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Author Archive | Steven Milloy

Carbon Tax is Pointless and Inflationary

Climate alarmists hope that Hurricane Sandy and President Obama’s re-election will coerce panicky congressional Republicans into a “carbon tax” deal in 2013. But simple math shows the tax would have no effect other than an inflationary one.

A carbon tax would operate as a new sales tax on goods and services that are produced through or otherwise involve the burning of fossil fuels. You might pay the tax in your electric bill, at the gas pump or in the form of higher prices for other good and services.

The purpose of a carbon tax would be to penalize fossil fuel use in hopes of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which have been hypothesized to cause global cooling (1970s), global warming (1980s-1990s), climate change (2000s) and extreme weather (2010s).

While higher prices for goods and services aren’t inherently evil, their merits must be judged by what consumers and society get in return. So let’s consider a carbon tax from a climatic perspective.

To give a carbon tax the maximum advantage in our analysis, we’ll assume that it would be totally successful in reducing U.S. Big government: big failurecarbon emissions — i.e., the U.S. emits no carbon dioxide whatsoever from fossil fuels. And let’s also imagine that this public policy wonder has this magical effect as of Jan. 1, 2013.

So what would be the climatic effect of immediately shutting down the fossil fuel-based U.S. economy?

Let’s assume that U.S. fossil fuel use results in 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere annually and that, of this amount, about 40% (2.4 billion tons) stays and accumulates in the atmosphere annually.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is measured in parts per million and one part per million of carbon dioxide weighs approximately 7.81 billion metric tons. Simple division, then, shows that the U.S. might be adding at most approximately 0.31 parts per million to the atmosphere every year.

If the carbon tax could magically stop U.S. emissions entirely as of 2013, then by the year 2100, we would have avoided adding about 27 parts per million (0.31 x 87) of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

That may sound like a lot, but consider that the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 391 parts per million. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the year 2100 could range from 450 parts per million (absolute global clampdown on greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century) to 950+ parts per million (no clampdown).

Either way, it’s plain to see that a savings of 27 parts per million over 87 years is trivial, particularly in comparison to its cost (shutting down the entire economy) and would make no meaningful climatic difference even if atmospheric carbon dioxide was the driver of global climate that the alarmists claim it is.

For further perspective, consider that 27 parts per million ago (i.e., 364 parts per million) was, temporally speaking, 1997 — since which time there has been no significant global warming, even according to the alarmists.

But remember we here have been fantasizing wildly about the effect of a carbon tax. No carbon tax enacted into law — even by an Obama-fearing 113th Congress — would come any where close to significantly reducing, much less stopping fossil fuel use in the U.S. anytime soon.

In reality, goods and services would simply be made to cost more. The atmosphere and climate would not be affected in any significant way. Consumer dollars would have less purchasing power — a phenomenon called inflation.

Sadly, some prominent conservative economists support a carbon tax.

Reagan economist Arthur Laffer would support a tax in exchange for a reduction in payroll or income taxes. Bush 43 economist Greg Mankiw supports a global tax. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, senior adviser to John McCain in 2008, wants a tax to provide the energy industry with regulatory “certainty.”

As smart as these guys may be, none of them has apparently done the simple math that shows a carbon tax is a policy futility that buys less than nothing.

Hurricane Sandy shows what life is like without fossil fuels; it’s not a reason to do away with them. President Obama doesn’t care about the realities of climate; for him and his kind, global warming is an excuse to seize greater control of the economy. As to congressional Republicans, don’t panic; do the (simple) math.

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The People v. The Hockey Stick Felony?

Editorial originally appeared in the Washington Times

Are academic scientists some special sub-species of humans who are beyond suspicion and above the law? That is the question now being played out in a drama between Virginia Attorney General Ken Cucinelli and the dead-end defenders of global warming’s poster junk scientist, Michael Mann.

Cucinelli is under assault by global warming alarmist brigades and the American Civil Liberties Union for launching an investigation into whether any fraud against taxpayers occurred with respect to Mann’s hiring by the University of Virginia and his receipt of government grants. Cuccinelli recently sent UVA a civil investigative demand (CID) requesting e-mails and other documents pertaining to Mann.

Cuccinelli’s rationale is simple to understand: Mann’s claim-to-fame — the infamous “hockey stick” graph — is so bogus that one cannot help but wonder whether it is intentional fraud.

Developed in the late-1990s while Mann was at the University of Massachusetts, his hockey stick graph purports to show that average global temperature was fairly stable over the past millennium and up until the 20 the century, when it spiked up impliedly because of human activity. The hockey stick was latched onto by the alarmist community, incorporated into government and United Nations assessments of climate science and held out to the public (particularly by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth”) as proof that humans were destroying the planet.

But by the mid-2000s the hockey stick graph began to be revealed for what it was — pure bunk.

Critics of the hockey stick graph first became suspicious because it failed to show two well-known periods of dramatic swings in global temperature — the so-called Medieval Optimum and the Little Ice Age. Mann’s indignant refusal to share his data and methods with critics only added fuel to the fire. Eventually, it was discovered that the computer model that produced the hockey stick would produce a hockey stick graph regardless of what data was input. But it gets worse.

Mann apparently created the hockey stick by cherry-picking data he liked and deleting data he didn’t like. While the vast majority of the hockey stick is based on temperature data extrapolated from tree rings going back hundreds of years, the tip of the blade (representing the late 20th century) was temperature data taken from thermometers. Past the obvious apples-and-oranges problem, as it turns out, Mann appended the thermometer data to the hockey stick at a point at which the tree ring data actually shows cooling. This cooling trend data was then deleted. This is what is referred to by the now-famous Climate-gate phrase “Mike’s Nature trick to … hide the decline.”

Mann’s defenders characterize this deletion of data as an elegant statistical technique. There is, however, nothing sophisticated, much less innocent about it. Contrary to Mann’s defenders, the hockey stick has never been vindicated by anyone. If nothing else, proof of its discredit lies in the fact that no one, not even the ethically challenged United Nations, relies on it anymore as evidence of manmade global warming.

Mann’s name-making hockey stick work occurred while he was at the University of Massachusetts, after which he was hired by the taxpayer-funded UVA. Did UVA hire Mann under the illusion that his hockey stick was a legitimate scientific achievement? Did Mann receive taxpayer-funded grants based on what amounts to scientific misconduct? These are legitimate inquiries — but not to everyone.

Left-wing academics, global warming alarmists, and the ACLU object to Cucinelli’s probe. They cast aspersions such as “witch hunt,” McCarthyism,” and “abuse of office.” In their less hysteric moments, they claim Cuccinelli threatens academic freedom. This is all so much rot.

Some scientists have actually been known to commit scientific misconduct tantamount to fraud. A Tulane researcher was found guilty of misconduct by the federal Office of Scientific Integrity in the late 1990s for fabricating data about pesticides being dangerous hormonal system disrupters. Don’t forget the South Korean researcher that was indicted for claiming false advances in stem cell research. Only political correctness saved a University of Pittsburgh researcher from conviction during the 1990s of manipulating data allegedly linking lead-based paint with lower IQs.

Believe it or not, scientists are just like the rest of the population — a mixture of good and bad. Mann’s hockey stick is such bad science that it compels the question, “Why?” Would UVA have hired Mann and would government grants have been awarded to him had the truth about the hockey stick been known by university and state decision-makers at the time? Were they intentionally deceived?

As the Climategate scandal has revealed, the climate alarmist mob is, at the very least, devious and unethical. It has conspired to silence its critics and to dispense with the normal give-and-take of the scientific process — all the while trumpeting the junkiest of science in trying to frighten the public and politicians into keeping the grant money flowing.

Have some of the climate mob’s members acted criminally as well? No one knows at this point. But through his hockey stick shenanigans, Mann has certainly provided Cuccinelli with “probable cause” to consider the possibility. A thorough investigation by someone not in cahoots with the climate mob is the only way to answer legitimate questions related to the expenditure of taxpayer money.

