In Australia the Greens political party have advocated closing down the coal mining industry. This policy is based on implicit forecasts that the policy would help to avoid dangerous manmade global warming and that it would cause little or no harm to the economy. We have addressed the un-scientific nature of global warming forecasts elsewhere, and have shown that a no-change forecast of global mean temperatures is sufficiently accurate for policy making. Sinclair Davidson and Ashton De Silva show in their paper "Costing of The Greensâ€™ Economic Policies: Mining", that the Greens' forecasts of the economic effect of closing down coal mining are not supported by proper analysis.
EPA: Environmental Propaganda Activists
New rules use doctored evidence to cause economic pain and impair human health
Willie Soon and Paul Driessen
The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued 946 pages of new rules, requiring that U.S. power plants sharply reduce (already low) emissions of mercury and 83 other air pollutants. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claims that, while the regulations will cost electricity producers $10.9 billion annually, they will save 17,000 lives and generate up to $140 billion in health benefits.
There is no factual basis for these assertions. To build its case, EPA systematically cherry-picked supportive studies (many of them dated) and ignored extensive evidence and clinical studies that contradict its regulatory agenda, which is to punish hydrocarbon use and close down coal-fired power plants.
Mercury (Hg) has always existed naturally in Earthâ€™s environment. A 2009 study found numerous spikes (and drops) in mercury deposition in Antarctic ice over the past 650,000-years. Mercury is found in air, water, rocks, soil and trees (which absorb it from the environment). This is why our bodies evolved with proteins and antioxidants that help protect us from this and other potential contaminants.
A further defense comes from selenium, which is found in fish and animals. Its strong attraction to mercury molecules protects fish and people against buildups of methylmercury, mercuryâ€™s biologically active and more toxic form. Thus, the 200,000,000 tons of mercury naturally present in seawater have never posed a danger to any living being, even though they could theoretically be converted into methylmercury.
Modern technologies enable us to detect infinitesimal amounts in air and water. However, quantities of mercury measured in lake waters are often no more than 0.00000001 gram of mercury per liter. Lab technicians typically wear special garments when measuring mercury levels, not to protect themselves â€“ but to ensure accurate measurements, because even breathing on a sample can triple a reading!
How do Americaâ€™s coal-burning power plants enter into the picture?
The latest government, university and independent studies reveal that those power plants emit an estimated 41-48 tons of mercury per year. This is what EPA claims poses a serious health risk.
However, US forest fires emit at least 44 tons per year; cremation of human remains discharges 26 tpy globally; Chinese power plants eject 400 tpy; and volcanoes, subsea vents, geysers and other sources spew out 9,000-10,000 additional tons per year!
All these emissions enter the global atmospheric system and become part of the US air mass.
Thus, US power plants account for less than 0.5% of all the mercury in the air Americans breathe. Even eliminating every milligram of this mercury will do nothing about the other 99.5% in Americaâ€™s atmosphere.
And yet, in the face of these minuscule risks, EPA nevertheless demands that utility companies spend billions every year retrofitting coal-fired power plants that produce half of all US electricity, and 70-98% of electricity in twelve states. Its regulators simultaneously ignore the positive results of medical studies that clearly show its new restrictions are not needed and will not improve peopleâ€™s health.
According to the Centers for Disease Controlâ€™s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which actively monitors mercury exposure, blood mercury counts for US women and children decreased steadily 1999-2008, placing todayâ€™s counts well below the already excessively â€œsafeâ€ level established by EPA.
A 17-year evaluation of mercury risk to babies and children, by the Seychelles Children Development Study, found â€œno measurable cognitive or behavioral effectsâ€ in children who eat five to twelve servings of ocean fish every week, far more than most Americans do.
The World Health Organization and US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry assessed these findings in setting mercury risk standards that are 2-3 times less restrictive than EPAâ€™s. Even under WHO and ATSDR guidelines, no American children are even remotely at risk from mercury.
EPA ignored these findings. Instead, the agency based its â€œsafeâ€ mercury criteria on a study of Faroe Islanders, whose diet is far removed from our own. They eat few fruits and vegetables, but do feast on pilot whale meat and blubber that is high in mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) â€“ but very low in selenium. The study is clearly irrelevant to this rulemaking.
Finally, EPA maintains that mercury deposition, its conversion to methylmercury, and MeHg accumulation in fish and humans is a simple process that can be controlled by curtailing emissions from US power plants. That is not correct. In fact, mercury emissions (from all sources) and raw mercury levels in fresh or ocean waters are only part of the story.
