Month: May 2007

Liquid Coal – Flooding back to life!

See, it was only a matter of time before liquid coal made its egregious way back to front and center of the “energy security” debate.

Lawmakers Push for Big Subsidies for Coal Process – New York Times

Prodded by intense lobbying from the coal industry, lawmakers from coal states are proposing that taxpayers guarantee billions of dollars in construction loans for coal-to-liquid production plants, guarantee minimum prices for the new fuel, and guarantee big government purchases for the next 25 years.

Liquid coal produces more CO2 than gasoline, so, all the coal makers are claiming that they will sequester the CO2, and use renewable energy to produce the coal, it’s a lie, and an expensive one at that.

It is going to be more expensive, more polluting, and more profitable for big coal companies at tax payers expense than any other options available.

In addition to construction loan guarantees, Mr. Boucher would
protect the first six liquid plants from drops in energy prices. If oil
prices fell below about $40 a barrel, the government would
automatically grant loans to the first six plants that make coal-based
fuels. If oil prices climbed to $80 a barrel, companies would have to
pay a surcharge to the government.

But the most important guarantee, many coal producers said, is the prospect of signing 25-year purchase contracts with the Air Force.

Wow, why can’t solar or wind energy get these kinds of incentives?

“There is financial uncertainty, which is inhibiting the flow of
private capital into the construction of coal-to-liquid facilities,”
said Mr. Boucher, who supports most of the proposals and is drafting
portions of the energy bill.

Yes, there is “financial uncertainty” because without the taxation of the American public, there is no hope of making money with this thing. It’s just a giant boondoggle to transfer money from the public sphere into coal companies.

The US is losing its collective mind!

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Excellent Editorial on CO2 mitigation

It is nice to get away into the mountains for a while and not think about work, or climate change, but, reality drags you back. This is a great primer on various CO2 mitigation strategies, explaining in plain language, carbon taxes, cap and trade systems and such. It does tilt heavily towards the carbon tax approach, but that’s fine, I like it better than cap and trade anyway!

Time to tax carbon – Los Angeles Times

The proposed fixes for climate change are as numerous as its causes. Most only tinker at the edges of the problem, such as a California bill to phase out energy-inefficient lightbulbs. To produce the cuts in greenhouse gases needed to slow or stop global warming, the world will have to phase out the fossil fuels on which it relies for most of its power supply and transportation — especially the coal-burning power plants that account for about 32% of the annual emissions of carbon dioxide in the U.S. and that generate about half of our electricity. There are three basic methods of doing that, which are the subject of debate and legislation at every level of government.

Smoking bans

If you followed the failed attempt in North Carolina this year to ban smoking in indoor public spaces, one of the so called arguments was the famous slippery slope one, that this was only a prelude to banning smoking “in the comfort of your own home”, and other attendant property rights arguments. Well, it turns out that there is an impromptu smoking ban in place in most homes already!

Study: Smoking forbidden in most U.S. households –

Smoking is forbidden in nearly three out of four U.S. households, a dramatic increase from the 43 percent of homes that prohibited smoking a decade ago, the federal government reported Thursday.

Before anyone makes the property rights argument that this “ban” is by choice, and not by government fiat, let me make it, and break it. Smoking falls into the category of occupational and reccreational exposure to pollution that harms and kills. It’s no different from lead in the water or smog as far as the non-smoker is concerned. So, property rights are not polluter rights, sorry.

It’s only a matter of time before smoking indoors is considered completely and utterly unacceptable, kinda like smoking in airplanes!

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Indian workers to get safety net

This is great news, as long as the program is well administered and transparent (usual caveat that accompanies any new policy announced by the Indian government).

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Social security for Indian poor

The Indian government has announced an ambitious social security scheme which is aimed at benefiting about 390 million poor, non-unionised workers. Once passed by parliament, the scheme will provide the workers with life insurance and disability protection.

Under the new scheme, the non-unionised, casual worker will be entitled to life insurance and health and disability benefits by contributing just one rupee (one cent) a day.

The government says it wants to help the under-privileged

The government and employers will also contribute an equal amount. Those earning less than 6,500 rupees ($160) annually will be designated as living below the poverty line, and their one-rupee share will be paid for by the federal government.

