Archive for category Environment

A balanced and measured reponse to James Delingpole

Have you been enjoying the saga about the wind farms that might or might not kill whales? I do hope so. The aspect of it which I have particularly enjoyed is the sanctimonious and hypocritical rage of a vociferous lobby group of self-styled “skeptics.” (See here, here and here.) Though mostly based in Britain, they spell themselves in the American style to distinguish themselves from “sceptics” like me. That’s because, unlike proper sceptics* they – get this! – are card-carrying members of the Church of Climate Change.

I have been insulted by James Delingpole. I have officially made it!

Anyway, the reason James Delingpole claims “we” (I’m not sure why I’ve been lumped in with Ben Goldacre, but I’m honoured) are hypocritical is that we attacked him for using dodgy and distorted facts in this case, and didn’t attack all his other dodgy and distorted facts:

After all, whether or not wind farms harm cetaceans, we do know beyond all reasonable doubt that wind farms:

Despoil countryside, frighten horses, chop up birds, spontaneously combust, drive down property prices, madden those who live nearby with their subsonic humming, drive up electricity prices, promote rentseeking, make rich landowners richer (and everyone else poorer), ruin views, buy more electric sports cars for that dreadful Dale Vince character, require rare earth minerals which cause enormous environmental damage, destroy 3.7 real jobs for every fake “green” job they “create”, blight neighbourhoods, kill off tourism and ruin lives.

So isn’t it, you might argue, ever so slightly odd to get so het up over the issue as to whether or not they harm whales too?

So fair enough, let’s get het up over all of these:

    • Despoil countryside“. That’s kind of subjective, surely. If you think wind turbines look ugly, then yes, they despoil the countryside. But then, so does this. And this. And this. And this.
    • Frighten horses“. True to an extent; horses startle easily after all. However, there are plenty of places where wind farms and stables coexist, and careful design can eliminate the problems caused by flickering shadows worrying the animals.
    • Chop up birds“. Actually, the number of bird deaths associated with wind turbines is much smaller than the number of deaths caused birds flying into other buildings and stationary structures.
    • Spontaneously combust“. As far as I can tell from the limited stats available, wind turbine fires don’t appear to be any more common than any other type of fire. And at least wind turbines only produce smoke and pollution when they are in fact on fire; to paraphrase George Monbiot, wind power causes calamities when it goes wrong, coal causes calamities when it goes right.
    • Drive down property prices“. Yet again, so does coal and nuclear.
    • Madden those who live nearby with subsonic humming“. This is fair enough. That’s one point to Delingpole.
    • Drive up energy prices“. Actually, onshore wind costs as much per MW as coal power, and quite a bit less than nuclear power. Offshore wind is more expensive, but it also solves most of the above problems. Whoops, there goes that point.
    • Promote rentseeking, make rich landowners richer (and everyone else poorer), […] buy more electric sports cars for that dreadful Dale Vince character.” Basically, this comes down to whether you’d rather it was coal power companies or wind power companies who were rich.
    • Ruin views“. No, James, you already did this one with “despoil countryside”. -1 point.
    • Require rare earth minerals which cause enormous environmental damage“. Now, this is a good point. Most of our rare earths at the moment come from China, which until very recently had very lax environmental controls, so the byproducts from mining them is causing environmental damage, and ideally I would rather our rare earths came from more eco-friendly sources. This isn’t just a problem with wind turbines though, it’s a problem with practically every piece of electronics in use today. Rare earth elements are used in making hard-drives, lasers, computer chips, medical images, headphones, guitar pickups and dynamos, not just wind turbines. Besides, once again, oil drilling, coal mining, uranium mining, peat cutting, even making the concrete for dams – all of these have environmental downsides as well. For this to be an argument against wind, you need to show that the damage caused by rare earths is worse than the damage caused by the above.
    • Destroy 3.7 real jobs for every green job they create“. Here’s what Full Fact had to say about that:

However the Verso Economics report was not actually seeking to address indirect benefits or jobs gained through investment in this sector. Further, the BBC reports a spokesman for the Scottish government arguing the report is “misleading”, saying it vastly underestimates the jobs created in the renewables sector and does not consider the impact of private investment. They argue that there is no negative impact on public services or public sector budgets from government support of renewables.
Whether or not these criticisms of the report ring true, there is another potential problem in using its findings to show a net loss of jobs across the UK. The original report does not address the entire UK ‘green’ jobs sector, but is focused on jobs created in the renewables sector in Scotland. Therefore, it is something of an extrapolation, and one in which it is difficult to have full confidence.

