March 2013

Post image for An Even Later Peak Cherry Blossom Date – How Unnatural is That?

Back in early March, we wrote about how this year’s cherry blossom peak was predicted to occur a bit later than in 2012—March 26-30 instead of March 20-23. While recognizing that later peak blooms in a single year don’t prove anything either way about global warming, we still raised the question of press reaction—or rather the lack of it. Since the early peak dates in the last three years caused quite a bit of climate alarmism, the same should, theoretically, happen when the peak date is overdue.

As it turns out, the National Park Service’s newest prediction shows that this year’s peak blossom will occur even later—April 3-6—making 2013 the year with the latest cherry blossom peak bloom since 2005. But there were no headlines that screamed “Peak Blossom Delay is Worst In Eight Years!”

Washington Post reporter Jason Samenow reported about the later peak bloom on March 15. He failed to mention, however, his climate change musings in a similar article published one year ago: “D.C.’s cherry blossoms have shifted 5 days earlier: what about global warming and the future?”

In that article, Samenow wrote:

“Based on the build-up of … greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the high likelihood for additional warming in the future … there is no reason to think the shift towards earlier bloom dates will not continue.”

And in another piece that he wrote on cherry blossoms this Monday, Samenow didn’t mention his 2012 predictions either. In the most recent piece, he did call the weather “unseasonably chilly”; I wonder if zipping up his jacket made him forget about his past articles.

This year’s cold March, and the later peak bloom prediction, doesn’t necessarily mean that Samenow should now warn readers about global cooling. But shouldn’t he at least admit to readers that this season is running counter to his predictions? After all, that is the cold (or at least unseasonably chilly) truth.

Post image for Wall Street Journal’s Crony Capitalist Conference Turns Sour

Times have changed since the Wall Street Journal held its first “ECO:nomics—Creating Environmental Capital” conference at the super-swanky Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara.  I was there in 2008 (but, alas, stayed at the Best Western in downtown Santa Barbara) when several hundred investors and corporate CEOs listened to leading crony capitalists, including Jeff Immelt of GE, James Rogers of Duke Energy, Andrew Liveris of Dow Chemical, and John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield and Byers (where Al Gore was also a partner), smugly explain how they were going to strike it rich off the backs of consumers and taxpayers with green energy subsidies and mandates, federal loan guarantees, and the higher energy prices that would make renewable energy competitive with coal, oil, and natural gas once cap-and-trade was enacted.

This year’s sixth annual conference, which I didn’t attend, was also held at the Bacara Resort, but the mood was apparently different.  Yesterday, the Journal ran a six-page supplement that summarized the conference’s highlights.  The lead article by John Bussey was headlined: “Green Investing: So Much Promise, So Little Return: At The Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference, the talk was about all the innovations taking place in renewable energy—and about all the investors who are losing interest.”

Bussey writes: “Given all the interest in protecting the environment from mankind’s rapid advance, you’d think this might be the best time ever to invest in renewable energy and the Next Big Green Thing.  Guess again.  Large parts of green-tech investment look like the torched and salted fields left behind by Roman conquerors: barren, lifeless—and bereft of a return on capital. Put another way: In some areas, if you aren’t already investor road kill, you’re likely the hedgehog in the headlights about to join your maker.”

On page two, an article on a talk by John Dears, chief investment officer of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (or Calpers), reveals that their “fund devoted to clean energy and technology which started in 2007 with $460 million has an annualized return of minus 9.7% to date.”  Dears is quoted as telling the conference: “We have almost $900 million in investment expressly aimed at clean tech.  We’re all familiar with the J-curve in private equity.  Well, for Calpers, clean-tech investing has got an L-curve for “lose.”  Our experience is that this has been a noble way to lose money.”

Yes, con artists gaming the system to raise energy prices, impoverish consumers, destroy jobs, and fleece taxpayers can still take comfort that theirs is “a noble way to lose money.”  Long may it remain so.  The entire 2013 ECO:nomics program may be found here. Read it and gloat now—it may be the last one.