Complex, nonlinear interactions among at least 50 natural variables control the biological and chemical processes that govern elemental mercury conversion to methylmercury and MeHg accumulation in fish. Those variables, and selenium levels in fish tissue, are beyond anyoneâ€™s ability to control.
As a result, the EPAâ€™s actions can be counted on to achieve only one thing â€“ which is to further advance the Obama administrationâ€™s oft-stated goal of penalizing hydrocarbon use, making coal-based electricity prices â€œskyrocket,â€ and driving a transition to unreliable renewable energy.
The proposed standards will do nothing to reduce exaggerated threats from mercury and other air pollutants. Indeed, the rules will worsen, rather than improve Americaâ€™s health â€“ especially for young children and women of child-bearing age. Not only will they raise heating, air conditioning and food costs; they will scare people away from nutritious fish that should be in everyoneâ€™s diet.
America needs affordable, reliable electricity. It needs better health and nutrition. It needs an EPA that focuses on real risks, instead of wasting hard-earned taxpayer and consumer dollars fabricating dangers and evidence.
Willie Soon is a natural scientist who has studied mercury and public health issues for eight years. Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and Congress of Racial Equality. Dr. Soonâ€™s full critique of EPAâ€™s rules will be published in mid-June here.
â€œThe myth of killer mercuryâ€ was originally published in the Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2011. See here.
Mercury in fish
Willie Soon and Robert Ferguson addressed this alarm in 2005 in The Wall Street Journal. Their commentary is repeated here.[i]
Eat More Fish!
Perhaps the most repeated refrain driving the mercury alarmism campaign is that "630,000 American babies are born each year" with elevated concentrations of mercury in their blood, with the potential for "permanent brain damage and learning disabilities." These infants are said to be "poisoned" at birth because their mothers consumed fish containing microtraces of mercury. As a result, pregnant women are being terrified away from fish consumption, and thus denied a source of nutrition shown to enhance both fetal brain development and maternal health.
The genesis of this myth was the 2003 Centers for Disease Control release of its results from the 1999-2000 nutrition and health survey. It was reported that 8% of women of childbearing age (16-49 years old) had blood mercury concentrations above the so-called "safe" mercury reference dose established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Since there are over four million births in the U.S. annually, mercury opponents and several government scientists extrapolated that at least 320,000 babies born are "at risk" in the U.S. each year due to "unsafe" mercury levels in their mother's blood.
In January 2004, an EPA employee revised the number of babies born at risk upward to 630,000, based on "new" information that mercury in maternal cord blood (shared with the fetus) is more concentrated than in body blood. But the information was not "new," it was a double-counting, since the EPA had already accounted for the blood-concentration difference in 2001, helping make its "safe" mercury dose the most stringent in the world.
It must be recognized that the EPA's safe mercury dose is based on inappropriate studies of people who consume whale meat and blubber (a unique diet very different from typical U.S. consumption) containing multiple chemicals -- PCBs, cadmium, pesticides, persistent organic pollutants, DDT, etc. -- of which mercury is only one.
There are other reasons why mercury alarmists' emotive claims are neither justified nor credible. For example, a recent survey in Japan reported that 87% of the population, including 74% of Japanese women of child-bearing age, had mercury concentrations above EPA's "safe" level. Logically, one must either conclude that generations of Japanese are "brain-damaged" (and suffering from severe and permanent learning deficits), or that EPA's "safe" mercury dose is simply arbitrary and extreme.
Similarly, children in grades four and eight from traditionally high-fish-consumption cultures in Japan, Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong consistently outperformed U.S. students on international standardized math and science tests. This despite the fact that Hong Kong children have mean blood mercury levels some 10 times higher than U.S. children. Even the mummified remains of four Aleutian infants dated to 1445 A.D. contained higher mean mercury levels than young children reported in the CDC surveys.
None of these findings are surprising, considering numerous studies report no adverse affects on children from maternal fish consumption -- as high as 12-14 meals per week -- of the kinds of fish widely available in U.S. markets and restaurants. Only benefits have been reported, such as superior eyesight, higher child mental development scores, less hyperactivity, good heart and brain function, and improved intelligence at four years of age.
Finally, an examination of the actual CDC data shows that the 1999-2000 survey documented seven out of 705 children (or 1%) with blood mercury above the EPA's "safe" mercury dose, while the 2001-2002 survey found only four out of 872 children (or 0.5%) exceeding it. More importantly, even the highest mercury level measured in this four-year survey has a safety cushion of more than 500% of the lowest exposure level of concern.
