June 30, 2014

Global Warming: a contrarian view

Here are some contrarian thoughts:

Considering the persistence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (centuries), it could be that the warming we have seen through the 20th century is the accumulated effect of increased coal use in the 19th century to power the "industrial revolution". And the slowing down of warming seen in the past decade or so could be due to the move from coal to oil in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century a hundred years ago. And with increasing efficiency and use of natural gas instead of oil over the latter half of the 20th century, along with the curbing of ozone-destroying CFCs and powerfully warming HFCs, we should continue to see a moderation of the warming trend (at least of what can be attributable to anthropogenic carbon dioxide). However, that moderation would be threatened by continued renewed growth of coal use in China and India (to cheaply power their "development") and the continued burgeoning of animal agriculture (which, among other things, emits methane, a greenhouse gas with 20 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide, and drives the clearance of carbon-capturing forests), not to mention of the human population itself.

environment, environmentalism

June 24, 2014

Ozymandias, the Wind Power King

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “A vast and headless trunk of steel
Stands in the desert. Near it on the sands,
Half sunk, the shattered arms doth lie and peel
A twisted skin from antinatural bands
That tell its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped in this lifeless thing—
The hands that fed it and the hearts that bled.
And on the pedestal in letters spare:
‘My name is Ozymandias, wind power king:
Look on my work, ye mighty . . . and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

(with profuse apologies to Percy Bysshe Shelley)

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism

June 18, 2014

Melatonin in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Aim  The aim of this study was to investigate melatonin-related findings in autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorders, not otherwise specified.

Method  Comprehensive searches were conducted in the PubMed, Google Scholar, CINAHL, EMBASE, Scopus, and ERIC databases from their inception to October 2010. Two reviewers independently assessed 35 studies that met the inclusion criteria. Of these, meta-analysis was performed on five randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, and the quality of these trials was assessed using the Downs and Black checklist.

Results  Nine studies measured melatonin or melatonin metabolites in ASD and all reported at least one abnormality, including an abnormal melatonin circadian rhythm in four studies, below average physiological levels of melatonin and/or melatonin derivates in seven studies, and a positive correlation between these levels and autistic behaviors in four studies. Five studies reported gene abnormalities that could contribute to decreased melatonin production or adversely affect melatonin receptor function in a small percentage of children with ASD. Six studies reported improved daytime behavior with melatonin use. Eighteen studies on melatonin treatment in ASD were identified; these studies reported improvements in sleep duration, sleep onset latency, and night-time awakenings. Five of these studies were randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover studies; two of the studies contained blended samples of children with ASD and other developmental disorders, but only data for children with ASD were used in the meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found significant improvements with large effect sizes in sleep duration (73min compared with baseline, Hedge’s g 1.97 [95% confidence interval {CI} CI 1.10–2.84], Glass’s Δ 1.54 [95% CI 0.64–2.44]; 44min compared with placebo, Hedge’s g 1.07 [95% CI 0.49–1.65], Glass’s Δ 0.93 [95% CI 0.33–1.53]) and sleep onset latency (66min compared with baseline, Hedge’s g −2.42 [95% CI −1.67 to −3.17], Glass’s Δ −2.18 [95% CI −1.58 to −2.76]; 39min compared with placebo, Hedge’s g −2.46 [95% CI −1.96 to −2.98], Glass’s Δ −1.28 [95% CI −0.67 to −1.89]) but not in night-time awakenings. The effect size varied significantly across studies but funnel plots did not indicate publication bias. The reported side effects of melatonin were minimal to none. Some studies were affected by limitations, including small sample sizes and variability in the protocols that measured changes in sleep parameters.

Interpretation  Melatonin administration in ASD is associated with improved sleep parameters, better daytime behavior, and minimal side effects. Additional studies of melatonin would be helpful to confirm and expand on these findings.

Daniel A. Rossignol and Richard E. Frye
Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, Volume 53, Issue 9, pages 783–792, September 2011
DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2011.03980.x

Also look for the upcoming review article: “Melatonin and the Circadian System: Contributions to Successful Female Reproduction” by Russell Reiter et al., Fertility & Sterility, Volume 102, Issue 3, September 2014: “The central circadian regulatory system is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The output of this master clock is synchronized to 24 hours by the prevailing light-dark cycle. ... The cyclic levels of melatonin in the blood pass through the placenta and aid in the organization of the fetal SCN. In the absence of this synchronizing effect, the offspring exhibit neurobehavioral deficits. Melatonin protects the developing fetus from oxidative stress.” DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2014.06.014

June 17, 2014

Why Not Wind: an open letter

To whom it may concern:

This is a brief representation of the reasons industrial-scale wind is a destructive boondoggle that only fools – or worse – would approve.

