Wednesday, March 08, 2017

UNEP trots out an old, old fallacy

"The United Nations Environment Programme":  Who needs it? We have allegedly been running out of vital resources ever since Malthus. It hasn't happened.  Resources have proliferated instead.  But the robot who wrote the words below has not noticed

Behavioural insights needed to tackle global challenges

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the Sustainable Development Goals, gives us less than 15 years to fulfil ambitious goals, including achieving changes in how we consume and produce.

Energy demand is set to grow by at least one-third by 2040, requiring stringent adoption of energy efficiency measures and less carbon-intensive sources to keep global temperature rise to under the Paris Agreement targets of 1.5C to 2C.

By 2025, 3 billion people could face water scarcity; and by 2050, if consumption and production habits don’t change, annual natural resource extraction would need to triple, exceeding the Earth’s capacity to satisfy demand.

The relatively subtle levers behavioural science provides can maximize outcomes for the money spent on interventions and have potential for scale.

“Agenda 2030 can only be accomplished if we understand the habits and behaviours that prevent our societies from fully achieving sustainable development,” said Dr Foster.

Currently, though, the Kenyan example is a relative rarity. Developed countries largely dominate the application of behavioural sciences in policymaking.

Applying behavioural insights to sustainability efforts in developing countries is crucial. Three billion middle class consumers will join the global economy by 2040. This consumer class will largely be youthful, urban and predominantly located in developing countries.


No bee-mageddon after all?

A key set of genes involved in honey bee responses to multiple diseases caused by viruses and parasites has been identified by researchers.

The findings are important given that honey bee populations have experienced severe losses across the Northern Hemisphere, mainly due to parasites and pathogens.

The identification of this set of genes could help researchers and beekeepers breed bees that are more resilient to stress, and could also help researchers learn how to use pathogens effectively to control insects pests.

The researchers said that recent advances in DNA sequencing have prompted many investigations of the genes involved in honey bee responses to pathogens.

But until now, the large amount of data has been too cumbersome and specific to individual bees to reveal general patterns in honey bee immunity.

Professor Christina Grozinger, a professor of entomology at Pennsylvania State University and a co-author of the study, said that data from previous genetic studies of honey bee responses to pathogens has been difficult to compare across studies.

'Our team created a new bioinformatics tool that has enabled us to integrate information from 19 different genomic data sets to identify the key genes involved in honey bees’ response to diseases,' she said.

The team of 28 researchers representing eight different countries developed a new statistical technique called 'directed rank-product analysis' which allowed them to identify the genes that were expressed similarly across 19 data sets, as opposed to just the genes that were expressed more than others within a data set.

The researchers found that these similarly expressed genes included those that code for proteins involved in the response to tissue damage by pathogens.

They also found some of these genes code for enzymes involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates from food.

This is an important finding because the researchers suggest that a decrease in carbohydrate metabolism may indicate the impact of the infection on the insect.

'Honey bees were thought to respond to different disease organisms in entirely different ways, but we have learned that they mostly rely on a core set of genes that they turn on or off in response to any major pathogenic challenge,' said Professor Robert Paxton, a professor of zoology at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and a co-author of the study.

'We can now explore the physiological mechanisms by which pathogens overcome their honey-bee hosts, and how honey bees can fight back against those pathogens,' he said.

The researchers said that the findings also have implications for species other than honey bees.

This means that the genes provide important knowledge for understanding how other insects, such as bumble bees, respond to pathogens.

It could also help researchers learn how to use pathogens effectively to control insects pests such as aphids and certain types of moths.

'This analysis provides unprecedented insight into the mechanisms that underpin the interactions between insects and their pathogens,' said Dr Vincent Doublet, a researcher at the University of Exeter and the co-lead author of the study.

'With this analysis, we generated a list of genes that will likely be an important source for future functional studies, for breeding more resilient honey-bee stocks and for controlling emerging bee diseases,' he said.


Clean-Energy Loan Guarantees: The Dirty Truth

Federal loan guarantees for clean energy technology may have helped companies with political connections, but they’ve failed to provide a satisfactory return—in either financial or environmental benefits—for the American taxpayer. This finding comes from Independent Institute Research Fellow Ryan M. Yonk, who made his case against the Department of Energy’s Title XVII federal loan guarantees last month before a congressional committee.

“Government support may make it easier for those who receive support, but it also makes it more difficult for new ideas to gain private funding and grow,” Yonk told the Joint Energy Subcommittee and Oversight Subcommittee. “The net result of loan guarantee programs is likely a loss in meaningful innovation.”

The public may have the impression that the Department of Energy offers its loan guarantees to innovative start-ups working on the cutting edge. Such an impression is inaccurate. But even if it were, federal loan guarantees would be a poor method for encouraging genuine innovation. “The primary takeaway from my analysis,” Yonk continues, “is that government’s attempts to promote innovation have likely done exactly the opposite. In place of these programs, government would do better to simply step out of the way of entrepreneurs and individuals.”


Time to Say ‘Au Revoir’ to Paris Climate Deal

Staying in the Paris climate agreement would allow future administrations to ship billions of taxpayer dollars overseas to subsidize green energy technologies, without input from Congress.

President Donald Trump will soon issue an executive order calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to rescind the Clean Power Plan, a key component of the Obama administration’s Paris climate agreement.

