainly the problem needs to be addressed, and it was her opinion that progress could only be made if everyone was given a stake in the solution. Her proposal was that it could be addressed by a carbon tax if the tax revenue was divided and each taxpayer given an equal share as a dividend. The dividend would be $800 per year if the carbon tax was the same as Australia’s, $23 per ton of CO2 emitted. Alaska has used a similar system successfully by taxing oil produced on public land and dividing some of the revenue equally among all Alaskan citizens. Over the past 31 years, each man, woman, and child in Alaska has received on average $1100 per year from that tax revenue.

The energy dividend produced by a tax on carbon should also help the economy. In 2008, George W. Bush gave each taxpayer a one-time $300 (or greater) tax rebate to stimulate the economy. A several hundred dollar energy dividend each year would give each citizen a stake in reducing carbon emissions and make up for any increase in energy prices. The tax on carbon would also level the playing field for other energy sources, making investments in renewable energy more desirable.

Note added on 06/21/2014:  Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT’s business school, says there’s really just one thing you need to do to solve the climate change problem: Tax carbon emissions. “If you let the economists write the legislation,” Jacoby says, “it could be quite simple.” He says he could fit the whole bill on one page. Click here for his article.

(c) 2013 J.C. Moore

 

 

Is Global Warming a Religion?

Mon ,22/07/2013

No, but environmental concerns and stewardship is becoming a part of most religions. Because of their concern for their fellow man and a commitment to the stewardship of God’s creations, many churches and religions have adopted policy positions on climate change , some specifically mentioning the threat of greenhouse gases. For example, the Presbyterian church had the foresight to adopt a policy in 1989, which it reaffirmed in 2008, stating its “serious concern that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems.” Recently, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UNCC) adopted a strong resolution on climate change that calls upon church members to “make shareholder engagement on climate change an immediate, top priority for the next five years”, to “demand action from legislators and advocate for the creation and enforcement of carbon-reducing laws.” , to “make lifestyle changes to reduce the use of fossil fuels in our lives, our homes, our businesses and our churches”, and to “to reduce the use of fossil fuels, our carbon footprint, and our complicity with the fossil fuel industry.”

Apparently, Dr. Stephen Carter is unhappy with the United Church of Christ’s resolution and severely criticized the church in an op ed article , Do unto Exxon as you would do unto yourself .  He is a Professor of Law at Yale, where he has taught courses on law and religion, the ethics of war, contracts, evidence, and professional responsibility. Dr. Carter argues the matter as if he had taken on Exxon Mobil as a client. Apparently, Dr. Carter wants us to treat Exxon Mobil as our brother. Though he claims that he is “no climate-change skeptic”, his article would certainly win the praise of the network of Libertarian think tanks, fossil fuel funded foundations, front groups, and authors who have become part of the climate change denial machine . Perhaps the greatest evidence of this is that his arguments do not include things that he should know.

He has singled out the UNCC without mentioning that most major churches and religions have similar statements. He should probably know about that as the extensive list mentioned in the first paragraph was compiled by Yale University, where he teaches. Mr. Carter implies the UNCC is hypocritical for urging its members to take action against climate change while they are still using fossil fuels, criticizing “the suburban family that crowds into the SUV to attend Sunday services.”  He finds it” perplexing that a church should take the view that it’s perfectly fine to demand regulation that might hurt working-class coal-mining families in West Virginia, but wrong to inconvenience its own members even slightly.” His is one of those all or nothing arguments, implying that if the church is committed to reducing the use of fossil fuels, it must give them up completely. He knows full well that being a “resolution”, it states a desire to improve future actions, and that, at present, few other energy alternatives are available. He seems to be unaware of the low pay, terrible conditions, and hazards that coal miners face, and that they might gladly change jobs if an alternative were available. Perhaps he, or the church, should take that up as a cause.

Dr. Carter’s main argument seems to be based upon the law of supply and demand. He expresses his “perplexity and sorrow” that the document “seems to place the blame for our heavy use of fossil fuels on the companies that produce them – not the consumers who demand them”. He thinks “the trouble is that the resolution – like the general idea of divesting fossil fuel investments – seems to confuse supply and demand.” Dr. Carter’s argument breaks down because the laws of supply and demand do not apply very well to fossil fuel companies. They have used their vast profits and political power to limit and inhibit technologies that might compete with them. They have helped create propaganda and policies that discourage the use of wind and solar energy, alternative fuels, and electric vehicles. Perhaps a coal miner would rather work in one of those emerging technologies, if given the opportunity. We subsidize fossil fuel companies by several billion dollars each year, though they are well-established and highly profitable companies, yet they oppose subsidies to growing companies that might compete with them. Let’s level the playing field and see what choices consumers will then make.

