Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Trump to Undo Vehicle Rules That Target Global Warming

From the NYT

The Trump administration is expected to begin rolling back stringent federal regulations on vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming, according to people familiar with the matter, essentially marking a U-turn to efforts to force the American auto industry to produce more electric cars.

The announcement — which is expected as soon as Tuesday and will be made jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the transportation secretary, Elaine L. Chao — will immediately start to undo one of former President Barack Obama’s most significant environmental legacies.

During the same week, and possibly on the same day, Mr. Trump is expected to direct Mr. Pruitt to begin the more lengthy and legally complex process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s rules to cut planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The regulatory rollback on vehicle pollution will relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and will not require action by Congress. It will also have a major effect on the United States auto industry.

Under the Obama administration’s vehicle fuel economy standards, American automakers were locked into nearly a decade of trying to design and build ever more sophisticated fuel-efficient vehicles, including electric and hybrid models. The nation’s largest auto companies told Mr. Trump last month that they found those technical requirements too burdensome.

The E.P.A. will also begin legal proceedings to revoke a waiver for California that was allowing the state to enforce the tougher tailpipe standards for its drivers.

E.P.A. officials did not respond to emails requesting comment on the move.

On Feb. 21, a coalition of the 17 largest companies that sell cars in the United States sent two letters to Mr. Pruitt, asking him to revisit the tailpipe rules. They said it may be “the single most important decision the E.P.A. has made in recent history.”

They complained about the steep technical challenge posed by the stringent standard, noting that only about 3.5 percent of new vehicles are able to reach it. That even excludes some hybrid cars, plug-in electric cars and fuel cell vehicles, the automakers wrote. “Even today, no conventional vehicle today meets that target.”

The automakers estimated their industry would have to spend a “staggering” $200 billion between 2012 and 2025 to comply and said the tailpipe emissions rule was far more expensive for the industry than enforcing the Clean Power Plan.

Former Obama administration officials and environmentalists denounced Mr. Trump’s expected announcement.

“The rest of the world is moving forward with electric cars. If the Trump administration goes backward, the U.S. won’t be able to compete globally,” said Margo T. Oge, a former senior E.P.A. official and the author of “Driving the Future: Combating Climate Change With Cleaner, Smarter Cars.”

“This means they’ll just keep polluting,” said S. William Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. He also predicted that “if this administration goes after the California waiver, there will be an all-out brawl between Trump and California and the other states that will defend its program.”

The tailpipe pollution regulations were among Mr. Obama’s major initiatives to reduce global warming and were put forth jointly by the E.P.A. and the Transportation Department. They would have forced automakers to build passenger cars that achieve an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, compared with about 36 miles per gallon today.

Eventually achieving those targets would have drastically reduced the nation’s vehicle tailpipe pollution, which accounts for about a third of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions.

Those regulations are locked into place for vehicle model years through 2021, and just before Mr. Trump took office, the E.P.A. put forth a final rule intended to cement them for vehicles built from 2022 through 2025. However, the E.P.A. did not jointly release its plan to do so with the Transportation Department, leaving a legal loophole for the Trump administration to take advantage of.

The E.P.A.’s Clean Power Plan regulations, which would cut climate-warming pollution from power plants, will probably be much harder for Mr. Pruitt to undo. He will have to legally withdraw the existing rule and propose a new rule to replace it, a process that could take up to two years and is expected to be fraught with legal challenges and delays along the way.

The effort to undo the tailpipe standards will be much more legally simple. After withdrawing the Obama administration’s requirement for model years 2022 through 2025, the Trump administration will have a year to put forth an alternative set of efficiency standards, people familiar with the matter said.


Real climate science is very difficult and uncertain

The recent run of chilly rain and snow in the UAE seems to affirm the UN’s admission in 2013 of a decline in temperature rises. But the complexities of time and maths make it hard for scientists to say whether that is permanent.

Snowball fights in the UAE, snowless slopes in the Alps. Chilly winds in Dubai, balmy weather in Minnesota.

Another winter, another outbreak of weird weather. Still, that is climate change for you.

Or is it? Ask a local taxi driver and you may end up in a debate about how plunging temperatures can be squared with global warming.

So what do the experts say? At last month’s regional meeting of the World Meteorological Organisation in Abu Dhabi, the talk was of how warming Arctic air and declining sea ice is affecting the flows of air and seawater that influence the region’s weather.

In particular, the polar jetstream – the band of fast-moving air that can stop polar air from reaching farther south – has been flailing around like a snake in a sack, flipping the weather around in a heartbeat.

But do not expect climate experts to seize on the recent bout of freak weather and insist it must be man-made global warming. They know it is all more complex than that.

