A paper published in the Journal of Climate finds regional precipitation trends from 1977-2006 were related to natural variability of sea surface temperatures, not man-made greenhouse gases or aerosols. The finding contradicts claims by alarmists that mankind has "loaded the dice" for more droughts, floods, and extreme weather. In addition, the paper finds climate models are very poor at predicting both the intensity and patterns of regional rainfall, "especially a simulated increase in rainfall over the tropical Pacific and southeastern Australia that are opposite in sign to the actual drying in these areas."
Hoerling, Martin, Jon Eischeid, Judith Perlwitz, 2010: Regional Precipitation Trends: Distinguishing Natural Variability from Anthropogenic Forcing.J. Climate, 23, 2131–2145.
Read more: http://hockeyschtick.blogspot.in/2012/08/paper-finds-droughts-floods-due-to.html
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Posted by Rajan Alexander at 8:31 PM
(www.news.com) ISAAC has reached hurricane strength with maximum wind speeds of 120km/h as it bears down on the US Gulf Coast.
The hurricane could flood the coasts of four states with storm surge and heavy rains on its way to New Orleans, where residents hunkered down behind levees fortified after Katrina struck seven years ago this week.Shelters were open for those who chose to stay or missed the chance to get away before the outer bands of the large storm blow ashore ahead of a forecast landfall in southeast Louisiana today.However, with the exception of some low-lying areas, officials had not ordered mass evacuations.
The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said Isaac became a Category 1 hurricane today with winds of 120km/h. It could get stronger by the time it's expected to reach the swampy coast of southeast Louisiana.
US President Barack Obama said Gulf Coast residents should listen to local authorities and follow their directions as Isaac approached."Now is not the time to tempt fate. Now is not the time to dismiss official warnings. You need to take this seriously," Mr Obama said.In Houma, a city southwest of New Orleans, people filled a municipal auditorium-turned-shelter. However, in the bayou country of Terrebonne Parish off Highway 24, storms pose a perennial dilemma for those living a hardscrabble life.While some of the homes along Bayou Terrebonne and other nearby waterways show signs of affluence, this section of Louisiana 24 is mostly lined with trailer homes or small, often run-down houses. Staying could be dangerous, but many here who could be in harm's way have nowhere to go and little money to get there, especially given the high price of gasoline.Monica Boudreaux lives in a trailer on low-lying land but was talking with a cousin who lived closer to the bayou. They and two friends chatted as the storm approached. Ms Boudreaux laughed when asked what she'll do if the storm hits."I'm surrounded by all family," she said, referring to her friends as well as her cousin. "I'll just pick up my little fat feet and run, I guess."The Coast Guard was searching the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida-Alabama state line for a man who failed to return home from a water-scooter trip as Isaac was approaching the coast. The search began after the man's wife called the Pensacola, Florida, station about 8.45pm local time Monday, Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash says.Forecasters warned that Isaac was a large storm whose effects could reach out 322km from its centre. Water may be worse than wind because the storm could push walls of water while dumping rain to flood the low-lying coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.So far, the main damage in the United States was political: Republicans cut one day off their presidential nominating convention in Tampa in case the storm struck there, though in the end it bypassed the bayside city. Isaac is also testing elected officials along the Gulf from governors on down to show they're prepared for an emergency response.Isaac's track is forecast to bring it to New Orleans seven years after Katrina hit as a much stronger storm on August 29, 2005.This time, federal officials say the updated levees around the city are equipped to handle storms stronger than Isaac.The US Army Corps of Engineers was given about $US14 billion to improve flood defences, and most of the work has been completed. The levees surrounding New Orleans are designed to withstand far more than the forecast 3.7-metre surge. And the city's flood control system can pump out an inch of water (2.5 centimetres) per hour for the first hour, and a half-inch of water each hour after that.But with landfall expected near the Katrina anniversary, anxiety was high, especially in the Lower 9th Ward, wiped out by Katrina after floodwalls burst and let the waters rush in."I don't really trust the levees," said Robert Washington, who planned to evacuate along with his wife and five children."I don't want to take that chance. I saw how it looked after Katrina back here."He leaned over the banister of his porch railing and looked out onto empty lots where houses stood before Katrina. His neighbourhood, just a few blocks away from where the floodwall protecting the Lower 9th Ward broke open, remains largely empty.Farther away on the Alabama coast, Isaac had begun pelting the shore with intermittent downpours - one moment it was dry, and the next brought rain blowing sideways in a strong breeze. