Sunday, April 29, 2012
The pain in Spain
Until very recently Spain had what was undoubtedly the "Greenest" government in the world. Not only did the Leftist government spend a large amount of the money it raised in taxes on "sustainable" development and "green jobs" (mainly windmills and solar panels) but it also borrowed heavily for the same purposes and gave big tax incentives which enticed much of Spain's private capital into "green" spending also. In today's news we read the result. See below. Can you believe 25% unemployment? It should be an abiding lesson for the whole of the rest of the world but it won't be
SPANISH leaders have warned that their country is mired in a "crisis of huge proportions" as the government reels from the latest downgrade of its credit rating and is faced with record unemployment.
The jobless rate in the eurozone's fourth-largest economy hit 24.4 per cent, the highest in the industrialised world, in the first quarter of this year, signalling one in four Spanish workers is jobless. Among under-25s, the rate climbed to 52 per cent.
At least 1.7 million households now have no wage earner, an increase of almost 10 per cent since the start of the year.
Retail figures for last month showed sales fell for a 21st consecutive month as the country's recession bit down on consumer spending.
"The figures are terrible for everyone and terrible for the government," Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, the Foreign Affairs Minister, said. "Spain is in a crisis of huge proportions."
The gloomy figures piled pressure on Madrid after Spain's government debt was downgraded by Standard& Poor's, one of the triumvirate of global credit-rating agencies. The country's rating was cut by two notches from A to BBB+ with a negative outlook late last week, reflecting a loss of confidence in its ability to shoulder its national debts.
The tide of bad economic data from Spain is fuelling worries that the country will follow Greece, Ireland and Portugal into requiring an international bailout.
S&P said it did not expect Spain to default on its debt repayments. Nonetheless the yields, or implied interest rates, on 10-year Spanish government bonds surged to 6 per cent, seen as a psychologically important barrier for the markets, before falling slightly to the 5.9 per cent mark.
Spain is also faced with a fragile banking sector. Central bankers in Madrid said the country's lenders were saddled with problem property loans which totalled _184 billion ($234 billion), about 60 per cent of their property portfolios.
S&P sees "an increasing likelihood that Spain's government will need to provide further fiscal support to the banking sector".
Nationalist Greenies in Germany
LOL! The Guardian article below is reasonably sophisticated in that it admits that the prewar Nazis were Green too but says that modern-day German nationalists are "using" the Greenie movement -- suggesting that the Nationalist committment to Greenie ideals is superficial and not sincere. But if Das dritte Reich was passionately environmentalist, why can their modern-day successors not be equally passionate about their beliefs? Environmentalism is no facade for them. It is central to their beliefs.
And The Guardian is careful not to look too closely at what differentiates the two sorts of Greenie. It is nationalism only. Both sorts of Greenie are authoritarian -- wanting to impose their own will on others. The recipe is simple: Greenie+Nationalism = Nazi. No other adjustments necessary. And in fact the modern product is potentially even more nasty than before. The 1930s Nazis didn't like Jews, whereas Greenies today don't like PEOPLE
German consumers are being warned that when they buy organic produce they may be supporting the far-right movement, following the revelation that rightwing extremists in Germany have embraced the ecological movement and are using it to tap into a new generation of supporters.
Debunking the popular view that equates eco-friendliness with cuddly, left-leaning greens, rightwing extremists have even begun to publish their own conservation magazine, which is believed to have the backing of the far-right National Democratic party (NPD). Alongside gardening tips and reports on the dangers of genetically modified milk are articles riddled with rightwing ideology and racial slurs. Bavaria's domestic intelligence agency has described the magazine, Umwelt und Aktiv (Environment and Active), as a "camouflage publication" for the NPD.
"We have to get used to the fact that the term 'bio' [organic] does not automatically mean equality and human dignity," said Gudrun Heinrich of the University of Rostock, who has just published a study on the topic called Brown Ecologists, a reference to the Nazi Brownshirts and their modern-day admirers.
