This week’s environmental stories in the news

1. James Jay Lee takes hostages at the Discovery Channel and is subsequently shot and killed by police. (Time.com report)

According to the Washington Post, “Lee, 43, held three men hostage — a security guard and two other Discovery employees — and forced them to lie face down on the floor, Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger said. Lee had a handgun and what Manger described as a live bomb strapped to him…Lee was killed at 4:48 p.m., nearly four hours after he stalked into the building…An environmental militant, Lee held a grudge against Discovery, viewing the network as a purveyor of ideas he considered environmentally destructive and staging protests outside its headquarters, according to authorities and court records.”

Time.com’s blog Tuned-In dismissed Lee as simply another unhinged kook:

“[Lee’s writing’s] a big bag of crazy. (“Nothing is more important than saving them. The Lions, Tigers, Giraffes, Elephants, Froggies, Turtles, Apes, Raccoons, Beetles, Ants, Sharks, Bears, and, of course, the Squirrels.” Of course.) Doused with FULL CAPS and multiple exclamation points, it flashed the signifiers of an increasingly frustrated mind that believes it sees The One Real Truth, and—maddeningly, infuriatingly—can’t see why everyone else doesn’t just get it.”

Ronald Bailey at Reason.com says, ‘oh yeah? What about these Malthusians?’:

It’s long been a trope of the Left that the “rightwing” rhetoric is inciting unstable people to violence. Maybe. But surely, in this case, there can be little doubt that environmentalist rhetoric inspired this act of violence. We don’t know, but did Lee come across such rhetoric as that deployed by environmentalist radical Paul Watson, founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who unapologetically refers to humanity as the “AIDS of the Earth”?

Watson has lots more to say
:

Humans are presently acting upon this body in the same manner as an invasive virus with the result that we are eroding the ecological immune system.

A virus kills its host and that is exactly what we are doing with our planet’s life support system. We are killing our host the planet Earth.

Curing a body of cancer requires radical and invasive therapy, and therefore, curing the biosphere of the human virus will also require a radical and invasive approach.

Lisa Hymas over at Grist.org tries to make the case that Lee is a complete outlier.

Lee is giving us sane and humane enviros and childfree people a bad name.  And Ishmael fans too, but they kinda had it coming.

Then a minority of her loyal following kinda undermine her.

  • So, what is wrong with his logic that he deserved to be shot? He wasn’t wrong
  • I pretty much agree with what he said …. the deterioration of the environment is at least as much due to population growth as it is to lifestyles ….. the current lifestyle of americans would be fine for the whole world if the population was 25% of what it is ….. if one person pisses and shits into the river, that’s fine ……. if millions do it, you have a problem …..
  • Honestly, I agree with about everything this guy says. It’s too bad that he felt so powerless in voicing his opinions in this culture that he had to take such drastic measures. Really, his arguments make sense and all have been voiced in much more passive tones at one time or another in Grist. If Lee had a pro-life perspective and rant would he have been shot? I wonder…

2. The InterAcademy Council (IAC) released its review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) . They noted a flawed process:

“The commitment of many thousands of the world’s leading scientists and other experts to the assessment process and to the communication of the nature of our understanding of the changing climate, its impacts, and possible adaptation and mitigation strategies is a considerable achievement in its own right. Similarly, the sustained commitment of governments to the process and their buy-in to the results is a mark of a successful assessment. Through its unique partnership between scientists and governments, the IPCC has heightened public awareness of climate change, raised the level of scientific debate, and influenced the science agendas of many nations. However, despite these successes, some fundamental changes to the process and the management structure are essential…”

One of the Economist’s blogs noted

“The report finds problems with the way the IPCC handles reviews of its work, the degree to which it shows fairness when considering areas that are disputed, and the way it communicates the certainty, or lack of it, wherewith it speaks. It calls for new rules on conflict of interest (or more accurately, it calls for rules—at the moment the panel has none), a new full-time leadership position and a new executive committee. Perhaps most strikingly, the report can also be read as a call for Mr Pachauri to resign, though neither Mr Pachauri [the head of the IPCC] nor Mr Shapiro [the report’s lead author] have characterised it in quite that way.”

Roger Pielke Jr. summarized the IAC’s findings.