  • Blight neighbourhoods“. Pretty sure you’ve already done that one too.
  • Kill off tourism“. In fact, wind turbines have negligible effect on tourism.
  • Ruin lives“. Quite unlike climate change and global warming, which I’m sure has never ruined lives. OH WAIT.

* So let me get this straight. Fake sceptics are sceptical about the things they read, “proper sceptics” blindly regurgitate whatever they read in blogs or press releases into national newspapers without doing even the briefest of fact checks. Good to know.

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Delingpole gets whaled on

(Massive hat-tip to @rbhinkley)

“Wind farms kill whales: blubber on the green movement’s hands

That’s the typically subtle and balanced headline of today’s piece by James Delingpole, which is based on an article in yesterday’s Telegraph, “Wind farms blamed for stranding of whales“, which is itself based on the research article “Beaked Whales Respond to Simulated and Actual Navy Sonar” published on Monday. “Simulated and Actual Navy Sonar”? That doesn’t sound like it’s about wind farms at all! Luckily, the paper was published in the open access journal PLoS ONE, so we can read the whole thing (PDF).

There is not one mention of the phrases “wind turbine” or “wind farm”, or indeed even the word “wind” at all. Nor is there any mention of beaching beyond hypothetical suggestions that sonar may cause it – although they found whales were tending to stay away from military sonar, they didn’t find direct evidence that this was causing whales to get stranded.

Two hours ago, Ian Boyd of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews – the scientist quoted in the articles – left the following comment on The Telegraph‘s website (Edit: The article has now been deleted. I’ve preserved the comment below):

This article is an abomination. Its quotes me extensively. At no point in all the interactions I have had with The Press on this issue have I ever mentioned wind farms. I disagree with the way the article was written and especially with the implications of its headline. Several of the apparent quotations from me are not ones that I recognise. I never spoke to a journalist from the Daily Telegraph so I wonder how this article was compiled. At very least it was second-hand reporting.

There are no wind turbines in the report. The scientist quoted denies ever mentioning wind turbines. In fact, from the looks of it, the only people who did mention wind turbines are the journalists at The Telegraph.

Now might be a good time to bring out that classic Delingpole quote (Youtube link).

“It is not my job to sit down and read peer-reviewed papers, because I simply don’t have the time, I don’t have the scientific expertise. […] I am an interpreter of interpretations.”

An interpreter of entirely false interpretations, in this case.

Update: The Telegraph has withdrawn the article, and printed a correction. Delingpole’s blog post remains up.

Double update: Delingpole has belatedly updated the blog post. It now ends:

It has been drawn to my attention that the man who led the St Andrews research team has violently, passionately and emphatically dissociated himself from the original Telegraph news item suggesting that his research showed wind farms to be deleterious to the health of whales. I am delighted to put this straight.

What this means is that, though at this stage we know for absolute certain that wind farms despoil countryside, frighten horses, [here follows a list of fifty-bazillion unsourced claims about wind turbines], the possibility that they also lure whales to their doom remains at this stage an unproven hypothesis. (Just like Anthropogenic Global Warming theory, then.)

The phrase “I am delighted to put this straight” has never sounded less sincere.

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The Mail erupts

Headline: Icelandic volcano set to erupt dwarfing last year’s devastation, warn scientists

Scary! Except that according to the article itself:

  • Scientists don’t actually know whether the volcano, Bárdarbunga, will erupt, just that there has been an increase in earthquakes near it.
  • There are very few measuring devices in the area, which means seismologists don’t know whether those earthquakes are actually caused by the volcano or not.
  • No-one, apart from the Mail itself, is claiming that the eruption will be larger than Eyjafjallajökull, and they seem to be basing that solely on the fact that the volcano itself is bigger.