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley lifted mandatory evacuation orders for low-lying coastal areas but encouraged residents to remain vigilant nonetheless.The boardwalk at the tourist town of Gulf Shores was virtually deserted except for John McCombs, who ventured out to see waves lapping at the seawall at the public beach.Within moments he was drenched and running for cover as a band of rain hit the wooden walkway."That's it. It's here," he said, scurrying back across the street.One question haunting locals is how much oil left over from the Gulf oil spill in 2010 might wind up on the beaches because of Isaac. Experts believe large tar mats lie submerged just off the coast, but no one knows where they are or how many might be in the Gulf.Isaac was centered about 121 kilometres south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River at midday and was moving northwest at 16kph, according to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami. It was 257km southeast of New Orleans.Although Isaac's approach on the eve of the Katrina anniversary invited comparisons, the storm is nowhere near as powerful as Katrina was when it struck. Katrina at one point reached Category 5 status with winds of more than 253 kph, and made landfall as a Category 3 storm.Still, forecasters at the National Hurricane Centre warned that Isaac, especially if it strikes at high tide, could cause storm surges of up to 3.7 metres along the coasts of southeast Louisiana and Mississippi and up to 1.8 metres as far away as the Florida Panhandle.Rain from the storm could total up to 36cm, with some isolated areas getting as much as 51cm, along the coast from southeast Louisiana to the extreme western end of the Florida Panhandle.On Tuesday morning, there were few signs on New Orleans' famed Canal Street that a hurricane was imminent. A group of apparently intoxicated tourists asked 30-year-old Adrian Thomas to snap their photo as he scanned the headlines of The Times-Picayune in a newspaper box.Mr Thomas said he was waiting for his father to wire him money so he could leave for his hometown of Greenville, Mississippi, which is along the Mississippi River more than 322 kilometres from the coast. However, he said he might not make it out in time - and he was just fine with that."I believe it's going to be all right," he said. "If I have to stay here and ride it out, I'll ride it out."In Mississippi, beachfront casinos were shutting down as a beach road flooded and residents hurried to shelters. Coastal residents Charlotte Timmons and Brenda Batey said they planned to stay put unless Isaac took a more menacing turn, believing it wouldn't cause the devastation of some past storms.Since Katrina, people have a more cautious attitude toward tropical weather, perhaps so cautious that there's a danger of complacency setting in after near misses, Mr Timmons said."It's like crying wolf," said Mr Timmons, a 63-year-old retired media manager."If they make such a big deal and start moving people out (too soon) and then it fizzles, people might not leave the next time."
Posted by Rajan Alexander at 12:52 AM
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Another lie of climate alarmists bite the dust. This was a very big one. Maldives was projected as the Ground Zero of Climate Change. At one time their tourism department ran advertisements on these lines - See Us While We are Still Here! It now looks that they are going to be here for a long, long time.
New President: Maldives is not going to drown.(Haveeru Online ) President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik today said though Maldives faces the dangers of climate change, the country would not be submerged in the Indian Ocean.Speaking to Sri Lankan businessmen this morning during his current visit to Sri Lanka, President stressed that Maldives can be sustained through efforts to avert the dangers of climate change.
"First of all, I want give you a bit of good news. The good news is that the Maldives is not about to disappear,"President Waheed said countering the claims by his predecessor that the Maldives would be be completely submerged in the near future. He added that foreign investors were concerned with the talks of a submerged Maldives.
Posted by Rajan Alexander at 4:32 PM
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
The National Tiger Conservation Authority of India says the country’s tiger reserves, also called tiger parks, provided a protected area for the animals. In recent years, resorts and villages were set up on the perimeters as viewing tigers became a tourist industry.
The point of ecotourism is to show tourists a natural environment with minimal impact to the area. Toby Sinclair, Vice President of the Ecotourism Society of India, told CNN he believes the government is allowing too many tourists to enter the parks. He would like to see more regulation.“The eco in ecotourism has changed to economy,” Sinclair told CNN.The Indian Supreme Court placed a temporary ban on tiger parks and will close them to the public indefinitely. The court wants to investigate whether or not this is happening in tiger habitat areas. Today, the Supreme Court ordered the ban to continue indefinitely.
This is a blow to the World Wildlife Fund, now known as WWF who are the biggest tiger tourism operators in India. One of the their biggest money spenders has come to a grounding halt due to this court order.