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The President’s Oil Drilling Bait-N-Switch

So President Obama says he’s for more offshore oil drilling. Does he really mean it? Would it matter if he did?

Addressing the latter question first, consider President George W. Bush called for offshore drilling in June 2008, when gasoline prices hit $4 per gallon and Congress was less Democrat-controlled than today.

Nothing happened — well, that’s not exactly true.

Offshore drilling advocates were ecstatic in July 2008 when they thought a deal had been reached with green groups to permit drilling off Santa Barbara, Calif. — the first since the January 1969 oil spill there.

New Hampshire Union Leader editor Andrew Cline gushed in a July 2008 Wall Street Journal op-ed: “When an environmental group formed for the sole purpose of opposing offshore oil drilling warmly embraces a plan to drill off its own coast, you know something important has changed in our culture; Americans have recognized that offshore drilling is largely safe.”

But less than a week later, the greens wrote the Journal to correct the record: “(T)o be accurate, the (op-ed’s) title should have read ‘Environmentalists Secure End to Oil Development’ … The agreement struck … is remarkable because it sets a fixed date for the termination of existing offshore and onshore oil production facilities in Santa Barbara County. We see this agreement as a direct complement to our support for the federal oil moratorium. Just as we need to say ‘no’ to new oil development, we must put an end to existing development if we are to protect our coast from the risks of offshore oil and gas development, and protect society from climate change.”

Despite the “agreement” and approval of offshore drilling by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, the greens subsequently got the California State Lands Commission to deny the offshore leases and then, in July 2009, got the California Assembly to block Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to revive offshore drilling.

Last December, the Obama administration actually granted Shell Oil leases to drill three exploratory wells in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. But claiming a shoddy approval process, the leases are being challenged by green groups in the enviro-friendly 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Without wondering whether the Obama administration set Shell up for frustration, my money is on the greens in that venue.

The lesson here is that the greens oppose, and will use every tactic possible on the local, state and federal level to prevent, offshore drilling, regardless of what emanates from the Oval Office.

But then, there are many reasons to question the sincerity of Obama’s rhetoric in the first place.

Despite campaign rhetoric about supporting more drilling, last fall the Obama administration canceled drilling leases in Utah previously granted by President Bush.

The leases were denied for the flimsiest reasons, including possible damage to the habitat of the sage grouse and avoiding the dust and noise pollution from drilling.

Next, and most important, President Obama needs both Republican and moderate Democrat support to get a much sought after cap-and-trade bill through the Senate.

Right now, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham is the only Republican interested in cap-and-trade. He wants to include increased oil and gas production and nuclear power.

President Obama no doubt hopes pro-oil drilling rhetoric will also help him win the support of other Senate swing votes, including Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mary “Louisiana Purchase” Landrieu, D-La.

Finally, while announcing his drilling proposal, Obama spent the bulk of his time talking about how we need to use less oil and wean ourselves off oil altogether.

He spent little time talking about producing more oil. He limited his remarks to a proposal merely for more oil “exploration” — not to increasing production and supply.

Talk is cheap and President Obama knows that. Let’s hope Senate Republicans and moderate Democrats know that too.

False promises about supporting oil drilling are bad enough, but it would be a travesty if they brought cap-and-trade.

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Al Gore Lies to Congress

It’s a good thing Al Gore didn’t have to raise his right hand and take an oath to tell the truth before he testified on April 24 to the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee about the Waxman-Markey climate bill. first reported that Al Gore lied to the subcommittee about his personal finances during questioning by Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn. It turns out that Gore also lied to Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, who had asked Gore about his connections with the Wall Street firm of Goldman Sachs.

While the connection between Gore and Goldman Sachs that Scalise probably was referring to involves David Blood, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management who is the co-founder with Gore of the U.K.-based investment firm of Generation Investment Management, the April 27 issue of Fortune unearths a more appalling connection between Gore and Goldman Sachs.

In mid-2008 — six months after Gore joined the venture capital firm of Kleiner Perkins as a partner — Kleiner Perkins joined Goldman Sachs in financing a company called Terralliance — an oil exploration firm!

As Fortune reports:

Kleiner’s dirtying its hands in the oil patch was something of a head-scratcher. Back then the firm had recently hired Al Gore as a partner. But money is money, oil was trading for $140 a barrel, and Terralliance was said to have developed software that reduced the risk of drilling dry holes. It looked as if Terralliance could be a moneymaker for Kleiner, which had sunk a total of $65 million into the venture, an extraordinary sum for a VC firm — possibly its biggest single investment ever.

But less than one year later, Terralliance has faired poorly, burning through hundreds of millions of dollars, according to Fortune.

The salient facts, here, are not that one of Kleiner Perkins largest investments went south, but the following:

– Kleiner Perkins and Goldman Sachs had both invested in Terralliance.

– Given that Terralliance was venture capital-funded by Kleiner Perkins, Goldman Sachs and a few others, Kleiner Perkins and Goldman undoubtedly knew that they were essentially financial partners in Terralliance’s success.

– Al Gore joined Kleiner Perkins as a partner well before the firm entered into the Terralliance deal.

– As a Kleiner Perkins partner, Al Gore must have known, if not approved of the Terralliance deal, and that it involved Goldman Sachs. At the very least, under partnership law, such knowledge is legally imputed to him as a partner.

– Kleiner Perkins’ investment in Terralliance was not trivial, but perhaps its largest ever in any enterprise. Gore must have known about it.

Getting back to the April 24 House Energy And Environment Subcommittee hearing, when Rep. Scalise said to Gore,

“… and I know you’ve got interests with Goldman Sachs…”

To which, Gore made facial gestures that implied he had never even heard of Goldman Sachs. Gore then replied,


Rep. Scalise continued,

“… well, that’s been reported. If — is that not accurate?”

Gore replied,

“No. I wish I did, but I don’t.”

There you have it. Al Gore flatly denying that he had interests with Goldman Sachs — when, clearly, he did.

The irony is that during Gore’s exchange with Rep. Scalise, he accused the fossil fuel industry of lying to Scalise and the American people for 14 years about the science of global warming. As it turns out, the part of the fossil fuel industry that lied to Rep. Scalise and the American people was none other than Terralliance-investor Al Gore himself.


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Obama’s Climate Rip-off

President Obama wants to pay you to support global warming regulation. What he isn’t saying, however, is that his enticement won’t come close to covering what the regulations will cost you.

In his 10-year budget released this week, the President proposed a so-called cap-and-trade scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Under the proposal, 100 percent of the permits to emit greenhouse gases would be auctioned to coal and natural gas-burning electric utilities, industrial plants and other emitters-to-be-designated. The proceeds from the auctions would then distributed to individual Americans “to help the transition to a clean energy economy,” according to his budget proposal.

But what does this proposal mean for the average person in terms of actual dollars and cents?

It’s difficult to work out the precise financial impacts, but you can get an idea by doing some back-of-the-envelop calculations with some of the facts and figures that have recently been bandied about.

Based on past global warming legislation, like the Lieberman-Warner bill that failed in the Senate last June, a cap-and-trade plan would probably cover about 80 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — about 5.8 billion tons based on a total of 7.3 billion tons emitted during 2007.

Assuming that permits are auctioned at a price of $12 per ton — a safety valve price included in past climate bills — the Obama plan would raise about $70 billion in its first year. Given that President Obama has proposed to spend about $15 billion per year of the auction proceeds on “clean energy” projects, about $55 billion would be leftover for distribution to individuals– in other words, every American with a Social Security number. Dividing the $55 billion among more than 300 million Americans, then, works out to about $180 per person and $720 per family of four per year.

It’s not like winning the lottery, but it’s better than nothing — or is it?