Unlike “conventional” power sources, wind does not follow demand. As the Bonneville Power Authority in the Pacific Northwest of the USA has shown (www.wind-watch.org/pix/493), the relationship between load and wind generation is essentially random. That means that wind can never replace dispatchable sources that are needed to meet actual demand.

The contribution of wind generation is therefore an illusion, because the grid has to supply steady power in response to demand, and as the wind rises and falls, the grid maintains supply by relying on its already built-in excess capacity.

That is also why meaningful reductions in carbon emissions are not seen: because fuel continues to be burned in “spinning reserve” plants which are kept active to kick into electricity production when needed for meeting surges in demand or, now, drops in the wind. Denmark’s famously high wind penetration is possible only because it is connected to the large Nordic and German grids – so that Denmark’s wind power actually constitutes a very small fraction of that total system capacity. To make further wind capacity possible (despite a public backlash that has essentially stopped onshore wind development since 2003), Denmark is now building a connection to the Dutch grid.

Another reason that meaningful reductions in carbon emissions are not seen is that the first source to be modulated to balance wind is usually hydro. This is seen quite clearly in Spain, another country with high wind penetration: The changes in electricity from hydro are an almost exact inverse of those from wind (https://demanda.ree.es/generacion_acumulada.html). This is also seen in the USA’s Pacific Northwest (http://transmission.bpa.gov/business/operations/Wind/baltwg.aspx).

Finally, on systems with sufficient natural gas–powered generators, which can ramp on and off quickly enough to balance wind’s highly variable infeed, wind forces those generators to operate far less efficiently than they would otherwise. It is like stop-and-go city versus steady highway driving. According to several analyses (e.g., www.wind-watch.org/doc/?p=1568), the carbon emissions from gas + wind are not significantly different from gas alone and in some cases may be more.

And again, whatever the effect, wind is always an add-on. The grid must be able to operate reliably without it, because very often, and often for very long stretches of time, wind is indeed in the doldrums: It is not there.

And beware the illusion of “average” output. The fact is that any wind turbine or group of turbines generates at or above its average rate (which is typically 20%–30% of the nameplate capacity, depending on the site) only about 40% of the time. Because of the physics of extracting energy from wind, the rest of the time production approaches zero.

As an add-on, therefore, its costs are completely unnecessary and wasteful. And even if, by some miracle, it were a reliable, dispatchable, reasonably continuous source, its costs would still be enormous – not only economically, but also environmentally. Wind is a very diffuse resource and therefore requires a massive mechanical system to catch any useful amount. That means ever larger blades on ever taller towers in ever larger groupings. And the only places where that is feasible are the very places we need to preserve as useful agricultural land, scenic landscapes that are so important to our souls (and to tourism), and wild land where the natural world can thrive.

Besides the obvious damage to the land of heavy-duty roads for construction and continued maintenance, huge concrete platforms, new powerlines, and substations (while making no meaningful contribution to the actual operation of the grid) and the visual intrusion of 150-metre (500-ft) structures with strobe lights and rotating blades, there are serious adverse impacts from the giant airplane-like blades cutting through 6,000–8,000 square metres (1.5–2 acres) of vertical airspace both day and night: pulsating noise (including infrasound which is felt more than heard) that carries great distances and disturbs nearby residents (especially at night, when there is a greater expectation of – and need for – quiet and atmospheric conditions often augment the noise), even threatening their physical health, pressure vortices that kill bats by destroying their lungs, blade tip speeds of 300 km/h that also kill bats as well as birds, particularly raptors, many of which are already endangered, and vibration that carries through the tower into the ground with effects on soil integrity and flora and fauna that have yet to be studied.

In short, the benefits of industrial-scale wind are minuscule (if that), while its adverse impacts and costs are great. Its only effect is to provide greenwashing (and tax avoidance) for business-as-usual energy producers and lip-service politicians, while opening up to vast industrial development land that has been otherwise fiercely protected – most disturbingly by many of the same groups now clamoring for wind.

Industrial-scale wind is all the more outrageous for the massive flow of public money into the private bank accounts of developers. It is not surprising to learn that Enron established the package of subsidies and regulatory “innovations” that made the modern wind industry possible. Or that in Italy, the Mafia was an early backer of developers. It is indeed a criminal enterprise: crony capitalism, anti-environment rapaciousness, and hucksterism at its most duplicitous.

After decades of recorded experience, there is no longer any excuse to fall for it.

Eric Rosenbloom
President, National Wind Watch, Inc. (www.wind-watch.org)

Mr Rosenbloom lives in Vermont, USA, where he works as a science editor, writer, and typographer. He has studied and written about wind energy since 2003. He was invited to join the board, and then elected President (a wholly volunteer position), of National Wind Watch in 2006, a year after it was founded by citizens from 10 states who met to share their concerns about the risks and impacts of wind energy development. National Wind Watch is a 501(c)(3) educational charity registered in Massachusetts.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism