|The Week That Was
September 7, 2002
1. THE JOHANNESBURG EARTH SUMMIT, CELEBRATING THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE RIO EARTH SUMMIT THAT BROUGHT US THE GLOBAL CLIMATE TREATY AND, IN 1997, THE KYOTO PROTOCOL, TURNED OUT TO BE AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER FOR THE ENVIRO-ACTIVISTS. Even the UN itself helped by releasing a report about the Asian Brown Cloud (http://www.sepp.org/NewSEPP/CrazyWeatherFromBrownCloud.htm) that may be the cause of the crazy weather around the globe. It's all air pollution from poor countries, not CO2 from the US, the report admits. Some enviros found that hard to swallow.
2. JOBURG PUT BIG EMPHASIS ON THINGS THAT MATTER, LIKE CLEAN DRINKING WATER AND SANITATION, AND NOT ON GLOBAL WARMING, as Bjorn Lomborg (http://www.sepp.org/NewSEPP/EnvironmentalistsHaveBackward.htm ) explained in the NY Times. In a debate on the BBC on August 31, Sir John Houghton, head of the UN climate science group, complained bitterly. Somehow, I found it very easy to respond.
3. MORE REPORTS FROM THE JOHANNESBURG CONFERENCE
4. THE CRY FOR SENSIBLE PRIORITIES AT JOBURG CAME ALSO FROM AFRICANS
5. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, SIMILAR SENTIMENTS FROM AUSTRALIAN ECONOMISTS
6. BUT AFRICAN GOVERNMENTS ARE NOT WILLING TO HELP THEIR OWN PEOPLE --- and a stinging indictment of such policies from Lusaka, Zambia
7. Meanwhile, back in Britain, A STINGING INDICTMENT OF THE UK GOVERNMENT'S ENERGY PLAN by energy experts. This study by the Royal Academy of Engineering has received good press coverage in the UK (see The Times, Aug 30). The timing is perfect, since the UK delegation to the WSSD in Jo'burg is promoting renewable energy
8. BBC BOOSTS KYOTO PROTOCOL
9. OTHERS CANNOT MAKE UP THEIR MINDS ABOUT WIND POWER. It's OK someplace else but not here. A plaintive letter from Cape Cod objecting to our TWTW of July 27, 2002 http://www.sepp.org/weekwas/2002/July27.htm
2. U.N. conference backs development, rejects radical greens
One of the most important commitments to come out of the recently completed World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, was a recommitment by world leaders to goals outlined in the 1999 United Nations Millennium Summit to halve the number of people without fresh water or adequate sanitation by 2015. "For the first time, the world has made the issues of water and sanitation a high-level political priority," said Johannesburg Summit Secretary-General Nitin Desai. "We need this political commitment, and now we need the practical measures and partnerships to ensure that the new goals are met." The United States has already committed more than $500 million in international aid and in support of public-private partnerships to improve access to water and sanitation in developing countries.
Free market observers who dreaded the outcome of the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg have been pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Rather than the usual festival of anti-U.S. vituperation by greens and global bureaucrats, the radicals were sent packing and their pet issue, global warming, barely got a mention. Instead: The U.S. scored a stunning victory on energy policy -- with the help of developing nations -- when negotiators rejected specific targets for renewable energy like wind and solar power avidly sought by Europeans.
Instead, poor countries said, in effect, windmills may be fine for the Danes but poor Asian and African countries need cheap, abundant energy, including coal and oil. Rather than promoting "sustainability," the notion that caught on was that what developing nations need is economic development -- and environmental progress will follow.
Consequently, the conference gave the green light to "efficient affordable and cost-effective energy technologies, including fossil fuel technologies" -- in other words, the summit endorsed the use of sources like clean coal.