In conclusion, a volcano may or may not erupt, and it could or could not be bigger than another volcano. Things are always less terrifying when you know the uncertainties.

Edit: Sure enough, the scientist studying Bárdarbunga has said on Radio Five that his findings have been misquoted and exaggerated by the media and other Icelandic geologists agree that the danger has been overstated. What a surprise.

Double edit: Massive thanks to Alex Elliott in the comments for finding this article where the professor in question, Pall Einarsson, attacks the press for twisting his words and overhyping the scare. In the original interview, he claims to have said the exact opposite – that the earthquakes around Bárdarbunga were nothing unusual.

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The Delingpole Escape Plan

(Why yes, I did write this post entirely for the pun.)

The Eco-fascists have taken over! So says James Delingpole, anyway. His proof?

Well, in October, Brussels Airport won an award for reducing its carbon emissions. A month later, it snowed.

This isn’t a new thing. It has been going on for years, since at least the 1992 Rio Earth Summit when Maurice Strong laid down the ground rules for the eco-fascist takeover of the world. It’s bit like that classic 2000AD “Future Shocks” story where the aliens that have invaded our planet unbeknownst to us turn out to be those innocuous-looking wire coat hangers we have in our cupboards. The battle for our freedom is already all but lost – and the stupid thing is, most of us didn’t even know we were fighting one.

So now – not in some imagined, paranoid fantasist’s future, but NOW – we live in a world where an airport is encouraged to place a higher priority on reducing its notional production of a harmless trace gas than it does in making provision for aeroplanes to be able to take off and land in inclement weather.

You may have noticed it was not snowing in October, and that it’s perfectly possible for an airport to offset its carbon emissions and clear away snow, and that the two events were completely unrelated. Shush!

Delingpole then moves onto the Met Office. The Met Office’s seasonal forecasts are always vague – as winter approaches, they generally make them more accurate. True enough, in the last few years, they’ve generally predicted that a warm winter was more likely than a cold one, and had to revise that as winter approached. Whether or not the Met Office was right has nothing to do with climate change however. A year is much too short to see global warming happen.

Delingpole quotes a Department for Transport report (pdf) which, he claims, shows the Met Office predicted there was only a 1 in 20 chance that this winter would be severe (which, of course, does not mean the same thing as simply “cold”). In fact, this is taken out of context – the report simply points out (p. 88-9) that in general, one winter in twenty is severe, and the fact that the last two years were severe does not necessarily mean they are clustering. The report after all was issued in July, long before the Met Office could say with any certainty what the weather would do.

Incidentally, the Met Office didn’t predict this winter would be mild. One of their computers predicted the winter would be mild, based on a limited set of data, but as the Met Office said at the time:

“This is not an official forecast, it’s data that would form part of a longer term prediction.

“If you look at the whole picture across north west Europe, there’s a higher chance of a cold winter than a warm one.”

Anyway, Delingpole gets someone to do the numbers for him, and finds that the odds of three severe winters is 1 in 8000 (presumably because that’s 1 in 20, to the power of three – not really the right way to do the sum in this case anyway), therefore the Met Office must be wrong. The old joke comes to mind of a guy who fires blindly into a wall, looks for a spot where several bullets have clustered together, draws a bullseye around them and declares himself a crackshot. Most winters of course are not severe, and two or three severe ones clustered together among mild ones, while a bit unlikely, isn’t as impossible as Delingpole claims, and itself shows nothing. If lots of winters were severe over decades, then that would prove the 1 in 20 winters is severe claim was inaccurate. On their own, three winters prove nothing. If you throw a coin and score three heads in a row, that doesn’t prove the coin is loaded, especially if the last few tosses had a good mixture of heads and tails. If you score a hundred heads in a row, then you should be suspicious.

Okay, that was a diversion, since the Met Office’s predictions had little to do with global warming. Anyway, remember those eco-fascists Delingpole was complaining about?