Yet hardly anyone is rushing to report these important updates, let alone downward revisions in the numbers of children "at risk." Instead, one observes repetition of the near-religious dogma that "600,000-plus American children are born each year" at risk of "birth defects, including mental retardation and problems with motor skills."
Basing enormously consequential energy and health policiesâ€”both nationally and internationallyâ€”on myth is both irresponsible and harmful.
Mr. Soon is chief science researcher, and Mr. Ferguson executive director, of the Center for Science and Public Policy.
Soon, W. & Ferguson, R. (2005). Eat more fish! The Wall Street Journal, August 15, p A12. Available from http://www.heartland.org/custom/semod_policybot/pdf/17743.pdf
EPA trumpets dubious shale gas risks â€“ but ignores environmental impacts of wind turbines
America is running out of natural gas. Prices will soar, making imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) and T Boone Pickensâ€™ wind farm plan practical, affordable and inevitable. That was then.
Barely two years later, America (and the world) are tapping vast, previously undreamed-of energy riches â€“ as drillers discover how to produce gas from shale, coal and tight sandstone formations, at reasonable cost. They do it by pumping a water, sand and proprietary chemical mixture into rocks under very high pressure, fracturing or â€œfrackingâ€ the formations, and keeping the cracks open, to yield trapped methane.
Within a year, US recoverable shale gas reserves alone rose from 340 trillion cubic feet to 823 tcf, the Energy Department estimates. Thatâ€™s 36 yearsâ€™ worth, based on what the USA currently consumes from all gas sources, or the equivalent of 74 yearsâ€™ of current annual US oil production. The reserves span the continent, from Barnett shale in Texas to Marcellus shale in Eastern and Mid-Atlantic states â€“ to large deposits in western Canada, Colorado, North Dakota, Montana and other states (and around the world).
Instead of importing gas, the United States could become an exporter. The gas can move seamlessly into existing pipeline systems, to fuel homes, factories and electrical generators, serve as a petrochemical feedstock, and replace oil in many applications. States, private citizens and the federal government could reap billions in lease bonuses, rents, royalties and taxes. Millions of high-paying jobs could be â€œcreated or saved.â€ Plentiful gas can also provide essential backup power for wind turbines.
Production of this much gas would reduce oil price shocks and dependence on oil imports from the likes of Gadhafi and Chavez, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Talk about a game changer!
Whatâ€™s not to like? Plenty, it turns out. The bountiful new supplies make environmentalist dogmas passÃ©: the end of the hydrocarbon era, America as an energy pauper, immutable Club of Rome doctrines of sustainability and imminent resource depletion, the Pickensâ€™ Plan and forests of wind turbines.
What to do? Environmentalists voiced alarm. HBO aired â€œGasland,â€ a slick propaganda film about alleged impacts of fracking on groundwater. Its claims have been roundly debunked (for instance, methane igniting at a water faucet came from a gas deposit encountered by the homeownerâ€™s water well â€“ not from a fracking operation). A politically motivated Oscar was predicted, but didnâ€™t happen.
The Environmental Protection Agency revealed a multiple personality disorder. Its Drinking Water Protection Division director told Congress there is not a single documented instance of polluted groundwater due to fracking. (Studies by Colorado and Texas regulators drew the same conclusion.)
EPAâ€™s Texas office nevertheless insisted that Range Resources was â€œendangeringâ€ a public aquifer and ordered the company to stop drilling immediately and provide clean water to area homes. EPA officials then failed to show up at the hearing or submit a single page of testimony, to support their claims.
Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced plans to conduct a â€œlife-cycleâ€ or â€œcradle-to-graveâ€ study of hydraulic fracturing drilling and gas production techniques, to assess possible impacts on groundwater and other ecological values. Depending on whether the study is scientific or politicized, it could lead to national, state-by-state or even city-by-city drilling delays, bans â€“ or booms.
The industry and many states that have long experience with drilling and are confident the needed regulations, practices and testing procedures are already in place. They voice few worries, except over how long a life-cycle study could take or how political it might become. In fact, itâ€™s a very useful tool.
But if a life-cycle study is warranted for hydraulic fracturing, because drilling might pass through subsurface formations containing fresh water, similar studies are certainly called for elsewhere: wind turbine manufacturing, installation and operation, for instance.
Turbines require enormous quantities of concrete, steel, copper, fiberglass and rare earth minerals â€“ all of which involve substantial resource extraction, refining, smelting, manufacturing and shipping. Land and habitat impacts, rock removal and pulverizing, solid waste disposal, burning fossil fuels, air and water pollution, and carbon dioxide emissions occur on large scales during every step of the process.