As the late Indian leader Indira Gandhi put it, "Poverty is the worst polluter." Academic research proves this simple idea to be true: economic progress leads to environmental progress. Once per-capita incomes get to about $8,000 a year, nations start aggressively improving their environments. Thus, with three-quarters of the world still poor, the best way to clean up air and water is to help make them richer.
Studies show the U.S., Europe and Japan have the cleanest environments, while Haiti, China and Bangladesh have the dirtiest. Thirteen of the 15 worst polluted cities in the world are in developing Asia.
Source: James Glassman (American Enterprise Institute), "A Bright Idea on Development," Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2002. As quoted by the National Center for Policy Analysis, Dallas
3. REASON Science Correspondent Ron Bailey at
An editorial by Geo Rummo, courtesy of Frontiers of Freedom, at
4. I do not need white NGOs to speak for me
James Shikwati, Inter Region Economic Network (Kenya), in The Times
(London), Sept 3, 2002
5. A Statement by Professional Economists Against Ratification of
Australia's choices in dealing with global warming are important. Because the Kyoto Protocol is based on uncertain science and does not constitute conclusive scientific evidence regarding the effect of human activity on global warming, it is very difficult for economists to perform complete cost-benefit analyses of the economic, social and environmental consequences of the policy. Even if adverse consequences of global warming could be identified and measured with complete certainty, these consequences must be valued at the time they occur, and some allowance must be made for the fact that the value today of costs and benefits in the future - particularly in the distant future - is not the same as their value when they actually occur.
Ill-conceived, poorly chosen policy responses might marginally reduce potential global warming costs, but they could cost every ordinary Australian more than their share of potential global warming costs. The Kyoto Protocol is a good example of such a flawed policy response. It involves measures that would have large negative social and economic impacts on all Australians and citizens in other countries. The OECD estimates that by 2100 the actual worldwide economic cost of Kyoto will be more than US$900 billion annually. Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concedes that full Kyoto compliance would reduce predicted warming to the year 2100 by only a fraction of one degree.
Thus, even if we accept the dire predictions regarding the economic, social, and environmental consequences of climate change, under the policies advocated by the Australia Institute and the signatories to its petition, ordinary Australians could end up paying twice for any climate change: living standards will be permanently cut for every year that the policies are in place, and then when 2100 arrives they could pay again because of higher temperatures, which are virtually unaffected by the Kyoto Protocol. More importantly, it is simply not true - as the Australia Institute claims - that serious alternatives to the Kyoto Protocol have not been put forward. Economists in Australia, the United States, and Europe have suggested many sensible alternatives to the Kyoto Protocol. For all of these reasons, we, as professional economists, believe that it is erroneous to conclude that it is in Australia's economic, social or environmental interests to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
6. African governments refuse food aid
BBC News Aug 17
Zambia has refused emergency food aid from the United States despite being one of the countries worst affected by famine in Africa. Zimbabwe and Mozambique have also expressed concern about offers of genetically engineered grain. The World Health Organisation has certified the grain for human consumption and says it does not constitute a danger to people's health. Thirteen million people in southern Africa are in need of food aid because of a prolonged drought, many of them in Zambia.
Appeal for money
Zambia's High Commissioner in the United Kingdom, Silumelume Mubukwanu, told BBC Radio 4's World Tonight programme that there was still insufficient knowledge about the effects of GM foods. "The fact that the people are starving doesn't mean that we should allow them to eat what they don't know," he said.
But here is the reaction from Lusaka
Unless you're suffering a severe attack of compassion-fatigue, you'll know that famine is with us again, and this time it's happening right here on my doorstep, in southern Africa. Food stocks officially ran out in Zambia last Thursday, much to the admitted surprise of our vice-president, the Honourable Enoch Kavindele, who said rather plaintively that the government had thought the stocks would last a little longer, but they hadn't. Shame.
Help is at hand. The United States and Canada have offered Zambia several zillion tons of food for free. But wait just one cassava-picking minute - there's a snag. Yes, they're offering us maize. Yes, that's what we need. But ...it's genetically modified maize!