The liberal think tank Center on Budget Priorities and Policy estimated this week that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would cost the poorest families in America $750 per year as higher energy prices ripple through the economy affecting all goods and services. So if the poorest families, who use far less energy than the rest of America, are in a financial hole under the president’s plan, one can easily imagine how the rest of us will end up. Consider the potential consequences on just your electric bill.

The proposed Lieberman-Warner bill would have auctioned only 25 percent of the permits — not 100 percent as President Obama is proposing. The remaining 75 percent of the credits would have been distributed for free to electric utilities and other designated greenhouse gas emitters. But even under that scheme, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers told The New York Times last summer that electricity rates would rise by 40 percent in the first year to cover his utility’s $2 billion outlay for credits. So a 100 percent auction could increase electricity bills for Duke’s 4 million customers by 160 percent — meaning a $100 monthly electric bill becomes, perhaps, a $260 monthly bill. Based on these calculations, a family of four that pays more than $40 per month for electricity — that is, every family — is a net loser under President Obama’s plan.

And those are the potential increases for just your electric bill. Not included are other likely price hikes for goods and services — gasoline, food, travel, etc. — that will necessarily be passed along to consumers. As you can readily see, your share of President Obama’s auction proceeds don’t come close to breaking even on greenhouse gas regulation.

Maybe you’re thinking that these extra costs are worth it as they will be dwarfed by the environmental benefits of tackling the much-dreaded global warming.

Think again. There will be no detectable or tangible benefits from reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

First, carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas targeted by regulation is invisible, colorless and odorless. Since it exists in the atmosphere at levels measured in the parts per million, unless you’re a plant that needs CO2 to live, you’re not going to notice it.

Next, there is no evidence that human emissions of carbon dioxide are causing detectable changes, much less any harm, to the climate. Check out my YouTube video on this issue:

This means, of course, that there is no evidence that reducing carbon dioxide emissions will have any detectable changes on climate.

Even assuming for the sake of argument that man made carbon dioxide emissions were changing climate, Obama’s cap-and-trade bill will still have no detectable impact. First, EPA projects that a maximum clamp down on future U.S. emissions would reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by about 5 percent or less — a trivial change no matter what you believe about carbon dioxide. Moreover, China and India have vowed not to harm their economies because of global warming — so their emissions can be expected to soar as they develop and more than make-up for our reductions.

Maybe the economics of Obama’s cap-and-trade rip-off don’t bother you, but the fact that the rip-off will accomplish nothing should give you pause.


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Nuclear Nonsense

How can celebrity anti-nuclear power activists Alec Baldwin and Christie Brinkley try, in good conscience, to scare us about both carbon-free nuclear power and global warming?

In a February 12 press release about the relicensing process for the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Westchester County, New York, two anti-nuclear activist groups claimed that they were “not convinced” by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s preliminary determination of the plant’s safety.

The Radiation and Public Health Project and the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater pointed to data indicating that thyroid cancer rates in three nearby counties were higher than the national average and that strontium-90 was detected in breast milk samples taken from within 50 miles of Indian Point, with the highest results occurring in samples taken closest to the power plant. Not surprisingly, the activists concluded that, “This suggests that emissions from Indian Point may be compromising the health of local residents.”

Also not surprisingly, that’s not the entire story.

First, Indian Point’s radiation emissions are well within long-established safety levels. According to stringent standards set long ago by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the maximum allowable amount of radiation from Indian Point that could be absorbed by someone is 25 millirem per year. But according to the NRC, the hypothetical maximum dose that anyone could possibly have absorbed from Indian Point is only about 7 millirem per year — a dose dwarfed by what is typically absorbed from unavoidable natural and other manmade radiation sources.

The average person in the U.S. receives a dose of about 360 millirem per year, according to the EPA. About 80 percent of this dose comes from rocks and soils, mostly in the form of radon, and cosmic radiation from space. These natural doses can vary greatly depending on where you live.

People who live in Denver, for example, receive an extra 50 millirem per year of cosmic radiation simply because of the city’s mile-high altitude.

The other 20 percent of the typical annual radiation dose comes from man made sources — mostly mammograms and diagnostic x-rays.

Living near a nuclear power plant typically adds less than 1 millirem to annual radiation doses, according to the EPA. The 7 millirem figure calculated by the NRC for Indian Point doesn’t represent an actual dose received by anyone. It is calculated as a maximum possible absorbed dose if someone were to be exposed to maximum emissions at the plant’s boundary line for a year. Such exposures are obviously unlikely ever to occur.

Further, the 25 millirem regulatory level set by the EPA is more of an arbitrary standard than a true safety level. There is great debate in the scientific community as to whether such low-level doses of radiation are at all dangerous. Kerala, India, for example, has a relatively high-level of natural background radiation and many residents absorb as much of 2,000 millirem of radiation annually with no reports of increased cancer incidence. once measured the radiation emanating from granite statues in the U.S. Capitol Building and discovered that a person standing in statuary hall near the Senate Chamber would absorb 5 times more radiation than would be absorbed by standing at the fence line of a nuclear power plant.

So the radiation that someone could be hypothetically exposed to from Indian Point isn’t worrisome. So what’s the explanation for the higher thyroid cancer rates in the counties surrounding Indian Point? There isn’t one.

First, given the southerly direction of the region’s prevailing winds, two of the three counties (Orange and Putnam) are actually upwind of Indian Point. If plant emissions were increasing cancer rates, you would expect to find those cancers downwind of the plant. Although Rockland County, which lies to the south and west of Indian Point, has an elevated incidence of thyroid cancer, that rate is lower than in upwind Putnam. Next, the cancer rate in Westchester County — where Indian Point is located and where maximum radiation exposures would be expected as it is south and east of the plant — is lower than those in Rockland, Orange and Putnam. Also, there are several other New York counties, upstate and far away from Indian Point, that have thyroid cancer rates similar to the three counties near Indian Point. This geography, however, is largely academic since the maximum exposures to which the public could possibly be exposed are at the plant’s fence line and there is no evidence of a cancer cluster among those who live and work closest to the plant.

As to the strontium-90 allegedly found in breast milk samples, the NRC says that the low levels detected in the environment surrounding Indian Point “are consistent with decayed quantities of activity from historic atmospheric weapons testing.”

While thyroid cancer seems to be on the rise in the U.S. and New York State, no one really knows what exactly causes the disease. The New York State Health Department speculates that part of the reason for the increase may be the expanded use of radiation to diagnose and treat medical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that at least part of the reported increase in thyroid cancer rates is likely explained by improvements in detection and diagnosis. The good news is that deaths from thyroid cancer are not increasing.

What’s left, then, is a bunch of celebrity anti-nuclear power activists at the Radiation and Public Health Project — including the likes of Alec Baldwin and Christie Brinkley — seemingly bent on scaring people about nuclear power for no good reason.

Since they believe that man made carbon dioxide emissions drive climate change, you’d think that they would embrace nuclear power as a carbon-free form of generating electricity. Brinkley says that:

“unless we stop global warming in the next 10 to 20 years, our children face a future so bleak and frightening, it brings tears to my eyes just to think of it.”

Baldwin narrated a National Geographic documentary that likened global warming to “doomsday.”

If Baldwin and Brinkley really believe that humans are causing catastrophic global warming, it would seem that they ought to be scaring up, not scaring off support for nuclear power.


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The Futility of Hybrid Cars

Could plug-in hybrid cars actually increase greenhouse gas emissions? Is energy efficiency being oversold as a greenhouse gas reduction measure? A new report from the research arm of Congress raises troubling questions about the direction in which President Obama is taking us.

Produced by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Carbon Control in the U.S. Electricity Sector: Key Implementation Uncertainties provides the lowdown on a variety of carbon control options for the electric power sector, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear power, advanced coal technology, carbon capture and sequestration, plug-in hybrid vehicles and small-scale power generation technologies.