Heads are going to roll for this, they’ll have to. But however many heads do roll it won’t be enough. Always remember this: the Warmist faith so fervently held and promulgated by the Met Office is exactly the same faith so passionately, unswervingly followed by David Cameron, Chris Huhne, Greg Barker, the Coalition’s energy spokesman in the Lords Lord Marland, and all but five members of the last parliament. And also by the BBC, the Prince of Wales, almost every national newspaper, the European Union, the Royal Society, the New York Times, CNBC, the Obama administration, the Australian and New Zealand governments, your children’s schools, our major universities, our minor universities, the University of East Anglia, your local council….

Truly there just aren’t enough bullets!

Giving an airport a certificate? Fascist.

Shooting politicians, journalists, teachers and scientists because you disagree with them? Not fascist.

Good to know.

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It doesn’t snow in the summer

RAIL bosses made the farcical decision to take two de-icing trains out of service at the height of the big freeze, it emerged yesterday.

Hmm, you’re right, Express, that is a bit farc…

The locomotives were away for their annual service when the Arctic weather swept in.

Oh, you mean they were already being serviced before the big freeze started? Still, as the Express says, they should have serviced them in the summer, not the wint…

Network Rail said the two trains were 55 years old and were sent away at the end of the summer to be upgraded.

The process took longer than expected and “extra resources” were brought in from unaffected parts of the network. The company has 30 trains across the country responsible for keeping the railways free of ice.

Oh. In short, here’s a more accurate first paragraph:

RAIL bosses made the decision to take two de-icing trains out of service at the end of summer.

Shocking.

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The Mail says is the IPCC is wrong. In fact…

Today’s misleading climate change story, courtesy of the Mail: Alarmist Doomsday warning of rising seas ‘was wrong’, says Met Office study.

Alarming predictions that global warming could cause sea levels to rise 6ft in the next century are wrong, it has emerged.

The forecast made by the influential 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which would have seen cities around the world submerged by water, now looks ‘unlikely’.

A Met Office study also rules out the shutdown of the Atlantic Ocean’s conveyor belt, which would trigger Arctic winters in Britain like those seen in the film The Day After Tomorrow.

Okay, before I point out everything else that’s wrong with this: The Day After Tomorrow is about as accurate a depiction of climate change as The Matrix is of computer programming. Regardless of what the climate does, we won’t actually have entire cities buried under frozen tsunamis, roamed by packs of wolves.

So, was the IPCC wrong? In their AR4 report (the one in question here) they said that over the 21st century, sea levels will rise by between 18 cm and 58 cm. In Daily Mail terms, that’s between 7 inches and about 2 feet (p. 45, which is p. 23 of the pdf, annoyingly). A 2 foot rise this century is rather a lot less than a 6 foot rise this century. Where did this error come from?

According to the report, beyond 2100, sea levels could rise higher – the theoretical maximum looks to be something between 7 and 10 metres – but that’s not what the Met Office study, “Summary of Post-IPCC AR4 work“, is about.

The Met Office says:

  • The relationship between temperature and sea-level rise is non-linear and the range for 21st century sea-level rise remains uncertain.
  • Some evidence that sea-level rise by 2100 may exceed the 95th percentile AR4 model-based projection of 59 cm.
  • Evidence that a rise significantly above 2 m by 2100 is very unlikely.

Median projections for 2100 under ‘business as usual’ scenario: AR4 model range of sea-level rise for this scenario was 0.21–0.59 cm. However, some of the newer evidence suggests that a sea-level rise of 2 m cannot be ruled out, but an increase of more than 1 m is currently viewed as unlikely.

So in fact, the Met Office says that the IPCC may have underestimated sea level rises, not overestimated them.

The Met Office never called the IPCC “alarmist”, they never said the IPCC “was wrong”, and even if the upper limit of an IPCC estimate had been rounded down, that wouldn’t make it wrong. It would just mean that we were to able to put more accurate upper bounds on sea level rise. This is all quite clear in the Met Office study; surely “Daily Mail Reporter” has to have read this report – and the IPCC report – to write this story. There’s no way such a massive error could have crept into this story.