It is an excellent, thoughtful report.  While the report focuses on procedural questions and does not address any questions of scientific content, its recommendations have far-reaching substantive implications, such as for how to deal with uncertainty.  The report also directly addresses difficult subjects such as conflict of interest, policy advocacy and tenure of the IPCC chairman.

Ron Bailey of Reason magazine commented.

In the wake of last year’s Climategate scandal, the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an Amsterdam-based organization of the world’s science academies, is issuing its critique of the U.N. Intervovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) processes and procedures. In the measured language of science, the critique appears to be fairly damning.

The New York Times reported.

The United Nations needs to revise the way it manages its assessments of climate change, with the scientists involved more open to alternative views, more transparent about possible conflicts of interest and more careful to avoid making policy prescriptions, an independent review panel said Monday.

Spiked-online weighed in.

[W]hat the recent climate-science scandals reveal is that such dodgy science becomes more likely the more that science is politicised and used to motor social policy and social-control initiatives. The elite flattering of scientists as oracles of wisdom whose work can help both to illuminate and possibly offset what is allegedly the worst crisis mankind has ever faced – global warming – must inevitably pollute and distort the scientific process.

While Climate Central noted many of the same issues the skeptics did, it had a different take on the report.

If you look at the climate skeptic blog Watts Up With That?, however, you’ll get the false impression that the report is some sort of scathing indictment.

And indeed it was. William Briggs says the report is hot stuff:

“If you’re not used to reading peer reviews, I can tell you that this appendix is hot stuff. Rarely have I seen so strong a rebuke.”

Matt Ridley, on his Rational Optimist blog agreed:

Yesterday, after a four-month review, a committee of scientists concluded that the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has “assigned high confidence to statements for which there is very little evidence”, has failed to enforce its own guidelines, has been guilty of too little transparency, has ignored critical review comments and has had no policies on conflict of interest”…These are not merely procedural issues. They have real consequences for science and society. All the errors and biases that have come to light in recent months swerve in the direction of exaggerating the likely impact of climate change. According to the economist Richard Tol, one part of the 2007 report (produced by Working Group 2) systematically overstated the negative impacts of climate change, while another section (written by Working Group 3) systematically understated the costs of emissions reduction.

Judge for yourself:
The IAC’s review: http://reviewipcc.interacademycouncil.net/

The IPCC’s webpage: http://www.ipcc.ch/

3. Greenpeace campaigners scale oil rig 100 miles from Greenland


According to a Greenpeace announcement, “Campaigners have evaded a huge military security operation to scale a
controversial oil rig in the freezing seas off Greenland. At dawn this morning four expert climbers in inflatable speedboats dodged Danish Navy
commandos before climbing up the inside of the rig and hanging from it
in tents suspended from ropes, halting its drilling operation (video and
stills available).”

Sim McKenna from the United States, one of the campaigners hanging fifteen metres above the bitterly cold Arctic ocean, said: “We’ve got to keep the energy companies out of the Arctic and kick our addiction to oil, that’s why we’re going to stop this rig from drilling for as long as we can. The BP Gulf oil disaster showed us it’s time to go beyond oil. The drilling rig we’re hanging off could spark an Arctic oil rush, one that would pose a huge threat to the climate and put this fragile environment at risk.”

Apparently, the protesters have have stopped this rig from drilling for as long as they could; according to Greenpeace the protesters have been arrested.

A New York Times, Green blog post quoted Greenland’s prime minister, Kuupik Kleist, “It is really worrying that Greenpeace uses all means to break the
safety rules made to protect human lives and the environment in its
quest for media coverage.”


Rob Lyons at SpikedOnline says, “What a misanthropic bunch of stunts.”

What really galls environmentalists is what this current exploration of the icy waters of the Arctic symbolises: the potential that humanity might finally become truly global in its reach. Currently, most of the world’s population lives in the relatively comfortable surroundings of the temperate and tropical regions. But there’s a whole swathe of the world we’ve barely touched. Could we be making more of the Arctic and Antarctic for the benefit of all? Such a prospect is clearly terrifying to those who would prefer we human beings reined in our ambitions and settled for what we have.

4. In other oil development news, an oil platform exploded caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico

The New York Times reported:

An oil platform exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday morning (September 2, 2010), touching off flurries of conflicting reports about sightings of oil slicks in the water and whether any workers had been injured in the blast…All 13 members of the work crew on board Thursday were accounted for, the Coast Guard said.