Over 95% of global rare earth production occurs in China and Mongolia, using their technology, coal-fired electricity generation facilities and environmental rules. Extracting neodymium, praseodymium and other rare earths for wind turbine magnets and rotors involves pumping acid down boreholes, to dissolve and retrieve the minerals. Other acids, chemicals and high heat further process the materials. Millions of tons of toxic waste are generated annually and sent to enormous ponds, rimmed by earthen dams.
Leaks, seepage and noxious air emissions have killed trees, grasses, crops and cattle, polluted lakes and streams, and given thousands of people respiratory and intestinal problems, osteoporosis and cancer.
In 2009, China produced 150,000 tons of rare earth metals â€“ and over 15,000,000 tons of waste. To double current global installed wind capacity, and produce rare earths for photovoltaic solar panels and hybrid and electric cars, China will have to increase those totals significantly â€“ unless Molycorp and other companies can rejuvenate rare earth production in the US and elsewhere, using more modern methods.
Made in China turbines are shipped to the USA, trucked to their final destinations, and installed on huge concrete platforms; new backup gas generating plants are built; and hundreds of miles of new transmission lines are constructed. That means still more steel, copper, concrete, fuel and land. Moreover, the backup power plants generate more pollution and carbon dioxide than if they could simply run at full capacity, because as backups for turbines they must operate constantly but ramp up to full power, and back down, numerous times daily, in response to shifting wind speeds.
Wind farms require roads and 700-1000 ton concrete-and-rebar foundations, which affect water drainage patterns in farm country. The 300-500 foot tall turbines affect scenery, interfere with or prevent crop dusting over hundreds of acres, and kill countless birds and bats. Farmers who lease their land for wind turbines receive substantial royalty payments; neighbors are impacted, but receive no compensation.
Despite these ecological costs, wind farm projects are often fast-tracked through NEPA and other environmental review processes, and are exempted from endangered species and migratory bird laws that can result in multi-million-dollar fines for oil, gas and coal operators, for a fraction of the carnage.
Perhaps worst, all this is supported generously by renewable energy mandates, tax breaks, feed-in tariffs, â€œprioritized loading orders,â€ and other subsidies, courtesy of state and federal governments and taxpayers. In fact, wind power gets 90 times more in federal subsidies than do coal and natural gas, per megawatt-hour of electricity actually generated, according to US Energy Information Administration data. And wind-based electricity costs consumers several times more per kilowatt-hour than far more reliable electricity from coal, gas and nuclear power plants.
Simply put, the wind might be free, when it blows. But the rest of the â€œrenewable, green, eco-friendlyâ€ wind energy system is anything but.
It might be far better all around to simply build the most efficient, lowest-polluting coal, gas and nuclear generating plants possible, let them run at full capacity 24/7/365 â€“ and just skip the wind power.
Life-cycle studies would be a positive development â€“ for all energy sources. In fact â€¦
â€œThink globally, act locallyâ€ might be a very good motto for EPA and wind energy advocates.
Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and Congress of Racial Equality, and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power - Black death.
The Limits to Growth, Global 2000, and Their Relatives[i]
Julian L. Simon
The Limits to Growth simulation of 1972, in which we breed to the exhaustion of natural resources, is so devoid of meaning that it is not worth detailed discussion or criticism. Yet it is taken seriously by many people to this day, and it is therefore a fascinating example of how scientific work can be outrageously bad and yet be very influential.
The Limits to Growth was immediately blasted as foolishness or fraud by almost every economist who read it closely and reviewed it in print, for its silly methods as well as for disclosing so little of what the authors did, which makes close inspection impossible. To use the book authors' sort of language, the whole Limits to Growth caper was public-relations hype, kicked off with a press conference organized by Charles Kytle Associates (a public-relations firm) and financed by the Xerox Corporation; this entire story, along with devastating commentary, was told in detail in Science the week following the book's appearance in 1972. (The public-relations campaign may not be a bad thing in itself, but it certainly shows the manner the authors and the sponsoring Club of Rome intended to have their material make its way in the world of ideas.)
One strong reason not to put stock in the Limits to Growth predictions is that the model was quickly shown to produce rosy forecasts with only minor and realistic changes in the assumptions.[ii] The most compelling criticism of the Limits to Growth simulation, however, was made by the sponsoring Club of Rome itself. Just four years after the foofaraw created by the book's publication and huge circulationâ€”an incredible 4 million copies were soldâ€”the Club of Rome "reversed its position" and "came out for more growth." But this about-face has gotten relatively little attention, even though it was written up in such places as Time and the New York Times.[iii] And so the original message is the one that remains with many people.