Hotbeds of far-right eco-warriors are to be found throughout Germany. In the Mecklenburg region in the north, they have been quietly settling in communities since the 1990s in an effort to reinvigorate the traditions of the Artaman League - a farming movement whose roots lie in the 19th century romantic ideal of "blood and soil" ruralism, which was adopted by the Nazis. Heinrich Himmler, the SS leader, was a member. "They propagate a way of living which involves humane raising of plants and animals, is both nationalistic and authoritarian, and in which there's no place for pluralism and democracy," said Heinrich, adding that the NPD is closely linked to the settlers, helping the party become "deeply rooted in these rural areas".
The settlers produce "German honey", bake bread from homegrown wheat, produce fruit and vegetables for sale, and knit their own woollen sweaters. Observers have noted that the far-right farmers have been able to profit from the cheap and spacious swaths of land left by a population exodus from impoverished states in the former East Germany, such as Mecklenburg.
Political scientists argue that the NPD is trying to wrest the ecological movement back from the left, particularly the German Greens, who rose to prominence in the 1980s to become Europe's most successful ecological party.
Hans-Gnter Laimer, a farmer in Lower Bavaria who once ran for election for the NPD and is linked to Umwelt und Aktiv, questions why the left has been allowed to dominate the organic scene for so long. "What is the difference between my cucumbers and those of someone from the Green party?" he said.
A representative of the Centre for Democratic Culture, in Roggentin in Mecklenburg, who did not wish to be identified for security reasons, recently told the Sddeutsche Zeitung newspaper: "They want that people don't think about politics when they hear the word NPD. They want as far as possible to build subtle bridges into the lives of other citizens . ecological topics are becoming increasingly important for rightwing extremists."
At the same time as it was butchering millions of people, the Nazi party supported animal rights and nature conservation. But it is disturbing for many Germans to think that while they support local producers and reject genetically modified food, pesticides and intensive livestock farming, there is now little - superficially at least - to distinguish a supposedly well-meaning, leftist Green from a far-right eco enthusiast.
More data in support of Svensmark's theory
Today the Royal Astronomical Society in London publishes (online) Henrik Svensmark's latest paper entitled "Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth". After years of effort Svensmark shows how the variable frequency of stellar explosions not far from our planet has ruled over the changing fortunes of living things throughout the past half billion years. Appearing in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, It's a giant of a paper, with 22 figures, 30 equations and about 15,000 words. See the RAS press release here
By taking me back to when I reported the victory of the pioneers of plate tectonics in their battle against the most eminent geophysicists of the day, it makes me feel 40 years younger. Shredding the textbooks, Tuzo Wilson, Dan McKenzie and Jason Morgan merrily explained earthquakes, volcanoes, mountain-building, and even the varying depth of the ocean, simply by the drift of fragments of the lithosphere in various directions around the globe.
In Svensmark's new paper an equally concise theory, that cosmic rays from exploded stars cool the world by increasing the cloud cover, leads to amazing explanations, not least for why evolution sometimes was rampant and sometimes faltered. In both senses of the word, this is a stellar revision of the story of life. Here are the main results:
* The long-term diversity of life in the sea depends on the sea-level set by plate tectonics and the local supernova rate set by the astrophysics, and on virtually nothing else.
* The long-term primary productivity of life in the sea - the net growth of photosynthetic microbes - depends on the supernova rate, and on virtually nothing else.
* Exceptionally close supernovae account for short-lived falls in sea-level during the past 500 million years, long-known to geophysicists but never convincingly explained..
* As the geological and astronomical records converge, the match between climate and supernova rates gets better and better, with high rates bringing icy times.
Presented with due caution as well as with consideration for the feelings of experts in several fields of research, a story unfolds in which everything meshes like well-made clockwork. Anyone who wishes to pooh-pooh any piece of it by saying "correlation is not necessarily causality" should offer some other mega-theory that says why several mutually supportive coincidences arise between events in our galactic neighbourhood and living conditions on the Earth.
An amusing point is that Svensmark stands the currently popular carbon dioxide story on its head. Some geoscientists want to blame the drastic alternations of hot and icy conditions during the past 500 million years on increases and decreases in carbon dioxide, which they explain in intricate ways. For Svensmark, the changes driven by the stars govern the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Climate and life control CO2, not the other way around.
By implication, supernovae also determine the amount of oxygen available for animals like you and me to breathe. So the inherently simple cosmic-ray/cloud hypothesis now has far-reaching consequences.
Much more HERE (See the original for links, graphics etc.)
The environment's getting worse, yet humanity's doing better than ever. What gives?