Posted by Rajan Alexander at 3:13 PM
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The Anti-Endosulphan movement: A case-study of how the European Union uses local NGOs as their disguised arm to launch trade wars against India
All pesticides are dangerous to some degree or other. But the question is why Endosulphan being specially singled out to be banned? Here are some facts:
1. The European Union controls 75% of the global pesticide market and they funded the Centre for Science & Environment (CS&E) to do a research study that started the whole hysteria about Endosulphan leading to its temporary ban by the Supreme Court. Some of the same NGOs who cried crocodile tears during the Anna movement however do not treat this as a clear case of conflict of interest.
2. So what does this EU funded CSE study find?
a. Endosulfan residues of 9.91 ppm (parts per million) were found in filtered water samples taken from Padre village.Conclusion: This is a scientific impossibility with Endosulfan’s water solubility being 0.32 ppm.
b. 115.19 ppm of Endosulfan residues were detected in a blood sample from Dr. Mohan Kumar, an activist associated with Pesticides Action Network (PAN).
Conclusion: Lethal concentration of Endosulfan human blood is 0.86 ppm. This means either of the two possibilities:i. Dr Mohan Kumar is an alien, possibly Superman from Planet Krypton as lethal concentration of Endosulphan in blood has no effect.ii. Dr. Mohan Kumar is human, a living testimony that proves Endosulphan is non lethal.The pro-Endosulphan lobby in this country should produce Dr Mohan Kumar as material witness to the Supreme Court to clinch their case3. All the pesticides banned globally starting from DDT so far demonstrate a distinctive pattern - they are all off-patent. Not a single on-patent pesticide has been banned to-date. The alternatives to Endosulphan are not only very expensive but they are so new, its long term impact is unknown and yet the foreign funded NGOs in the country makes only Endosulphan a subject of their ire and campaign.
4. India controls 70% of the Endosulphan global market. It is cheap and as long as it is in the market it undercuts EU's products.
5. Endosulphan has been used all over the world for over 60 years but there is no Kasargod anywhere in the world or within the country or within Kerala itself. Kerala occupies one of the least consuming states of Endosulphan. The high consuming states of Endosulphan shows no Kasargod symptoms. It is dumbfounding that charges of its harmful effects were brought to light only recently
6. Aerial spraying of Endosulphan has been extended as a cause for Kasargod. But Palghat, 100 kms was similarly aerially sprayed but shows no Kasargod symptoms.7. The individuals most regularly exposed at high concentration to Endosulphan are workers of the Hindustan Insecticide Ltd. 300 workers from the Hindustan Insecticides Limited plant manufacturing Endosulfan near Kochi at Kerala demand their blood samples to be tested. But so far NGOs including CS&E refuses to do so.
If Endosulphan were to be an on-patent pesticide of the European Union, it is evident it won’t have attracted the ire of our so called “Greens” in this country. It’s only fault it is off-patent and against the economic interests of the European Union.It is extremely distressing that our leading NGOs willingly permit themselves to be the disguised arm of the European Union to launch a trade war on our country. This comes apparently at extremely low cost for the European Union. They reportedly bought Sunita Narain and CS&E for as little as Rs 50,000. That was the costs of the research study.
The real tragedy of NGOs and environmentalism is that it has been hijacked by science illiterates evoking the precautionary principle. Originating in 1960s Germany as Vorsorgeprinzip (literally foresight planning) it has been increasingly seized upon by green activists and other romantics since the 1970s as an unanswerable credo – when considering technological innovation, exercise caution with regard to its potential consequences.
In itself the precautionary principle sounds harmless enough. We all have the right to be protected against unscrupulous applications of late twentieth century scientific advances – especially those which threaten our environment and our lives. But the principle goes much further than seeking to protect us from known or suspected risks. It argues that we should also refrain from developments which have no demonstrable risks, or which have risks that are so small that they are outweighed, empirically, by the potential benefits that would result. In the most recent application of the doctrine it is proposed that innovation should be prevented even when there is just a perception of a risk among some unspecified people.
So through bogus studies like those of CSE, and unleashing a disinformation campaign, the precautionary principle was advocated to ban Endosulphan by NGOs. The CSE is yet to withdraw their research publication. The Supreme Court unfortunately ruled an interim ban in line with the precautionary principle. For a permanent ban, it will be based on scientific evidence to be provided by a committee headed by the director general, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). That is where it stands legally.