From the strange, barely predictable temperature changes in the Pacific, known as El Nino, to random upheaval, global warming is not the only influence on the weather.

And according to some, it may no longer be the threat it once was.

The idea that global warming may be grinding to a halt has been around for a decade, and is based on data collected from thousands of weather stations around the world. When plotted against time, the temperature measurements produce a zig-zag pattern, with some years cooler and others warmer than before. The long-term direction is clear enough, however: upwards.

But around 2007, some researchers began pointing out that the trend seemed to be breaking down.

Initially, many dismissed the claim as simply part of a denialist agenda to discredit the concept of global warming. Yet, as the years rolled by and more data came in, it became harder to dismiss.

In 2013, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agreed that a slowdown was under way. The data pointed to a warming rate from 1998 onwards that is barely half that of the previous half-century’s.

And for reasons unknown, the slowdown had not been predicted by computer models of the climate.

Unsurprisingly, climate-change sceptics seized on the IPCC’s “admission” as proof that the models could not be trusted to predict global warming.

Some scientists suspected, however, that the problem might lie elsewhere – namely, with the raw data.

In 2015, a team led by Thomas Karl, at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), pointed to changes in temperature measurement techniques that could have introduced subtle bias into the data.

Sure enough, once these were corrected, and new data from more sites added in, the slowdown vanished – suggesting the models were correct after all.

Although hardly a ringing endorsement of the reliability of global warming data, the NOAA’s findings were welcomed by many climatologists. Hard science, it seemed, had once again defeated the deniers.

But the story did not end there. Last year, the Nature Climate Change journal published work by another team that claimed the newly-corrected data were still biased – this time by subtle atmospheric influences on the Earth’s temperature.

When these were taken into account the slowdown appeared again, although less strongly and over different timescales.

Last month, the story took a more dramatic turn. A former data scientist at NOAA alleged the Karl paper had been rushed out without proper checks.

Whether the allegations are really all that serious remains unclear.

Sceptics view them as proof of the questionable nature of much climate research. Many climatologists dismiss them as nitpicking. One commentator even declared the whole controversy to be “fake news”.

Although that may be pushing it too far, the continuing debate does highlight the limitations of science as a means of checking “alternative facts”.

Those involved in research know that the scientific process is shockingly simple to subvert – inadvertently or otherwise.

For on the face of it, what could be simpler than telling whether something is getting hotter or not?

If your exposure to science stopped at school, you would know exactly what to do: stick a thermometer on it, measure the temperature over time and see if the resulting graph rises, falls or stays the same.

Telling if the entire Earth is getting warmer is a different ball game, however. Simply collecting readings from weather stations is not going to be enough: the data will be plentiful near towns and cities, far less so in remote areas – and virtually non-existent over much of the oceans, which cover most of the Earth’s surface.

Measuring the rate of warming raises another, tougher problem: what is the relevant timescale?

A few years are not long enough: the Earth’s climate is affected by a host of influences that ebb and flow from months to millennia.

Several decades of data are probably the minimum needed to reveal a genuine shift.

Certainly, claiming a hiatus in global warming on the basis of data from a handful of years is premature.

Finally, there is the problem of deciding if any detected trend is real or just a fluke.

The textbook way of deciding is to use so-called significance tests, statistical methods that show the chance of getting the observed results, assuming they are a fluke.

Yet statisticians have been warning researchers for decades that these techniques are prone to mistaking random noise for genuine effect.

They have come under renewed scrutiny recently because of their role in the so-called “replication crisis” in research, in which many highly cited advances fade away on reinvestigation.

Last year, the American Statistical Association took the unprecedented step of issuing a public warning about the dangers of using significance tests.

The argument over the strength of global warming shows how difficult climate research really is.

It also shows the naivety of thinking that on “hot button” issues such as global warming, science can debunk fake news in a flash.


Permian shale boom in Texas is devastating for alarmists

Where did "Hubbert's peak" go?

The Opec oil cartel is waking up to an unpleasant surprise. Shale output from the Permian Basin in Texas is expanding faster than the world thought humanly possible.

The scale threatens to neutralise output cuts agreed by Saudi Arabia and a Russian-led bloc last November, and ultimately threatens break their strategic lockhold on the global crude market for a generation.

"People just don't seem to realise how big the Permian is. It will eventually pass the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia, and that is the biggest in the world," said Scott Sheffield, founder of Pioneer Natural Resources and acclaimed 'King of the Permian'.

"We think it could produce 8-10m barrels a day (b/d) within ten years. We're telling our investors that Pioneer could reach one million," he said. Roughly 70pc of this would be crude oil, and the rest in gas and liquids.