Surely Dr. Carter is aware that fossil fuel companies gain a competitive advantage as consumers do not have to pay the “true cost” of fossil fuel use, which should  include environmental and health costs. Nicholas Stern, one of the world’s top economists, estimates the cost and risks of climate change is equivalent to losing at least 5% of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year, and could rise to 20% of GDP or more in the future – and impose the additional risk of an environmental catastrophe. Taking 5% of the US GDP for 2010 would give an environmental cost of $727 billion. As to health costs, the American Lung Association estimates the cost of exposure to particulates alone are as much as $281 billion annually. Those two add up to about $1.08 trillion for the US alone, and will surely grow unless we reduce our fossil fuel use.
One would also have to wonder about  Dr. Carter’s motives when he refers to the United Church of Christ as part of the “religious left”. One of the favorite tactics of fossil fuel companies is to label their critics as being leftists or liberals. The fossil fuel companies encourage the Cornwall Alliance, a religious organization based upon the doctrine of Dominionism, to try to stem the growing movements of conservation and environmental stewardship. The Cornwall alliance claims that stewardship is a Green Dragon trying to take over our churches and corrupt the true meaning of religion. Their videos feature a number of ministers who preach against mainstream stewardship.  It seems wrong to use the power and respect that people have for ministers and Scripture to criticize Christians who believe in good stewardship. The Cornwall Alliance will not reveal its funding sources, but its mission is certainly in harmony with that of the fossil fuel companies.

Some Christians believe that what is happening to the Earth is God’s Will and that we can do nothing about it. Others believe that if we begin to destroy the Earth, God will step in and save us. However, that type of rhetoric clashes with the idea of free will and personal responsibility. Certainly, the many churches that have acted out of a concern for their fellow man and a commitment to good stewardship should not be unfairly criticized.

(c) 2013 J.C. Moore

 

The Earth Hasn’t Warmed in the Last “X” Years Myth

Wed ,30/01/2013

The title has an “X”, as the number of years varies from 10 to 16 depending on who said it and when. I first heard this myth from George Will when he was attacking John McCain’s stand on global warming during the 2008 presidential campaign. Mr. Will claimed that the Earth’s temperature had not gone up in the last 10 years. When I contacted him for an explanation, he said that it was because 1998 was hotter than any year after that. Strangely, Mr. Will referred to the data from the World Meteorological Organization rather than that from NASA. Mr. Will has no use for the UN, but his statement could only be true if he used the UN data which showed that 2005 was slightly cooler than 1998. NASA’s data shows that 2005 was slightly warmer than 1998, and also that 2007 and 2010 were warmer yet. It’s a little hard to explain how the Earth reached those higher temperatures without  going up, but logic and truth are mostly irrelevant to those who say this.

As the years have gone by, “X” has been increased accordingly and the erroneous statement has been repeated on Skeptic’s blogs, newspaper articles, letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, sites like Yahoo!Answers, and by politicians such as Sen. Inhofe. The number “X” is now up to 16 and when I put “no global warming in past 16 years” in Google’s search engine, I got 114 million hits. It’s a great propaganda piece as it is simple, easily understood, and reduces people’s worry about climate change. Unfortunately, it is very comforting, and very, very wrong. The propaganda has been funded, circulated, and promoted by those who do not want us to address global warming as they have an economic interest in the issue.

So what is the truth of the matter? There are number of natural and man-made factors that affect the temperature of the Earth. The main factors are the amount of solar radiation we receive, volcanic activity, greenhouse gases, and ocean circulations such as El Niño and La Niña. Man’s main contribution falls in the area of greenhouse gases. We are now emitting 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year, and the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has gone up about 40% in the last century. That increase and the ensuing feedback loops are the main factors that can be attributed to man. Though there are other contributions, most of the CO2 increase has come from burning fossil fuels.