Posted by Rajan Alexander at 6:25 PM
Sunday, August 19, 2012
(Matt Ridley, WIRED) When the sun rises on December 22, as it surely will, do not expect apologies or even a rethink. No matter how often apocalyptic predictions fail to come true, another one soon arrives. And the prophets of apocalypse always draw a following—from the 100,000 Millerites who took to the hills in 1843, awaiting the end of the world, to the thousands who believed in Harold Camping, the Christian radio broadcaster who forecast the final rapture in both 1994 and 2011.Religious zealots hardly have a monopoly on apocalyptic thinking. Consider some of the environmental cataclysms that so many experts promised were inevitable. Best-selling economist Robert Heilbroner in 1974:“The outlook for man, I believe, is painful, difficult, perhaps desperate, and the hope that can be held out for his future prospects seem to be very slim indeed.”Or best-selling ecologist Paul Ehrlich in 1968:“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s ["and 1980s" was added in a later edition] the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked on now … nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”Or Jimmy Carter in a televised speech in 1977:“We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.”Predictions of global famine and the end of oil in the 1970s proved just as wrong as end-of-the-world forecasts from millennialist priests. Yet there is no sign that experts are becoming more cautious about apocalyptic promises. If anything, the rhetoric has ramped up in recent years. Echoing the Mayan calendar folk, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock one minute closer to midnight at the start of 2012, commenting: “The global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth’s atmosphere.”Over the five decades since the success of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and the four decades since the success of the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth in 1972, prophecies of doom on a colossal scale have become routine. Indeed, we seem to crave ever-more-frightening predictions—we are now, in writer Gary Alexander’s word, apocaholic. The past half century has brought us warnings of population explosions, global famines, plagues, water wars, oil exhaustion, mineral shortages, falling sperm counts, thinning ozone, acidifying rain, nuclear winters, Y2K bugs, mad cow epidemics, killer bees, sex-change fish, cell-phone-induced brain-cancer epidemics, and climate catastrophes.So far all of these specters have turned out to be exaggerated. True, we have encountered obstacles, public-health emergencies, and even mass tragedies. But the promised Armageddons—the thresholds that cannot be uncrossed, the tipping points that cannot be untipped, the existential threats to Life as We Know It—have consistently failed to materialize. To see the full depth of our apocaholism, and to understand why we keep getting it so wrong, we need to consult the past 50 years of history.The classic apocalypse has four horsemen, and our modern version follows that pattern, with the four riders being chemicals (DDT, CFCs, acid rain), diseases (bird flu, swine flu, SARS, AIDS, Ebola, mad cow disease), people (population, famine), and resources (oil, metals). Let’s visit them each in turn.
Silent Spring, published 50 years ago this year, was instrumental in the emergence of modern environmentalism.“Without this book, the environmental movement might have been long delayed or never have developed at all,”Al Gore wrote in his introduction to the 1994 edition. Carson’s main theme was that the use of synthetic pesticides—DDT in particular—was causing not only a massacre of wildlife but an epidemic of cancer in human beings. One of her chief inspirations and sources for the book was Wilhelm Hueper, the first director of the environmental arm of the National Cancer Institute. So obsessed was Hueper with his notion that pesticides and other synthetic chemicals were causing cancers (and that industry was covering this up) that he strenuously opposed the suggestion that tobacco-smoking take any blame. Hueper wrote in a 1955 paper called “Lung Cancers and Their Causes,” published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians,“Industrial or industry-related atmospheric pollutants are to a great part responsible for the causation of lung cancer … cigarette smoking is not a major factor in the causation of lung cancer.”In fact, of course, the link between smoking and lung cancer was found to be ironclad. But the link between modern chemicals and cancer is sketchy at best. Even DDT, which clearly does pose health risks to those unsafely exposed, has never been definitively linked to cancer. In general, cancer incidence and death