Bias at The New York Times? ‘The Truth is Hard’ when reporting on bees and neonicotinoid pesticides

The line between deliberately manipulating a story and poorly reporting the facts is perilously thin.

At Sunday’s Oscars, the United States’ ‘paper of record’ launched an advertising blitz positioning itself as the highbrow ethical responder to the spate of so-called ‘fake news.’ “The truth is hard…to find…to know,” the add, widely circulated on YouTube, proclaimed, somberly.

It’s a powerful message, one that the public and the media should reflect upon—including the leadership at the Times itself. Whether a journalist presents a story in good faith but wrongly can be a matter of healthy debate. But increasingly, a more troubling ethical line is being crossed: some writers choose to arrange facts, or even invent them, in ways that grey out nuances to advance a storyline arrived at before independent reporting even commences.

That leaves the editor as the public’s final integrity life-line. But to fulfill their responsibility, editors need to be aware of their own biases, or they risk crossing over from being guardians of the truth to creators of biased or even fake news.

Which brings us to the New York Times’ coverage of food and farming issues, most recently its coverage of what has come to be known in recent years as “beemageddon”— concerns about the health of one of nature’s most important pollinators, the bee.

Are bees facing extinction as many environmental advocacy groups and some scientists claim; and are neonicotinoid pesticides the key reason behind their health problems, as many activists, and the Times, suggest?

Times’ Michael Pollan on presenting only one side of complex issues

Covering food and modern farming has not been the Times strong point. Journalist and foodie MIchael Pollan’s articles on the virtues of organic food and the dangers of ‘industrialized agriculture’ have been a Times’ staple since the early 2000s. In 2013, he bragged in a video interview with a fellow activist that he long has exploited the willingness of his editors to forego traditional vetting because they share his reflexive anti-industry perspective.

"The media has really been on our side for the most part. I know this from writing for the New York Times…. [W]hen I wrote about food I never had to give equal time to the other side. I could say whatever I thought and offer my own conclusions. Say you should buy grass fed beef and organic is better, and these editors in New York didn’t realize there is anyone who disagrees with that point of view. So, I felt like I got a free ride for a long time."

It’s startling that a reputable journalist would boast about manipulating editors who shared a reflexively and uncritical anti-industry—and in this case, an anti-science—worldview. Pollan went on to bemoan that because of pushback from the science community, he now finds it increasingly difficult to present only his biased side of the story:

"There is something called the Food Dialogues presented in various places to talk about how food is produced and greater transparency. … So, I think they have kind of spooked the newspapers into realizing they need to give equal time on this issue and it is an issue with two sides"

NY Times frames simplistic narrative on bee health controversy

Two recent Times articles on the swirling farm controversy about bee health and food—one two years ago and another last week—raise serious questions about whether the paper’s editors are still wearing ideological blinders on stories involving ‘villainous’ agri-businesses.

In 1994, the Times wrote an editorial about “The Bee Crisis,” in which it noted an alarming 50% crash in feral bees in New York state. It blamed that primarily on pesticides. The next year, the phase out began of the most common pesticides—pyrethroids and organophosphates—used to protect crops pollinated by bees. While effective, these chemicals were known to kill beneficial insects and pose serious human health hazards.

They were replaced by what then and now were considered by most entomologists to be a far safer alternative—neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides whose introduction in the mid-1990s coincided with a stabilization of the global bee population. While sometimes sprayed for particular fruit, vegetable or landscape applications, the most overwhelmingly prevalent use of neonics is as a coating for seeds, which then grow into plants that systemically fight pests.

The bee health and pesticide issue faded from the headlines until the winter of 2006-2007, when some US beekeepers began discovering that many of their bees had mysteriously abandoned their colonies. The bees left behind the queen bee, attended by too few, immature worker bees to sustain the colony, yet with ample viable brood and stored food. This was dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).

CCD is a periodic but still inexplicable ecological phenomenon that’s been around since at least the 1800s, predating the modern, post-World War II use of synthetic pesticides, says University of Maryland entomologist Dennis van Engelsdorp, who along with agricultural department researcher Jeff Pettis coined the term a decade ago. van Engelsdorp, now head of the Bee Informed Partnership, has told me and other reporters, repeatedly, that there have been no instances of CCD over the past five years except cases linked to the Nosema fungus.

Times’ Michael Wines misframes the ‘neonic’ crisis?