Ha! Oh no, you don't, Uncle Sammy! Some of our politicians are sharp enough to realise that GM food is, of course, part of a cunning neocolonialist plot to destabilise decent African countries by weakening our physical condition, robbing us of our manhood and making the potholes in the road even deeper and more numerous.
Our redoubtable President, Levy Mwanawasa, has refused to allow this maize to be distributed to the starving until he can be sure that it's safe. No doubt he's seen the video footage of protests against GM food in the UK. Two or three hundred muzungus in green anoraks trampling over fields in Norfolk can't be wrong, can they?
Instead he's called a conference to debate the issue. This conference is taking place as I write, in our splendid Mulungushi International Conference Centre, where delegates will undoubtedly be provided with mid-morning coffee and biccies, lunch, mid-afternoon tea and biccies, and din-dins.
While the conference confers, children in the drought-stricken villages of the worst-hit regions will sit down to meals of rats, roots and other rubbish, and shortly you can confidently expect to see television pictures of Zambian kiddies with those tell-tale swollen bellies.
The country needs maize, and it needs it badly. Without maize there can be no mealie meal, and without mealie meal there can be no 'nshima' - our national dish. Cue, once again, vice-president Enoch Kavindele.
I'm rather fond of Enoch. He cuts an endearing figure as he blunders around the Lusaka political arena, one step ahead of his harassed press officer, spraying misguided and ill-chosen remarks like an African John Prescott. This time he came up with a vintage Enochism. Zambians, he announced, should diversify their diet. They should eat potatoes or rice or pasta instead of nshima.
That might sound reasonable to European ears. To appreciate just how ludicrously unreal a suggestion it is, you need to understand the place of nshima in our society and culture. The truth is, if you sit a hungry Zambian down in front of smoked trout, steak au poivre, French fries, crème caramel and decent Stilton, he may eat it. But afterwards he will look up and say, 'Fine. Now, where's the nshima?'
To a Zambian, nshima means more than his daily bread, more even than the bread of heaven. It means more than a full rice bowl does to a Chinese peasant. It means more than a sack of spuds does to Paddy O'Gob from Ballykisselbow. Nshima to a Zambian means everything. It is food. It is medicine. It is comfort and security. It is a remedy for loneliness, it is a celebration of family life, it is a refuge in time of trouble, it is a hangover cure. It is literally the stuff of life. In Zambia we eat nshima for breakfast, lunch, dinner, tea, and as a midnight snack. Our idea of a change from nshima is more nshima. Our idea of a varied diet is nshima on two different plates.
What is it? To make nshima, you take cobs of maize, strip the kernels from the cobs and grind them into a fine whitish powder, known as mealie meal. Then you cook it in boiling water, and it is in the cooking that the mystique of nshima begins. Actually, all the nshima cook does is boil the stuff. But she - note, always 'she'; this is Africa, man! - she stirs it with a special stick. An nshima stick. All right, it's actually only a long wooden spoon - long, because as nshima comes to the boil it spits at you - but it's a special stick, nonetheless. Eventually the mixture thickens and is scooped out on to a large plate, where it lies in thick, glutinous heaps, looking for the entire world like mashed potato.
Only the very hungry eat it on its own. Otherwise it is always eaten with something else; that something else being known as 'relish'. If you're well off, your relish might be meat with gravy. If not, perhaps kapenta - tiny dried fish with a strangely pungent smell. In the worst-case scenario - that is, if you are one of the 85 per cent of Zambians who live in extreme poverty - your relish will be a few edible leaves, plucked from the garden or the bush, and cooked up with onion and tomato.