Probably the best way to see man’s influence on the Earth’s temperature is to subtract out the factors that can be attributed to natural sources and to see what is left. That was done very nicely by climate scientist John Cook in a video which he produced and posted on YouTube. It’s only 2 minutes long, but it shows how the Earth’s temperature has responded to the increasing burden of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

 

 

If the video doesn’t load, you may access it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=W705cOtOHJ4

Book Review : Resisting the Green Dragon

Tue ,10/04/2012

 

Preface: I first encountered the Green Dragon on a blog post by Publius Redux where he introduced it with: “Now, here is a novel analysis of the undercurrent of urgency and irrationality characteristic of climate doomsayers’ prophecy. This explains the haunting familiarity of the preaching and proselytizing we have endured from the climate change fearmongers.” Curious, I tracked down an article about Resisting the Green Dragon by Dr. James Wanliss, Associate Professor of Physics at Presbyterian College. Finding no religious or scientific arguments that could possibly address the issues in the article, I wrote a play about what the future might hold for Dr. Wanliss, Publius and their followers.Sometime later I received a critique of my play from Dr. Wanliss and  subsequently offered to write a proper review if Dr. Wanliss would send me a copy, which he did. Dr. Wanliss said he wrote the book in part because he had been bullied by environmentalists. That is certainly a very bad thing, however replying in kind is usually not the correct response and revenge often hurts others than its intended victims. If you identify with environmentalism, mainstream religions, or believe we should be good stewards of the Earth, you may feel bullied while reading the book.

 The book claims not “to provide scientific or economic answers” as that is done by “multiple excellent resources that appear in the endnotes.” However those resources and end notes do not accurately represent the views of scientists, economists, or environmentalists – but are carefully picked from extreme positions, as are his examples. Dr. Wanliss gives examples of vegetarians, PETA members, Eco terrorists, environmental extremists, and someone who thinks men are “useless breathers” – and tries to claim they are representative of the Christian stewardship movement. They are not. Environmentalists may want you to make responsible choices, but that does not mean they want to “control how you live, eat, drive, and even the light you use to read by .” Environmentalists may have a goal of achieving balance in nature and sustainability, but Dr. Wanliss claims sustainability places “human life directly in the crosshairs of violent men.” And, are those violent men found in the Christian stewardship movement?

 The Cornwall Alliance: The book was published by the Cornwall Alliance which has chosen the Green Dragon as a symbol of their opposition to the growth of environmentalism in Christian churches. The Cornwall Alliance describes itself as a grassroots Christian movement. It does not disclose its funding sources but many paths to it come from corporations and fossil fuel interests and its message is certainly favorable to them. Dr. Wanliss says that he did not receive an advance from the Alliance and profits only from the royalties on the book. The Alliance has produced a series of videos based upon Resisting the Green Dragon , assailing its hold on the churches. There is little truth to much of the propaganda in the videos. They seem designed more to protect the profits of the fossil fuel companies than to protect the Earth, or the people who depend on the Earth for survival.

It became apparent in the early 1980s that carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels was causing changes in the environment that would impact mankind, particularly those in poor and indigenous societies who do not have the resources to adjust to the changing climate. Many churches have adopted statements encouraging environmentalism based upon good stewardship, some specifically mentioning the threat of greenhouse gases. For example, the denomination sponsoring the Presbyterian University where Dr. Wanliss teaches stated in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2008, its “serious concern that the global atmospheric warming trend (the greenhouse effect) represents one of the most serious global environmental challenges to the health, security, and stability of human life and natural ecosystems.”

Dragons: The Green Dragon on the dust cover of the book is a very ugly Dragon, but Dr. Wanliss may have misjudged what is in its heart. Though some mythical dragons were portrayed as evil, Draco in Dragonheart and Sapphira in Aragon imparted their ancient wisdom to mankind and helped them in the times of crisis. And it was the flying dragons in Avatar who helped the Na’vi drive out the greedy corporation destroying their planet and their homes for the sake of ore. Perhaps the Green Dragon is being vilified by the Cornwall Alliance so that we will not heed its message.

