December 24, 2014

‘not just climate denialists who are anti-science’

This letter in the Dec. 21 New York Times Magazine, in response to Rebecca Solnit’s Dec. 7 essay “Are We Missing the Big Picture on Climate Change?”, deserves its own post:

‘The climate-change angle we usually ignore is the apocalyptic side of the human “success story” — our phenomenal growth in population to seven billion from one billion in little more than two centuries. But our cleverness in transforming fossil-fuel energy into labor-saving technology and high-yield agriculture has gone to our heads. It’s not just the climate denialists who are anti-science; it’s also those renewable-energy optimists who ignore basic laws of thermodynamics and entertain the fantasy that it will be possible for seven billion to live in the style of the American middle class. The new story we need to tell is “managed degrowth” — gradually but significantly paring down our demands for resources and learning to live within the ecological budget of the earth.’ —Ando Arike

December 22, 2014

Violence against women seen in both Sydney siege and Brooklyn police murderers

While Australia hypes up a war on Islamic terrorism, and New York City hypes up a police war on (not-so-) minority communities, there is another element that links the recent murders in Sydney and Brooklyn: Both gunmen had already exhibited violence against women.

The New York murderer of two policemen had that day already shot his ex-girlfriend in a town near Baltimore and had a history of violence (including to himself) and mental instability.

The Sydney murderer of two of the hostages that he held for 18 hours also had an established history of violence, including being an accessory to the brutal murder of his ex-wife a year and a half earlier. He was let out on bail. Two months ago, he was charged with 40 counts of sexual assault. He was again let out on bail.

December 21, 2014

Animal agriculture is the most destructive industry on the planet today

Animal agriculture is the most destructive industry on the planet today. Here's why.

Climate Change

Global greenhouse gas emissions:
• 13% due to transport (road, rail, air and sea)
• 51% due to livestock and their byproducts

Livestock is responsible for 65% of nitrous oxide emissions, a greenhouse gas 296× more destructive than CO₂.

A person who follows a vegan diet produces 1/2 as much CO₂ as a meat eater.


1-2 acres (4,000-8,000 m²) of rainforest are cleared every minute.

Animal agriculture is responsible 91% of Amazon destruction.

Area of rainforest cleared:
• palm oil: 105 billion m²
• animal agriculture: 550 billion m²

A person who follows a vegan diet uses 1/11 as much oil as a meat eater.

Species Extinction

110 animal and insect species are lost every day from rainforest destruction.

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of:
• species extinction
• ocean dead zones
• water pollution
• habitat destruction


80.4 million metric tons of fish are pulled from the oceans each year.
(1 metric ton = 1,000 kilograms ≈ 2,200 pounds)

3/4 of the world's fish habitats are exploited.

For every 1 kilogram of fish caught, 5 kilograms of unintended species are caught and discarded as by-kill
(1 kg = 2.2 lb; 5 kg = 11 lb)

Water Use

1 hamburger = 3,000 liters of water = 2 months' showering
(1 liter ≈ 1 quart; 3,000 liters ≈ 800 gallons)

The meat & dairy industry use 1/3 of the earth's fresh water.

USA water use:
• domestic: 5%
• animal agriculture: 55%

A person who follows a vegan diet uses 1/13 as much water as a meat eater.


Waste from a farm of 2,500 dairy cows = waste from a city of 411,000 people.

Every minute, 3.2 million kilograms of excrement is produced by animals raised for food in the USA.
(3.2 million kg ≈ 7 million lb)

Land Use

1/3 of land desertification is due to livestock.

30% of the earth's land is used for livestock.

1.5 acres (6,000 m²) = 16,800 kg (37,000 lb) of plant-based food OR 170 kg (375 lb) of meat

Land needed to feed 1 person for 1 year:
• meat eater: 12,000 m² (3 acres)
• vegan: 675 m² (1/6 of an acre)

A person who follows a vegan diet uses 1/18 as much land as a meat eater.

Click here for nonmetric original by Luke Jones.

See: Cowspiracy references and calculations.

