Snookering the Wall Street Journal

Even though the Wall Street Journal is skeptical about climate change claims and has been very critical of the climate orthodoxy, it agreed to run 11 climate change ads by a group called The Partnership for Responsible Growth. Unfortunately, in attempting to be fair and open minded, the Journal did not do a good job of fact checking the factual foundation of the  June 16 ad titled, Carbon Traps Heat.  It got snookered.

This group begins by stating that “IF WE CAN AGREE ON THAT (carbon traps heat), WE CAN HAVE A CONVERSATION.” Actually you can agree with that statement and still not be able to have an informed conversation because this so called Partnership wraps its political agenda in the cloak of science. It is true that scientists have known for almost 200 years that CO2 is a greenhouse gas that contributes to warming by absorbing solar energy that otherwise would be reflected back into space. That observation about CO2 is where the Partnership’s statement of fact ends and its political rhetoric begins.

Asserting that CO2 acts “like a blanket” and that “excess heat remains trapped on earth” are gross distortions intended to imply that absent reductions in CO2 emissions warming will go in only one direction, up. The creator of theses ads are attempting to convince readers that CO2 emissions from using fossil fuels will cause run away warming that will cause a climate catastrophe. When advocates draw such extreme images, it is a virtual certainty that facts and reality have been abandoned.

If the Wall Street Journal had held this group to any reasonable standard of proof, it would have summarily rejected, at least, this ad as being nothing more than special interest propaganda. Last year, a new scientific organization, the CO2 Coalition published a report, Carbon Dioxide Benefits the World: See for Yourself that provides the scientific basis for refuting the Partnership’s erroneous claim about the effects of CO2 and its image of future dread.

One of the most important, but neglected, facts that this group ignores is that CO2’s warming effect decreases in efficiency because the relationship between CO2 concentrations and warming is logarithmic; not linear. As CO2 concentrations have increased the incremental warming is less than that from prior levels. While advocates focus their attention on CO2, they neglect to mention that water vapor is the most potent greenhouse gas and that atmospheric levels have not been increasing.

The Partnership also neglects to mention that CO2 is a nutrient that is necessary for live. It contributes to the efficiency of plant and crop growth and to making them more drought resistant. Satellite imagery clearly shows a greening of the earth as atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased.

If the Partnership is truly interested in a “conversation” about CO2 and climate change, it should first abandon its campaign style rhetoric and its selective use of scientific facts and engage scientists like those who comprise the leadership of the CO2 Coalition in a serious debate.

 

 

 

Bogus Claims About Oil and Asthma

Mark Twain once observed that he was not bothered by all of the things people didn’t know but bothered by all of the things they knew that just weren’t so. That observation applies perfectly to environmentalists who continue to claim that air pollution is causing an increase in the incidence of asthma.

Recently the head of the Urban Air Initiative made such a claim in an opinion piece—Less Oil, Less Asthma— and in the process advocated increased use of ethanol as the solution. It is unclear whether the head of this organization knows a lot of things that just aren’t so or knows the facts but is shilling for ethanol because of benefits the ethanol lobby provides his organization. If it is the latter, it is a clear example of the Baptist and Bootlegger alliance. In either case, he doesn’t want to be confused with facts.

The facts on asthma and air pollution are very clear. High levels of air pollution can trigger asthma incidences. As the levels of air pollution have declined, identifying the threshold that triggers an incident has become more speculative and the alleged relationship less credible.

The Environmental Almanac published by the Pacific Research Institute contains data showing the tremendous improvement in air quality and the dramatic decrease in air pollution emissions between 1970 and 2013—the last issue of the Almanac—59%. Between 1980 and 2008, ozone emissions declined 27% and particulate emissions 38%. The number of ozone non-attainment areas, according to EPA declined from 113 in 1997 to 31 in 2011.

If air pollution emissions were the main driver of asthma incidence, it should be the case that as emissions declined and air quality improved, asthma incidences should have declined also. That has not been the case. Data from the National Institute of Asthma and Infectious Diseases shows that asthma has been increasing among all age groups over the past decade.

According to the Mayo Clinic “it isn’t clear why some people get asthma and others don’t, but it’s probably due to a combination of environmental and genetic (inherited) factors.” Mayo cites the following as asthma triggers, which are different from person to person and can include:

  • Airborne allergens, such as pollen, animal dander, mold, cockroaches and dust mites
  • Respiratory infections, such as the common cold
  • Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma)
  • Cold air
  • Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
  • Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve)
  • Strong emotions and stress

 

This list of triggers goes a long way in explaining why the reductions in air pollution emissions have not led to a comparable decrease in asthma.

As for the claim that increasing the volume of ethanol in gasoline would be environmentally beneficial and contribute to a reduction in the incidences of asthma, it is pure bunk!

