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Whales are more Important to Climate Change than Donald Trump.

Donald Trump has pulled the USA out of the Paris Climate accord. And I don’t think this matters all that much. For a start, the USA’s emissions are falling. Mostly this is because coal is being replaced by Natural Gas, but also because people are driving less, in smaller vehicles with ever more efficient engines. The motors driving the west’s steady fall in carbon emissions are economic and technological, not political.
Next to the steady decline in carbon emissions from the west, is set a vast increase in emissions from Asia. This represents a shift from billions of people using no net carbon energy, tending crops using animal muscle and burning biomass (and occasionally starving to death) Just a few decades ago, to meeting an Indian chap who was on holiday in Stockholm with his family, and chatting about cricket while we tried to decipher the train times. The rise of a middle class in India and China is a huge flowering of human potential, even if it comes with soluble environmental problems.
As a result of worldwide economic development, the level of Co2 in the atmosphere is rising, and this is changing the climate. Reducing carbon emissions is a noble aim, but it must not get in the way of developing economies’ economic growth. Fortunately, the solution is already with us. Renewable technology is improving. Cars are getting more efficient, and perhaps moving away from fossil fuel (at least directly). And this process will happen in India and China more quickly than it did in the west because adopting what will be soon proven and cheap technology will enable them to miss whole generations of polluting technologies.


Which brings us to the great cetaceans. The southern ocean is the world’s biggest habitat, with the world’s shortest food chain, at the top of which sits the largest animal that has ever existed on earth. The food chain runs like this: Phytoplankton bloom, and are eaten by zooplankton, which are eaten by fish larvae and krill, which are eaten buy just about everything else. The biggest eaters of krill are the baleen whales the biggest of which turn five tons of Krill into iron-rich turds every day. Sperm whales meanwhile are diving to the abyssal deep, turning several tons of squid (including another of my favourite species, Architeuthis dux)  into iron-rich scat and in doing so, moving nutrients from the deep to the surface.

The limiting nutrient at the bottom of the food-chain is iron, so whale faeces fertilise the ocean, and enable more phytoplankton to grow which absorb Co2 from  the air, much of which falls to the bottom of the ocean as marine snow, and eventually become rock. But we killed the whales, and when we stopped doing so, they didn’t recover as quickly as we hoped. We didn’t just kill the apex predators, in doing so, humanity reduced the Southern ocean’s ecosystem’s capacity to create life, and absorb Carbon. The southern ocean may have settled at a lower equilibrium of Iron circulation. The Atlantic on the other hand, which gets tons of Iron from the African deserts every time the wind blows, has seen whale stocks recover better.

Which is why I want to see more research into Iron seeding the ocean, which may give a leg up to Balaenoptera musculus, as well as possibly solving climate change. Climate change is a problem. But while Trump’s petulant gesture doesn’t help us solve it, nor does it make the problem all that much harder. Politicians simply matter less than a whale taking a dump.

You Don’t have to be a ‘Climate Denier’ to Hate Wind Farms.

For the record, I accept the scientific consensus about Anthropogenic climate change. I also accept the economic consensus about what we should do about it (CO2 pigou taxes, etc…). The political “consensus” that we all need to put on a hair shirt, tax ourselves into penury, provide enourmous subsidies to wind and give up the advantages of modern life, because “the environment reasons” is just Watermelon nonsense. It’s an attempt to stifle capitalism by people who’ve never liked it, but who now use a different excuse to demand capitalism shut itself down. Dialectic materialism has been replaced by dialectic environmentalism, but the prescription is the same: economic planning. They were wrong last time, they’re wrong this time.

There are many things we can do to make our energy supply less polluting. And we should pick the low-hanging fruit first. In the UK, much of our energy (39% at the time of writing) comes from coal. Much of this could be replaced with lower-carbon, cleaner, safer Natural Gas. This will require widespread fracking but will allow the UK’s CO2 footprint to go down quickest in the short-term. If you are going to go with wind, Gas can be cranked up and down quicker than coal can.

But it’s not even clear Wind Turbines are good for the environment, even in Narrow CO2 Terms. Turbines have high embedded energy: they have to replace an awful lot of coal to justify the CO2 used in their manufacture, taking over a year to ‘pay back’ the energy used in their manufacture. Solar Photo-Voltaic generation is tumbling in price. It will not be long before such power generation will be competitive with fossil fuels, without subsidy. At this point, everyone will be mad to not have a solar panel or two on their roof. Instead of letting the market do its work, Government has done its usual job of picking a winner, littering the countryside with unsightly, noisy, unpopular, expensive, vibrating wind-farms, next to which those politicians will not have to live; but by which they will force others to live in order to demonstrate their “green” credentials but the cost of wind energy is NOT falling. These wind farms will never produce cheap energy.

In Germany, where they have a lot of wind power, when it’s windy it overloads the network and barely have sufficient base-line capacity when it’s not. On a cold, still day, without French nuclear capacity, Germany would suffer blackouts. Today, it’s windy, they will probably get 60% of their energy needs from wind, and will not find a market for their Gas-produced power (much of which must stay on all the time…). This distorts the wholesale energy markets across Europe.

Wind turbines kill birds. I am pissed off by this, even if you’re not.