December 14, 2014

A Dairy/Veal Farm

These photos and their captions are all taken from Jo-Anne McArthur's "We Animals" web site.

Ears are clipped and tagged without anesthetic or painkillers.

These young calves will either be raised for veal or put into the milk production system. Both outcomes involve lives of exploitation and a premature death.

Veal calves are taken away from their mothers within minutes of being born. Their first food is colostrum from a bottle.

Unless veal crates are thoroughly cleaned on a daily basis, they can be breeding grounds for flies which plague the calves.

These cows know no pasture. Their days are spent standing on hard surfaces and as a result their hooves grow to painful lengths.

Born with ropes around her legs, she is literally enslaved to us from birth.

Other dairy cows, who have had their calves taken away, watch as the new mother cleans her baby.

The bond between mother and babe is obvious and immediate.

Dairy cows who have had their babies removed from them so that we can drink their milk, watch the new mother bond with her calf.

As the calf takes her first steps, the cows watch the humans warily.

The calf is dumped in barrow and wheeled to her home, a veal crate.

Still wet from birth, she will be added to the rows of other calves and crates, and raised in this confinement.

A lonely existence.

Painfully overgrown hooves are a result of sedentary days and the cement they stand on their whole lives.

Overgrown hooves, anxious looks.

Meanwhile, the mothers are milked through a meticulously motorized and computerized system.

The sickly, fly-covered calf we saw earlier in the day is now dead.

A calf's life.

The dead are wheeled away.

She will be reimpregnated until her body becomes exhausted from the years of giving birth and milk production. At that point, she will be sent to slaughter and sold as low-grade beef. Outside this system, she could live 20+ years but here, she will be slaughtered before her eighth birthday.

December 9, 2014

Wind Turbines and Property Values: Does Goverment/Academic Analysis Match Empirical Evidence?

Richard Vyn, Assistant Professor, Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus, Ontario, is the author along with Ryan McCullough of Health Canada of “The Effects of Wind Turbines on Property Values in Ontario: Does Public Perception Match Empirical Evidence?”, which was published by the Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics/Revue canadienne d'agroeconomie on line in January and in print in September – and being publicized only now, perhaps to distract from the fiasco of Health Canada’s self-contradicting summary of its “Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study” without releasing the actual data. The complete paper is not available for free.

What follows is a transcript of excerpts (in italics) from a Nov. 18 recording of a class presentation by Professor Vyn, along with some comments.

Now, the number of sales in close proximity is relatively low. Not that it's lower than anywhere else, just when you're looking at a 1-kilometre band around the turbines, the number of sales is not huge in the post-turbine period. This may influence the results to some degree. ... That can be seen as a limitation of the study: the fact that the number of sales isn't as high as we would like to be.

[The key term in his description of the results is "significant", because calculation of a statistically significant difference requires both a large enough sample and the elimination of other variables, both of which are practically impossible regarding property sales (in fact, the purpose of such a broad statistical analysis seems to be precisely to dilute the sample). So significance is a red herring. Nonetheless, his repeated use of the term "not significant" suggests that there was in fact a clear "trend". More informative, however, would be a simple case series, such as that done by Elma-Mornington Concerned Citizens for the Ripley project. Such a study would not ignore properties bought by the wind company, abandoned properties, continuing farms but without residents, and homes for sale but remaining unsold.]

It wouldn't surprise me if we do find, if we do at some point in Ontario find some evidence of negative impacts of wind farms. The reason for this is just given the increasing attention this issue has drawn and just how people value properties. A lot of the value you place on a property is relatively subjective. Why does one property which, with the exact same house, you put it in a different location, why is the value any different? Because of how people perceive the differences in those locations. So in the past few years there's been a big increase in the amount of concerns that are raised, public press articles that are expressing these concerns, and more and more people are hearing about these potential impacts. And so I'm wondering if this will eventually translate into observed impacts on property values. I mean in one sense you can only hear about these impacts again and again for so long before you start to believe that these impacts do actually exist. And it's not beyond the realm of possibility when you consider the fact that a large wind turbine's been put up that maybe there would be impacts.