Editor’s note: For more on CalPERS history of gross financial mismanagement, see this excellent post by my colleague Ivan Osorio.


Post image for UK Energy Policies Worsen Impact of Cold Spell

The United States has experienced extremely cold temperatures and unusual spring snowfall, but it has been even worse in the United Kingdom. Sub-freezing temperatures combined with brutal winds and paralyzing snow have turned the British countryside into a frigid landscape resembling a scene characteristic of the bitter depths of winter.  This is a far cry from being “a very rare and exciting event” where “children just aren’t going to know what snow is”, as predicted in 2000 by Dr. David Viner, a senior research scientist at the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia in the UK.

Now, in addition to impassible roads and widespread power outages, the UK faces a cold reminder of its misguided energy policies and a reliance on failed predictions as it suffers from a chronic energy shortage. Compared to hot weather, cold weather causes greater economic damage, such as power outages, roof collapses, and contributes to a higher number of weather-related fatalities.

According to Reuters, the UK has depleted around 90 percent of its natural gas reserves. In order to meet the dearth in supply, several tankers carrying LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) have been diverted from Qatar and Trinidad to the UK.  But even this might not be enough to replenish the country’s natural gas reserves.

While the UK was once a model of industrialization, the country has fallen on proverbial hard times in the postwar era. For several decades, the UK has failed to invest in fossil fuel power generation and improved storage capacity.

Over the past few decades, the UK has engaged in a drastic reduction of its coal facilities. In 1913, there were over three thousand deep coal mines in the UK. As of 2011, there are only twelve.

[click to continue…]

Post image for Ethanol Mandate: Proud Milestone in the Glorious History of Central Planning

Today on National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog, I post a comment celebrating the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) as a triumph of centralized economic planning. You think I’m joking? Far from it. The RFS is working at least as well as other central planning schemes!

Well, okay, the RFS would be funny if it weren’t so destructive. A new report by NERA Economic Consulting warns that the RFS is heading for a “death spiral” — a vicious circle in which rising fuel costs, declining sales, and dwindling biofuel credits make compliance increasingly “infeasible.”

In one scenario analyzed by NERA, the death spiral produces a 30% increase in gasoline prices and a 300% increase in the cost of diesel fuel in 2015. Potential adverse macroeconomic impacts include a “$770 billion decline in GDP and a corresponding reduction in consumption per household of $2,700.” Ludwig von Mises coined a term for such debacles: “Planned Chaos.” [click to continue…]

On Wednesday, March 13, the Cooler Heads Coalition sponsored a Congressional briefing by Rupert Darwall on his new book, The Age of Global Warming: A History, in which he places the rise of the global warming movement in the context of the history of ideas.

My colleague Myron Ebell summarized Darwall’s new book thusly,

The book begins by discussing why 19th century predictions of eco-doom turned out to be wrong, but are still believed; and how the first environmental wave in the 1960s and early 1970s came crashing down during the economic crisis of the 1970s.  This set the stage for the second environmental wave, when global warming burst onto the world stage in the late 1980s and with an unlikely champion in the UK—Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Darwall then shows in detail how science became the spear carrier of the global warming movement and how politics settled the scientific debate in 1992 when governments of the world agreed to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Rio Earth Summit.  His book concludes by examining how the developing world’s opposition to energy-rationing policies resulted in an unprecedented humiliation for the West at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

Below is video of Darwall’s briefing.

CEI Hill Briefing: The Age of Global Warming from CEI Video on Vimeo.


Post image for Eco-Anxiety Takes a Toll on Global Warming Alarmists

Most global warming alarmists focus on changes  supposedly occurring to the world we live in, but GW is also having an effect on another world—the world inside our heads. For instance, a recent study by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) showed that 80 percent of Sweden’s young people (ages 15-25) worry about how climate change will affect their future. Moreover, half of the respondents think about climate change once a week or more often, and no less than 25 percent experience stomach pains or unhappiness when they do so.

