I had wondered what was going on in the peak oil world

Oil and gas production in North America is booming and we’re past the usual estimates for peak oil. Now it turns out that one of the peak oil advocacy sites is shutting down.

Go Visit Longnow.com, and a Different Theory About Easter Island

Too busy to blog much right now, so go visit Longnow.com. Lots of good seminars there on a variety of topics. The videos are subscriber-only, but the summaries are good and you can listen to the MP3 version under the Downloads tab.

I found it by way of an article about Richard Feynman’s involvement in Thinking Machines Corporation. (If you don’t know who Richard Feynman is, eat 10 packs of Ramen without the flavor clod, then find a copy or Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman or What Do You Care What Other People Think? He’s turning out to be one of the more relevant figures in 20th century science culture.

I liked the seminar on Easter Island. The traditional Easter Island narrative is an ecological morality play:

  • The stupid Maori people spent all their time building statues in a fit of vanity.
  • The stupid Maori cut down their forests for the logs needed to move the statues.
  • The stupid Maori spent the rest of their time and resources in intra-island warfare.
  • Stupid Maori were stupid.

Anthropologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo’s talk presents a different view:

  • There’s no archaeological evidence of inter-Maori warfare prior to European exploration. No fortifications. No battle-related injuries on skeletal remains. Their primitive stone implements had the blunt tips of tools instead of the pointed tips you would expect of weapons.
  • The Maori moved the statues with ropes, not logs, so deforestation had nothing to do with the statues. Their experiments seem to support this. Besides, how many freakin’ logs do you need to move some statues? Not enough to deforest an island. (Wikipedia notes that some suggest the Little Ice Age of 1650 to 1850 contributed to the decline of native trees.)
  • Based on carbon dating, Hunt and Lipo propose that Easter Island was colonized around 1200 AD, rather than other estimates which put the date as early as 300 AD.
  • They posit that the deforestation was caused by the introduction of rats from European ships – the rats ate the trees’ nuts. From a study quoted on Wikipedia: “Rat teeth marks can be observed in 99% of the nuts found preserved in caves or excavated in different sites, indicating that the Polynesian rat impeded the palm’s reproduction.”
  • The depopulation was largely a result of the resulting deforestation combined with diseases introduced by European explorers such as tuberculosis and smallpox, combined with later slaving raids from Peru on the island’s reduced population.
  • The apocryphal overpopulation to 30,000 inhabitants never happened. That makes sense – indigenous populations are unlikely to exceed their historical resources. It isn’t like they can ask their central bank to print money to buy food from another country.

True or fales, since Easter Island makes such a pat simple ecological ghost story I expect the old narrative to be defended to the last man standing.

Hybrids More Practical Than Pure Electrics

Great interview by Megan McArdle. A lot of people have concluded that gas-electric hybrids make more sense today than pure electrics and so has the market. This is an in-depth explanation of why that is.

Electric Vehicles May Be the Green Car of the Future, But Hybrids Are the Green Car of the Present:

A couple days ago, I wrote that taxing carbon wouldn’t necessarily make electric vehicles economically viable.  Yesterday, I did an interview with Professor Jeremy Michalek of Carnegie Mellon, who has done research into that very question.  The interview has been lightly edited to enhance readability.

JEREMY MICHALEK: The nice thing about small-battery plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (with gasoline backup) is that the battery is relatively small and can potentially pay for itself in fuel cost savings now or in the near future. These vehicles cost a lot less, so we can buy more of them with a given pool of money, and they are more likely to have sustainable market adoption in the near future.

Pure battery electric vehicles are far more dependent on future battery prices dropping to low levels, and we don’t yet know if that will happen. Even if it does happen in the future, starting small is likely the best way to get there.

Think of it this way: If you have a 10-mile battery in a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, then nearly every time you drive the vehicle, you use most of that 10-mile range to displace gasoline. The investment in the battery is well utilized. In contrast, if you have a 40-mile battery, for many shorter trips this investment is nothing but dead weight. Read more of this post

Lead and Crime

Mother JonesAmerica’s Real Criminal Element: Lead

So Nevin dove in further, digging up detailed data on lead emissions and crime rates to see if the similarity of the curves was as good as it seemed. It turned out to be even better: In a 2000 paper (PDF) he concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the ’40s and ’50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Meanwhile, Nevin had kept busy as well, and in 2007 he published a new paper looking at crime trends around the world (PDF). This way, he could make sure the close match he’d found between the lead curve and the crime curve wasn’t just a coincidence. Sure, maybe the real culprit in the United States was something else happening at the exact same time, but what are the odds of that same something happening at several different times in several different countries?

Nevin collected lead data and crime data for Australia and found a close match. Ditto for Canada. And Great Britain and Finland and France and Italy and New Zealand and West Germany. Every time, the two curves fit each other astonishingly well. When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn’t fit the theory. “No,” he replied. “Not one.”

There may be something to this. The link between lead and lowered IQ in children seems well established.