 Science: Although Dr. Wanliss is a physicist, there is very little climate physics in the book. He seems to have arrived at many of his opinions about climate science, not from peer-reviewed literature, but by films made by Al Gore and Martin Durkin, neither of which are scientists. Dr. Wanliss points out the errors in The Inconvenient Truth, and rejects it entirely. However, Al Gore received a Nobel Peace Prize for his environmental work and his movie won an Oscar. The movie also had its day in court in Dimmock v Secretary of State for Education, a suit which sought to prevent the educational use of An Inconvenient Truth in England. The court ruled that, though the film had some errors, it was substantially founded upon scientific research and fact and could be shown.

Dr. Wanliss embraces Martin Durkin’s movie, The Great Global Warming Swindle, though it is based upon bad science and fraud. How do I know that? Mr. Durkin gives the impression he is a geophysicist but his degrees are in medieval history and financial journalism. The movie distorts the work of some of the scientists that appear in it. For example, Dr. Friis-Christensen, said, “parts of the graph were made up of fabricated data that were presented as genuine.” He should know as it was his research that was distorted to support claims that recent climate change was the result of solar activity. Also, Dr. Carl Wunsch points out that the movie uses his data but distorts it. Ihe ocean would have had to release more CO2 than they had absorbed, so impossible that he calls it fraud. The movie also distorts NASA’s temperature record, something that can be easily checked. The two graphs are below, with the screen shot on the left showing how Durkin redrew the graph to support his claim that most of today’s global warming occurred before 1940.

 A 2010 StanfordUniversity poll of 1,372 climate scientists found that 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in climate science agree that global warming is occurring and man activities are the main factor. Research shows that global warming is causing many undesirable changes in the Earth and that no natural factors are significantly responsible.

 Ecology: Dr. Wanliss does not seem aware of the principles of ecology or the interrelation among species, as he says: “There has been, in past decades, a cosmic shift towards a social climate that begins to favor the environment — polar bears, trees, and bugs — over human beings.” Well, where would we be without the bears, trees, the environment, and umm … bugs?  He thinks that “destruction of one species can enormously benefit many others” and that man had a right to hunt sperm whales to extinction if we needed the oil. However, he does not seem aware that many species depend on the nutrients that the whales distribute throughout the ocean.  Passenger pigeons, once an important source of food, were hunted to extinction. And whooping cranes and buffaloes almost disappeared forever, but were saved from extinction by chance and a tremendous effort on the part of conservationists. Would we have missed them? The book tells the story about the Canary being used to test the safety of coal mines, using it to point out that some bird lover may have objected, putting the bird’s safety above that of the miners. Ecologists now tell us that many species are beginning to disappear from the Earth and many more are threatened by global warming. Would we want our grandchildren to go into a coal mine where the Canaries are dying?

Economics: Cap and trade is considered to be the free market solutions to reducing carbon emissions. It may not be the best, but it will help and it appears to be the way the nations are heading. Dr. Wanliss argues against it because he thinks it will lead to the creation of a world government and because of its high cost. We all share the same atmosphere and it is necessary that all industrialized and developing countries cooperate, but that is not the same as establishing a world government. Dr. Wanliss claims the cost of cap and trade regulations would amount to an annual cost of “$120,000 for the average family of four”. That value is unrealistically high – and it also ignores the cost of not acting. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of the cap-and-trade program by 2020 would average about $175 annually per household.

It is possible to estimate the cost of inaction on global warming. The Stern Report, using the results from formal economic models, estimates the overall costs and risks of climate change is equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year. And unaddressed, the cost could rise to 20% of GDP or more by 2050 – and increase the risk of an environmental catastrophe. Using 5% of the US GDP for 2010 would give an environmental cost of $727 billion. Reducing carbon emissions would also reduce particulates which the American Lung Association  cites as the primary cause 38,000 heart attacks and premature deaths each year as well as 1.5 million cases of acute bronchitis and aggravated asthma – which they estimate has an economic cost of $281 billion. Those two add up to about $1.01 trillion annually, and that is just for theUnited States. And what cost was should we put on premature death?

Religion: Dr. Wanliss’ view of the relationship between man, other species, and the Earth’s resources is based upon the doctrine of Dominionism. He bases this belief upon his interpretation of Genesis 1:28 “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” From there, he uses a number of carefully selected Scriptures to argue how  “ the humans’ filling and ruling of the Earth can release it from bondage.” It is his view this will bring about the Second Coming which will render efforts to protect and sustain the planet useless.