But you wouldn’t know that if you depend on the Times as your paper of record. Since 2013, Michael Wines has reported on rising concerns about ongoing bee health issues–an issue he had been highlighting in increasingly alarming opinion-filled stories. His theme, hammered home in numerous reports, such as this article in 2015, fingered one culprit above all others: pesticides, particularly neonics. In what amounts to an editorial, Wines headlined the story: “Research Suggests Pesticide Is Alluring and Harmful to Bees.”

His sources beyond two highly contested studies?–unidentified “other experts,” whose views stood in contrast to industry scientists and the overwhelming majority of mainstream entomologists who see the issue as complex, with pesticides playing a real but relatively minor role in bee health issues.

Wines was back at it again later in 2015 after a temporary increase in over summer honey bee deaths. In this story, he incorrectly wrote that they were an extension of the long-since passed CCD phenomenon. He compounded this misreporting by playing up what has become known as the beepocalypse myth thesis, writing in Wines-like fashion that “some experts have focused on neonicotinoids” as the driving culprit.

So, who were these mysterious “experts” who appear like clockwork in his pieces that Wines claimed pointed to neonics as the Darth Vader of the bee world? Wines again never tells us.

That’s particularly odd, because he appears not to have consulted the primary source for the rest of his story, Dennis vanEngelsdorp.

If he had, he would have found that the University of Maryland entomologist doesn’t believe neonics are driving current bee health problems. They are way down the list of likely causes, he’s said, with number one being the Varroa mites that feed on the bodily fluids of  bees. Varroa mites first surfaced as a problem in the US in the 1980s and began infesting beehives in California in 1993. That crisis stabilized after the introduction of neonics later in the 1990s, then spiked with CCD, with sporadic problems since.

On average, about 10 to 15 percent of honey bees die each winter. In recent years, that percentage jumped to as high as 35 percent before dropping down to levels in the low 20s. There was a more recent rise in bee deaths during the summer, normally a period of hive replenishment, that has everyone spooked. Highly charged words like “beepocalypse” or “beemageddon” are now everywhere on the Internet. But what was causing the die-offs?

Like the fictional parents in the edgy comedy show South Park who blame Canada for all their woes, activists often coalesce around an issue and then come up with a simple and usually simplistic narrative to frame it. Strident opponents of modern agricultural technology initially blamed GMOs for bee deaths, and some still make that claim, although there is zero evidence to back it up. When that meme didn’t get traction, their campaign focus switched to neonics.

But mainstream entomologists never saw it that way. Noting the complexity of the emerging controversy, the US Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have taken a cautious, science-based approach, producing a broad-based assessment of the evidence. The independent researchers concluded that bees are facing unique stressors but neonics, and pesticides in general, were unlikely to be the major drivers of bee deaths.

Along with Varroa, the blue ribbon panel pointed to Nosema, a common parasite that invades their intestinal tracts and the use and perhaps misuse of miticides to control them; climate change; lack of genetic diversity in the bee population; loss of habitat; and an often-unmentioned factor that many entomologists believe may be the key factor—the stress put on bees by large commercial beekeepers, particularly to service the agri-business demand for bees needed for the California almond crop in late winter before bees normally repopulate.


Exactly what are scientists marching ‘for’?

Judith Curry

A mega March for Science has been planned for Earth Day (April 22) in Washington DC.  The web site states:

"The March for Science demonstrates our passion for science and sounds a call to support and safeguard the scientific community. Recent policy changes have caused heightened worry among scientists.

The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.

Of course, their poster child for partisan  ‘mischaracterization of facts’ is statements by members of the Trump administration regarding uncertainty surrounding the causes of climate change.

President Obama and his Call Out the Climate Deniers campaign apparently elicited no concerns about partisan mischaracterization of facts from the science establishment.

Scientists fear  what ‘might’ happen under the Trump administration — they are working from rumors, leaks and a few public statements by individuals connected with Trump’s transition teams.  These are the same scientists pushing for ‘evidence based’ policies  — go figure.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) – which is joining the March – had a blog post describing the positions on climate change and science of important individuals in the Trump administration: Mick Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Wilbur Ross, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke.

To me, Trump’s team looks like it has a healthier attitude to science than did Obama’s team, who sought to scientize policy debates and politicize science debates..

The scientists’ big concern is ‘silencing of facts’.  This concern apparently derives from their desire to have their negotiated ‘facts’ — such as  the ‘consensus’ on climate change — dictate public  policy.

The scientists who are marching seem not very interested in science as a process based on continually evaluating evidence and reassessing conclusions through reasoning and impartial habits of mind.

The scientists are not just out to defend ‘facts’ — they fear funding cuts and limits to immigration.  They also seem very attached to safeguarding the academic scientific community and the elite institutions that support it.



For more postings from me, see  DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC and AUSTRALIAN POLITICS. Home Pages are   here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  

Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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