In college I took a class called Science, Technology and Public Policy. We looked at a study of perceived vs. actual dangers of various technologies/environmental factors. People’s concern for radiation was way out of proportion to the expected health effects, for instance. When it came to lead, it was the opposite. Most people had no idea how dangerous lead is in the environment. We were taught that removing lead from paint and gasoline was one of the great triumphs of 20th century public health policy.

Did Cash for Clunkers Hurt the Environment?

Whoops—‘Cash for Clunkers’ Actually Hurt the Environment

Drudge linked to that piece as a study, but it’s actually quoting facts from this article at E Magazine. So we’ve got some facts, but calling it a study is a stretch.

That said, the article raises some of the same questions that people wondered about at the time. Isn’t destroying a functional car bad for the environment? And won’t this reduce the supply of used cars and hurt poor people?

Read more of this post

Whatever Happened to Peak Oil?

Remembering “Peak Oil” Madness:

Contrary to some predictions that world oil production has peaked or will soon do so, Maugeri projects that output should grow from the current 93 million barrels per day to 110 million barrels per day by 2020, the biggest jump in any decade since the 1980s. What’s more, he says, this increase represents less than 40 percent of the new oil production under development globally.

Conservation wins in Tennessee

I have some issues with the environmental movement, but I’m all for conservation of wildlife habitat and natural beauty. Score two points for the good guys.

Refuge renewal: 68 acres of critical habitat added to Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge – That purchase protects sandhill crane migratory pathways – previously

State acquires Virgin Fallspreviously

Climate Skeptics 2, Micheal Mann 0

National Review takes out full page ad in Penn State student paper congratulating the university for having a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

PreviouslyZombie Oscar Wilde Says “Suing for Libel Can Backfire”

Zombie Oscar Wilde Says “Suing for Libel Can Backfire”

Climate researcher Michael Mann – of global warming hockeystick and Climategate fame – is suing the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Rand Simberg and National Review and Mark Steyn for libel. The suite follows a post by Simberg at CEI that Steyn quoted at National Review. The post compared Mann’s abuse of data to Jerry Sandusky’s abuse of children. Mann and Sandusky are both based at Penn State.

Mark Steyn zeroes in on this key bit from the legal complaint:

It is one thing to engage in discussion about debatable topics. It is quite another to attempt to discredit consistently validated scientific research through the professional and personal defamation of a Nobel prize recipient.

Except that as Steyn notes Michael Mann isn’t a Nobel prize recipient:

In 2007, Dr Mann was one of approximately 700 reviewers to review the findings of approximately 600 authors of one working group of the Fourth Assessment Report. However, he was one of a select group of a mere 2,000 people to receive a “commemorative certificate of involvement” not from the Nobel committee, but from Dr Rajendra Pachauri of the IPCC.

So, in that sense, yes, indeed, he “was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.” Phew. For a moment, I was worried he might be exaggerating a bit bending the curve upwards, so to speak.

In the same spirit, I see that I’ve just been awarded the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Under Ireland’s citizenship law, I’m an Irish national (through my father). Ireland is a member of the European Union. The EU has just been given the Nobel Peace Prize. QED. Come to think of it, my mother’s Belgian, so I’ve been awarded two Nobel Peace Prizes.

First point to Steyn. The discovery phase of the libel suit should be hilarious. Mann should have asked Zombie Oscar Wilde what can happen when a libel suit goes sideways.

How Well Do Climate Models Predict Climate?

Climate Models versus Reality: Part I:

A 2011 study in the Journal of Forecasting took the same data set and compared model predictions against a “random walk” alternative, consisting simply of using the last period’s value in each location as the forecast for the next period’s value in that location. The test measures the sum of errors relative to the random walk. A perfect model gets a score of zero, meaning it made no errors. A model that does no better than a random walk gets a score of 1. A model receiving a score above 1 did worse than uninformed guesses. Simple statistical forecast models that have no climatology or physics in them typically got scores between 0.8 and 1, indicating slight improvements on the random walk, though in some cases their scores went as high as 1.8.

The climate models, by contrast, got scores ranging from 2.4 to 3.7, indicating a total failure to provide valid forecast information at the regional level, even on long time scales. The authors commented: “This implies that the current [climate] models are ill-suited to localised decadal predictions, even though they are used as inputs for policy making.”

Indeed. Nor is the problem confined just to a few models. In a 2010 paper I and a coauthor10 looked at how well an average formed from all 23 climate models used for the 2007 IPCC report did at explaining the spatial pattern of temperature trends on land after 1979, compared to a rival model that all the experts keep telling me should have no explanatory power at all: the regional pattern of socioeconomic growth. Any effects from those factors, I have been told many times, are removed from the climate data before it is published. And yet I keep finding the socioeconomic patterns do a very good job of explaining the patterns of temperature trends over land. In our 2010 paper we showed that the climate models, averaged together, do very poorly, while the socioeconomic data does quite well.

I accept that there’s been some warming. I’m not convinced that it’s due to anthropogenic factors (and the long lull since 1998 has cast doubt on that for a lot of people). All of the scary scenarios are based on computer models, which aren’t science.

More to the point, all of the solutions to what we should do about the scary scenarios are public policy, which sure as heck isn’t science. Even if the scientists could tell us what was going to happen, which is dubious to begin with, they couldn’t tell us what we should do about it.