 But, is the Earth not growing full? There are now 7 billion people on the planet and at our present birthrate, the population will double again this century. And have we not established dominion over the Earth? We now have fish and game laws, catch limits, and international treaties to protect other species as our needs have grown until we threaten their existence? The caveat in Dr. Wanliss’ argument is that the Second Coming will not occur until man has established Christian dominion. There are many religions on the Earth, and even among Christians, there are many different interpretations of the Scriptures. What he believes is necessary is very unlikely to happen in the next 50 years, and even if it did, there is no assurance that Dominionism is the true religion.

 Those who argue for Christian stewardship think that dominion means “benevolent rule”. Does it seem reasonable that God would make the heavens and the Earth and all the species, proclaim them good, and then give man a license to destroy them if he wished? And do some men have the right to seek dominion if by doing so they damage the lives and resources of other men? Dr. Wanliss makes a special point that dominion is not domination; however, men who wish to dominate and exploit the environment for profit will certainly find his arguments useful.

Native people: The book claims that the environmental movement is” dreadfully harmful to the environment and humans, particularly the poor” and at one point claims that environmentalists may be responsible for millions of deaths. It is most cynical and wrong to claim that environmentalists are somehow responsible for deaths and damage in the poorer countries of the world. Global warming is changing the environment and increasing the probability of severe weather events, particularly droughts. Last year’s drought on the Horn of Africa led to widespread famine and many deaths among the poor. The people of Kashmir are concerned that the glaciers that feed their streams in the summer are receding – making less water available. The Sherpa of Tibet worry that their villages may be flooded by lakes that now form each summer from melting glaciers, held back by unstable ice dams.

The Inuit in Greenland cannot use their traditional hunting grounds at the ice is too thin for their dog sleds to traverse. Those in the Arctic are having to move their coastal villages to keep them from being eroded away by wave action of open seas, which used to be ice year-round. Their inland villages are threatened because the permafrost upon which they are built now becomes a quagmire in the summer. They are being forced to change a way of life that sustained them for centuries. While some may adapt, their way of life and culture will be destroyed, and many will likely end up among the poor and unemployed.

Population: Dr. Wanliss says God has commanded us to fill the Earth and that we should let God decide how many children we shall have. But do not men and women have free will and the right to decide such things?  And, what happens when the earth is full? The Earth’s population has just surpassed 7 billion people and, at our present birthrate, will reach 14 billion sometime in the latter part of the 21st century. The Earth is finite and evidence suggests that the carrying capacity of the Earth is somewhere between 10 and 12 billion. When a population exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment, there is usually a massive die off of the population. For us, this might mean the deaths of billions of people through starvation and wars over resources.

 Prudence: Dr. Wanless believes that man has a remarkable ability to reason, and that is certainly true.  God has given us science so that we may understand nature by observation and reason. Scientific research shows that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that is damaging the Earth and will do so even more in the future. The EPA has determined that CO2 is an endangerment that may be regulated under the Clean Air Act, and the Supreme Court has upheld that ruling. Dr. Wanliss opposes action to correct the problem and thinks that when the Earth is full and Christian dominion is achieved, God will make our problems disappear. What if he is wrong? We will have a very full and a very hot, inhospitable Earth through our own ignorance, and not through God’s will. The Green Dragon, though a mythical creature created by Dr. Wanliss, would be a good symbol for Prudence.

 Resist? Dr. Wanliss is advising us to resist the Green Dragon based upon his religious views and personal philosophy. His book would certainly encourage some interesting discussions about the meaning of Hebrew words, the interpretation of scriptures, the meaning of free will, and the responsibility Christians have toward mankind, other species, and the Earth itself. Those discussions should occur among scientist, theologians, and philosophers who have the knowledge to defend their ideas. However, it seems wrong to use the power and respect that people have for ministers and Scripture to criticize Christians who believe in good stewardship. The Cornwall Alliance does just that, as resisting the Green Dragon aligns with profit motives. The only time Jesus showed anger in the Bible was when he drove the money changers from the Temple. How might Jesus feel about the Cornwall Alliance using Dr. Wanliss’ book to bring their corporate interests into places of worship? Perhaps Dr. Wanliss should rethink whether he wishes for his book to be used in that way.

(c) 2012 J.C. Moore