Most ecologists would agree that humans are plowing through the Earth's natural resources at an unsustainable rate - and pushing up against some worrisome thresholds in the biosphere. (Here's an old article of mine on "planetary boundaries" that offers the grim overview.) From our carbon-laden atmosphere to stressed oceans, the planet's ecosystems are hurting, and this is widely believed to have adverse consequences for human beings. But at the same time, humanity itself has never been better off. People are living longer, healthier, richer lives than ever before.
So why the disparity? And does this mean that we shouldn't fret too much about global warming, ocean acidification and other budding ecological crises, since recent history suggests that people will just continue to grow more prosperous even as we cause irreversible damage to the planet? (Indeed, some economists have tried to make exactly this point.)
Back in 2010, a team of researchers led by McGill's Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne tried to figure out how to resolve the "environmentalist's paradox," in a paper for the journal Bioscience. Here were their four big hypotheses:
Maybe humanity isn't actually better off. That's one possibility to consider. Perhaps the decline of ecosystem services is having an adverse effect on us and we just haven't noticed. But this is hard to square with the data. It's true, natural disasters seem to be walloping more people than ever before - likely due to the fact we're heating up the planet with all our carbon pollution. But, the authors point out, that's vastly outweighed by the fact that things like life expectancy and per capita GDP have never been higher. The Human Development Index has plenty of data on this. There's still inequality and poverty and disease, but on the whole, the trend's heading upward. So this probably isn't the answer.
Advances in food production are more important than anything else. It's hard to think of a broad technological advance that has done as much for humanity as the Green Revolution. Modern-day farming may be extremely chemical-intensive, it may disrupt nature's nitrogen cycle, and it may deplete water tables, but there's no question that the widespread use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and other assorted farming techniques have enabled the world to feed itself even as the population has ballooned to 7 billion. And food, the authors note, just might override all those other concerns. (That said, it's still an open question.whether the benefits of industrial agriculture will continue to outweigh the downsides in the decades ahead.)
Technology makes us less dependent on ecosystem services. This is another possible way to resolve the paradox. We've been able to grow more crops on less land. We've been able to desalinate water. We've been able to shelter ourselves from heat waves. After Britain chopped down all its forests in the eighteenth-century, it developed another energy source (coal) and kept on chugging. So perhaps technology will continue to allow us to thrive even as ecosystem services decline. That's possible, although it's still hard to imagine what technologies will shield us from widespread ocean acidification or an increasingly likely 4øC rise in global temperature. Which brings us to the fourth hypothesis.....
The worst impacts of ecosystem degradation are yet to come. This is one of the more plausible explanations for the paradox. We've put a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, but it takes a few decades for those effects to fully manifest themselves in the climate. There's a lag in the system, and our ecological debts haven't come due yet. Likewise, a number of researchers have suggested that certain trends in environmental degradation - like the disruption of the nitrogen cycle or extinction rates - may have "tipping points," whereby things seem to be crumbling slowly until suddenly, rapid and potentially irreversible shifts take hold.
What's interesting about the BioScience study is its emphasis on the fact that researchers still don't seem to have a solid grasp on the relationship between ecosystem services and human well-being. (In the two years since it was published, follow-up papers have stressed the need for better data on this link.)
For the moment, human existence keeps improving - in genuine and meaningful ways
It's Not Easy Fueling Green
Okay, officially color me confused. My hand to God, I honestly thought the Obama Administration was in favor of green energy. (You in the back, yes you with the retirement package from Solyndra, quit laughing or leave the room.).
After all, wasn't this the president who had touted the benefits of running your sub-sub compact on fuel derived from algae just a few short months ago?
Yes it was. And despite the fact that I stand behind the job growth inherent in, and affordability of traditional fuels, like any reasonable person I support keeping the options box full when it comes to energy, and that includes biofuels.
And a president who is courting the granola vote should be in favor of biofuels which are the epitome of renewable resources, since all one has to do is plant more. It doesn't get much greener than that. Think of the convenience: Your next tank of gas could be sprouting right now next to your green beans.
Or maybe not.
The Administration and its pitbull, the Environmental Protection Agency have not exactly been friendly to the biofuels industry. That may seem odd on spec, but then again this is the same president who took credit for natural gas production by private companies on private land, so it only seems fitting that the same president could tout the benefits of super high-test algae on one hand, while cutting the roots out of the biofuels industry with the other.