It is estimated that the government will need $22.2bn to implement the scheme.

Assuming a purchasing power exchange rate of approximately 14 for India (year 2000 value), this poverty rate works out to approximatey $1.25 per day, a little more generous than the world bank’s dollar a day PPP adjusted figure, but not really. I would guess that the poor would need a little more help, but it is a start, and a good first attempt to get some kind of safety net for most of the Indian workforce.

Hansen on understating sea level rise due to climate change

Hansen, the grandfather of all climate research has an essay today in the open access journal Environmental Research Letters arguing that scientists are not communicating the seriousness of sea level rise. And, it is open access, so, no kidney sale required!

Scientific reticence and sea level rise

I suggest that a `scientific reticence’ is inhibiting the communication of a threat of a potentially large sea level rise. Delay is dangerous because of system inertias that could create a situation with future sea level changes out of our control. I argue for calling together a panel of scientific leaders to hear evidence and issue a prompt plain-written report on current understanding of the sea level change issue.

In this paper, Hansen reviews a number of recent studies that point to positive feedback in ice melting (remember, poitive feedback, good for morale, not good for climate change). Hansen then points out that due to these feedback mechanisms, sea level rise is non-linear. His thesis is that all this information is known to most climate scientists, and to a lot of people who maintain even a cursory interest in the matter.

He finishes with a call to action.

There is, in my opinion, a huge gap between what is understood about human-made global warming and its consequences, and what is known by the people who most need to know, the public and policy makers. The IPCC is doing a commendable job, but we need something more. Given the reticence that the IPCC necessarily exhibits, there need to be supplementary mechanisms. The onus, it seems to me, falls on us scientists as a community.

Important decisions are being made now and in the near future. An example is the large number of new efforts to make liquid fuels from coal, and a resurgence of plans for energy-intensive `cooking’ of tar-shale mountains to squeeze out liquid hydrocarbon fuels. These are just the sort of actions needed to preserve a BAU greenhouse gas path indefinitely. We know enough about the carbon cycle to say that at least of the order of a quarter of the CO2 emitted in burning fossil fuels under a BAU scenario will stay in the air for an eternity, the latter defined practically as more than 500 years. Readily available conventional oil and gas are enough to take atmospheric CO2 to a level of the order of 450 ppm.

In this circumstance it seems vital that we provide the best information we can about the threat to the great ice sheets posed by human-made climate change. This information, and appropriate caveats, should be provided publicly, and in plain language. The best suggestion I can think of is for the National Academy of Sciences to carry out a study, in the tradition of the Charney and Cicerone reports on global warming. I would be glad to hear alternative suggestions.

Do we need another study? As we wait for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study on how best to communicate the danger of sea level rise, many more villages in India and Bangladesh will go under the sea. Apparently, the sea cannot wait for the best communication strategies. It communicates the only way it can, directly!!

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Worst decline in Indian tiger population since 1973?? Or is it?

If you want to see a tiger in the wild, I would not wait another 20 years. OTH, there are doubts about the counting methodology employed, read on…

Worst decline in tiger population since 1973: census- Hindustan Times

Tiger census estimates from Central India indicate a fall of tiger population by over 50 per cent, worst decline since first government census in 1973.

Tiger number appears to have fallen by 61 per cent in Madhya Pradesh, 57 per cent in Rajasthan and 40 per cent in Rajasthan, according to the estimates released by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) on Wednesday.

Initial estimate of 16 of the 28 tigers reserves show that there are only 464 tigers in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra as compared to 1,006 in 2002. Final census is expected by end of 2007.

India has 29 tiger reserves. Apparently, most of the population losses are outside the reserves where there is mush more tiger-human interaction.

Dr YV Jhala, institute’s chief scientist, said, “In general, the situation is not good. I cannot stress more the importance of removal of anthropogenic (people) influence on tiger population. Tigers and people cannot co-exist”.

I like that, “Tigers and people cannot co-exist”, probably true, if simplistic, they’re both super top level predators. Habitat pressure in India is probably the single largest issue with development pressure and a burgeoning population.