President Obama has proposed that we reduce our CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. For the electric power sector, this goal translates to reducing what is projected to be 2.6 billion metric tons of CO2 emitted in 2020 to approximately the 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2 that were emitted in 1990—a more than 30 percent reduction in emissions over a period of about 10 years.

Could this goal be achieved through gains in energy efficiency? Numerous private and government sources have claimed, after all, that 25- to 30-percent gains in efficiency are possible over a 5- to 15-year time horizon. But according to the CRS, “the diffuse nature of efficiency opportunity and the economic complexity of decision making” has historically made moving beyond the 5 percent to 7 percent electricity savings range “a persistent challenge to conservation proponents.” Although more aggressive policies could be attempted, the CRS says, there is “little track record upon which to base projections of future effectiveness.”

The CRS considered wind power and biomass as renewable energy sources. The main problem with wind, according to the report, is that while proponents assert wind could provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs, the U.S. electricity transmission network is already much constrained, with wind power producing only 1 percent of those needs. As much as 19,000 miles of new transmission lines would be needed to make wind work. The price tag—a net present value of $26 billion—isn’t the showstopper so much as public challenges to transmission line projects, which the CRS describes as “among the most serious and intractable challenges in the U.S. energy sector.”

The prospects for biofuels are worse. The CRS report cites sources that say a significant increase in biofuel production “would require harvesting various energy crops at a scale that vastly exceeds current practice.” A 2007 study from MIT estimated that as much as 500 million acres of land would be required, which would displace so much cropland that the U.S. would have to become a “substantial agricultural importer.”

Heavy use of biofuels, it seems, would simply move us from depending on foreign oil to depending on foreign food.

Nuclear power? Given the facts of green opposition to nuclear power and the decline in U.S. nuclear infrastructure over the last 30 years, the optimistic view for nuclear power is that we could perhaps build as many as 30 new U.S. reactors by 2030—fewer than half the number constructed during the 1963-1985 heyday of nuclear construction. The pessimistic view, as cited by the CRS, is that we aren’t likely to see a serious ramp up of nuclear power for 15 to 20 years.

Although advanced coal technology can reduce CO2 emissions, the plants “still burn coal and—absent carbon capture technology—still release large volumes of CO2 to the atmosphere,” observes the CRS. So what about carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)? Should we hold our breath waiting for it? Not according to the CRS. Hardly anyone expects the first CCS projects to be constructed before 2020. Then again, there are so many hurdles for CCS to overcome, “one just has to put a big question mark on it,” the CRS cited a Department of Energy official as saying.

What about plug-in hybrid vehicles? When he was running for president, Obama pledged to put 1 million of the vehicles on the road by 2015. Aside from the question of how popular they’ll be with a projected retail price of $40,000 (as compared to $23,000 for a conventional vehicle), will they actually reduce carbon emissions? Only if the power plants they get electricity from produce little if any carbon. But since most U.S. electricity production is not carbon-free, the CRS observes that the “widespread adoption of plug-in hybrid vehicles through 2030 may have only a small effect on, and might actually increase, net CO2 emissions.”

The final carbon control options addressed by the CRS are the so-called “distributed energy resources” like rooftop solar panels, fuel cells, natural gas microturbines, small scale wind turbines, and combined heat and power systems (CHP), which makes productive use of “waste” heat from electricity generation. Of these resources, only CHP is economical, accounting for nearly 9 percent of U.S. electricity generating capacity in 2007. But according to the CRS, even CHP often faces technical and utility infrastructure barriers to implementation.

Combined with the dubious reasoning behind calls to reduce CO2 emissions—check out this YouTube video produced by—and repeated avowals by China and India to not make any special efforts to reduce their CO2 emissions, the CRS report makes clear that significant U.S. carbon reduction could very well be little more than an expensive and painful exercise in futility.


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Al Gore and Venus Envy

Al Gore has a new argument for why carbon dioxide is the global warming boogeyman—and it’s simply out of this world.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday with yet another one of his infamous slide shows, Gore observed that the carbon dioxide (CO2) in Venus’ atmosphere supercharges the second-planet-from-the-sun’s greenhouse effect, resulting in surface temperatures of about 870 degrees Fahrenheit. Gore added that it’s not Venus’ proximity to the Sun that makes the planet much warmer than the Earth, because Mercury, which is even closer to the Sun, is cooler than Venus. Based on this rationale, then, Gore warned that we need to stop emitting CO2 into our own atmosphere.

Incredibly, not a Senator on the Committee questioned—much less burst into outright laughter at—Gore’s absurd point. In fact, each Senator who spoke at the hearing, including Republicans, offered little but fawning praise for Gore. It’s hard to know whether the hearing’s lovefest was simply an example of the Senate’s exaggerated sense of collegiality, appalling ignorance and gullibility about environmental science, or fear of appearing to be less green than Gore.

It is true that atmospheric CO2 warms both Venus and the Earth, but that’s about where the CO2 commonality between the two planets ends. While the Venusian atmosphere is 97 percent CO2 (970,000 parts per million), the Earth’s atmosphere is only 0.038 percent CO2 (380 parts per million). So the Venusian atmosphere’s CO2 level is more than 2,557 times greater than the Earth’s. And since the CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere is increasing by only about 2 parts per million annually, our planet is hardly being Venus-ized.

Gore’s incorporation of Mercury in his argument is equally specious because Mercury doesn’t really have any greenhouse gases in its atmosphere that would capture the radiation it gets from the Sun. As a result, the daily temperature on Mercury varies from about 840 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to about -275 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Mercury’s daily temperature swing actually belies Gore’s unqualified demonization of greenhouse gases, whose heat trapping characteristics tend to stabilize climate and prevent wild temperature fluctuations.

The significance of Gore’s testimony is that the Venus scenario seems to be his new basis for claiming that CO2 drives the Earth’s climate and, hence, his call that we must stop emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. At no time did he refer to his two An Inconvenient Truth-era arguments concerning the relationship between CO2 and global temperature—that is, the Antarctic ice core record that goes back 650,000 years and the 20th century temperature/CO2 record. There’s good reason for his apparent abandonment of these arguments—presented fairly, both actually debunk global warming alarmism. (Note: This YouTube video that I produced explains this point.)

Gore seemed to “wow” the Senate Committee with images and projections of environmental and even political upheaval allegedly already caused and to be caused in the future by climate change, such as melting glaciers and the 2007 fires in Greece that, Gore says, almost brought down the government. Gore repeatedly said that global warming threatens the “future of human civilization” and could bring it to a “screeching halt” in this century. Gore said that we are on a fossil fuel “rollercoaster” that is headed for a “crash.” We are near a “tipping point,” he said, beyond which human civilization isn’t possible on this planet.

Such melodrama, of course, is necessary to conceal and distract from the fact that there is no scientific evidence indicating that manmade emissions of CO2 are having any detectable impact, much less any harm, on the Earth’s climate or its population.

During his testimony, Gore invoked the specter of James Hansen, NASA’s global warming alarmist-in-chief, to bolster his climate claims. But like the ice core and 20th century temperature records, Hansen may soon have to be dropped from Gore’s presentations.

Hansen’s former NASA supervisor—atmospheric scientist Dr. John S. Theon, who recently announced that he is skeptical of global warming alarmism—recently wrote to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee staffer Marc Morano that, “Hansen…violated NASA’s official agency position on climate forecasting (i.e., we did not know enough to forecast climate change or mankind’s effect on it) … [and] thus embarrassed NASA by coming out with his claims of global warming in 1988 in his testimony before Congress.”

Commenting on another key deficiency in the manmade catastrophic global warming hypothesis, Theon also observed that “[climate] models do not realistically simulate the climate system … some scientists have manipulated the observed data to justify their model results … This is clearly contrary to how science should be done … Thus there is no rational justification for using climate model forecasts to determine public policy.”

The same could be said for Gore and his slide shows.

Venus envy? Yeah, why not? There’s no Al Gore there.

