A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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The Skeptics Handbook II

Climate Money Paper




The nerds have the numbers on precious metals investments on the ASX



What green vision? US forests burned to make costly UK electricity and produce more CO2

The Green movement have come full circle, from protecting forests and attacking coal, to preserving coal and destroying forests. The most interesting question for me (apart from wondering how long it can continue) is what the UK environmental movement is going to do with this. Do they care about forests? Do they care about the electricity bills inflicted on the poor? Do CO2 emissions matter?

In the UK, the Drax plant was once the largest coal fired power station. Now, thanks to £340 million in ‘green’ subsidies (and the rest) it makes electricity that is twice as expensive, produces more CO2, and apparently razes US forests to do it.

The Mail on Sunday has discovered that the UK Drax plant was paid by the British taxpayer to burn “millions of tons of wood pellets” which the company says are from ” dust and residues from sawmills”. But according to witnesses, environmentalists and workers, the wood is coming from US forests that are clearfelled to supply it. The Mail on Sunday has accounts from a senior forester in the firm in North Carolina that supplies Drax. He claims the company is clear-felling forests that aren’t suitable for logging, and that most [...]

Welcome to the CO2 disaster — 4 billion tons more plants, more greenery

During the recent warmest decades on record, Earth suffered under the highest CO2 levels of the last 800,000 years. Life responded to this devastating situation by — flourishing. There are now some 4 billion tons more living matter on the planet than there was in 1993. What a calamity. (And what a lot of carbon credits.)

It has, naturally, got nothing to do with warmth and aerial fertilizer. The researchers tell us it due to that force of nature known as “good luck”. Remember, human CO2 emissions were pollution that was going to afflict life on Earth. After twenty years of predicting the loss of forests and species, it turned out that biology bloomed instead. Notch up another model “success”. The press release headline: Good luck reverses global forest loss. (What else would we expect from UNSW?)

To those who know basic biology — and that almost half the dry weight of plants is carbon, sucked straight out of the air — this is not so much good luck as one entirely foreseeable and foreseen consequence of rising CO2. Acquiring carbon is often a plant’s hardest task. When the sun comes up, a cornfield begins sucking, and by lunch time [...]

Biomass burning kills 250,000 people a year

The headline at Science Daily is that wildfires and other burns lead to climate change. The paper itself asks: “As such, particle burn-off of clouds may be a major underrecognized source of global warming.” For me what matters are the deaths in the here and now:

“We calculate that 5 to 10 percent of worldwide air pollution mortalities are due to biomass burning,” Jacobson said. “That means that it causes the premature deaths of about 250,000 people each year.”

 This is similar to Indur Goklany’s conclusion in 2011:

Killing people with “concern”? Biofuels led to nearly 200,000 deaths (est) in 2010.

In a study  published in  Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Indur Goklany calculated the additional mortality burden of biofuels policies and found that nearly 200,000 people died in 2010 alone, because of efforts to use biofuels to reduce CO2 emissions.

Goklany (2011) estimated that the increase in the poverty headcount due to higher biofuel production between 2010 and 2004 implies 192,000 additional deaths and 6.7 million additional lost DALYs in 2010 alone.

He compared this death tally to the WHO figures for deaths attributed to global warming and finds that [...]

Would you like to throw billions at solar?

Have you wondered just exactly how much money you could pay for the feel-good factor of knowing that your electrons came from fashionable sources?

Thanks to the Victorian government we can get the hard numbers in the Victorian Auditor General’s Report.

In a nutshell, most alternatives are 2-3 times as expensive, except for solar which is 5 times the price.

(Luckily at the moment, renewables only produce 3 – 4 % of all energy in Victoria. Be grateful. You Victorians could be a lot poorer.)  As it is, it cost Victorians $415,000 to tell you this, but it may be the most effective money spent on renewable energy in the last ten years. (Though oddly they didn’t produce this helpful comparative graph below. I did that for free.)

The Full PDF

In 2002 the State government of Victoria decided to aim for 10% renewable energy by 2010. You can see how well that worked out for them:

The light blue line (at 10%) was what they were aiming for.

The report is 48 pages. Basically it found that nobody thought too hard about how these aims would be done. Nobody assessed how useful it was to [...]

Co2 is the magic gas that makes plants grow

A little under half (typically about 45%) of the dry weight of any plant is carbon, and almost all that “C” came from CO2 in the atmosphere. No wonder plants love more CO2.

Trees and bushes can grow out of cracks in rocks because they suck the carbon right out of the air. Likewise hydroponics is only possible because the building blocks come from liquid and aerial fertilizer.

CO2 is about the only “pollution” you can pump around plants and watch them grow faster, stronger, taller and indeed more resistant to most of the stresses that normally bother a plant.