The explanation of this reversal, as reported in Time, is a masterpiece of face-saving double talk.
The Club's founder, Italian industrialist Aurelio Peccei, says that Limits was intended to jolt people from the comfortable idea that present growth trends could continue indefinitely. That done, he says, the Club could then seek ways to close the widening gap between rich and poor nationsâ€”inequities that, if they continue, could all too easily lead to famine, pollution and war. The Club's startling shift, Peccei says, is thus not so much a turnabout as part of an evolving strategy.[iv]
In other words, the Club of Rome sponsored and disseminated untruths in an attempt to scare us. Having scared many people with these lies, the Club can now tell people the real truth. (I have been waiting in vain since the first edition for them to sue me for libel in that previous sentence.)
But it is possible that the Club of Rome did not really practice the deceitful strategy that it now says it did. Maybe the members simply realized that the 1972 Limits to Growth study was scientifically worthless. If so, the Club of Rome then lied about what it originally did, in order to save face. From the outside, we have no way of knowing which of these ugly possibilities is the "truth."
Is my summary of the reported facts not fair? Perhaps I should use quieter language, because I know that some will find the use of words like "lie" sufficient reason to reject what I am saying. But I have no public-relations firm to magnify my message a million-fold in the media, nor do I have a message that people are waiting breathlessly to hear. So I must use strong language to get this point across. Andâ€”is there really anything wrong with calling a documented and self-confessed lie a lie?
Surely this is one of the more curious scientific episodes of recent years. The Limits to Growth authors have not recanted, to my knowledge, even though their sponsors have. But neither did the authors confront and contradict their sponsors when the sponsors recanted. The whole matter seems to have passed with little notice, and The Limits to Growth continues to be cited in the popular press as authoritative. If the shoe were on the other foot, I would surely hear plenty from such organizations as Zero Population Growth and the Environmental Fund.
The Global 2000 Report to the President of 1980, done for President Jimmy Carter in conjunction with the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of State, was a later incarnation of material similar to The Limits to Growth, done by many of the same people. It differs in that it was an "official" document with all the influence that such status automatically confers. Like Limits to Growth, the conclusions of Global 2000 are almost wholly without merit largely because of the absence of the long-run trend data that show that resources are becoming more rather than less available, and that our air and water have been getting cleaner rather than dirtier. Even the authors of the Global 2000 Report agree that such trends are the proper basis for such a study, but they nevertheless relied upon the same old discredited Malthusian theorizing that has led one after another of these studies to make forecasts that were soon falsified by events - as was the case with Limits to Growth and Global 2000. Yet this study, too, was heavily ballyhooed, and became the basis for many policy decisions. The Resourceful Earth, which Herman Kahn and I edited in 1984, presents solid scholarly material on most of the questions addressed by Global 2000, having much in common with the material in this book.
In 1992 there appeared a sequel, Beyond the Limits, by the group that produced Limits to Growth. The main message was still very dour, but this time the authors built themselves an intellectual escape hatch. They say they may seem to have been wrong, but their ideas were really correct. They simply erred on the date for disaster. (Imagine your reaction if a weather forecaster asked not to be marked wrong because the snowstorm that s/he forecast for tomorrow was simply misdated by four months.) This is in the tradition of Malthus, who changed almost everything in his second edition except the conclusions that made him famous. The Limits authors now suggest we have a choice. If we change our ways, we can avoid collapse. But "if present trends remain unchanged, we face the virtually certain prospect of global economic collapse in the next century."
A pdf version of this description is available here.
Barney, Gerald O. 1980a. The Global 2000 Report To The President: Entering The Twenty-First Century, Volume 1, Summary Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office
Barney, Gerald O. 1980b. The Global 2000 Report To The President: Entering The Twenty-First Century, Volume 2, Summary Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Barney, Gerald O. 1980c. The Global 2000 Report To The President: Entering The Twenty-First Century, Volume 3, The Government's Global Model. Washington, Dc: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Boyd, Robert. 1972. â€œWorld Dynamics: A Note.â€ Science 177:516-19.
Meadows, Donella H., Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. 1972. The Limits to Growth: A Report to The Club of Rome. New York: Potomac Associates.
Meadows, Donella H., Dennis L. Meadows, and Jorgen Randers. 1992. Beyond the Limits. Post Mills, Vt.: Chelsea Green.
Simon, Julian L. 1996. The Ultimate Resource 2. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Simon, Julian L., and Kahn, Herman, eds. 1984. The Resourceful Earth. New York: Basil Blackwell.