rates, when corrected for the average age of the population, have been falling now for 20 years.By the 1970s the focus of chemical concern had shifted to air pollution. Life magazine set the scene in January 1970:“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support … the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution … by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.”Instead, driven partly by regulation and partly by innovation, both of which dramatically cut the pollution coming from car exhaust and smokestacks, ambient air quality improved dramatically in many cities in the developed world over the following few decades. Levels of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, lead, ozone, and volatile organic compounds fell and continue to fall.In the 1980s it was acid rain’s turn to be the source of apocalyptic forecasts. In this case it was nature in the form of forests and lakes that would bear the brunt of human pollution. The issue caught fire in Germany, where a cover story in the news magazine Der Spiegel in November 1981 screamed:“the forest dies.”Not to be outdone, Stern magazine declared that a third of Germany’s forests were already dead or dying. Bernhard Ulrich, a soil scientist at the University of Göttingen, said it was already too late for the country’s forests:“They cannot be saved.”Forest death, or waldsterben, became a huge story across Europe.“The forests and lakes are dying. Already the damage may be irreversible,”journalist Fred Pearce wrote in New Scientist in 1982. It was much the same in North America: Half of all US lakes were said to be becoming dangerously acidified, and forests from Virginia to central Canada were thought to be suffering mass die-offs of trees.Conventional wisdom has it that this fate was averted by prompt legislative action to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants. That account is largely false. There was no net loss of forest in the 1980s to reverse. In the US, a 10-year government-sponsored study involving some 700 scientists and costing about $500 million reported in 1990 that
“there is no evidence of a general or unusual decline of forests in the United States and Canada due to acid rain” and “there is no case of forest decline in which acidic deposition is known to be a predominant cause.”In Germany, Heinrich Spiecker, director of the Institute for Forest Growth, was commissioned by a Finnish forestry organization to assess the health of European forests. He concluded that they were growing faster and healthier than ever and had been improving throughout the 1980s.“Since we began measuring the forest more than 100 years ago, there’s never been a higher volume of wood … than there is now,”Spiecker said. (Ironically, one of the chief ingredients of acid rain—nitrogen oxide—breaks down naturally to become nitrate, a fertilizer for trees.) As for lakes, it turned out that their rising acidity was likely caused more by reforestation than by acid rain; one study suggested that the correlation between acidity in rainwater and the pH in the lakes was very low. The story of acid rain is not of catastrophe averted but of a minor environmental nuisance somewhat abated.The threat to the ozone layer came next. In the 1970s scientists discovered a decline in the concentration of ozone over Antarctica during several springs, and the Armageddon megaphone was dusted off yet again. The blame was pinned on chlorofluorocarbons, used in refrigerators and aerosol cans, reacting with sunlight. The disappearance of frogs and an alleged rise of melanoma in people were both attributed to ozone depletion. So too was a supposed rash of blindness in animals: Al Gore wrote in 1992 about blind salmon and rabbits, while The New York Times reported“an increase in Twilight Zone-type reports of sheep and rabbits with cataracts” in Patagonia.But all these accounts proved incorrect. The frogs were dying of a fungal disease spread by people; the sheep had viral pinkeye; the mortality rate from melanoma actually leveled off during the growth of the ozone hole; and as for the blind salmon and rabbits, they were never heard of again.There was an international agreement to cease using CFCs by 1996. But the predicted recovery of the ozone layer never happened: The hole stopped growing before the ban took effect, then failed to shrink afterward. The ozone hole still grows every Antarctic spring, to roughly the same extent each year. Nobody quite knows why. Some scientists think it is simply taking longer than expected for the chemicals to disintegrate; a few believe that the cause of the hole was misdiagnosed in the first place. Either way, the ozone hole cannot yet be claimed as a looming catastrophe, let alone one averted by political action.