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Zero-Calorie Sin?

If you thought the food nannies’ appetite for dictating what beverages you may enjoy would be satisfied by their crusade against regular, sugar-sweetened soda, think again. Their new battle cry is shaping up to be, “None of the calories but all of the sin.”

Government-funded researchers led by the University of Texas’ Jennifer Nettleton analyzed diet and health data collected from 6,814 adults and reported in the journal Diabetes Care (Jan. 16) that daily consumption of diet soda was associated with “significantly greater” risks of type 2 diabetes and “metabolic syndrome.”

Although the researchers perfunctorily acknowledged that their study doesn’t prove a causal connection between diet soda and health problems, they nevertheless spent a great deal of space suggesting why their results might be plausible.

They hypothesized that artificial sweeteners may: “increase hedonistic desires for sweetness and more energy dense foods”; reduce dietary guilt and facilitate the overconsumption of other foods; and affect biological processes related to insulin resistance, glucose regulation and weight gain.

Though they acknowledged that “empirical data have not universally supported” the first two hypotheses and that studies are “lacking” concerning the last hypothesis, none of this seemed to dissuade them from proclaiming that their results were consistent with “accumulating evidence of the existence of these associations.”

But rather than hypothesizing—or fantasizing—about why their results might be plausible and consistent, they should have taken a harder, more objective look at their data and statistics.

First, their reported statistical correlations between daily diet soda consumption and diabetes and metabolic syndrome—67 percent and 36 percent increases in “relative risk,” respectively—are too small to be considered as reliable indicators of any sort of real-life associations. As the National Cancer Institute once went to pains to point out in a press release, “In epidemiologic research, [increases in risk of less than 100 percent] are considered small and usually difficult to interpret. Such increases may be due to chance, statistical bias or effects of confounding factors that are sometimes not evident.”

That suite of deficiencies is precisely the problem with the study and, for that matter, the several prior studies the researchers generously referred to as “accumulating evidence.”

Diabetes and metabolic syndrome are common conditions that are multifactorial in origin and, therefore, difficult to study through epidemiologic analysis. The researchers admitted that not all risk factors were considered. Overlooked, for example, was the confounding factor of genetics, a key risk factor for both type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Data on the study subjects’ genetics, such as family medical history, wasn’t collected and factored into the statistical analysis. Could this omission be important?

It is clear from the study analysis that the more confounding factors the researchers considered, the weaker their statistical correlations became. Had a more complete and thorough data collection and analysis been undertaken, it’s quite possible that even their weak correlations would have entirely evaporated.

Another glaring problem is that the researchers don’t really know how much diet soda any study subject consumed during the 8-year-long study. Instead, they relied only on study subject guesstimates of consumption made at the beginning of the study period.

While the study doesn’t appear to add anything meaningful to what we know about diet and health, it will no doubt add grist to the growing campaign against diet soda that was launched by a 2005 report, also from University of Texas researchers.

That study reported that diet soda drinkers were at greater risk of obesity than sugar-sweetened soda drinkers and concluded that artificial sweeteners “might be fueling—rather than fighting—our escalating obesity epidemic.” It was an awfully big conclusion to be drawn from a study where, among other deficiencies, the study subjects’ consumption of diet beverages was once again guesstimated, rather than verified or validated by the researchers.

But if a study has been published, it must be true, right?

In its January 2009 issue, the self-proclaimed “healthy lifestyle” magazine, Prevention, labeled diet soda a “health food impostor” and stated that, “Drinking just one can or bottle a day increases your risk of metabolic syndrome, which packs on heart-unhealthy belly fat. Sip flavored seltzer water instead. Steer clear of those sparkling waters that contain artificial sweeteners: they’re just diet soda in disguise.”

The Idaho-Statesman (Jan. 13) ran a column from the “YOU Docs”—Mike Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D.—that warned readers, “See those people in the soda aisle? They all have something in common: a higher risk of heart disease. And you may be one of them, even if you drink only one 12-ounce soft drink daily—be it regular or diet.”

New York Governor David Paterson recently proposed to tax non-diet sodas based on dubious claims about their role in weight gain. It’s not too hard to figure out where the junk science railroad may be headed next.

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Browner: Redder Than Obama Knows

Editor’s note:  see the Canadian connection with the Socialist International group in the J-Log entry here (in item #3)

Incoming White House energy-environment czar Carol Browner was recently discovered to be a commissioner in Socialist International. While that revelation has been ignored by the mainstream media and blithely dismissed by her supporters, you may soon be paying the cost of Browner’s political beliefs in your electricity bill.

Socialist International is precisely what it sounds like—a decidedly anti-capitalistic political cause. Founded in 1951, its organizing document rails against capitalism, asserting that it “has been incapable of satisfying the elementary needs of the world’s population … unable to function without devastating crises and mass unemployment … produced social insecurity and glaring contrasts between rich and poor … [and] resorted to imperialist expansion and colonial exploitation.…” Socialist International also asserts, “In some countries, powerful capitalist groups helped the barbarism of the past to raise its head again in the form of Fascism and Nazism.” So Socialist International at least partly blames Adolph Hitler on capitalism.

According to its own principles, Socialist International favors the nationalization of industry, is skeptical of the benefits of economic growth and wants to establish a more “equitable international economic order.” In true Marxist form, it asserts that, “The concentration of economic power in few private hands must be replaced by a different order in which each person is entitled—as citizen, consumer or wage-earner—to influence the direction and distribution of production, the shaping of the means of production, and the conditions of working life.”

There’s much more in Socialist International’s principles, but you get the idea.

So what does all this have to do with your electricity bill? In late-December, Carbon Control News reported that Browner was a “strong backer” of utility “decoupling,” which had emerged as a “key climate policy priority for Obama.”

What is utility decoupling? The profits of electric utility companies have traditionally depended on the amount of electricity sold; basically, the more power that is sold, the more profit that is earned. The productivity-profitability link is a logical and standard business principle that is easy to understand, easy to implement and that has worked for, well, millennia in myriad business ventures—but no more for electric utilities, if Browner has her way.

Browner wants to sever, or decouple, a utility’s profits from the amount of electricity it sells. More electricity means more coal and natural gas burning, which, according to green dogma, means more greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. So Browner believes that less electricity production is, at least, a partial answer to climate change. But less electricity would mean less profitability for electric utilities, a powerful Washington lobby that Browner can ill afford to antagonize.

To date, the electric utility industry has aided and abetted the climate alarmist cause, if not by actually lobbying for global warming regulation, then at least by its willingness to entertain such regulation as public policy worthy of serious consideration. But since endangering utility profits would likely galvanize the industry once and for all against emissions regulation, the green dilemma boils down to figuring out a way to reduce electricity sales while guaranteeing utility profits. Enter decoupling.

How would decoupling actually function in practice? There are several different schemes for decoupling, but their tedious complexity precludes elaboration here. But the schemes all essentially amount to the same thing—sticking it to ratepayers and taxpayers. This should come as no surprise, when you stop to think about it.

Decoupling involves government guaranteeing electric utilities steady or steadily increasing profits for selling less electricity. That means implementing one of three basic scenarios: (1) consumers paying more for less electricity; (2) electricity prices remaining steady and taxpayers being called upon to subsidize the difference between the profits from actual electricity sales and the profits guaranteed by government; or (3) some combination of the two. There are no other possibilities.

Decoupling advocates assert that the consumers can avoid higher electric bills through “voluntary conservation measures”—that is, you can lower your bill by using less power. It’s a specious assertion since consumers will still pay higher rates for the electricity they use. Moreover, “voluntary conservation” is not necessarily without cost. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs, insulation, weather stripping, solar panels and other electricity conservation efforts all can entail significant added costs that can take many years to pay for themselves.

