Freeman Dyson. What’s a “scientific consensus” without him?
by Irfan K. Ali
One of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th century, Freeman Dyson, recently passed away. This most unassuming man hobnobbed with the likes of Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John von Neumann, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other giants of science and technology. He was a true giant in the world of science.
The excerpt below from The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), where he worked until his death at age 96, describes his greatest contribution to science:
In the spring of 1948, Dyson accompanied [Richard] Feynman on a fabled cross-country road trip that culminated in one of the most remarkable breakthroughs of 20th century physics. After being steeped in the work of Feynman for months and spending six weeks listening to Julian Schwinger’s ideas in Ann Arbor, Dyson was able to prove the equivalency of their two competing theories of quantum electrodynamics (QED), which describes how light and matter interact. Dyson recalled the moment of discovery as a “flash of illumination on the Greyhound bus.” He had been traveling alone for more than 48 hours, making his way to Princeton, NJ to begin his first Membership at the Institute for Advanced Study.
Dyson wanted to have nothing to do with the so called “scientific consensus”. Had he lived in the times of Giordano Bruno, a brilliant 17th century scientist, he may have met a similar fate of being burned at the stake for his unapologetic skepticism about the notion of man-made climate change. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Climate Change Alarmism is out of control. We’re being told that we have ten years to re-engineer the global energy economy or the world will reach a tipping point after which it will inevitably descend into an apocalyptic climate meltdown. A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post published an article observing that “Kids are terrified, anxious, and depressed about climate change.” Climate Alarm is feeding the anxieties of an entire generation of Greta Thunbergs, who think they have no future worth living.
There’s just no escaping it. Today we read in the Washington Post an op-ed by Parris N. Glendening, a former Maryland governor and now president of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute, arguing that states (including Virginia) in the Northeast should joint the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. His rhetoric isn’t alarmist, but he advances a sweeping agenda. Not only does Glendening want more bike lanes, more walkable communities, more mass transit, and more charging stations for Electric Vehicles, he wants Americans to pay more to get them sooner than we otherwise might. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
I’m a big fan of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose thinking on such subjects as “black swan” events, “Intellectuals Yet Idiots (IYIs),” “antifragility,” and “skin in the game” I have incorporated into my commentary on this blog. So, when Taleb invokes the precautionary principle in the context of climate change, I take his argument very seriously.
In a nutshell, Taleb contends the accuracy of climate models predicting catastrophic increases in global temperatures don’t matter. We have only one planet, and if there is even a remote chance that rising CO2 emissions will wreck it, humanity cannot afford to take that chance. The environment is a complex system, he writes. “Push a complex system too far and it will not come back.” The uncertainty surrounding climate change projections, far from being a reason to dismiss predictions of catastrophe, puts the burden of proof upon those who claim absence of harm. Read a succinct statement of his thinking here.
I’ve been pondering this argument for quite a while, and I agree with it… to a point. But I think it is incomplete. In the statement I linked to above, Taleb (and his co-writers) do not explore the implications of their logic. The obvious follow-up question is, OK, if climate change is an existential threat, what do we do about it?
What if the proffered solution to climate change creates its own existential threat? Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Electric vehicles (EVs) are commonly touted as a necessary part of America’s green energy future: Shifting from cars powered by gasoline-combustion to cars powered by 100% clean electricity will cut CO2 emissions (and other pollutants) implicated in global warming. Virginia ranks among the states with the lowest EV market share. But on the assumption that EVs eventually will become part of Virginia’s energy future, there’s no time like the present to start thinking about what EV taxation should look like.
Perhaps the most pressing issue is whether to tax EVs the same as conventional cars for the purpose of raising money to pay for the construction and maintenance of roads, highways and bridges. EVs contribute to traffic congestion and cause traffic accidents like any other kind of car. Should their owners not share in the cost of building, maintaining and operating roads?
The rise of EVs, hybrids and high miles-per-gallons vehicles was part of the justification when Virginia overhauled its transportation tax structure during the McDonnell administration. Revenues from the gasoline tax were stagnating, and legislators saw a need to diversify the source of transportation revenues. Once the tax increases were enacted, however, cogitation about the tax structure largely ceased.
Virginia cannot ignore the problem forever. One good place to start thinking about the issue of EVs and road maintenance is a new paper by two University of California professors, Lucas W. Davis and James M. Sallee, “Should Electric Vehicle Drivers Pay a Mileage Tax?” The paper explores the many trade-offs involved. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
As Hurricane Dorian bears down on the South Atlantic Coast, the Virginian-Pilot reports that Virginia Beach officials are considering a program to buy out residents who want to move out of homes that have flooded or face a risk of flooding. The land would be converted into parks, planted with trees, or used as a flood-control projects.
That’s just one of the strategies city officials are pondering to deal with sea-level rise. The seal level in Hampton Roads has increased by a foot since the 1960s, and some climatologists claim that the rate of rise could accelerate. If the city does not take preventive action, writes the Pilot, a projected three-foot rise in the sea level could cost $330 million yearly by 2065.