In the late 1980s, before reauthorization of the Clean Air Act in 1990, the oil and auto industries engaged in one of the largest environmental research projects undertaken involving fuels and vehicle systems. The goal was to identify the most cost-effective ways to achieve lower tailpipe emissions. One of the results was that lower emission levels could be achieved without increasing the use of ethanol. Congress ignored that research finding because it needed farm lobby support to secure passage of the Clean Air Act, which actually contains a formula for reformulated gasoline.

Since then drivers have been paying a higher price for gasoline so that corn farmers and ethanol manufacturers can be subsidized to the tune of several billion dollars annually. The scientific literature is replete with studies showing that ethanol at best has small environmental benefits but most likely they are negative. The adverse impact of ethanol on small engines and even fuel systems in premier vehicles like BMW and Lexus are beyond question.

Proponents of increasing the volume of ethanol above the current 10% are either ignorant of the effects on vehicles or else their pursuit of increased wealth has blinded them to the adverse impacts on others, especially those who can ill afford the impact higher food prices—the elderly, low income families, and more than 1 billion people who subsist on less than $2 a day.

 

 

 

 

The Truth: Politically Incorrect

Recently, the CEO of Chevron, John Watson, came in for criticism from environmental activists and climate change advocates for stating that “fossil fuels are here to stay” and that “climate change might even prove positive for Chevron, if it spurs more the planet to shift from coal to natural gas.” His remarks were factually accurate, so why the criticism?

The Wall Street Journal stated that his views set him “apart from his oil industry counterparts.” The CEO of Shell tried to capitalize on Mr. Watson’s statement by saying, “ We believe absolutely that climate change is real. Not all oil companies do that.” That was not a very cleaver or subtle dig at Mr. Watson, who never said that climate change was not real. Indeed, no one with any intelligence could make such a statement.

Clearly, Mr. Watson was making a statement that is in Chevron’s best interest. His job is to earn returns for shareholders for investing in Chevron. He was simply following Adam Smith’s dictum that it is not from the benevolence of the butcher or baker that we get our daily food but from the pursuit of their own self interest. That is how a market based economy is supposed to work. If Mr. Watson had distorted the truth or intentionally mislead, criticism would be justified but he was telling the truth.

In its most recent Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows fossil fuels–oil, gas, and coal– remaining the dominant sources of energy through 2040, in spite of a decline in the use of coal and energy policy actions intended to discourage their use. The picture is much the same internationally. In its international Outlook, EIA forecasts that energy consumption will increase by 48% with growth occurring mainly in the developing world as a result of population and economic growth. It forecasts that in spite of rapid growth in renewable energy, “fossil fuels (will) still supply more than three-quarters of world energy use.”

Pretending that last December’s Paris Agreement on climate change will somehow lead to a significant reduction in fossil energy use or its greenhouse gas emissions is not a sound foundation for either economic or energy policy. Basing policy on illusions will simply result in continued failure of climate initiatives, as has been the case since the Kyoto agreement in 1997, and the waste of scarce resources that could be more effectively allocated to stronger economic growth and advances in technology.

Advances in our understanding of the climate system and its complexity should be a cause for increased humility and reflection. A paper by Professor J. Ray Bates, a former NASA scientist and now on the faculty of the University College Dublin, concludes that climate models have systematically overestimated climate sensitivity because they underestimate the amount of heat reflected back into space from the tropics. And research from the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) has reinforced Svensmark theory about cosmic rays and climate change and suggests that past cloud cover was much greater than assumed. This means that assumptions about the impact of greenhouse gases on global temperatures have been over-estimated.

The assumptions of climate advocates that have not been confirmed by new knowledge and empirical evidence are strong reasons for skepticism and for changing the prevailing climate paradigm to reflect greater uncertainty and advances in knowledge. Planning that is based on a higher level of uncertainty would have a shorter time horizon and more policy options.

Telling the truth about fossil fuels may be seen as politically incorrect by some but it is consistent with the Boorstin view that we need to restore our ability to test the image by reality rather than continue to do the opposite.

An Introduction to a new website and blog post

In 1961, the late historian and former Librarian of the Library of Congress Daniel Boorstin wrote The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America. 1961 was before television, and now social media and the internet, became one “ of the most powerful forces in American life”.

In the opening pages of “The Image, Boorstin describes how we have used our resources and progress to “create the thicket of unreality which stands between us and the facts of life”. He describes the condition as national self-hypnosis where each of us “provides the market and the demand for the illusions which flood our experience.

Over a half a century ago, Boorstin, described an America where citizens are “less interested in whether something is a fact than in whether it is convenient that it should be believed. Practitioners of pseudo-events are skilled in creating self-fulfilling prophecies.

Near the end of his book, he observes that we have become more accustomed to testing reality by the image and find it harder to once again test the image by reality. As a result, “it becomes harder to moderate our expectations, to shape expectations after experience and not vice versa.”

The purpose of realitybasedpolicy.com is to challenge the illusions that dominate public policy discussions, especially those dealing with energy, environmental issues, and the general willingness to accept government actions that undermine our economic well being and future.