The Mail accuses the IPCC of being alarmist and wrong. Perhaps they should look in the mirror first.

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If global warming is real then why is it cold, part 379

As you may have heard, there’s currently a climate conference taking place in Cancún, Mexico. As you may also have heard, it’s snowing.

Uh-oh!

If, last week, frozen behind a snowdrift, you heard a faint hysterical squeaking, it might well have been the sound of those 20,000 delegates holed up behind a wall of armed security guards in the sun-drenched Mexican holiday resort of Cancun, telling each other that the world is more threatened by runaway global warming than ever.

Yes, it’s the classic “If global warming is real why is it cold?” argument from Christopher Booker, blithely ignoring the fact that 2010 is set to be one of the hottest years on record (and 2000-2009 was the hottest decade on record) regardless of what the weather is like for one week on a small northerly island. To be fair, this isn’t his only argument (even if he does return to the subject three more times in the space of the column). After all, he also has “If the oceans are getting more acidic, why are they still alkaline?”

Far from the oceans acidifying, their pH currently ranges between 7.9 and 8.3, putting them very firmly on the alkaline side of the threshold, at 7.0.

Of course, the fact that the seas are alkaline doesn’t mean they can’t be less alkaline than they were years ago. And sure enough, according to the Australian Antarctic Division:

CO2 from human activities has caused the pH of ocean surface waters to drop by 0.11 pH units. This might not sound like much, but it is equivalent to a 30% increase in acidity.*

Ocean acidification is never going to turn the oceans completely acidic – that would require a 1580% rise in ocean acidity, which is a bit unlikely. What acidification will do – and what it has already done, in fact – is bring acidity up just enough to interfere with creatures like coral, which rely on the precise chemistry of the ocean to produce their skeletons.

His other argument?

It is only those same old computer models that predict that Tuvalu and the Maldives are about to drown, when real measurements show the sea around them not to be rising at all.

It’s true that one dataset from Tuvalu did appear to show no sea level rise. Unfortunately (for both Booker and the Tuvaluans) that data was taken from a single station over a relatively short period and presented without uncertainties, making it effectively meaningless. Analysis of more data from Tuvalu (PDF, p.11) finds a sea level rise of 1.2 ± 0.8 mm/year. The uncertainty in the data is still quite large (not least because the island of Tuvalu itself is moving by a small but unknown amount), but there certainly appears to be a sea level rise. At any rate, regardless of whether or not the sea level is rising at Tuvalu right now, it’s certainly rising worldwide at a rate which threatens people living in low-lying land.

The global warming scare may have been fun for the children while it lasted. But the time has come for the joke to be declared well and truly over.

Some joke.

Incidentally, Booker finishes off his column with a link to some people singing Handel’s Hallelujah in a food court which, he claims, is “the very opposite of all that is stood for by global warming, social workers, the European Union, the Coalition Government and the rest of this column’s usual fare“. Because if there’s one thing environmentalists really hate, it’s people singing.

* pH is a logarithmic measure of acidity, which means that numbers appear to work slightly oddly. A drop of about 0.3 on the pH scale corresponds roughly to a doubling of the activity of H+ ions (the ions that cause acidity), and a drop of 1 (from 8 to 7, for instance) represents a tenfold increase in H+ activity.

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“Kills trees” is the new “causes cancer”

(Edit: Angry Mob has a good post on this subject)

The Daily Mail has a doozy of a headline today: Is wi-fi radiation killing off trees? Study blames computer signals for dying leaves.

As if our magnificent trees didn’t have enough problems, they’re now being threatened by our emails.

When they’re not being assailed by some foreign bug or moth, there’s often a council official looking for an excuse to cut them down.

Now researchers say radiation from wi-fi networks that enable our burgeoning online communications may be their latest enemy.

Damn those foreign bugs and those council officials and those emails threatening our magnificent trees!