Getting back to Browner, what could be more anti-capitalistic than to disassociate profits from sales? It’s often difficult enough to determine profits when they are tied to sales—ask any author or recording artist. Imagine the difficulty, arbitrariness and potential for gamesmanship, if not just plain fraud, involved with government-dictated profitability based on reducing productivity. In the case of electric utilities, already a most heavily regulated enterprise, even greater government regulation of the industry will be required, which, of course, is what a good socialist like Browner would want.

Perhaps what’s most troublesome about all this is the stealthiness. Less than a week after Browner was outed as a Socialist International muckety-muck, the group scrubbed its web site of her photo and evidence of her commission membership. And in the larger picture, it’s intellectually dishonest for advocates of socializing electric utilities to promote the euphemistic “decoupling” as if it were some novel solution rather than what it really is—a subversion of our capitalistic system.

You know, one might get the impression that there’s actually something wrong with, and embarrassing about, a key White House adviser advocating the undermining of a basic principle of our economic system.

Editor’s note:  see the Canadian connection with the Socialist International group in the J-Log entry here (in item #3)

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Time for a Surgeon General-ectomy?

President-elect Obama has reportedly chosen Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and one of People magazine’s “sexiest men alive,” for the post of surgeon general. Those aren’t the only reasons that the surgeon general’s position ought to be abolished.

The original version of the surgeon general position was created in 1870 to administer what was then known as the Marine Hospital System (MHS), which cared for sick and injured merchant seaman. The MHS, including a uniformed “Commission Corps” of physicians, was converted in 1902 into the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service, and its mission was expanded to medical inspection and quarantine of arriving immigrants, such as those landing at Ellis Island in New York.

In 1912, the Service was renamed the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) as its mission was further expanded to conduct investigations into infectious diseases (such as tuberculosis, hookworm, malaria, and leprosy), sanitation, water supplies, and sewage disposal. Between 1930 and 1944, the Commission Corps officers were expanded to include engineers, dentists, research scientists, nurses, and other health care specialists.

But in 1968, the surgeon general position fell victim to President Lyndon Johnson’s reorganization of the then-Department of Health Education and Welfare (HEW, or what is known today as the Department of Health and Human Services). The Office of Surgeon General that administered the PHS was scrapped, and responsibility for the PHS was assigned to the assistant secretary for health, who reported directly to the secretary of HEW. A position of “surgeon general” was then created to merely “advise” the assistant secretary on professional medical matters.

After almost two decades of more bureaucratic reshuffling — during which time the surgeon general was made a direct adviser of the secretary of HEW followed by the combining of the positions of surgeon general and assistant secretary for health in 1977 and their separation again in 1981 — the Office of the Surgeon General was re-established in 1987 with largely nominal responsibility for managing the PHS Commissioned Corps personnel.

The surgeon general doesn’t actually command all of the Commission Corps officers. Most of them work in other federal agencies — like the EPA, Coast Guard and Bureau of Prisons — and report directly to the various line managers in those agencies who may or may not be in the PHS.

Although C. Everett Koop attempted to revitalize the Corps in the late 1980s, the superfluous nature of the surgeon general position became glaringly obvious during the tenure of Jocelyn Elders, President Bill Clinton’s first surgeon general. Besides taking controversial positions on drug legalization and the distribution of contraceptives in schools, in early December 1994, Elders spoke in support of the teaching of masturbation. She was promptly fired by Clinton. The position of surgeon general remained vacant for three years, until Clinton nominated David Satcher.

At the time of Satcher’s nomination, the Cato Institute’s Dr. Michael Gough and I observed in a Wall Street Journal column, “We have not had a surgeon general for three years. Has anyone noticed? Is anyone’s health at risk?”

The answer, of course, was that no one’s health was at risk and, in fact, the U.S. public health had never been better. Life expectancy was at an all-time high. Death rates from cancer, heart disease and AIDS were falling. This trend continues today, no thanks to whatever it is that the surgeon general does. And, by the way, what exactly has the current surgeon general been doing?

Judging by 23 of the 32 press releases issued from his office during 2008, Acting Surgeon General Steven Galson has spent a great deal of time traveling coast-to-coast promoting the “Healthy Youth for a Healthy Future” project, which “focuses on recognizing and showcasing those communities throughout the nation that are addressing childhood overweight and obesity prevention by helping kids stay active, encouraging healthy eating habits, and promoting healthy choices.”

So let’s look at a few examples of Surgeon General Galson in action:

In Harrisonburg, Pa., Galson presented, “… the Healthy Youth for a Healthy Future Champion Award to the Girls Golf Program, a partnership between the Ladies Professional Golf Association, the United States Golf Association, James Madison University, and Mulligan’s Golf Center.” The media release continued: “This program is helping local girls and women stay physically active, gain self-confidence, and develop lasting friendships, while fostering an enjoyment for the game of golf.”

At Disney World, Galson honored the Walt Disney Company for removing trans fats from the foods on its menu and for making sure that the use of the Disney name and its characters is limited to kid-focused products that meet specific guidelines that limit calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar.”

In New Mexico, Galson honored a wellness center that “will help students stay fit and healthy using new tools such as exer-gaming and interactive stationary bicycles.”

So over the last 96 years, the Surgeon General has gone from working on genuine public health problems (infectious disease, clean water and sanitation) to advocating golf, Mickey Mouse-less food and beverage containers and video exercise games as public health measures.

It may very well be that Gupta’s celebrity — apparently his unique qualification to hold office — makes him the ideal nominee to continue the Office of Surgeon General’s downward trajectory into obscurity and oblivion. On the other hand, if Gupta were really serious about advising Americans on health matters, he would stay at CNN where he could reach more people on any given day than he could by traveling the country handing out dubious prizes that amount to little more than corporate public relations.

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Let There Be Dark?

Some astronomers seem to be willing to say and do just about anything just to get a better look at the heavens, including making city streets safer for criminals.

In a commentary in Nature magazine (Jan. 1) presaging the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, astronomer Malcolm Smith says that it’s time for cities to “turn off the lights” wo we can better see the Milky Way, conserve energy, protect wildlife and benefit human health. Smith is part of the so-called Dark Skies Awareness project, an international coalition of astronomers and related institutions that wants to “find allies in a common cause to convince authorities and the public that a dark sky is a valuable resource for everyone.”

“A fifth of the world’s population cannot see the Milky Way,” is Smith’s headline argument. “This has a subtle cultural impact. Without a direct view of the stars, mankind is cut off from most of the Universe, deprived of any direct sense of its huge scale and our tiny place within it,” he asserts.

That fuzzy mix of cosmology, sociology and psychology would seem to be an odd argument coming from someone who holds himself out to be a scientist. Odder still is Smith’s subsequent statement that, “Our relationship with artificial light is complicated and changing. Humans innately fear the darkness and modern society relies on light as a security measure, even though there is no evidence that controlling light wastage increases crime levels.”

Moving past the term “controlling light wastage,” which seems to be little more than a euphemism for darker city streets, plenty of data link dim urban areas with higher crime rates. A 2004 study in the Journal of British Criminology, for example, studied 13 U.S. and British cities and concluded that improved street lighting, on average, was associated with a 20 percent decrease in crime. In contrast, I could find no data linking the inability to see the Milky Way with any sort of harm to anyone.

Smith next asserts that skyscraper lighting kills millions of migratory birds in North America. An “unnecessary annual slaughter,” he calls it. But his source for that factoid, the Fatal Light Awareness Program, doesn’t even place building lighting in its “Top 13” risks to birds. Glass windows are first (purportedly killing more than 900 million birds per year), followed by power lines (174 million), hunting (more than 100 million), house cats (100 million), cars and trucks (100 million), pesticides and cutting hay (67 million), communications towers (4 to 10 million), oil and gas drilling (1 to 2 million), land development (unknown), livestock water tanks (unknown), logging and mining (unknown), commercial fishing (unknown) and power line electrocution (more than 1,000).

