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2021 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #49

Posted on 5 December 2021 by BaerbelW

Listing of articles linked to on the Skeptical Science Facebook Page during the past week: Sun, November 28, 2021 through Sat, December 4, 2021

The following articles sparked above average interest during the week: Who owns the wind? An anthropologist has ideas, Canada’s Tar Sands: Destruction So Vast and Deep It Challenges the Existence of Land and People, PragerU video on climate change repeats a range of misleading claims by Steven KooninThe ins and outs of understanding what’s in a degree, and Climate cost study authors accuse Bjørn Lomborg of misinterpreting results.

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Comments 1 to 25:

  1. The Guardian has an article that says the International Energy Agency, IEA, projects that 95% of new electricity generating capacity worldwide from today to 2026 will be renewable energy.  

    Renewable energy is being built out because it is now cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere.  This winter coal, gas and oil have increased greatly in price while renewable energy has only increased a little.  Hopefully businesses will increase installation of renewable energy to save money.  It will help with the climate issue.  Every kilowatt generated by renewables is less generated by fossil fuels.

    Another article stated that one of the primary bottlenecks for wind energy was obtaining permits to build.  Governments can speed up the permitting process to increase renewable energy.

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  2. We should not lose sight of appropriateness in site selection...and we are. In the rush to renewables, many proposed sites are moneymakers but are deleterious to the environment. Here in Rockbridge/Bottetot County, a wind turbine site proposal has 100% opposition from area radical environmentalists.

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  3. It would be best if radical environmentalists had the final say on site selection, since they have no monetary or political axe to grind. We are happy with eliminating as much fossil fuel usage as possible, but not happy with collateral damage to the environment from insensitive projects.

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  4. Don't let radical environmentalists decide what electricity generation gets built, because nothing would get built. Solar power looks relatively benign environmentally. Wind turbines are more problematic because of the big visual footprint on hills that some people dont like, and they kill insects and some birds, lets not pretend otherwise. The solution is really to locate them offshore, something central governmnet should require by law, maybe 50% offshore and gradually increased from there.

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  5. nigelj,

    The term "radical environmentalist" is problematic. It can mean anything. I would support the "radical environmentalists" being the ones deciding what happens if they are "radical" by including "Social" considerations in their pursuit of increased awareness and improved understanding of what is going on and the application of their learning to pursue the end of social and environmental harm done by human developments and make amends for harms that have already been caused.

    I agree that people should be concerned about the harmful impacts of human development, including harm done to birds.

    But the focus of that bird concern deserves to be on buildings that are more than, say, 6 stories tall. There are plenty of easy to access resources explaining that tall buildings kill lots of birds, especially the glass covered ones, especially if they have inside lights on at night. It is likely that a tall building kills more birds than an equally tall wind turbine. So it may be that it would be less harmful for tall buildings to be replaced by 6 storey buildings with wind turbines above them (and the total harmful impacts of building and operating shorter buildings would also be less than the impacts of the tall buildings - "Rebuilding Earth" by Canadian Architect Teresa Coady, is the most recent item I have read that includes this type of information as part of the understanding of how to address the climate change problem and many other problems caused by human development).

    But the biggest killers of birds are domesticated cats. And that relates to a "population problem of concern" than can and should be acted on - Reducing the harm of pet over-population. Some domesticated animals are helpful. But many pets cause harm and increase demand for resources. Reducing the harmful impacts and consumption caused by unnecessary Pets could be a helpful step while the human population problem is brought under control by the continued pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals through the next 40 to 50 years (peak global population may occur in the 2060s).

    But even if the human population problem is controlled, the problem of harmful over-consumption by the highest consuming and most harmful portion of the population could persist, even becoming a bigger problem as the total global population declines.

    So the real problem/solution is reducing the harmful over-consumption that some humans have developed a liking for. Free choice to believe and do whatever a person wants is not a solution. It is a problem. Reduced the energy demand will reduce the amount of harm done by "required" power generation systems like wind turbines.

    The wealthiest are the ones who can afford to live the lowest energy consumption lifestyle. The required global fundamental understanding needs to be that the wealthiest and most powerful should be required to prove they deserve to be wealthier and more powerful by living with less benefit from harmful actions than those who are less fortunate. Wealthier or more powerful people should not be Freer to Choose to be more harmful, even if they can afford it or abuse their power and influence to get away with it.

    That "Winning by harmful pursuers of status" is an Age Old Problem. But problems can only be solved by increased awareness of the actual fundamental problem.

    Radical environmentalists could be the solution, depending on what type of person that term actually refers to.

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  6. nigelj,

    Teresa Coady's book I referred to also points out that tall structures along any migratory bird route is a problem, even off-shore. In addition, marine impacts of off-shore human developments also need proper consideration. Otherwise, putting wind turbines off-shore is just another harmful development akin to "moving coal power plants out of the city" which is the UnSolution of "Problem moved away - perhaps even being more harmful but out of sight so Okay?"

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  7. Does the book cite research to back the problem of tall structures on bird routes? Can you give me the cites please? I would say outright that it is over-generalization and certainly doesnt bother all species.