Repeatedly throughout the past five decades, the imminent advent of a new pandemic has been foretold. The 1976 swine flu panic was an early case. Following the death of a single recruit at Fort Dix, the Ford administration vaccinated more than 40 million Americans, but more people probably died from adverse reactions to the vaccine than died of swine flu.A few years later, a fatal virus did begin to spread at an alarming rate, initially through the homosexual community. AIDS was soon, rightly, the focus of serious alarm. But not all the dire predictions proved correct.“Research studies now project that one in five—listen to me, hard to believe—one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS at the end of the next three years. That’s by 1990. One in five,”Oprah Winfrey warned in 1987.Bad as AIDS was, the broad-based epidemic in the Americas, Europe, and Asia never materialized as feared, though it did in Africa. In 2000 the US National Intelligence Council predicted that HIV/AIDS would worsen in the developing world for at least 10 years and was“likely to aggravate and, in some cases, may even provoke economic decay, social fragmentation and political destabilization in the hardest hit countries in the developing and former communist worlds.”Yet the peak of the epidemic had already passed in the late 1990s, and today AIDS is in slow retreat throughout the world. New infections were 20 percent lower in 2010 than in 1997, and the lives of more than 2.5 million people have been saved since 1995 by antiretroviral treatment.“Just a few years ago, talking about ending the AIDS epidemic in the near term seemed impossible, but science, political support, and community responses are starting to deliver clear and tangible results,”UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé wrote last year.The emergence of AIDS led to a theory that other viruses would spring from tropical rain forests to wreak revenge on humankind for its ecological sins. That, at least, was the implication of Laurie Garrett’s 1994 book, The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. The most prominent candidate was Ebola, the hemorrhagic fever that starred in Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, published the same year. Writer Stephen King called the book“one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read.”Right on cue, Ebola appeared again in the Congo in 1995, but it soon disappeared. Far from being a harbinger, HIV was the only new tropical virus to go pandemic in 50 years.In the 1980s British cattle began dying from mad cow disease, caused by an infectious agent in feed that was derived from the remains of other cows. When people, too, began to catch this disease, predictions of the scale of the epidemic quickly turned terrifying: Up to 136,000 would die, according to one study. A pathologist warned that the British“have to prepare for perhaps thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of cases of vCJD [new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human manifestation of mad cow] coming down the line.”Yet the total number of deaths so far in the UK has been 176, with just five occurring in 2011 and none so far in 2012.In 2003 it was SARS, a virus from civet cats, that ineffectively but inconveniently led to quarantines in Beijing and Toronto amid predictions of global Armageddon. SARS subsided within a year, after killing just 774 people. In 2005 it was bird flu, described at the time by a United Nations official as being“like a combination of global warming and HIV/AIDS 10 times faster than it’s running at the moment.”The World Health Organization’s official forecast was 2 million to 7.4 million dead. In fact, by late 2007, when the disease petered out, the death toll was roughly 200. In 2009 it was Mexican swine flu. WHO director general Margaret Chan said:“It really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.”The outbreak proved to be a normal flu episode.The truth is, a new global pandemic is growing less likely, not more. Mass migration to cities means the opportunity for viruses to jump from wildlife to the human species has not risen and has possibly even declined, despite media hype to the contrary. Water- and insect-borne infections—generally the most lethal—are declining as living standards slowly improve. It’s true that casual-contact infections such as colds are thriving—but only by being mild enough that their victims can soldier on with work and social engagements, thereby allowing the virus to spread. Even if a lethal virus does go global, the ability of medical science to sequence its genome and devise a vaccine or cure is getting better all the time.
Of all the cataclysmic threats to human civilization envisaged in the past 50 years, none has drawn such hyperbolic language as people themselves.“Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet,”says Agent Smith in the film The Matrix. Such rhetoric echoes real-life activists like Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society:“We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion … Curing a body of cancer requires radical and invasive therapy, and therefore, curing the biosphere of the human virus will also require a radical and invasive approach.”On a “stinking hot” evening in a taxi in Delhi in 1966, as Paul Ehrlich wrote in his best seller, The Population Bomb,“the streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people.”Ehrlich’s conclusion was bleak:“The train of events leading to the dissolution of India as a viable nation”was already in progress. And other experts agreed.“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation,”said Denis Hayes, organizer of the first Earth Day in 1970. Sending food to India was a mistake and only postponed the inevitable, William and Paul Paddock wrote in their best seller, Famine—1975!What actually happened was quite different. The death rate fell. Famine became rarer. The population growth rate was cut in half, thanks chiefly to the fact that as babies stop dying, people stop having so many of them. Over the past 50 years, worldwide food production per capita has risen, even as the global population has doubled. Indeed, so successful have farmers been at increasing production that food prices fell to record lows in the early 2000s and large parts of western Europe and North America have been reclaimed by forest. (A policy of turning some of the world’s grain into motor fuel has reversed some of that decline and driven prices back up.)Meanwhile, family size continues to shrink on every continent. The world population will probably never double again, whereas it quadrupled in the 20th century. With improvements in seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, transport, and irrigation still spreading across Africa, the world may well feed 9 billion inhabitants in 2050—and from fewer acres than it now uses to feed 7 billion.
In 1977 President Jimmy Carter went on television and declared:
“World oil production can probably keep going up for another six or eight years. But sometime in the 1980s, it can’t go up anymore. Demand will overtake production.”