This is actually not a new phenomenon. In the 1990s, something known as “eco-anxiety” came into existence. It involved feelings of helplessness, despair or of not being able to do enough about climate change. Margaret Anderson, who holds a master’s degree in eco-psychology, calls it “that underlying feeling of fear and anger about the state of the Earth”. One person explained her melancholic feelings this way:

“The sight of an idling car, heat-trapping carbon dioxide spewing from the tailpipe, would send me into an hours-long panic, complete with shaking, the sweats, and staring off into space while others conversed around me.”

Another anxious reporter explained it as follows:

“Whatever steps I take to counter global warming, however well-intentioned my brief bursts of zeal, they invariably end up feeling like too little, too late. The mismatch between the extremely dangerous state of the earth and my own feeble endeavuors seems mockingly large.”

While eco-anxiety might be an unknown concept for most, that hasn’t stopped it from becoming quite a lucrative business for some. One website has compiled a database of people who identify themselves as providing therapeutic or educational services related to ecopsychology. In the U.S. alone, there are over one hundred people listed–charging up to $250 per hour–ranging from ecotherapists and ecologists to shamans.

Climate change/eco-anxiety has an eerie resemblance to another condition that popped up back in 2009: “Avatar blues”. The movie Avatar, which basically showed dirty mankind exploiting beautiful Na’vi people on the beautiful planet Pandora, caused people to experience depression–and in some instances—contemplating suicide. As one viewer said to CNN back in 2010:

“When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed … gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning … It just seems so … meaningless. I still don’t really see any reason to keep … doing things at all. I live in a dying world.”

The common denominator between eco-anxiety and Avatar blues seems to be the notion that earth is a unclean place, soon-to-be inhospitable to polar bears and on the brink of overall destruction. On its face this is similar to the “nuclear anxiety” that was widespread in the later half of the 20th century; the difference, however, is that fear of nuclear war was rather well-founded, while the alleged mega-catastrophes of GW have yet to appear.

Fortunately, there are ways of overcoming eco-anxiety, such as realizing that earth isn’t such a dull place. Our friends the ecotherapists have constructed more ingenious methods, such as advice on becoming more in tune with nature by always carrying around a small rock or twig. According to Carolyn Baker, a psychotherapist who offers eco-anxiety coaching, it helps to realize that “it’s OK to give yourselves a break for a few weeks or months,” and “focus on positive things, go see a comedy, [or] read a trashy novel”. Thanks, Carolyn. [click to continue…]

Post image for Bipartisan Senate Majority Votes To Oppose a Carbon Tax

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seldom lets Senators vote on amendments to bills, but last week he agreed to a “vote-a-rama” on the budget bill.  Hundreds of amendments on all sorts of issues were offered and many of them are being voted on.  Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered an amendment (#261) to put the Senate on record against any tax or fees on carbon dioxide emissions.  The Senate voted on this anti-carbon tax amendment on Friday, 22nd March.  Fifty-three Senators voted in favor, with 46 opposed. Sixty votes were required for passage under Senate rules.

All the no votes were from Democratic members.  The 45 Republican Senators were joined by eight Democrats in voting for Blunt’s amendment.  The Democrats were: Max Baucus of Montana, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Post image for False Alarms: Dow Chemical’s Campaign against Natural Gas Exports

Last week on this blog, I explained how Dow Chemical’s chief rationale for restricting exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) — the claim that gas used as a feed stock in domestic manufacturing adds more value to the economy than gas exported overseas — would also justify:

  • Curbing Dow’s exports of chemicals, plastics, and electronic components to help domestic manufacturers of paints, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, cell phones, laptops, and other finished goods become more competitive in the global marketplace.
  • Empowering bureaucratic agencies to commandeer private property whenever they think the resource would add more value in the hands of some other firm or industry.