One important thing to note.

The institute disbanded the pugmark identification methodology for tiger census and adopted more scientific approach of camera capturing, scent and pugmark analysis and tracking movement of tigers using satellite tracking.

When you change counting methodologies, it is hard to compare population estimates. This note and this Science article (sell kidney to read) indicate that pugmark identification was notorious for over counting tigers, even missing entire population collapses, so who knows whether we are seeing a decline, or finally, a more accurate count? Either way, the numbers are depressing, and do not bode well for the tiger.

Drug makers and the FDA don't want you to find out about adverse trials

if you have not been following the Avandia story, an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that Avandia, a popular drug used in diabetes control significantly increased the threat of heart attacks and heart failure. A couple of things to note here, firstly, this fact was known to the FDA in 2002 per this memo obtained by Public Citizen. So, why the FDA (and GSK) thought that no one would notice, is beyond me. Secondly, when the drug was introduced in Europe, it was contra-indicated for people with heart disease. This fact must have been known to the FDA and GSK as well. It is one thing for GSk to not want to run long term epidemiological and safety studies on their drugs, but other people did the work, and the FDA just stood by and watched until the work was published in the US. The European Drug agency had acted on this information quite a while back.

So, when I come across this article in the NY Times about a “downside” to full disclosure, I don’t really know what to say. I don’t care whether there is a downside to GSK or not. If I work as a waiter in a restaurant, there is a “downside” to reporting my tip income to the IRS (yes, higher taxes!). This does not mean I should not pay my taxes! This is a matter of life and death for people. Diabetes and heart disease go together in thousands of people, they needed to know if the drug they were taking to control one disease would kill them off with the other disease.

For Drug Makers, a Downside to Full Disclosure – New York Times

This week, GlaxoSmithKline learned what that greater disclosure could mean.

A cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Steven Nissen, stumbled onto the Glaxo Web site while researching Avandia last April. He and a colleague quickly analyzed the data, and on Monday, The New England Journal of Medicine released its finding that Avandia posed a heightened cardiac risk.

“It was a treasure trove,” Dr. Nissen said about the Web site.

GlaxoSmithKline has disputed the journal’s interpretation. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration said they were reviewing whether to take any action on Avandia.

Also, note this “concern” from the FDA, no less:

“I would be very concerned about wholesale posting of thousands of clinical trials leading to mass confusion,” said Dr. Steven Galson, the director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the F.D.A.

Yes, respond to results in a very prestigious peer reviewed journal by pretending that some dude with a computer in his basement (yes, all computers reside in basements) randomly picked up a couple of clinical trials and created “mass confusion”. The FDA should at least pretend to care…

The risks and benefits involved with taking a drug to control a chronic condition are completely different from those you would take for an acute, immediately life threatening condition. If you are treating cancer, you expect side effects, and deal with them because the alternative is certain death. When you’re dealing with diabetes, you have alternatives that will not kill you. In addition, millions of people have diabetes and use Avandia. So, a small percentage increase in a side-effect can affect thousands. And, they need to know because there are alternatives that would work for them.

GSK is not going to tell them because there is an obvious conflict of interest. They need to sell their new and expensive drug even if other alternatives work. This is why we have the FDA, and full disclosure of all clinical trials, not just the ones that worked for you.

Tuesdays with Turtles – Green Turtles Deluged?

I mentioned recently that elevated temperatures from climate could skew sea turtle sex ratios towards females. The featured news article highlights research which speculates that storm surges caused by increased hurricane (they call them cyclones in Austraila and India) intensity from climate change might lead to the flooding of green turtle nests in Florida, hastening their extinction. Why only the greens? Because they nest later than the other turtles and tend to be around during the height of the Atlantic hurricane season.

We know from previous research that loggerhead turtles have been nesting earlier because of elevated temperatures. Will the greens catch up. More pertinently, will there be enough survival of the early nesters of this generation to keep a viable population going while the whole population adapts? As with all climate change suspense thrillers, only time will tell… Depressing, at any rate.

News in Science – Cyclones may blast turtles to extinction – 15/05/2007

More severe tropical cyclones expected as a result of climate change may lead to the extinction of the green sea turtle in some areas within 100 years, researchers say.