Reports have also surfaced that top officials in the Trump administration are divided on whether to pull out of the Paris protocol.

Trump should keep his campaign promise and withdraw, not just from Paris, but from the entire United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The domestic regulations President Barack Obama submitted as the United States’ national determined contributions to the Paris Agreement aim to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2025.

Global warming regulations for new and existing power plants will drive electricity bills higher for families and businesses. Fuel efficiency mandates for cars, trucks, and heavy-duty vehicles increase the up-front cost of vehicles by thousands of dollars. Methane regulations on oil and gas would introduce burdensome, complex processes that would likely slow the industry’s current efforts to reduce emissions, which have been falling for decades.

Cumulatively, these regulations will restrict economic growth and kill jobs.

A common argument for the U.S. to remain in the Paris protocol is that the U.S. must show leadership on climate change. But committing to Paris is merely leading on what not to do.

The high price tag of Paris will generate meaningless climate benefits. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change projects that the Paris Agreement will avert a mere 0.2 degrees Celsius warming by the year 2100.

Additionally, it’s a fool’s errand to bank on emissions cuts from rapidly developing countries who want to increase their standards of living and that have more pressing environmental concerns to address than cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The best way for the U.S. to lead is to promote policies that increase economic freedom, which will in turn increase health and wealth and provide citizens around the world with more resources to adapt to a changing climate.

One of the alleged concerns Trump officials have is that withdrawing from the U.N. framework convention could have “broad and damaging diplomatic ramifications.” But withdrawing would not preclude the U.S. government from studying climate science, understanding any potential risks associated with climate change, and working with nations through informal arrangements to undertake appropriate steps, if necessary.

Instead, withdrawing would simply recognize that the Paris climate agreement is a costly, unworkable, and ineffective approach.

Withdrawing will also prevent future administrations from using the existing U.N. framework to avoid getting the Senate’s advice and consent in the treaty process, which is what Obama did with Paris. If the U.S. remains in, future administrations could ship billions of taxpayer dollars overseas to subsidize green energy technologies, without input from Congress.

If the Trump administration withdraws from the U.N. framework, it would also withdraw the U.S. from any protocol to which it is a party (including Paris), and it would go into force one year after the depositary receives the notification of withdrawal.

Some reports suggested withdrawing from the entire framework could be tricky legally and may require Senate ratification, since the Senate ratified the U.N. framework.

But precedent exists for presidents withdrawing from treaties without Senate approval. As Climate Central reports:

[I]n 1992, President George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. from an anti-ballistic missile treaty that the Senate had ratified in 1972 without seeking the Senate’s approval. After President [Jimmy] Carter withdrew from a defense treaty with Taiwan, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge filed by members of Congress.

The clearest and most aggressive pathway out of Paris is to withdraw from the U.N. framework.

On the campaign trail, candidate Trump vowed to “cancel” the Paris climate change agreement that commits America to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and as president-elect, he said he was keeping an “open mind” about it.

Now as president, he’s largely left us with radio silence and speculation. It’s time to end that speculation.


Historical Grape Harvest Dates Show Modern Temperatures No Warmer Now Than Most Of The Last 1,000 Years

In a late February (2017) interview on a U.S. news program, mechanical engineer Bill Nye claimed that the settled science says humans have been warming the planet at a rate that is  unnaturally and “catastrophically” fast since the year 1750 .

“It’s a settled question. The speed that climate change is happening is caused by humans.  Instead of climate change happening on timescales of millions of years or 15,000 years, it’s happening on the timescale of decades, and now years. …  Humans are causing it [climate change] to happen catastrophically fast.   [Without human activity], the climate would be like it was in 1750.”

When pressed to identify the signature change affirming this rapid human-caused acceleration, Nye immediately cited viticulture evidence, or grape-growing practices in England and France.

“Britain would not be very well suited to growing grapes as it is today [if not for human activity].  French winemakers would not be buying land to the north, as they are now [if not for human activity].”

Apparently Bill Nye believes it is quite unusual to grow grapes in England. Or maybe he believes that this has never happened before given his perceptions of the unprecedentedly fast pace of climate change since 1750. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that grape vineyards have been growing in England for thousands of years, or that grape harvesting occurred 100s of kilometers further north than it does today as recently as during the latter stages of the Medieval Warm Period (~1100 to 1300 A.D).

Considering how very sensitive grapes are to climate conditions, and that grapes can only be harvested successfully after ripening in climates that average a specified number of warm days per year, the use of grape harvest dating as a proxy for temperature has long been thought to be both promising and reliable.

Unfortunately for Bill Nye and those who believe modern warmth is exceptional, or that the climate has changed at a catastrophically fast pace since 1750, scientists who use grape harvest dates to reconstruct historical temperatures have not found that modern warmth is either unusual or unprecedented.  In fact, grape harvest date evidence suggests the opposite conclusion reached by Bill Nye is more accurate: there is nothing unusual about the modern climate and its “well-suitedness” to grape harvesting.  In fact, there were several periods of greater warmth than today (and thus better suitability for grape harvesting) during the multi-centennial (~1400-1900 A.D.) Little Ice Age — which had the coldest temperatures of the last 10,000 years.

In other words, there is nothing unusual, unprecedented, or remarkable — let alone “catastrophically fast” — about either the pace or degree of warmth in the modern climate.


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