[These efforts to blame access to information (or to common sense) as the cause of problems never seem to consider the relentless promotion of and reassurances regarding giant wind turbines – why isn't that succeeding to decrease reports of harm? Also, people are not statistical averages. Nobody is "only 5-10%" (or whatever) affected; what that means is that there is a 5-10% chance that you will be 100% affected; and that's plenty to be concerned about.]

[question] Going back to when you were talking about future research needs, you mentioned how since the value of a house is largely subjective, as we move into the future and more people hear about these potential impacts, even though they may be from unreliable sources, you said it could become sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy as we see these prices go down. So alternatively, if you improve the access to information, this information specifically, instead of sensationalist news stories, do you think that public perception could improve, so if more people, essentially, read this paper do you see that improving public perception of it?

I think a little bit. At the very least it would sort of inform public opinion about these issues. But on the other hand, if people believe that there are these impacts, it really doesn't matter what research studies such as this one suggest. I mean, we saw that even with the Health Canada study on the linking wind turbines to health, where they really didn't find any significant linkages
[except the link of wind turbine noise to annoyance and the link of annoyance to health problems]. It was immediately dismissed, as I imagine this study will be as well by those that believe strongly that there are these impacts. So I think it furthers the discussion, but I don't know that a study like this will turn things around in terms of public perception. I would hope it has some impact on how it's discussed, but for those that do believe there is a significant negative impact on property values this study isn't going to change. There are certainly some limitations of this study, and I think because there's limitations, as there are with any study, that may be what gets focused on by those that believe there are negative impacts.

[Much worse is the determination of many policy analysts to deny the evidence of negative impacts. Vyn recognizes the limitations of his study and other studies that show impacts, but persists in laying the blame for any evidence of harm on fear-mongering and prejudice rather than accepting that giant industrial constructions (with rotating blades day and night) in rural areas would have any consequence. They use statistics and the language of science not to discover the truth, but rather to deny the evidence, to hide the obvious, to instead promote and defend a particular industry or policy.]

December 8, 2014

War by Media and the Triumph of Propaganda

John Pilger writes at Counterpunch:

... [H]ad journalists done their job, had they questioned and investigated the propaganda instead of amplifying it, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children might be alive today; and millions might not have fled their homes; the sectarian war between Sunni and Shia might not have ignited, and the infamous Islamic State might not now exist.

Even now, despite the millions who took to the streets in protest, most of the public in western countries have little idea of the sheer scale of the crime committed by our governments in Iraq. Even fewer are aware that, in the 12 years before the invasion, the US and British governments set in motion a holocaust by denying the civilian population of Iraq a means to live. ...

The suppression of the truth about Ukraine is one of the most complete news blackouts I can remember. The biggest Western military build-up in the Caucasus and eastern Europe since world war two is blacked out. Washington’s secret aid to Kiev and its neo-Nazi brigades responsible for war crimes against the population of eastern Ukraine is blacked out. Evidence that contradicts propaganda that Russia was responsible for the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner is blacked out.

And again, supposedly liberal media are the censors. ...

There is almost the joi d’esprit of a class reunion. The drum-beaters of the Washington Post are the very same editorial writers who declared the existence of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction to be “hard facts”.

“If you wonder,” wrote Robert Parry, “how the world could stumble into world war three – much as it did into world war one a century ago – all you need to do is look at the madness that has enveloped virtually the entire US political/media structure over Ukraine where a false narrative of white hats versus black hats took hold early and has proved impervious to facts or reason.” ...

It’s 100 years since the First World War. Reporters then were rewarded and knighted for their silence and collusion. At the height of the slaughter, British prime minister David Lloyd George confided in C.P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian: “If people really knew [the truth] the war would be stopped tomorrow, but of course they don’t know and can’t know.”

It’s time they knew.

December 7, 2014

Are We Missing the Big Picture on Climate Change?

So Rebecca Solnit asks in today's New York Times Magazine, going on to show that she is indeed.

She begins by describing the remains of a bird scorched to death by the Ivanpah concentrated solar power facility, which has paved over a chunk of the desert "nearly five times the size of Central Park" (3,500 acres, to produce, according to Solnit, 392 megawatts of power at full capacity).