The Virginia Beach plan would be based on a similar program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., which spends $3.8 million yearly in voluntary acquisitions, funded through stormwater fees, to manage local floodplains. The city assesses which properties are the most vulnerable and targets those first. Continue reading
The City of Norfolk has created a new mechanism for citizens to adapt to flooding and eroding coastlines. Neighborhoods now can vote to form “special service districts” that raise property taxes for projects dealing with flood mitigation, dredging, water quality improvement, and coastal protection, reports the Virginian-Pilot.
Property owners can initiate projects by submitting a petition with signatures from 30% of the homeowners in a proposed district. Once the city has estimated the cost of project, the service district and tax must be approved by 75% of the affected property owners and also by owners of at least 50% of the property value. If the neighborhood votes yes, the district still requires City Council approval.
The Pilot cited the low-lying Hague neighborhood on the edge of downtown Norfolk that might use a district to jump-start much-needed stormwater improvements and floodgate construction.
Bacon’s bottom line: The creation of special service districts represents a huge step forward in building resilience into Virginia’s low-lying communities, although it is only one reform among many that must be made. Continue reading
Over the past decade or so, as I traveled with my family to Sandbridge Beach, I watched in amazement, and a touch of disbelief, as large, upscale houses sprouted from the landscape that was once flat, treeless farmland.
The development was Asheville Park. It was approved in 2004 for 499 homes on 474 acres. The construction slowed noticeably during the 2008-2010 downturn, but then picked up.
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit, deluging the area with rain. Asheville Park became impassable for days and homes and cars flooded. Incredibly, “All of this area was approved for rezonings without looking at stormwater,” according to Barbara Henley, a member of city council. (She was not on the council when the development was approved.) Of the 35 proffers associated with the approval, there was no mention of stormwater and how to control it. Hurricane Matthew demonstrated that the pipes and outfalls were too small and a retention lake was shallower than planned, leading to flooding.
The residents of the development have been up in arms, demanding that the city take action. After all, these were homes for which they had paid several hundred thousand dollars and being flooded was not supposed to be part of the deal. The city has come up with a long-term plan to alleviate flooding, estimated to cost $35 million. The immediate fixes will cost $11 million. The city has reached an agreement with the developer in which the approved number of houses will be reduced by 44 and the developer will donate land for the construction of a retention pond by the city. In addition to a retention pond, the work will include the construction of a gated weir and a pump station. Finally, new building permits will not be issued for the next phase of the development until specific parts of the drainage system are fixed.
There is not much else the city can do about Asheville Park. The developer still has the right to construct more than double the number of houses currently there. However, the city has obviously learned from this experience and is taking steps to take sea level rise into consideration when evaluating future developments. Continue reading
Four hundred and fifteen. US News & World Report is reporting that the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere reached more than 415 parts per million. The article quotes research from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography from May 11. Historical levels of CO2 in the atmosphere were measured through core ice samples prior to 1958 and directly from the Mauna Loa Observatory from 1958 onward. Take a close look at the graph accompanying this article. At first it’s hard to see the vertical line streaking skyward at the right edge. That’s CO2 emissions. From historical peaks oscillating between 250 ppm and 300 ppm over the last 800,000 years to over 415 ppm today. If that isn’t sufficiently startling, the annual peaks over the past few years: 2015 – 405, 2016 – 409, 2017 – 413, 2018 – 413, 2019 – 415 (so far).
Nobody wants anthropogenic global warming to be true but it is true. Continue reading
Now, we’re told, we have a new reason to fear climate change: Record rainfalls are straining the capacity of combined-sewer overflow (CSO) systems in Richmond, Lynchburg and Alexandria. In heavy rains, the antiquated systems, which combine stormwater runoff and wastewater, release untreated wastewater into the river.
“We’re on the frontlines dealing with climate change,” Grace LeRose, program manager for the Richmond public utilities, told The Virginia Mercury. “We’re seeing bigger and more frequent storms that are going to tax our system even more.”
In May and June the city experienced 23 inches of rain, the highest ever recorded. That year, contends the Virginia Mercury, was indicative of a longer-term trend. There was a 33% increase in the number of heavy rainstorms in Virginia, and an 11% increase from the largest storms between 1948 and 2011.
Of course, you can make statistics say anything you want them to, so I thought I’d do some checking. Continue reading
One of the most pleasant surprises that I discovered upon becoming a frequent follower of this blog was the whole world of energy regulation. RGGI, and, now, TCI, were new terms for me. I became aware of the cap- and-trade concept in its first widespread use in dealing with sulfur dioxide emissions, but was not aware of its current use for carbon dioxide.
Steve Haner’s recent post on TCI referred to RGGI and TCI as interstate compacts. That caught my attention. Long ago, in my political science courses, I learned about interstate compacts (my professor wrote what was then the definitive study on interstate compacts). The U.S. Constitution provides, “No state shall, without the consent of Congress…enter into any agreement or compact with another state….” (Article I, Section 10) Virginia has entered into a number of agreements with other states that fall under the ambit of this provision. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets limits on the catches of certain fish species, is one example. Another, more familiar, example is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. But RGGI and TCI have not been approved by Congress, which puzzled me.
