|The Week That Was
Sept. 3, 2005
New on the Web: Robert Ferguson discusses the facts behind the mercury problem. See also Cork Hayden's website <www.EnergyAdvocate.com> issue of August 2005. In this issue he draws our attention to breaking news: The Ford Motor Company has had to recall 100,000 Mercury cars - they had traces of swordfish in them.
[The Energy Advocate also announces that "The Solar Fraud: Why
Solar Energy Won't Run The World" (2nd Edition) is now available.
Price for TEA subscribers only $16 -- and well worth it. Contact email@example.com
The news this week has been dominated by the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Of the many stories , we have selected one that was posted by S. T. Karnick on http://reformclub.blogspot.com/ (Item #1)
Read also : Could the Tragedy Have Been Averted?
And another good essay: "The RFK Delusion" by Michael Fox
In Britain, religious groups are getting into the climate act and making demands on the government (Item #2). Meanwhile, peat fires in developing countries are adding to pollution and also injecting vast quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere (Item #3).
Gov Schwarzenegger resists unreasonable environmental demands (Item #4). EPA proceeds sensibly on New Source Review for powerplants, as Joel Schwartz relates http://remotefarm.techcentralstation.com/090205B.html
But EPA is not so sensible in setting radiation limits for Yucca Mountain
One of the major techniques of modern politics is to take every important event and tie it to the back of one's own particular hobbyhorse. One of the more ludicrous examples was the utterly absurd claim that the Asian tsunami was caused by global warming. Hence it was inevitable that we would begin to see articles today with titles such as "Brace for more Katrinas, say experts," from today's edition of Agence Press France. The anonymous author correctly observes that hurricane activity has intensified and looks likely to remain so for a while:
"Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Risk, a London-based consortium of experts, predicted that the region would see 22 tropical storms during the six-month June-November season, the most ever recorded and more than twice the average annual tally since records began in 1851."
The piece also notes,
"Already, 2004 and 2003 were exceptional years: they marked the highest two-year totals ever recorded for overall hurricane activity in the North Atlantic."
That is all quite true. Then the article moves on to consider a possible relationship to global warming, as has been posited by advocates of controls over greenhouse gas emissions:
"This increase has also coincided with a big rise in Earth's surface temperature in recent years, driven by greenhouse gases that cause the Sun's heat to be stored in the sea, land and air rather than radiate back out to space."
The characterization of the rise in the planet's surface temperature in recent years as "big" is certainly an exaggeration. However, the article does go on to point out that hurricane activity is cyclical and almost certainly always has been:
"But experts are cautious, also noting that hurricane numbers seem to undergo swings, over decades.
"About 90 tropical storms -- a term that includes hurricanes and their Asian counterparts, typhoons -- occur each year.
"The global total seems to be stable, although regional tallies vary a lot, and in particular seem to be influenced by the El Nino weather pattern in the Western Pacific."
These are very important observations. The article then outlines, at some length, the arguments of global-warming advocates who claim that g.w. is creating more intense hurricanes, if not more such storms overall:
"On the other hand, more and more scientists estimate that global warming, while not necessarily making hurricanes more frequent or likelier to make landfall, is making them more vicious."
The evidence the article adduces for this argument is coincidental and not causal, however, and is clearly highly speculative at this point. The piece says, for example, "'The intensity of and rainfalls from hurricanes are probably increasing, even if this increase cannot yet be proven with a formal statistical test,' Trenberth wrote in the US journal Science in June. He said computer models 'suggest a shift' toward the extreme in hurricane intensities." That is to say, Trenberth believes it although there is no statistical evidence for it.
The article ends on that note, which is a pity because there is more to the story than that. Readers are not told, for example, that as an article in the forthcoming October issue of Environment and Climate News (published by the Heartland Institute) mentions, a group of prominent climatologists and other experts on climate change has noted, "according to a century of National Hurricane Center reports, the decade with the largest number of hurricanes to come ashore in the United States was the 1940s, and that hurricane frequency has declined since then. They also cited data from the United Nations Environment Programme of the World Meteorological Association that hurricane frequency has declined since the 1940s."
The ECN story, unlike the APF one, quotes the environmental scientists as observing that "centuries-old evidence, as well as computer models, suggest warmer periods may actually generate a decline in the number or severity of such storms."