But the important thing is the nshima. And the next important thing is how you eat the stuff. Yes, you've guessed. Those who live hand-to-mouth eat hand-to-mouth. You use your fingers. The skilled Zambian nshima-eater - and there is no such thing as an unskilled Zambian nshima-eater - takes a small portion of nshima, rolls it deftly into a ball in the palm of his hand, dunks it into whatever relish is going and pops it delicately into his mouth. If a naive European takes a knife and fork to it, every Zambian within a hundred yards will pee himself laughing. I know. I was that European.
And what does it taste like, after all this? Well, there you have me. To my palate ...nothing. Nothing I can put my finger, or fingers, on. Nshima is so bland, so 'pappy', so hopelessly uninteresting, so eternally boring that I find I lose my appetite just thinking about it. But we need it. We've got to have it. It's what we eat. So why, you may be forgiven for asking, don't we grow enough of it?
Drought, says the government. Bollocks, say the critics. They point out that Zambia is a country riddled with rivers, studded with gushing boreholes. The government apparently reckons on two crops of maize a year. My gardener, who should obviously be the Zambian minister of agriculture, produces three with ease. This year's third crop is currently as high as - oh, as an elephant's eye. (Or would be, if we had an elephant to measure against it, but we ate most of our elephants years ago, too. With nshima, of course.)
Common sense tells us that all it would take for Zambia to be self-sufficient in its favourite food is a little forward planning - the same forward planning that would have told vice-president Enoch that the country was running out of food stocks long before last Thursday. But forward planning, like mealie meal, we don't have. And soon you'll see the pictures of the kids in the villages, lying in the dust, too weak to flick the flies from their faces.
It's not only genetically modified maize our country needs. It's some genetically modified politicians.
From The Spectator UK 2002
7. Government energy policy unrealistic, says Academy
(For further information, please contact: Jane Sutton, Royal Academy of Engineering firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7227 0536)
The Government's energy policy is hopelessly unrealistic, expecting far too much from renewable energy sources and ignoring serious concerns about reliable gas supplies, the Royal Academy of Engineering has told Energy Minister Brian Wilson MP in a report published today (30 August). The Academy's engineering assessment is highly critical of the Energy Review published by the Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit on 15 February.
The Academy's most immediate concern is about security of gas supplies, which the Energy Review assumes will continue to be plentiful and relatively cheap. However, the DTI's own figures indicate that by 2020 the UK might need to import up to 90 per cent of its gas requirements. We could experience gas shortages as soon as 2004/5 in a severe winter. While Russia is expected to double its gas exports to the EU by 2010 the Government must address the planning, funding and operation questions involved in expanding the pan-European gas transmission network so that we can access imported gas. We will also need to build new storage facilities, as we become a gas importer. The Academy estimates this could cost the Government up to £13 billion by 2020, as the market is not likely to bear the cost.
The Energy Review sets a target of generating 20 per cent of our energy from renewable sources by 2020. While this is a laudable aim it is over-optimistic and fails to address the fundamental problem with all renewable sources - they are intermittent. "Experience on the Continent, especially in Denmark, has shown that grid stability can be adversely affected when the penetration of intermittent renewables reaches about 15 per cent," says the Academy's report. As yet the UK electricity grid is isolated, except for one interconnector to France - further interconnectors to Norway and the Netherlands are being investigated to help share electricity. As more renewable sources are connected to the grid electricity storage will become essential - our only current storage capacity is through hydroelectric storage schemes.
The Energy Review places great faith in wind energy and proposes installing 22,000 MW of turbine capacity by 2020. However, Met Office data shows that the country's wind record is not dependable - the most likely power output in real life is less than 7,000 MW. To ensure the supply it would have to be backed up by 16-19,000 MW of conventional generation plant, adding an extra £1 billion to the cost. Biomass is another promising power source for the future but it needs more research to make it practical - the whole of Kent would have to be covered in coppiced willow to replace the output of Dungeness B power station.