However, it can generate at that rate only when sun position and atmospheric conditions are ideal. The developers themselves project an average output of 30% capacity, or a total annual generation of just over 1,000,000 megawatt-hours. With an average household use of 10 megawatt-hours per year, that's equivalent to the electricity use of 100,000 households, not 140,000 as Solnit writes.

Therein lie her first manipulations of the story. Besides exaggerating the projected output of the Ivanpah facility and ignoring the fact that actual output has not been reported and is almost invariably much less than projected, as well as not considering the loss of at least 3,500 acres of desert habitat (new roads and transmission corridors were also built; desert tortoises were forcibly moved out), she uses the deceptive industry practice of expressing output in terms of "homes served". Domestic use of electricity represents only around 35% of the total. So in terms of total per-capita electricity use, the projected output of the Ivanpah facility would be equivalent to only the total amount used by the people from only 35,000 households.

And it would provide electricity for none at night. And electrical energy represents less than 40% of our total energy use. So the benefit in terms of reducing the use of other fuels becomes negligible. Considering the vast resources required to build the facility and the vast amount of land required to harness the energy, this hardly seems a wise path.

[Update:  In fact, the actual generation of electricity from the Ivanpah facility is reported to and by the Department of Energy. Those data can be daunting to sift through, but more than a month ago it was reported by Pete Danko at Breaking Energy that production was running well under 40% of what was projected (ie, less than 14,000 households, one tenth Solnit's claim), and that use of "auxiliary" natural gas had to be increased by 60%.]

Some waterfowl mistake that shining sea of mirrors for a real lake, so they try to land on it. But without water to launch themselves back into the air, they’re stranded, prey for coyotes or doomed to die of thirst or hunger. Other birds fly into Ivanpah, where, dazzled by glare, they collide with the mirrors or towers. Still others are scorched by the heat and fall to their deaths.

It’s this last form of avian death that became news. In August, The Atlantic described Ivanpah “incinerating” birds in flight; The Associated Press reported that wildlife investigators saw birds “ignite,” and that birds “burned and fell” every two minutes. Ivanpah’s corporate website noted that a death every two minutes would mean 100,000 dead birds a year, while only 321 dead and injured birds had been recovered. The actual number of deaths seems to be well above the power plant’s tally and far below the number reported by The Associated Press. But birds do die there, in many ways.

A second manipulation is in presenting the figure of "only 321" recovered bird corpses without context. Every such survey calculates an estimated "true" figure from such a sampling, considering imperfect recovery and loss to predators (such as the coyotes that Solnit mentions). In other words, Solnit's low figure, which she presents as final, is in fact only the starting point towards a much higher estimate.

But who cares, Solnit implies, because she's looking at the big picture. Let's not talk about what's actually happening at the Ivanpah facility, or whether the Ivanpah facility's benefits are enough to justify its harms, because climate change is a much bigger issue. And if you insist on worrying about the birds being killed there (or the displaced tortoises), you obviously don't care about climate change.
Supporters of fossil fuel and deniers of climate change love to trade in stories like the one about Ivanpah, individual tales that make renewable energy seem counterproductive, perverse. Stories cannot so readily capture the far larger avian death toll from coal, gas and nuclear power generation. Benjamin Sovacool, an energy-policy expert, looked into the deaths of birds at wind farms (where the blades can chop them down) and concluded that per gigawatt hour, nuclear power plants kill more than twice as many birds and fossil-fuel plants kill more than 30 times as many. He noted that over the course of a year fossil-fuel plants in the United States actually kill about 24 million birds, compared to 46,000 by wind farms. His calculations factor in climate change as part of their deadly impact.
That paragraph, typical of the logic of big energy apologists, is an absolute muddle. First, "individual tales" are precisely what make the climate change story compelling. So why write off these particular victims as something less? Yes, the toll from other sources of energy is much greater — that's because they represent a much greater proportion of our energy. Non-hydro renewable energy is still — and will likely always remain, because of its intermittency and variability — in the low single percentage points. And that's just electrical energy, which, recall, is less than 40% of total energy use.