It seems that if Smith were genuinely concerned about birds he would also be promoting windowless buildings, catless homes, hayless farms and other similar “awareness” projects. But there’s more to Smith’s argument for making urban areas more dangerous in the name of enabling urbanite contemplation of the Milky Way.

Smith suggests that city lights increase cancer risk by reducing the normal production of the hormone melatonin, “a suppressant of cell division in cancer tissues,” he asserts. But alleging a link between melatonin levels and cancer risk is speculation, not fact. To support this conjecture, Smith cites a 2007 article in the Journal of Pineal Research that vaguely concluded, “The increasing prevalence of exposure to light at night has significant social, ecological, behavioral and health consequences that are only now becoming apparent.”

Putting millennia of nighttime candle and torch illumination aside, we’ve been lighting street and indoor lights with gas since 1807 and with electricity since the 1880s. If night lighting was a genuine and significant problem, you’d think someone would have noticed by now. Moreover, improved and increased night lighting in developed countries over the last 200 years has coincided with more than a doubling of life expectancy, the most objective indicator of public health. As you can readily see from this map image of nighttime lighting around the planet, it’s the darkest populated areas that tend to be the least healthy and poorest.

Although Smith only briefly mentions energy conservation and energy-efficient lighting in his article, a visit to the Dark Skies Awareness project Web page reveals that the project is partnering with the World Wildlife Fund to promote global warming alarmism. The precise point of intersection for the two groups’ agendas is the upcoming “Earth Hour” on March 29, when they hope “tens of millions of people around the world will come together once again to make a bold statement about their concern about climate change by… turning off their lights for one hour.”

Dark Skies states that, “Earth Hour symbolizes that by working together, each of us can make a positive impact in the fight against climate change. Here in the US, it sends a message that Americans care about this issue and stand with the rest of the world in seeking to find solutions to the escalating climate crisis.”

The term “escalating climate crisis,” however, can only justifiably be referring to global warming alarmism rather than manmade temperature increases. Average global temperature, after all, has trended downward over the last five years despite the ever-increasing output of manmade greenhouse gases.

If Smith’s article is what passes for scientific thinking among the Dark Skies crowd, perhaps they ought to consider renaming the group the Dark Ages Advocacy project.

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New York’s Soda Tax Scam

New York Governor David Paterson has proposed to levy an 18 percent tax on non-diet soft drinks under the guise of combating obesity. Government doesn’t get much more cynical than this.

After alleging that “almost one in four New Yorkers under age 18 are obese,” Paterson’s budget proposal for 2009-2010 asserts that, “Significant price increases should discourage individuals, especially children and teenagers, from consumption and help fight obesity which results in higher risk for diabetes and heart disease.” So the purpose of the tax, according to proposal, is to discourage people from drinking non-diet soft drinks.

The proposal then estimates that the tax will raise $404 million during 2009-2010 and — get this — $539 million during 2010-2011. Since tax revenues from non-diet soft drink sales are budgeted to increase rather than decrease — as one might expect from the alleged purpose of the tax — Paterson actually seems to be counting on the tax not working. Combating obesity is not grounds for the tax; it is, instead, camouflage for it — and not very good camouflage at that.

In his Dec. 18 New York Times paean to the tax, columnist Nicholas Kristof ominously intoned that, “The average American consumes about 35 gallons of non-diet soda each year and gets more added sugar from soda than from desserts.”

But that 35 gallons works out to about a can of non-diet soda (containing about 140 calories) per day. Is a can of non-diet soda per day something to worry about? If common sense is not enough to answer that question, then consider the food recommendations made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In its dietary guidelines for Americans — a.k.a. the “Food Pyramid” [link edited Feb 18 2015] — the USDA recommends the servings that should be consumed daily from different food groups, including fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, milk and oils. The USDA makes these recommendations for different levels of individual daily calorie consumption, starting at a 1,000-calorie-per-day diet and going up to a 3,200 calorie-per-day diet.

In addition to fruits, vegetables, grains and the other food groups, the USDA also includes a category labeled, “Discretionary calorie allowance,” which constitutes the calories left over for each diet level after consuming the recommended amounts from the other food groups. Someone who should consume 1,000 calories per day and who ate the recommended portions of fruits, grains, meats, milk and oils would only have consumed 835 calories. That person would have 165 calories left over for discretionary eating — more than enough room for a 140-calorie can of non-diet soda. At the high-end of daily calorie consumption, someone who is on a 3,200-calorie-per-day diet would have a discretionary calorie allowance of 648 calories — more than 4.5 cans of non-diet soda.

The bottom line is that, all calories being equal, a can of non-diet soda per day — that is, Kristof’s ominous 35 gallons per year — is well with the guidelines of the USDA’s Food Pyramid for most people and so cannot be viewed as a persuasive factoid in support of Paterson’s proposed tax.

Kristof is also way off base in his effort to liken non-diet soft drinks to tobacco. “These days,” Kristof asserts, “sugary drinks are to American health roughly what tobacco was a generation ago.” Kristof then quotes long-time food nanny Barry Popkin, who says, “Soft drinks are linked to diabetes and obesity in the way that tobacco is to lung cancer.”

As this column has pointed out before, there simply is no scientific basis for concluding that non-diet drinks cause obesity or diabetes. The National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2002 that, “There is no clear and consistent association between increased intake of added sugars and [body weight].” And this remains true today.

An August 2008 review of research on soft drinks and weight gain by Emily Wolff (Boston University School of Medicine) and Michael Dansinger (Tufts University) concluded, “Sugar-sweetened soft drink intake has increased dramatically during the past few decades, yet the magnitude of the weight gain and adverse health effects by soft drinks are poorly understood due to a paucity of clinical trial data… which would be necessary to demonstrate a causal link between sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption and weight gain.” The translation is that despite decades of research — including at least five clinical trials — into the health effects of soft drinks, scientists still can’t identify any specific harm with any certainty.

Public health scolds unfortunately often try to blacken and intimidate anyone who disagrees with them by likening them to the tobacco industry. But to the extent there is any deceit-in-the-name-of-money being practiced in the case of non-diet drinks, that charge is more appropriately laid at the feet of the New York Governor and his supporters in the media and public health industry. If this group was sincere about its concern for obese children, it would do something other than just exploiting them as a means of raising money for the state.

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EPA Goes Man-Hunting

It’s little wonder why the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list doesn’t include anyone accused of breaking federal environmental laws. It’s hard to argue that a father-son team accused of illegally importing Alfa Romeo sports cars that don’t meet U.S. tailpipe emissions standards is the criminal equivalent of the likes of Usama bin Laden or the other hardened sociopaths for whom the FBI warns the public to remain on the lookout.

But the Environmental Protection Agency has now cured its apparent case of outlaw-envy with the launch of its own “Wanted” list last week. Hoping to “track down environmental fugitives,” the agency wants to “increase the number of ‘eyes’ looking for environmental fugitives.”

In addition to the Alfa Romeo Gang believed to be hiding out in Italy (so remain alert on your next visit to Tuscany), the EPA wants us to keep an eye out for Mauro Valenzuela, an airplane mechanic criminally charged for improperly loading oxygen canisters thought to have caused the tragic 1996 crash of ValuJet flight 592.

But converting the crash into an environmental crime seems a stretch. The EPA apparently views the canister loading as “illegal transportation of hazardous material.” In any event, Valenzuela’s boss and co-worker were eventually acquitted of the same criminal counts. The only reason Valenzuela also wasn’t acquitted was because he panicked and fled to parts unknown before trial. He is, in effect, a fugitive from his own innocence—but he is wanted by the EPA nonetheless.

The rest of the EPA’s fugitives appear to be mostly hapless immigrants now believed to be “hiding” oversees in places like Syria, Mexico, India, Greece, Poland and China. They’re wanted for a variety of alleged infractions, including smuggling banned refrigerants, discharging waste into sewers, lying to the Coast Guard about a ship’s waste oil management system, transporting hazardous waste without a manifest, and creating false official documents.