In order to meet our commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions we must replace the nuclear reactors coming to the end of their lives with non-carbon emitting energy sources. The Energy Review conceded that the nuclear option should be kept open in case we cannot find alternative sources. But it takes so long to build new power stations that we need to commission them in the next few years if they are to be on stream in time to prevent supply shortages. Skilled people are also retiring so rapidly from the nuclear industry that we will soon be totally reliant on the nuclear expertise of other countries. Nuclear waste disposal is clearly a problem but we have to deal with it irrespective of any decision on new build. "Replacing the whole of the current UK nuclear capacity with new units would add only around 10 per cent to the existing volumes of waste over the 40-year lifetimes of the reactors," says the Academy's report.
The Academy is also very concerned about the Government's lack of attention to transport issues - 42 per cent of UK energy consumption goes on transport. Major support for research to develop the hydrogen economy is urgently needed. "The Energy Review appears to accept fuel switching, probably to hydrogen, as inevitable in the long term," says the Academy's report. "But it is unwilling to recommend early action or signal that this is the Government's preferred solution. Sustainable mobility is fast becoming a key political issue."
Notes for editor : The Academy's Engineering Appraisal of the PIU Energy Review has been submitted to the Energy Minister, Brian Wilson MP. It was prepared by a working group of Academy Fellows:
Dr Malcolm Kennedy CBE FREng FRSE (Chairman), Chairman of Parsons
Professor Ian Fells CBE FREng FRSE, Professor of Energy Conversion at
Dr Sue Ion OBE FREng, Director of Technology and Operations, BNFL plc
Professor Michael Laughton FREng, Dean & Professor of Electrical
Professor Nigel Lucas FREng, former Professor of Energy Policy at Imperial
Christopher Price FREng, Director of Engineering and Technology -Operations,
Professor Rod Smith FREng, Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department
The Royal Academy of Engineering aims to pursue, encourage and maintain excellence across the whole field of engineering in order to promote the advancement of the science, art and practice of engineering for the benefit of the public. The Academy comprises the UK`s most eminent engineers and is able to use their combined wealth of knowledge and experience to meet its objectives.
8. BBC has an agenda
During a recent stay in London (mainly for a conference on Natural Catastrophes held at Brunel University) I had a chance to take in TV programs from BBC World. One particularly one-sided one was broadcast on Aug 28, featuring the unholy trinity of IPCC: Sir John Houghton, Robert Watson, and Ben Santer. Houghton, head of the IPCC science group, gave his predictable spiel, invoking "scientific authorities." Watson, recently unsupported by the White House as IPCC chairman, denounced US opposition to Kyoto "to protect oil and coal industry interests." Santer, infamous editor of IPCC chapter conclusions, was still defending his innocence for having altered the text (after having admitted that he did so). See http://www.sepp.org/keyissue.html
Therefore it was with particular pleasure that I faced Houghton in a brief debate on BBC4 radio three days later. He complained bitterly about the neglect of global warming at the Jo'burg Earth Summit. I thought it addressed some real problems for a change instead of a phantom problem. He didn't like that
9. Letter from Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound
Mr. Singer -
I notice this line on the page as well: "And finally, OPPOSITION TO WIND POWER from an elitist NIMBY environmental group. It's not that they like CO2 but..."
In case you have any questions, we are not opposed to wind power. We are opposed to this particular enormous wind power plant in this particular location. We are not an environmental group. We never have been. We are an alliance of many groups - environmental, citizens, fishing, wildlife and local towns and government agencies. Also, I don't think that the local native American tribe, a coalition of small businesses and over 3000 local commercial fishermen can be called 'elitist NIMBY.' Yes, we have wealthy residents on Cape Cod, but they are far outnumbered by ordinary people who are sick at the prospect of Nantucket Sound being industrialized.
As far as I can tell from your position as a "public policy institute promoting sound science," we are on the same page in our distaste for the groundless fads and empty scare tactics of extremist environmentalism. I certainly hope you are not under the impression that we are a bunch of martini-sipping layabouts concerned about our water views. Nothing could be further from the truth.