So the question is not who kills more, but what can be done to kill less. Without meaningfully reducing our use of other fuels, giant wind and solar facilities are only adding to the toll, not reducing it.

Furthermore, the factoring of climate change in the calculation of bird deaths is the flip side of citing "only 321" bird corpses. It's meaningless. It's particularly questionable in the case of nuclear power, which does not emit carbon and so does not contribute to climate change (at least by that means).

Besides being manipulative, it is also simplistic, ignoring the fact that wind turbines, for example, are a particular danger to raptors (eagles, hawks, falcons, owls), whose populations (never mind the individuals!) are already challenged by habitat loss to humans. It ignores the toll on bats. And it ignores the huge increase of human land use (so much of it for supporting livestock, which represents massive deforestation, water depletion and pollution, and emissions of methane, which has 25 times the greenhouse effect of CO₂), ie, destruction of natural habitat, obviously the greatest barrier to plant and animal survival, resilience, and adaptation to climate change.
For a while our eyes were on the photographs of oil-soaked pelicans, victims of the 2010 BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The devastation of the region is no longer news, but scientists, who track data for long unnewsworthy swathes of time, have found that the spill has killed more than 600,000 birds. It is still killing sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins and contaminating the seafood in areas where human beings fish. ... A recent Audubon Society report on climate change concludes: “Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080. Of the 314 species at risk from global warming, 126 of them are classified as climate endangered. These birds are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050.”
The latter part of the preceding excerpt points to the loss of habitat as being as much a problem as climate change. And the former part is relevant to oil use, but irrelevant to the toll at Ivanpah — because oil is used for transport and heating (and lubricating wind turbines and insulating their transformers), not for generating electricity. And again, these deaths are due to a catastrophic well blowout, not to climate change.
The technology for wind and solar farms can still be improved, but they are among the few remedies we have to the biggest problem humanity has ever faced. All over the world, renewable energy is proliferating — even on the plains of West Texas, there are now wind turbines among the fracking wells. Wind and solar are not only problems but solutions to the deadliness of the fossil fuel industry, whether it’s through routine devastation, as with tar sands, or catastrophic accidents, as with the BP spill, or the sabotage of the whole planetary system by climate change.
Having raising the unquestionable harms of an oil spill, now Solnit more directly contrasts it to wind and solar, even though, again, oil is not used for electricity. Even if wind and solar were everything their promoters claim (including the eternal canard that next year's technology and planning will solve all problems so don't worry about the continuing harm from last year's which if you think should be decommissioned you must really hate the planet), they would not change anything about oil at all. Insisting that wind and solar will save us almost seems a means of shrugging off the real problems of oil use, eg, that it is our use of it that drives all that drilling. Pave the desert with solar panels, string wind turbines across the mountain ridges: Just don't look, as Solnit's title suggests, at the big picture. Instead: Blame everything on climate change, and justify everything as fighting climate change.

She ends with a fire-and-brimstone vision of absolute calamity. She may not be wrong, but she would have us accept the deaths of birds and bats and the massive loss of habitat from building giant wind and solar projects as a distraction from the calamities due to climate change. That is exactly the self-rationalizing casuistry that guarantees — and justifies — only more calamity.

  • “Before human populations swelled to the point at which we could denude whole forests and wipe out entire animal populations, extinction rates were at least ten times lower. And the future does not look any brighter. Climate change and the spread of invasive species (often facilitated by humans) will drive extinction rates only higher.” —Protect and serve, Nature 516, 144 (11 December 2014)
  • ‘Many species are already critically endangered and close to extinction, including the Sumatran elephant, Amur leopard and mountain gorilla. But also in danger of vanishing from the wild, it now appears, are animals that are currently rated as merely being endangered: bonobos, bluefin tuna and loggerhead turtles, for example.

    ‘In each case, the finger of blame points directly at human activities. The continuing spread of agriculture is destroying millions of hectares of wild habitats every year, leaving animals without homes, while the introduction of invasive species, often helped by humans, is also devastating native populations. At the same time, pollution and overfishing are destroying marine ecosystems.