New Scientist has what appears to be a good briefing/synopsis they note:

The first report of a fire on a platform owned by Mariner Energy came at 1420 GMT on Thursday. The safety valves appear to have shut down the wells and the 13 men on the platform all jumped overboard to safety. Most had on survival suits and nobody sustained major injuries. The fire has now been extinguished.

Newsweek says this oil rig would have received little media attention if the Deepwater Horizon explosion hadn’t happened.

By contrast [to the Deepwater rig] the Mariner Energy’s platform that caught fire yesterday is a humdrum vessel in the oil world. The shallow water platform isn’t involved in seeking out new wells. It has been where it is for 20 years and isn’t going anywhere. The platform’s only job is to pump oil from an existing well through pipes and back to shore…While fires on platforms are common, they are considered far safer than drilling rigs. Over the last 10 years there has been about 850 fires or explosions on platforms.

There were others of course. What environmental stories do you think should be on the list?


 

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IPCC 4th Assessment Report doesn’t agree with the Center for Biological Diversity

Apparently, the Center for Biological Diversity doesn’t agree with the Mitigation Working Group Report [PDF] in IPCC’s 4th Assessment as to the best strategy for mitigating CO2.


Photo from south island on New Zealand.

“Biomass clearing and site preparation prior to afforestation [i.e. planting] may lead to short-term carbon losses on that site… Accumulation of carbon in biomass after [planting ] varies greatly by tree species and site, and ranges globally between 1 and 35 t CO2/ha.yr (Richards and Stokes, 2004).” — Forestry. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (page 550)

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The Copenhagen Consensus

On one of my post the other day, Anne asked in a comment, “What, other than cost, is the downside of reducing our carbon footprint [to prevent global warming]?”

There are steps that we can take to reduce a footprint, carbon or otherwise:

  • Move to a metropolitan area. Urban areas, due to their compactness, are more efficient.
  • Eat less meat.
  • Buy less packaged food. It’s healthier for you and needs less energy to produce.
  • Use mass transit.
  • Use less.
  • Ride a bike or walk.

Now, those are things that are “other than cost.” Should cost be a consideration? Only if there isn’t enough money or the resources to do everything. Since money is a consideration, we need to determine where to get the best return on our investment.

For about a decade, the world’s greatest economists have gathered to generate the Copenhagen Consensus (of which Bjørn Lomborg is a part) in order to prioritize where to put money. Research and Development in low-carbon energy technologies to combat anthropogenic global warming (AGW) wound up at 14th on the list of the world’s ills to invest capital in.

Here’s Copenhagen Consensus’s top ten list of the world’s ills where we will get the most for our money:

  1. Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc) (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  2. The DOHA development agenda (Challenge: Trade)
  3. Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization) (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  4. Expanded immunization coverage for children (Challenge: Diseases)
  5. Biofortification (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  6. Deworming and other nutrition programs at school (Challenge: Malnutrition & Education)
  7. Lowering the price of schooling (Challenge: Education)
  8. Increase and improve girls’ schooling (Challenge: Women)
  9. Community-based nutrition promotion (Challenge: Malnutrition)
  10. Provide support for women’s reproductive role (Challenge: Women)

You can see that concentrating on malnutrition and hunger freer trade, diseases, education and women’s issues will yield  greater benefits dollar for dollar. Attempting to mitigate AGW today ranks 30th on the Consensus list.

Download the results of the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus here.

Update from a Bjorn Lomborg Op-Ed in the April 24, 2009 New York Times:

Economic estimates … show that every dollar invested in quickly making low-carbon energy cheaper can do $16 worth of good. If the Kyoto agreement were fully obeyed through 2099, it would cut temperatures by only 0.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Each dollar would do only about 30 cents worth of good.


Rather than pledging to cut emissions and failing, let’s put our capital into getting wind and solar online.

Read an interview with Bjorn Lomborg: here.

Excerpt:

I think the main point of [The Skeptical Environmentalist book] was to challenge our notion that everything is going down the drain, and I don’t see any reason to revise that…I’m trying to recapture much of what the left stood for–when we believed in progress, when we believed that scientific understanding could lead us ahead and not just rely on tradition. … Unfortunately, I find that a fair amount of the left has turned towards a romanticized view of the world.

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