The ECN story quotes James J. O'Brien, director of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University, as arguing that "the more likely cause of hurricane frequency might be found in variations in the Atlantic Ocean Conveyer, the movement of the warm Gulf Stream whose waters, taken from the South Atlantic, replace the cooler, sinking water in the North Atlantic.
"When the Conveyer is strong, O'Brien said, historic records have
shown an increase in Atlantic hurricanes; when it is weak, so are the
hurricane seasons. For a hurricane to grow stronger, it must keep moving
over waters warmer than 80 degrees F, which leads some people to link
global warming and the storms. But, he said, there's no scientific evidence
to show that such areas of warm water are increasing in size."
A new UK organisation hopes to combat climate change through harnessing the political power of the church. Stop Climate Chaos brings traditional environmental groups such as Greenpeace together with Christian development agencies like Christian Aid. It is asking the government to cut Britain's greenhouse gas emissions, and to ensure that overseas aid money is invested in clean technologies.
The group plans to expand its reach to include faiths other than Christianity. "The big difference about Stop Climate Chaos is the united voice," the group's director, Ashok Sinha, told the BBC News website.
Its key demands are:
* the UK government must deliver substantial annual reductions in UK
greenhouse gas emissions, meet its target of cutting CO2 emissions by
20% by 2010 and commit to an EU-wide greenhouse gas reduction target of
30% by 2020
The involvement of Christian groups such as Cafod, Christian Aid and Tearfund alongside Friends of the Earth and WWF may bring a new moral dimension to debates on climate change.
"As a development organisation, we can't ignore climate change," said Tearfund's advocacy director, Andy Atkins.
"But in addition, as a Christian organisation, Tearfund has in its operating principles that Christians should be involved with the whole of God's creation, not just people. We have a good biblical mandate to be involved in climate change."
The idea that Christians have a duty to campaign on climate change is already well established in the US, where organisations such as the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) lobby on Capitol Hill and in their networks of churches across the country.
"We are creation care advocates," said NAE's vice-president for governmental affairs, Richard Cizik, "and it comes straight from scripture, straight from God, who in his words said in Genesis, for example, that we are stewards of what he has created; we are to watch over and care for it.
"And the mere fact that evangelical Christians, who compose 40% of the Republican party's base, are beginning to say that this is an important issue, believe me has got the attention of people in the White House."
In the UK, the Church of Scotland has taken a lead in the field though its Society, Religion and Technology Project, which has produced a special liturgy on climate change, and took part in a silent protest outside July's G8 summit in Gleneagles, where leaders concluded a climate agreement which has been widely derided by environmental groups.
The Church of England's report, Caring for God's Planet, endorsed a concept called Contraction and Convergence, under which all countries would limit future greenhouse gas emissions in an equitable manner.
Generally, though, religious groups in Britain have confined themselves
to pointing up the problem and urging individuals to change lifestyle,
through initiatives such as Operation Noah and Eco-congregation, rather
than stepping into the hurly-burly roughhouse of political lobbying.
The destruction of tropical peatlands is contributing significantly to global warming, according to a study. Peatlands in South-East Asia are being burnt in fires started with the intention to clear forest, but in dry periods they can rage out of control. This can free vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, Dr Susan Page of Leicester University, UK, said.
The peatlands, which contain up to 21% of global land-based stores of carbon, could be destroyed by 2040, she added.
Where you've got large-scale drainage of the peatland and clearance of the forest, the peat is far more susceptible to igniting. Dr Susan Page, University of Leicester. It has been calculated that in 1997, 2.67 billion tonnes of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide were released through burning of these peatlands. This is equivalent to 40% of one year's global fossil fuel combustion, Dr Page says.
That year was unusually high, however; the intermediate estimate is one billion tonnes, about 15% of fossil fuel combustion for a year.
Tropical peatlands are spread across numerous islands in South-East Asia, including Borneo, Sumatra and Papua. The peat is found in lowland areas, can exceed 10m in thickness and has a high carbon content of about 60%.
Dr Page regards them as a "Cinderella ecosystem"; their character and importance largely ignored by scientists, politicians and planners.