He was not alone in this view. The end of oil and gas had been predicted repeatedly throughout the 20th century. In 1922 President Warren Harding created the US Coal Commission, which undertook an 11-month survey that warned,“Already the output of [natural] gas has begun to wane. Production of oil cannot long maintain its present rate.”In 1956, M. King Hubbert, a Shell geophysicist, forecast that gas production in the US would peak at about 14 trillion cubic feet per year sometime around 1970.All these predictions failed to come true. Oil and gas production have continued to rise during the past 50 years. Gas reserves took an enormous leap upward after 2007, as engineers learned how to exploit abundant shale gas. In 2011 the International Energy Agency estimated that global gas resources would last 250 years.Although it seems likely that cheap sources of oil may indeed start to peter out in coming decades, gigantic quantities of shale oil and oil sands will remain available, at least at a price. Once again, obstacles have materialized, but the apocalypse has not. Ever since Thomas Robert Malthus, doomsayers have tended to underestimate the power of innovation. In reality, driven by price increases, people simply developed new technologies, such as the horizontal drilling technique that has helped us extract more oil from shale.It was not just energy but metals too that were supposed to run out. In 1970 Harrison Brown, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, forecast in Scientific American that lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would all be gone by 1990. The best-selling book The Limits to Growth was published 40 years ago by the Club of Rome, a committee of prominent environmentalists with a penchant for meeting in Italy. The book forecast that if use continued to accelerate exponentially, world reserves of several metals could run out by 1992 and help precipitate a collapse of civilization and population in the subsequent century, when people no longer had the raw materials to make machinery. These claims were soon being repeated in schoolbooks.“Some scientists estimate that the world’s known supplies of oil, tin, copper, and aluminum will be used up within your lifetime,”one read. In fact, as the results of a famous wager between Paul Ehrlich and economist Julian Simon later documented, the metals did not run out. Indeed, they grew cheaper. Ehrlich, who claimed he had been “goaded” into the bet, growled,“The one thing we’ll never run out of is imbeciles.”Over the past half century, none of our threatened eco-pocalypses have played out as predicted. Some came partly true; some were averted by action; some were wholly chimerical. This raises a question that many find discomforting: With a track record like this, why should people accept the cataclysmic claims now being made about climate change? After all, 2012 marks the apocalyptic deadline of not just the Mayans but also a prominent figure in our own time: Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who said in 2007 that“if there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late … This is the defining moment.”So, should we worry or not about the warming climate? It is far too binary a question. The lesson of failed past predictions of ecological apocalypse is not that nothing was happening but that the middle-ground possibilities were too frequently excluded from consideration. In the climate debate, we hear a lot from those who think disaster is inexorable if not inevitable, and a lot from those who think it is all a hoax.We hardly ever allow the moderate “lukewarmers” a voice: those who suspect that the net positive feedbacks from water vapor in the atmosphere are low, so that we face only 1 to 2 degrees Celsius of warming this century; that the Greenland ice sheet may melt but no faster than its current rate of less than 1 percent per century; that net increases in rainfall (and carbon dioxide concentration) may improve agricultural productivity; that ecosystems have survived sudden temperature lurches before; and that adaptation to gradual change may be both cheaper and less ecologically damaging than a rapid and brutal decision to give up fossil fuels cold turkey.We’ve already seen some evidence that humans can forestall warming-related catastrophes. A good example is malaria, which was once widely predicted to get worse as a result of climate change. Yet in the 20th century, malaria retreated from large parts of the world, including North America and Russia, even as the world warmed. Malaria-specific mortality plummeted in the first decade of the current century by an astonishing 25 percent.The weather may well have grown more hospitable to mosquitoes during that time. But any effects of warming were more than counteracted by pesticides, new antimalarial drugs, better drainage, and economic development. Experts such as Peter Gething at Oxford argue that these trends will continue, whatever the weather.Just as policy can make the climate crisis worse—mandating biofuels has not only encouraged rain forest destruction, releasing carbon, but driven millions into poverty and hunger—technology can make it better. If plant breeders boost rice yields, then people may get richer and afford better protection against extreme weather. If nuclear engineers make fusion (or thorium fission) cost-effective, then carbon emissions may suddenly fall. If gas replaces coal because of horizontal drilling, then carbon emissions may rise more slowly. Humanity is a fast-moving target. We will combat our ecological threats in the future by innovating to meet them as they arise, not through the mass fear stoked by worst-case scenarios.Matt Ridley (rationaloptimist.com) is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the author, most recently, of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves.
Posted by Rajan Alexander at 7:47 PM