Dow CEO Andrew Liveris would no doubt cry bloody murder if Congress proposed to give Dow a dose of its own medicine and restrict the company’s exports in the “public interest.” Presumably, Mr. Liveris would also disavow any sympathy for confiscatory centralized economic planning, although that is in effect what he is advocating.

Other rationales Dow and its allies invoke to oppose “unfettered” gas exports include:

  1. “Unlimited” gas exports could dramatically reduce the domestic supply of the natural gas liquids (NGLs) on which manufacturers depend as key feed stocks.
  2. Long-term contracts to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) will “lock in” deliveries to foreign buyers, subjecting U.S. manufacturers to high risks of price shocks and supply disruptions.
  3. Approving all LNG export applications that have been submitted to the Department of Energy (DOE) could result in “half” of all U.S. gas produced being burned for the Btus in overseas power plants, pushing U.S. gas prices to Asian levels.

These are all false alarms. Let’s take them one at a time. [click to continue…]

Earth Hour Harms the Earth

by Hans Bader on March 20, 2013

in Blog

Earth Hour wastes energy and harms the planet.  Bjørn Lomborg, a Danish academic and environmental writer, recently lambasted Earth Hour, the annual tradition of turning off the lights, which falls on March 23:

In fact, Earth Hour will cause emissions to increase. As the United Kingdom’s National Grid operators have found, a small decline in electricity consumption does not translate into less energy being pumped into the grid, and therefore will not reduce emissions. Moreover, during Earth Hour, any significant drop in electricity demand will entail a reduction in CO2 emissions during the hour, but it will be offset by the surge from firing up coal or gas stations to restore electricity supplies afterwards.

And the cozy candles that many participants will light, which seem so natural and environmentally friendly, are still fossil fuels – and almost 100 times less efficient than incandescent light bulbs. Using one candle for each switched-off bulb cancels out even the theoretical CO2 reduction; using two candles means that you emit more CO2.

To some self-styled environmentalists and bureaucrats, symbolism is more important than reality.  The Environmental Protection Agency clings to ethanol mandates, imposing them despite growing evidence that they increase world hunger and mortality, and harm the environment.  As the Wall Street Journal noted, in October 2011,

the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Action Aid petitioned the EPA to review the so-called renewable fuel standard that mandates that 13.8 billion gallons of corn ethanol be blended into the gasoline supply next year. The free-market think tank and global hunger charity argued that the EPA’s technical regulations implementing the mandate did not meet “basic standards of quality” [since] EPA failed to consider multiple peer-reviewed studies documenting the link between ethanol and world hunger in its public health literature review, as required by law. That includes one paper that concludes that biofuel mandates are responsible for at least 192,000 premature deaths every year. Overall more people die from chronic hunger world-wide than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined.

EPA disregarded this evidence, and denied the petition after a fourteenth-month delay.  (A request for reconsideration has been filed).

In 2008, a Washington Post editorial by two prominent environmentalists described how ethanol mandates have harmed the environment and spawned hunger across the world.   In “Ethanol’s Failed Promise,” Lester Pearson and Jonathan Lewis observed that “Turning one-fourth of our corn into fuel is affecting global food prices. U.S. food prices are rising at twice the rate of inflation, hitting the pocketbooks of lower-income Americans and people living on fixed incomes.  .  .Deadly food riots have broken out in dozens of nations in the past few months, most recently in Haiti and Egypt. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warns of a global food emergency.” [click to continue…]

Post image for Second Order Mission Creep: U.S. Military Gets into Investment Banking To Advance Green Energy

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. military is exploring how to bundle renewable energy contracts into securities (à la subprime mortgages), in order to better leverage taxpayer dollars to pay for more green energy.

Is anyone else discomfited by this second order mission creep? The military is supposed to be fighting wars. Now, it’s getting into complex, risky investment banking. So that it can generate more green energy.

Surely General Patton is rolling in his grave.