    ‘“Habitat destruction, pollution or overfishing either kills off wild creatures and plants or leaves them badly weakened,” said Derek Tittensor, a marine ecologist at the World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge. “The trouble is that in coming decades, the additional threat of worsening climate change will become more and more pronounced and could then kill off these survivors.”’ —Earth faces sixth ‘great extinction’ with 41% of amphibians set to go the way of the dodo, The Observer, 14 December 2014
Update: Ando Arike writes:  ‘The climate-change angle we usually ignore is the apocalyptic side of the human “success story” — our phenomenal growth in population to seven billion from one billion in little more than two centuries. But our cleverness in transforming fossil-fuel energy into labor-saving technology and high-yield agriculture has gone to our heads. It’s not just the climate denialists who are anti-science; it’s also those renewable-energy optimists who ignore basic laws of thermodynamics and entertain the fantasy that it will be possible for seven billion to live in the style of the American middle class. The new story we need to tell is “managed degrowth” — gradually but significantly paring down our demands for resources and learning to live within the ecological budget of the earth.’

December 3, 2014

Reducing meat and dairy is crucial to fighting climate change

In an article titled “The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets”, published in the May 2014 issue of Climatic Change, the authors – from the Department of Energy and Environment, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden – “conclude that reduced ruminant meat and dairy consumption will be indispensable for reaching the 2 °C target with a high probability”.

And Chatham House, the preeminent establish think tank in the U.K., has just published “Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector”, recognizing that:
  • Consumption of meat and dairy produce is a major driver of climate change.
    • Greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector are estimated to account for 14.5 per cent of the global total, more than direct emissions from the transport sector.
    • Even with ambitious supply-side action to reduce the emissions intensity of livestock production, rising global demand for meat and dairy produce means emissions will continue to rise.
  • Shifting global demand for meat and dairy produce is central to achieving climate goals.
  • However, there is a striking paucity of efforts to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products.
  • The data presented in this paper reveal a major awareness gap about livestock’s contribution to climate change.
  • Climate change is not currently a primary consideration in food choices.

December 1, 2014

Evil masterminds behind citizen opposition to evil masterminds

Here’s a mildly fun game. The New York Times’ crusade against Russia has become such a caricature of cold-war-era propaganda that it now resembles the tirades against the Koch brothers for forcing all of us to burn fossil fuels like there’s no tomorrow and duping us into opposing the turning of our last rural and wild places into industrial wind and solar energy facilities.

On Nov. 30, the Times published an article by Andrew Higgins titled “Russian Money Suspected Behind Fracking Protests”. As with most such openly propagandistic pieces at the Times, the article is not opened to comments. The article is reminiscent of one at The Guardian on June 19 reporting then Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s claim that Russia is “secretly working with environmentalists to oppose fracking”. Yes, the choice is between fracking (injecting a slew of toxic chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture rocks and release deposits of methane, much of which is released into the air, with some 25 times the greenhouse gas effect of CO₂) and ... what, exactly?

In each of these articles, one can simply substitute Russia with Exxon, Putin with the Koch Brothers, and fracking with wind turbines and, as if they were written from a “Mad Libs” template, one has another typical article that avoids the actual issue involved, rather evoking a vague powerful network of “astroturf” organizations surely backed by a nefarious puppetmaster. The articles flip the power relationship to portray the frackers/wind developers as victims of the monstrous power of local opposition. The local officials who thought it was fine to sell out their communities are left scratching their heads, cursing (and having it dutifully reported) what they can only assume (out of their own worldview) to be “well financed and well organized” opposition instead of acknowledging the power of democracy and information. The lack of evidence for the charges only proves how powerful the evil geniuses behind it really are. The fact that people across the social and political spectrum unite against these developments is also presented as proof that they can only be paid agents – or gullible dupes – instead of recognized, even celebrated, as the populist power of a common cause.

In the Guardian article, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth laugh at Rasmussen’s claim. Maybe those groups should reconsider their own demonization campaigns against people who oppose large-scale wind and solar developments in rural and wild areas.