The study is – of course – unpublished, and the press release is so far only available in Dutch. The gist of it, according to the Dutch Antenna Agency (via Google Translate), is that researchers grew various plants in a climate controlled room. Of these, ash trees appeared to have brittle, discoloured leaves if grown close to a wireless access point – by close, we’re talking on the order of 50 cm, and maize and thale cress seemed to have delayed flowering. However, since the experiment is unpublished (indeed, it won’t even be presented to a conference until February of next year), all we have to go on is the press release. We don’t know how the experiment was controlled – after all, all the symptoms could have been disease or dehydration – there’s no mention in the press release of control groups, and we can’t know how statistically significant this result is.

The Antenna Agency also mentions previous studies showing that wi-fi had no effect on the growth of beech and spruce trees, and paraphrases the researcher thus:

He warns strongly that there are no far-reaching conclusions from its results. Based on the information now available can not be concluded that the WiFi radio signals leads to damage to trees or other plants

So in other words, this study (which has not yet been published) may make some interesting observations, but it most certainly does not blame wi-fi for killing trees. Oh well, Daily Mail, it’s just that the lead headline in your science section is completely wrong and will scare people unnecessarily, it’s not like that’s a big deal or anything.

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The Express and The Mail step into the ring! Only one can leave! FIGHT!

For a while now, the Express has been running it’s “Time for Change Crusade“, in favour of Britain changing to Single-Double Summer Time (SDST) so we are 2 hours ahead of GMT in summer and one hour ahead in winter – equivalent to moving time zone by one hour from Western European Time to Central European Time (CET) (previous posts on the subject here) . A few weeks ago, The Sun too declared that it too wanted to “save Britain from Daylight Robbery“. Well, now a rival has stepped up to the plate;* via the medium of Peter Hitchens, the Mail has begun its “British Time Campaign” to stop the UK moving to CET (or “Berlin Time”, as they call it in flagrant violation of Godwin’s law).

Both sides are sadly up to their usual tricks in favour of their position to ludicrous extents – the Daily Express claims they have the backing of 29 million people based on a survey of a few thousand while the Daily Mail claims that people who support the change are useful idiots to some sort of evil “Bratwurst-eating” Frankfurt conspiracy.

So, in the interests of fair debate, here are the facts, laid out in as neutral a way as I can:**

Read the rest of this entry »

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Plunged into chaos

A cat and a dog

Cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria! (Photo by PT, CC 2.0 by-nc-nd)

You know those adverts for household gadgets where they make squeezing toothpaste or putting lids on pens look like some impossibly laborious chore? I think the the Daily Express watches them and thinks “We could do better than that!

BRITONS face a day of chaos tomorrow as the clocks turn back an hour, plunging the country into evening darkness.

WE’RE DOOMED.

Now, a disclaimer. If there was sufficiently strong evidence that double summer time would be beneficial to the country, then I’d be all for it. The problem is that when Portugal, a country in the same time zone as the UK, tried moving to European time during the mid-90s, the sun set so late in the evening that it interfered with sleep cycles, and insurance companies reported a rise in accidents, not a fall (PDF, p. 13-14). There may still be a case for changing the time zone, but it’s certainly not as clear cut as the Express would have you believe.

So anyway, CHAOS.

A third of us will oversleep, 20 per cent will wake up to a cold house after forgetting to change the central heating timer and one in eight will arrive at work late over the coming days.

Better start preparing that bomb shelter!

Research by energy company npower also found that almost half of parents say the change in daylight hours will affect their children’s sleep patterns.

It will take an average of three days to readjust, with 40 per cent of people polled saying it would be harder to get their children to school on Monday.

That’s all very good and well, but pushing the UK forwards a time zone won’t change that. We’ll still have a clock change and, as Portugal saw, double summer time is more disruptive to children’s sleep patterns.

In fact, everything the Express has said so far is just as bad for its own Crusade for Change as it is for the current scheme. These aren’t arguments for changing time zone, these are arguments for scrapping summer time altogether.

The warnings come as growing numbers of politicians, businesses and families back the Daily Express Time For Change crusade.

29 million of them, in fact. If you include the imaginary ones.

And as Tabloid Watch points out, yesterday the Express claimed 58% of people supported the change. Before the campaign began, 60% of people did. Growing numbers indeed.

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