While the EPA’s fugitives certainly appear to be a motley lot who may have broken a variety of environmental regulations, often unwittingly, one can’t help but wonder whether the EPA’s Wanted list is not only over-the-top, but where the agency is headed.

We, of course, don’t want people breaking environmental laws, however technical or trivial, but there’s hardly a moral equivalence between a food delivery man who, in a panic, drained 32 gallons of gasoline into a storm sewer and Islamic terrorists who have declared war on America.

The list’s creation seems a furtherance of the Greens’ larger campaign to plant the idea within the public’s mind that all environmental “transgressions” fall along a criminal continuum.

Unlike the FBI’s Wanted list, which spotlights a number of truly dangerous characters accused of causing actual harm to real people—murder, kidnapping, rape, child molestation, armed robbery and the like—the EPA’s fugitives are wanted for violations that seem to have caused little, if any, harm to anyone or the environment.

It’s too bad, however, that you can’t say the same thing about the EPA’s Enforcement Division.

In September 1988, the EPA had John Pozsgai indicted for removing more than 5,000 old tires from his property and spreading dirt where the tires had been. Although Pozsgai’s land was bordered by two major highways, a tire dealership and an automobile salvage yard, the EPA considered his land a federally protected “wetland” because of a drainage ditch running along the edge of his property. Though the ditch was mostly dry, it flooded during heavy rain, and the EPA considered it a stream. When Pozsgai filled the ditch without a permit, EPA undercover agents secretly filmed the dump trucks that delivered the topsoil. Though his actions didn’t create any pollution, endanger any species or water quality, Pozsgai was sentenced to three years in prison and fined more than $200,000.

In 1997, nearly two dozen federal agents, armed with semiautomatic pistols, showed up at James Knott’s wire-mesh manufacturing plant in Massachusetts. Knott was indicted on two counts of violating the Clean Water Act for allegedly pumping acidic water into the town sewer system. The EPA publicly condemned Knott and warned that his conviction could result in up to six years in prison and a $1.5 million fine. The case was subsequently dropped when it was discovered that the EPA had omitted vital information from the search warrant information indicating that Knott wasn’t violating the law.

What is the future of eco-crime? A man in the U.K. was fined $215 for leaving the lid of his trash can ajar by more than three inches. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed last July to deputize garbage men to fine people as much as $1,000 for mixing trash with recyclables. Garbage cops, however, pale in comparison to the call earlier this year by NASA’s global warming alarmist, James Hansen, to put the CEOs of oil and coal companies on trial for “high crimes against humanity and nature”—a sentiment first broached in 2006 by a blogger for Grist magazine who called for a “climate Nuremburg” for those who have questioned the need for global warming regulation. Is this really the direction in which we want to go?

It could just be that the real threat to society comes not from a couple of guys selling a few European sports cars that don’t meet stringent U.S. tailpipe standards, but those who use the environment as an excuse to commit crime like, say, the elusive Earth Liberation Front (ELF) terrorists whose arson and vandalism targets have included homes, university buildings, a ski lodge, SUVs, SUV dealerships and more. What’s the EPA doing about ELF?

If the EPA needs a Wanted list, how about making it a “Help Wanted” list in search of Enforcement Division employees with some perspective?

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Pickens Hops Aboard Public Health Bandwagon

Has public health replaced patriotism as the new “last refuge of scoundrels”?

T. Boone Pickens’ self-enrichment plan to switch America into natural gas-powered cars and wind power was initially advertised as a means to wean America off foreign oil. When the plan was announced last July, oil had spiked to $147 per barrel, and Pickens’ TV ads blamed our oil “addiction” for a $700 billion annual “wealth transfer” to foreigners.

But what a difference five months makes.

Oil prices have since plummeted to below $50 per barrel, vaporizing any price advantage of natural gas over conventional gasoline. Frozen credit markets have blocked Pickens from the private financing needed to build wind farms. His own financial resources have suffered as many investors pulled out of Pickens’ hedge fund, BP Capital, after losses of as much as 60 percent.

But Pickens seems to have a “Plan B”: he’s re-casting wind power as a public health crusade, apparently hoping to obtain taxpayer financing from the Obama administration.

Toward that goal, the American Lung Association (ALA) endorsed the Pickens Plan this week. Chairman Steve Nolan claimed that “millions of Americans are consistently exposed to pollution levels that are scientifically proven to be harmful. [The ALA] applauds Mr. Pickens’ goal … because cleaner energy will make our air healthier to breathe.”

The ALA media release said that “Cars, trucks, heavy equipment, factories, power plants and other sources burn coal and oil and bombard the air with smog, soot, carcinogens, toxic chemicals and metals. Breathing dirty air causes hospitalizations, asthma attacks, heart attacks and lung cancer, as well as shortening the lives of tens of thousands of people in this country every year….”

Added Pickens: “The ALA tells me that well over 125 million people live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution.”

Also chiming in was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who, invoking the specter of childhood asthma, said, “Stopping the pollution that chokes out children’s lungs… will ensure a… healthier future for New York City.”

While a thorough debunking of the myth that current U.S. air quality levels are associated with health problems is beyond the scope of this column, we can examine Bloomberg’s indictment of New York’s air quality as a cause of asthma.

The city’s air quality has been cast as a health threat since at least the Great Depression. A 1931 report by the NYC health commissioner hypothesized that air pollution “played a large role in the production of asthma.” But this assertion was never proven true.

An October 1962 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined hospitalizations for asthma during a November 1953 spike in NYC air pollution. No increase in hospital visits was identified. After a November 1966 “air pollution emergency,” the New York Times editorialized that the city had “good fortune in escaping serious harm to the health of its residents.”

Amid a July 1970 spike in air pollution, the New York Times reported that, “There is no evidence yet to show that this week’s foul air in New York City has led to increased deaths or sickness, according to the city Health Department.” The Times also noted that, “while suspicions [that air pollution aggravates emphysema, bronchitis and arteriosclerosis] continue, there still is no direct scientific evidence that air pollution can initiate disease of the lungs or other organs in an otherwise healthy person.”

The Times’ report was published six weeks after the federal Clean Air Act of 1970 was enacted—since which time U.S. air pollution levels have dropped dramatically, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet the ALA, Pickens and Bloomberg apparently would have us believe that current air quality is “choking children.” This claim is not supported by Bloomberg’s own Department of Health and Hygiene, which acknowledges that it doesn’t know what causes or triggers asthma.

While the ALA is correct that many people live in areas that, for one reason or another, don’t meet strict federal air quality standards 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, it’s important to remember that these standards are designed as attainable regulatory goals, not scientifically based health standards. There is no evidence that typical violations of air quality standards endanger the public health whatsoever.

The ALA’s interest in air pollution may, of course, be more related to its own financial health than the public health. When the ALA began in 1904, tuberculosis was its concern. Later, smoking became its focus. But the ALA’s success on those fronts has left a mission void which, as this column reported in 2001, is being partly filled with environmental activism for which it has received financial support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So far, Pickens has not made a donation to the ALA and was not asked to do so, an organization spokesman told me. My call to Pickens’ media person was not returned.

Pickens said in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last July that his plan could be implemented through private—as opposed to taxpayer—investment. But in a Reuters interview this week, he said, “‘Where’s the money?’ is the question. I don’t know how we’ll do it. I’m anxious to see what Obama comes up with. There’s no money to finance a wind project now.”

Pickens-the-billionaire apparently hopes to pick the taxpayer’s wallet through Obama’s promised public works stimulus package, which includes both green and infrastructure jobs. Pickens’ scheme would cover both bases, and he’s probably figuring that further coloring it as a public health measure can only help.

But air quality is not and never has been the public health culprit that some would like to make it out to be. That Pickens feels he needs to position his plan as a public health measure only further underscores its bankruptcy as public policy.

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