The much touted subsidy (a price guarantee) for recently negotiated for new nuclear capacity is about a third that given to wind power, though it lasts longer. Subsidy is money taken from the surplus generated by productive endeavour, and given to unproductive endeavour and is unarguably a bad thing. This is what the market finds out and the market is working -Solar feed in tariffs are falling as the price of cells falls and their efficiency rises. It has long been accepted the up-front costs of nuclear are so vast, state guarantees are needed for new capacity to be built, but it seems likely Nuclear will be competitive, if the wholesale energy price rises at least in line with inflation as it has in the past. Wind however doesn’t generate useful electricity at an affordable price, even where it’s enjoyed massive investment and has an arguably net negative effect on the environment. People will pay to not be near them.

So, assuming you want to cut your CO2 output, 1) switch to Gas and Nuclear for base-line power. 2) encourage Solar PV generation. Encourage biomass CHP projects. Wind is an expensive, stupid, ill-thought out sideshow; an economic basket-case which has absolutely no chance whatsoever of solving the energy problems of the 21st century. There are much more effective technologies: Predictable Tidal flow, less intermittent wave power, solar PV rapidly falling in price, Nuclear for the base-load and one-day solving everything, fusion power.

The most important thing to ensure a good environment is that the economy grows healthily. If the economy is growing, people will feel they have a surplus to spend on luxuries like “the environment”. And at this, the eco-mentalists will squeal “but the environment is not a luxury”. It is, if it’s a choice between a job and a windfarm people will choose the former. Most reject the latter, even when they’re feeling rich. When times are tight, the people will demand an end to environmental costs and foreign aid. Central to anything looking like a healthy economy is the absence of subsidies, though there is a case for time limited price guarantees to “encourage” development of technologies, this would better be achieved by a simple emissions tax on the polluting power rather than the complex levies which distort the energy markets at present. Look at the economic mess Egypt is in where Governments  are struggling to Govern largely (though not entirely) over the issue of state fuel subsidies which make up 12% of GDP. Such subsidies have a habit of growing like a cancer. Germany is in a similar boat with its enormous subsidy to wind power.

Wind turbines have costs paid by rural dwellers (especially feathered ones) for the green consciences of urbanites. They make no economic sense, and little environmental. Let’s follow France, whose nuclear power stations keep Europe’s lights on when the wind’s not blowing, and in the meantime, FRACK BABY FRACK.

On Fracking, David Cameron and The North/South Divide.

Let’s be absolutely clear. There is very little to object to about fracking. The issue is almost entirely political. Groundwater contamination can be avoided, and the threat of earthquakes is just grotesquely exaggerated. There are “seismic events” but they’re equivalent to someone dropping a bowling ball out of a tree. Detectable, but unlikely to knock your house down. Any objections remaining are “general industrial” objections to plant and machinery moving about. But fracking plants aren’t particularly big, or noisy and when plumbed into a grid, don’t require much in the way of plant moving about.

The environmental benefits are mainly from replacing coal. Coal is dirty, and produces more particulates and sulphur (things that actually destroy lungs and trees) than gas. Per unit of energy, it also produces more carbon dioxide than gas at the power station. One of the objections to fracking is that leaks of Methane from the process enter the atmosphere. These leaks can almost entirely dispel any benefit to Greenhouse emissions as Methane is a far more potent Greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide. However CO2 accumulates in the Atmosphere, whereas methane breaks down quickly. EPA estimates of leaks range from 2% (at which level there are clear greenhouse benefits to Gas) to 14% (at one rig in Utah, which appeared to be an outlier).

Methane leakage is a regulatory and engineering problem. It isn’t fundamental to the technology.

Cameron thinks Fracking can reduce energy bills. Well he’s half right. If the technology is adopted across Europe, then yes, it will but UK supply will be fed into a European gas network, and will unlikely be enough to significantly alter prices on its own. What will happen is that taxes will be levied on production and the majority of the benefit will flow to the exchequer. Furthermore, the balance of trade will improve, probably strengthening Sterling as we once again become an energy exporter. This will help to reverse the slide in living standards as imports will become cheaper again.

No-doubt Labour, gifted Lord Howell’s remarks about the “desolate” North East being suitable for Fracking, then rowing back by saying he meant the North-West (well that’s OK then…) will make this about a posh, southern “them” doing fracking to the poor, benighted north. Hence Cameron pointing out that much of the shale is in the South East of England, and his (neighbouring) constituencies had better get used to it.

Fracking. It may make your Gas bill a bit lower, but the main effect will be on helping to close the fiscal gap, reducing the pressure on the rest of the economy, and generate cheap, relatively clean energy. The risks are grotesquely overstated by the sort of people who would object to anything, anywhere, ever.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is due to report in November. But they seem to be saying in their update report that most of the problems so far identified are exaggerated, and soluble. The potential benefits to the UK are far more than lower energy bills, and most of the objections are spurious. Let’s just get on with it. Cameron’s right. Let’s frack, baby frack.

10:10

Obviously everyone’s seen the video in which Climate deniers, or even those merely indifferent to Global Climate Chaos, or whatever it’s called by the eco-loonies this week, get blown up. Richard Curtis is a talented film-maker, and the video has gone viral. Presumably as the makers intended. They may have apologised, but it’s not an own-goal, it’s a successful piece of attention-grabbing agitprop.

Of course everyone’s fantasised about blowing up their enemies, and if you’re in agreement, of course you’ll find it funny. And defligrating snot-nosed school children in inherently funny. So if Michael Winner’s available, maybe “the right” could put together a video of exploding “deficit deniers”.

Who wouldn’t pay a tenner to see Ed Balls’ entrails splattered over members of the Labour party? It would be more effective than the faux outrage drooling over the web as a result of the eco-nutters’ latest piece of hysteria.

But please, don’t call this stupid, or an own-goal. It isn’t.