The cyclones are expected to threaten how well the turtles nest and hatch eggs, placing pressure on already endangered populations, some of which are also threatened by fish trawling.

Researchers including PhD candidate David Pike, from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney, report their findings online in the journal Oecologia.

The researchers studied more than 40,000 sea turtles nests on an uninhabited, 38 kilometre stretch of beach along the Atlantic coast of Florida from 1995 to the end of 2005.

Each night during this period researchers surveyed the beach for turtles emerging to lay eggs, or for tracks of turtles that had already deposited eggs.

The stretch of beach is home to the loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles, which start nesting at the beginning in April and end in late September.

This nesting season largely coincides with region’s tropical storm season, which runs from June to November.

Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) and, to a lesser degree, loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) get around this by nesting and hatching earlier.

Only nests laid late in the season are inundated with seawater during storm surges.

But green turtles (Chelonia mydas) nest last.

Their entire nesting season occurs during Florida’s tropical cyclone season, which means their nests and developing eggs are extremely vulnerable to being washed away and killed.

Researchers are concerned that increases in the severity of tropical cyclones in the future may cause green turtle nesting success to worsen.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jodi Rell – Lead or Step Aside, EPA –

The gubernator (and the Rellegator?? We need a nickname for her!) do not mince words in expressing their displeasure at the federal government putting roadblocks on state efforts to combat climate change.

Schwarzenegger and Jodi Rell – Lead or Step Aside, EPA –

It’s bad enough that the federal government has yet to take the threat of global warming seriously, but it borders on malfeasance for it to block the efforts of states such as California and Connecticut that are trying to protect the public’s health and welfare.

California, Connecticut and 10 other states are poised to enact tailpipe emissions standards — tougher than existing federal requirements — that would cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars, light trucks and sport-utility vehicles by 392 million metric tons by the year 2020, the equivalent to taking 74 million of today’s cars off the road for an entire year.

Yet for the past 16 months, the Environmental Protection Agency has refused to give us permission to do so.

Even after the Supreme Court ruled in our favor last month, the federal government continues to stand in our way.

Another discouraging sign came just last week, when President Bush issued an executive order to give federal agencies until the end of 2008 to continue studying the threat of greenhouse gas emissions and determine what can be done about them.

To us, that again sounds like more of the same inaction and denial, and it is unconscionable.

Well, the OP-ED says everything that needs to be said. The emperor pretends to forget that even market-based policies (the emperor’s preference) to mitigate climate change need rules, and rules for global warming, which is a global problem, are better off set at the global level. If we cannot get a worldwide agreement together, at least a country wide effort. The emperor has repeated over and over again that he will not pass any regulation in the recent future. So, at least the states are trying, see RGGI for the NorthEast and the West coast. Of course, the emperor is delaying, and denying all he can, yes, it is his responsibility, he is the decider, his administration does what he tells them to do, so there’s no sense in putting anything less than full responsibility on his shoulder.

California, Connecticut and a host of like-minded states are proving that you can protect the environment and the economy simultaneously.

It’s high time the federal government becomes our partner or gets out of the way.

Well said, gubernator, and rellegator!

More depressing water news from India

Climate change is a factor that will exacerbate water shortages. But the main culprits are over-exploitation, unplanned development, pollution and crazy dam building.

The Sunday Tribune – Spectrum

In the years to come the northern plains, heavily dependent on the Ganga, are likely to face severe water scarcity. Together with the onslaught of industrial and sewage pollutants, the river’s fate stands more or less sealed. “Among the categories dead, dying and threatened, I would put the Ganga in the dying category,” says WWF Programme Director Sejal Worah. The other heavyweight to join in the list from the Indian subcontinent is the mighty Indus. The Indus, too, has been the victim of climate change, water extraction and infrastructure development. “In all, poor planning and inadequate protection of natural means have ensured that the world population can no longer assume that water is going to flow forever,” WWF says, adding that the world’s water suppliers—rivers-on-every-continent are dying, threatening severe water shortage in the future.

I think I will go out and enjoy the rest of this beautiful day, enough bad news!