Latest posts by H. Sterling Burnett (see all)
- Russia Is Polluting Energy and Climate Politics in Western Democracies - April 15, 2019
- The ‘Green New Deal’ Is Dead. Long May It Stay Buried! - April 10, 2019
- Coloradans’ Votes Don’t Matter to State’s Democratic Leaders - April 10, 2019
Hardly a week goes by when government’s around the world don’t take some action that undermines their own purported climate goals (which is okay with me since I think reducing greenhouse gas emissions is worse than a fools errand), science as an institution and the pursuit of knowledge or human progress and prosperity (the latter to are unmitigated bads).
The U.S. House seems intent to undermine progress on climate goals by foolishly counting biomass burning for energy as carbon neutral. Now I have no problem with burning biomass for heat or energy – I love wood burning stoves and charcoal grills — but it is not, as practiced on a commercial scale, carbon neutral.
Scientists have spoken out against a provision in the House appropriations bill for fiscal year 2017 directing the Environmental Protection Agency to treat the burning of biomass (typically wood and other plant material) for energy as carbon-neutral, meaning the agency would assume the practice does not contribute any extra greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. Biomass is a renewable energy source, since more trees can be grown after the old ones have been harvested. The truth is, burning biomass for energy releases substantial amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, with some research suggesting it may be worse for the climate than burning coal.
Oregon State University Professor Beverly Law says, “It takes decades to centuries for carbon to accumulate in what I call the forest carbon bank.” By contrast, she notes, burning trees for energy releases all their carbon into the atmosphere immediately. This means burning biomass for energy has an immediate effect on greenhouse gas concentrations, one that would take years of tree-growing to reverse.
In addition, the House bill would treat the burning of biomass from residual matter left over from mills, harvests, or other forest management activities – in other words, dead biomass considered waste – as carbon-neutral. While this plant matter would decompose over a number of years emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, burning it for fuel releases all of its carbon immediately.
Similar to the biomass provisions in the House appropriations bill, earlier this year the Senate passed a sweeping energy bill including provisions treating biomass burned for fuel as carbon-neutral. Environmentalists largely decried an aspect of the bill involving biomass energy and dozens of scientists signed a letter objecting to the provision. The letter stated, “This amendment puts forest carbon in the atmosphere contributing to climate change instead of keeping it in living, productive forests that provide multiple benefits of water and wetland protection, flood control, soils protection, wildlife habitat, improved air quality and recreational benefits for hunters and all who enjoy being in the great out-of-doors. Legislating scientific facts is never a good idea, but is especially bad when the ‘facts’ are incorrect.”
Europe is following the same flawed logic, counting the use of biofuels as mitigating climate change, when, in fact, copious amounts of research demonstrates the way biofuels are produced actually result in a net growth in atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions.
Most recently, new research from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) demonstrates the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive pushing the use of biofuels to fight global warming is likely increasing greenhouse gas emissions overall while doing damage to the environment. VTT found EU biofuel regulations “ignore uncertainties related to greenhouse gas calculation” and may even double-count the environmental benefits of the regulations.
The VTT study largely confirms the findings of a study published in late April by the European environmental group Transport & Environment, which found Europe’s biofuel regulations created 80 percent more carbon dioxide emissions than the conventional oil they replaced. The report estimates biofuels create new emissions equivalent to putting an extra 12 million cars on the road. The report notes environmental damage resulting from the EU’s push for biofuels includes increased tropical deforestation and damage to peatlands.
And then comes news from Down Under (Australia that is), that academics and administrators at James Cook University have decided scientific progress doesn’t need transparency, honesty, or accuracy. Why have I come to this conclusion?
Turning the idea of research ethics on its head, Australia’s James Cook University (JCU) censured marine scientist Paul Ridd for “failing to act in a collegial way and in the academic spirit of the institution,” because he discovered and disclosed the fact the Centre of Excellence for Coral Studies and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority were using misleading photographs to make the case global warming was causing a mass coral reef die-off.
Ridd should have been praised and rewarded for checking the facts and blowing the whistle on misleading science. Instead he was censured and warned by JCU if he does this again, he’ll be tried for “serious misconduct.”
The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch points out, “Ridd [was] not alone in criticizing some institutions and environmental groups for over-hyping the impacts global warming will have on coral reefs. In fact, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s own chairman [Russell Reichelt] had to come out to dispel notions the reef was almost completely gone. ‘We’ve seen headlines stating that 93 percent of the reef is practically dead. We’ve also seen reports that 35 percent, or even 50 percent, of the entire reef is now gone. However, based on our combined results so far, the overall mortality rate is 22 percent’” with 75 percent of that amount expected to recover within the next few months.
Judith Curry’s extended discussion of the diminishment of the standard of academic misconduct is instructive and worth reading in full. She notes scientists face multiple potential ethical conflicts in carrying out their work. Scientists must conscientiously adhere to the norms of science, but they have a perceived duty to the public, and they have a sense of loyalty to colleagues and the institutions that employ them. Curry is concerned that in academic science, loyalty to one’s colleagues and institutions and respect for their opinions has become regarded as the paramount consideration, even if it comes at the expense of integrity in science and professional conduct.
JCU’s shabby treatment of Ridd would seem to confirm Curry’s concern.
The impact of foolish climate policies are economic decline and premature death. At least that’s the conclusion drawn by M.J. Kelly, a University of Cambridge engineering professor. I share Kelly’s concern.
Kelly’s research indicates, the world’s effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is likely to be a costly endeavor, one possibly resulting in millions of unnecessary deaths.
Kelly’s study shows only fossil fuels and nuclear power have the ability to power megacities in 2050. At the same time, he notes the more severe predictions of climate change over the past 25 years have simply not occurred, and it makes little sense to make drastic carbon dioxide reductions based on predictions made by the same models that have failed to accurately predict past and present climate conditions.
The scale and variety of specific engineering challenges to decarbonizing the world is without precedent in human history, meaning the world should be skeptical of its success. Kelly argues the world needs a more sophisticated public debate that “(i) considers the full range of threats to humanity, and (ii) weighs more carefully both the upsides and downsides of taking any action, and of not taking that action.”
A proper analysis of the world’s energy needs and the threats facing humanity would conclude carbon dioxide is a byproduct of the “immense benefits” of a technologically advanced society. According to Kelly, massive decarbonization is “only possible if we wish to see large parts of the population die from starvation, destitution or violence in the absence of enough low-carbon energy to sustain society.”
Kelly concludes, “Everyone assumes that every change is for the worse, but we are starting to find upsides” in carbon dioxide. “The recent science is casting doubt on whether more CO2 is necessarily a bad thing.”
How’s that for a pessimistic recent climate news roundup!