It turns out that not all agreements among states constitute an “interstate compact” in the Constitutional sense. The Supreme Court in its first case dealing with interstate compacts (Tennessee v. Virginia, 1895), and confirmed in 1985 in its most recent case on this subject, declared that an agreement among states does not require the consent of Congress if it does not infringe on, or encroach upon, federal supremacy. Continue reading
Projected temperature increases in the range of loblolly pine in 2040-2059 time frame under IPCC worst case scenario
Despite rising temperatures, increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will give a 30.4% productivity boost to the growth loblolly pine forests in Virginia and 11 other Southeastern U.S. states by 2060, according to recent research from Virginia Tech.
The research team lead by Harold Burkhart, professor of forestry, modeled the effects of increased ambient CO2 concentrations and the interaction of changing climate and C02 enrichment on loblolly pines, which constitutes more than half of total pine volume.
Change in precipitation in loblolly pine range in 2040-2059 time-frame under worst-case IPCC scenario.
The study, “Regional Simulations of Loblolly Pine Productivity with CO2 Enrichment and Changing Climate Scenarios,” assumed that CO2 levels will continue to increase in line with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s worst-case RCP 8.5 scenario. It modeled the impact on a stand of planted loblolly of about 500 trees per acre growing until harvested after 25 years. Continue reading
Mark Herring (far right) at 2016 launch of AGs United for Clean Power Plan.
Here is a counter-factual mental exercise for you. Imagine that former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative skeptic of climate change, had applied for a grant from the conservative-libertarian Koch Foundation to cover the cost of hiring an AG staff member dedicated to litigating environmental groups. Then imagine that Cuccinelli’s office had to compete nationally with other AG offices around the country for the grant, that the Koch Foundation would fund only those projects that best advanced its anti-climate change agenda, and, if approved, that the Koch Foundation would help select the attorney.
Would that have been a news story? Would the Washington Post and every other Virginia newspaper have given it front-page scandal coverage? Would Democrats and environmental groups decry the use of private dollars to hire lawyers to wield the legal powers of the AG’s office to harass and intimidate Koch brothers enemies?
Now flip the scenario. In the real world, Attorney General Mark Herring’s office submitted an application on Sept. 15, 2017, to the New York University School of Law’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center for funding to hire a NYU School of Law fellow “as a Special Assistant Attorney General” devoted to climate-change issues. The Virginia AG’s office, stated the application, “would work with the State Impact Center to identify, recruit and extend offers to appropriate candidates.” The Center is backed by billionaire, former New York Mayor, and anti-global warming champion Michael Bloomberg. Continue reading
Source: Dominion Energy 2018 Integrated Resource Plan
One of my goals in life is to drive Lowell Feld insane. From what I call tell, my insidious plan is working.
Lowell, the hyperbolic publisher of the left-wing Blue Virginia blog, deems me a “climate denier” and an all-around right-wing whack job. A few days ago, he included several of my Bacon’s Rebellion posts in his list of “18 of the Craziest Right-Wing Political Posts of 2018.” His main form of argumentation is taking quotes stripped of context and supporting fact, and dialing up the invective. One piece, he described as “completely baseless” and “crap,” another as “conspiracy theory lunacy,” and another as “a litany … of nonsensical right-wing tropes.” You get the idea.
Given his proclivity for substituting insults for facts and reason, Lowell seems to be losing it. I’m hoping that one more push — this post — will reduce him to gibbering madness. Continue reading
Haha! I got a chuckle out of this chart published in Investors Business Daily, a notorious “climate denier” publication. With climate-change warriors hyping the disastrous economic impact of climate change on the human economy, you’d think people would be moving north. But it turns out they’re moving south…. toward warmer climes! Writes IBD:
More than 2.5 million people moved into hurricane-prone states like Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, and Texas from 2010 to 2017. Florida alone had a net in-migration of more than 1 million. (Only Louisiana lost population over those years.) That’s despite constant alarms about how climate change will make hurricanes more frequent and intense.
Of course, as even IBD concedes, the Northeastern and Midwestern states also happen to be states with higher taxes and regulations, while Southern states, the biggest population gainers, tend to have lower taxes and fewer regulations. So the move south may be driven by economics more than a love of warmer temperatures.
Moreover, there are reasons to worry about CO2 rise and climate change other than the impact on human economies, such as the impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs, devastation to wildlife habitats on the land, and stress on endangered species as habitats migrate north faster than than the species can. But the human species spent most of its existence evolving in Africa with its warmer climes and is more at home in warm weather than cold. Economic studies of the cost of climate change tend to look only at costs, not benefits. Thus, they overlook the quality-of-life gain from living in warmer climes — as affluent retirees, who are free to live anywhere, prove by the hundreds of thousands every year.