According to George Landrith, President of Frontiers of Freedom and biofuels advocate, the EPA is planning new and intrusive regulations and policies on companies developing biofuels, as opposed to allowing entrepreneurs who have a vested interest in creating a quality product at an attractive price find innovative ways to solve the present fuel crisis.
And it may be unrelated, (somehow, I doubt it) but while many favor non-food biofuels made from wood products, grasses and algae; Landrith notes that the EPA is considering a 50% increase in ethanol mandates and also alleges that some ethanol producers have been hard at work lobbying the government to increase ethanol requirements in gasoline from 10 to 15% and thus increase the demand for their product.
That, notes Landrith, would not sit well with vehicle engines, but would in fact provide ethanol providers with "a little walkin' around money."
It would appear that be it electric cars or biofuels, this administration is more interested in Cash, Command and Control than it is in providing real energy solutions.
I would pity the poor fuel fools who believe him, were the rest of us not being dragged behind this electric car of an administration headed straight for an economic runaway ramp.
The most toxic thing about mercury is the EPA's attempt to ban it
EPA's recently announced regulations on mercury from power plants will, in fact, do nothing substantial about the amount of this element in the global atmosphere. If they were really serious, they would ban volcanoes and forest fires, which are much larger sources.
Total annual releases of mercury to the atmosphere from such natural sources are about 5,200 metric tons per year. The world's volcanoes tend to concentrate along the Pacific Rim, where the great tectonic plates that define the world's continents are in flux, and in the mid-Atlantic, where continental drift is expanding the Atlantic ocean, opening up huge rifts that extend far beneath the surface. Forest fires tend to take place where there are forests-especially dry ones like those in the western U.S.
Data published in the refereed scientific journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions indicate that the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere by human activities-mainly from smelting of metals and combustion of coal-is about 2,320 tons, for a total atmospheric increment (natural + anthropogenerated) of a bit over 7,500 tons per year. The human contribution makes up about 31% of the annual total.
Now it gets good, and we can see how absurd EPA's perseveration on mercury from U.S. power plants is.
The total contribution from all human activity in the United States to the global mercury flux is approximately 120 tons, or about 1.6% of the total. The amount coming from U.S. coal-fired electricity plants is around 48 tons, 0.6% of the global load. But mercury can reside a long time in the atmosphere-up to two years, so, unless it quickly rains out as "wet deposition", it's likely to disperse far, far away. In fact, only about 25% of the mercury emitted by our power plants, or 0.2% of global emissions, falls on our soil.
For that we are going to close 68 power plants supplying electricity to about 22 million homes?
Both the EPA and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) used different models to estimate how much of the mercury deposited in the U.S. comes from power plants, and how much comes from foreign sources. They arrived at even lower numbers than we show here. According to EPRI's 2006 Issue Briefing on mercury:
"Analysis of mercury emissions from U.S. sources, including coal-fired power plants, shows that about 2/3 of this emitted mercury leaves the United States. Most of it is assumed to join the global atmospheric pool. Only about 1/15th of the mercury depositing in the U.S. originates from U.S. power plants, even though they account for nearly 40% of U.S. mercury emissions. Mercury deposition occurring over 70% or more of the U.S. surface area originates in other countries, and is often transported thousands of miles before arriving in the U.S. Thus, reducing domestic power plant sources of mercury will not result in proportional reductions in deposition occurring across the U.S."
The fact that the relative numbers are inconstant across the various sources shows how impossible detecting any effects of mercury emissions reductions will be. Further, there is simply no evidence linking mercury from power plants in the U.S. to any single specific case of illness or death.
The fact of the matter is that, in the near term, natural gas is likely to continue to displace coal for electrical generation as it has now become less costly due to the exploitation of the huge amounts of gas and oil lying beneath the nation's surface in shale rock deposits. There is little doubt that, if this continues, power companies would gradually switch away from coal as plants aged. Unfortunately, the EPA's activity accelerates this process, inducing unwanted costs and permanently displacing thousands of Appalachian coal workers, for no detectable mercury-related health effect.
SOURCE (See the original for links and graphics)
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Posted by JR at 5:24 PM