The driving forces behind destruction of the peatlands have included clearance and drainage on a large-scale to set up timber, oil palm or rice plantations, and on a small-scale for subsistence farming and settlement. Poor forest management is also a cause.
"Where you've got large-scale drainage of the peatland and clearance of the forest, the peat is far more susceptible to igniting. If you get fire escaping from plantation clearance or from farming activities the surrounding landscape is far more fire prone," Dr Page told the BBC News website.
On Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, a one-million-hectare area was drained and cleared for rice cultivation, devastating the peatlands contained within it.
The failed Mega Rice project under former Indonesian President Suharto's rule was designed to create an enormous region devoted to rice cultivation. But it has since been found that the soils are unsuitable for growing the cereal crop.
Although there has been some success in tackling deliberate fires, natural events are exacerbating the problem. The cleared and desiccated peatland is easily ignited during droughts, which occur every three to seven years during El Niño events (the last was in 2002). Droughts can also make peat more susceptible to erosion during the rainy season.
Dr Page said she was currently involved in a project to "re-wet" the peatlands in order to restore the water table. Without this urgent action, together with a fire control programme, the problem was only going to get worse, she added.
Details of the research have been presented to the annual conference of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS).
In defiance of a court order, the administration of California Governor
Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is planning to approve new building standards
that allow for the use of piping made from the plastics polyvinyl chloride
(PVC) and cross-linked polyethylene (PEX). The California Court of Appeals
in Los Angeles last year directed the states Department of Housing and
Community Development (HCD) to conduct, before the standards are set,
an environmental review of the risks posed by the pipes. Environmental
groups say PVC and PEX can leach harmful chemicals into drinking water
or emit dangerous emissions when burned charges that industry strongly
disputes. HCD, however, has moved to propose the adoption of the standards
to include plastics without an environmental review, according to U.S.
Newswire. The California Building Standards Commission is expected to
vote on this issue by the end of the year. Dozens of environmental organizations
have submitted comments to HCD opposing the administration's plan.
The radiation paradox described by Chandrasekara Dissanayake in his delightful essay on medical geology (05 August, page 883-5) is resolved in terms of the concept of ionizing radiation as an "essential trace energy"(1) - proposed by John R. Cameron in analogy to the concept of essential trace elements in nutrition. Just as disease can be attributed to excesses of such essential trace elements as potassium, calcium and phosphorus in the diet, so can disease (radiation sickness) be attributed to a massive dose of ionizing radiation absorbed over a short period of time.
It is important, however, to distinguish between an acute dose of 3 to 5 Gy (1 Gray = 100 rads) , the LD50 for nuclear radiation, and a chronic exposure of, say, 260 mGy/year as reported for Ramsar (Iran), which would lead to an accumulated dose of 3 to 5 Gy in a mere 12 to 20 years. The people in Ramsar survive to old age and exhibit none of the symptoms of radiation disease. This implies the existence of some sort of mechanism which repairs the damage done to the body by the ionizing radiation over a period of time (much) shorter than a decade.
My physician has determined that I am deficient in potassium, and advised me to eat a banana every day. In view of the examples cited by Cameron, and Chandrasekara Dissanayake's accounts of Ramsar, Kerala and Guarapari, I wonder if I ought not seek a source of ionizing radiation other than my infrequent (and expensive) high-altitude flights.
The writer is an American physicist [AB Harvard '48 and PhD Hopkins '53] and an environmentalist. Until retiring he was a senior science and science education officer at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO. He is a member of the Scientific Committee of the not-for-profit international "Association des ecologistes Pour le Nuclaire" and president of EFN-USA. He drives a Toyota Prius.
(1) John R. Cameron, APS Forum on Physics & Society, Oct 2001, on
line at http://www.aps.org/units/fps/newsletters/2001/october/a5oct01.cfm
For comparison, EPA proposes a new standard for Yucca [Science
309, 1165, 19 Aug. 2005] :
These are ridiculous requirements , but never fear: The Minneapolis based,
anti-nuclear Institute for Energy and Environment wants much tougher limits.
Please donate to Hurricane Katrina's victims from New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast. Here's how:
American Red Cross
Americas Second Harvest
Salvation Army, "Disaster Relief"