What to do about it gets into questions of values. Should we stop development, quit building roads, limit how much electricity people can use? Those are loaded political questions. Scientists are no better equipped to answer those questions than anyone else. Science can inform public policy, but it can’t control it.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Environmentalist: Will.I.Am

Will.I.Am attends climate change talk in helicoper:

The Voice judge had been meeting climate change experts at Oxford University as part of a guest speaking role. Despite his environmentally-conscious stance on green issues, the Black Eyed Peas rapper, 37, chose to take a private helicopter to the venue.

It is understood the journey, which is a 286 mile round-trip from London, used 71.5 gallons of fuel and released three-quarters of a ton of CO2 into the atmosphere. He even tweeted pictures of the so-called “hip.hop.copter” for fans to admire, after landing at the Oxford’s University Parks.

But wait! He didn’t take the entire trip in a helicopter. He remembered to throw in an empty gesture near the photographer’s pool:

From there, the singer used a pedal cycle to travel the remaining few hundred yards to the Radcliffe Observatory Weather Centre.

Remind me again why I should listen to rich environmental scolds lecture me about my carbon footprint. They won’t even reduce their own carbon footprints to what my paycheck forces me to live by already.

PreviouslyLifestyles of the rich and environmentalist: Thomas Friedman

Good News, Everyone! U.S. CO2 Production Falls 7.7%

Vancouver ObserverClimate change stunner: USA leads world in CO2 cuts since 2006:

“US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector.”

And the reason is that natural gas is replacing coal and oil for power generation:

I’m not sure if this is simply natural gas use increasing due to price advantages or coal and oil getting priced out due to regulation.

It seems the planet’s biggest all-time CO2 polluter is finally reducing its emissions. Not only that, but as my top chart shows, US CO2 emissions are falling even faster than what President Obama pledged in the global Copenhagen Accord.

It’s funny but not surprising that the U.S. isn’t getting lauded for this far and wide. But if the country is doing this to save money, rather than for purposes of self-flagellation or Gaia worship, then it doesn’t count in the minds of certain bien pensant environmentalists. And if it wasn’t done in obedience of the right political masters then it’s likewise of no use to the political class or the chattering classes who bow to them.

In other words, if helping the environment doesn’t help the cause of helping the environmental movement, and if helping the environment doesn’t help politicians who help the environment, then all that helping the environment does is to help the stupid environment. And for some people that isn’t really the point of helping the environment.

This is Your Train on Drugs: CA Train Versus Endangered Species, Asthmatic Children

LA TimesEnvironmental objections in path of bullet train:

The California bullet train is promoted as an important environmental investment for the future, but over the next decade the heavy construction project would potentially harm air quality, aquatic life and endangered species across the Central Valley.

Eleven endangered species, including the San Joaquin kit fox, would be affected, according to federal biologists. Massive emissions from diesel-powered heavy equipment could foul the already filthy air. Dozens of rivers, canals and wetlands fed from the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada would be crossed, creating other knotty issues.

Where the train’s path isn’t wrecking the environment it will wreck homes and businesses. Those properties will have to be bought after contentious, expensive lawsuits. The expense and destruction involved in putting in new rain lines is one of the reasons for the saying “buses good, trains bad.” Buses can use the same existing streets as cars without disrupting the environment, homeowners, or businesses. But buses aren’t glamorous and there isn’t a Big Bus industry to grease the palms of elected officials, which is how things get done.

And besides all that, the train would also be a massive, over-budget, 100 billion dollar boondoggle in a state that’s quickly going bankrupt.

PreviouslyThis is Your Train on Drugs: Garbage In, Garbage Out

How long until a hybrid or electric car pays for its extra cost?

NY TimesThe Cost of Higher Fuel Economy

I’ll insert a disclaimer here and say that I expect some controversy over the numbers. For instance, you can easily price compare a hybrid and non-hybrid versions of some of the cars, such as the Civic, Camry, Escape, etc. But how do you compare a Prius to another, non-hybrid Toyota to establish the price difference and payback time? There isn’t an exact model that matches the Prius in every way. That can throw a big monkey wrench into the payback figures.

At present fuel prices I’m not sure any car on the list with a payback period beyond about 5 years makes economic sense for an average driver who puts 12,000 miles a year on the odometer.

Toyota’s hybrid drive is good stuff. The technology is proven and the price is right. A 1.8 year payback is darned reasonable, and that’s without any government incentives.

I hadn’t heard about Lincoln’s hybrid system, but they even outdid the Prius.

The Jetta TDI shows what a modern diesel can do.

James Lovelock Goes Skeptical on Global Warming

Environmental Guru and Inventor of the “Gaia” Theory of the Living Earth James Lovelock: I Was a Climate Change “Alarmist” And So Is Al Gore

“The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books mine included because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened,” Lovelock said.

“The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now,” he said.

“The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising — carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that,” he added.

Hey, give him credit. The warming trend stopped its rapid upslope and has now taken a 15 year break. When the data changed, his opinion changed. That’s more than you can say for some global warming true believers.