    This 2021 literature review doesnt seem to find any insurmountable problems but does emphasize the importance of planning and mitigation.

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  8. OPOF fair points, but putting wind turbines offshore might still be better overall, where its practically feasible from an electricity supply perspective. Its likely going to reduce bird strike problems, and would  definitely reduce insect strike problems, and does virtually eliminate the visual problem. Offshore wind farms do not seem to have too many negative impacts on ocean ecosystems. Refer:

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  9. scaddenp,

    Many sources address the bird kills by talll buildings.

    This CNN report is only one of many on the subject.

    The major concern is buildings lit up at night. But, as mentioned in the article, daytime bird strikes can also happen because of reflective glass covering a building or plants next to windows fooling the birds.

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  10. nigelj @8,

    Turbines over water immediately adjacent to the consumers they power would work, provided that bird migration patterns and marine impacts are avoided. More remote power generation to overcome the delivery losses from remote power generation produces more impact, unless it is done to avoid marine and avian (or any other negative) impacts.

    Having to do more or pay more to avoid harmful impacts is "correct economics". Moving a harmful problem away from human sense or thought, by distance or into the future, is simply unethical no matter how much more popular or profitable that may appear to be.

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  11. scaddenp,

    Regarding bird kills, the book "Rebuilding Earth" makes reference to the September 6, 2014 article in The Treehugger by Michael Graham Richard, with the most recent update of the article (Oct 23, 2020) here

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  12. scaddenp,

    More specifics regarding the negative impacts of off-shore wind turbine installations may not be avaialable because the industry promoting and building them is affected by the legacy of the developed economic game that encourages evasion of rigorous investigation of potential harm.

    Government money should be flooding into better understand the potential harm of all new approved developments and all the already developed stuff. But that is not popular or profitable.

    There are very few instances of sustained government leadership that has acted in helpful, but economically unpopular and unprofitable, ways. That explains any lack of investigation and reporting of harm and potential harm. There will likley be a lot learned about the harm done by the most popular and most profitable (lowest cost) actions attempting to address the climate change problem, not just the later learning of negative impacts of off-shore wind turbines.

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  13. scaddenp,

    I wasn't comprehensive or specific enough in my earlier responses.

    There is probably a lack of research findings regarding bird kills by off-shore wind turbines because the evidence quickly disappears and there are very few observers of the turbines seeing it happen. It would probably take some serious government interest and investment to set up a rigorous methodology for doing the research into that issue.

    This is something that would potentially be researched if there are declines in bird populations that are serious enough to attact significant global government research funding (like so many other harmful developments, investigate after it is too late). However, the on-shore evidence and understanding of bird kills should be expected to extend to off-shore locations where the evidence almost immediately disappears.

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  14. Semantics again. I use the dictionary definition of "radical" to mean "fundamental". Others use radical to mean "wild eyed whacko" or something similar. Some of us environmentalists strive to deal with the fundamental life services of the environment. We adhere to the notion that the environment is not easily manipulated by humans...that we should adapt to the "natural" environment in which we find ourselves, like other animals do, and stop altering "nature".

    As to cats and dogs. There are 63 million of these critters in the US alone. A reduction of at least 62 million would be a prudent aid to environmental wellbeing.

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  15. A similar issue to the dog and cat population problem is the human population problem. There are almost 8 billion people in the world. The planet's estimated carrying capacity, considering what we have already used up, is about 1.5 billion at current rates of consumption and current volumes of human carbon footprints. This will have to be addressed, sooner than later. Sooner is a painful short time from today. Suggestions?

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  16. Let's take another view of the size of the human biomass. If we lined up everybody, shoulder to shoulder at the Equator, we could wrap the human race around the planet about a hundred times. Another view of the current global presence of 1.544 billion "cows" wrapped around the Earth at the Equator would be another hundred times. This combined biomass is our main problem. Suggestions?

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  17. swampfoxh,

    I share the concern that humans need to adapt to live as sustainable members of the robust diversity of life on this amazing planet. And I focus on the need for the portion of the population that is percieved to be more advanced or superior to be living in the most sustainable ways, setting the best examples for others to aspire to (and others can be expected to be tempted to aspire to develop to live like those who are perceived to be superior).

    I believe the number of domestic cats and dogs in the USA is even larger than the massive number you have presented.

    My starting point was the AVMA Pet ownership statistics based on the 2017-2018 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook. That source says 58 million cats (plus 76 million dogs). And that would be a "low number" because it excludes feral domesticated cats and pets that don't get taken to vets.

    Other sources like Petpedia indicate the USA feral cat population is an additional 70 million cats.

    But the 2 million "Pet Horses" in the USA are also a significant concern. I am not sure of the comparative levels of impacts between Cats, Dogs and Horses. But I sense that mass ratio is a reasonable basis.

    The average cat is 10 lbs (range of 5 to 25 lbs). Medium size dogs weigh 20 to 60 lbs. A horse weighs 900 to 2000 lbs. So pet horses appear to be the Biggest part of the Pet Problem in the USA (back to the richest being the biggest problem).

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  18. swampfoxh,

    Again (ad nausium, but I will repeat as required, though not on every comment string), the population problem is being addressed by the pursuit of understood helpful objectives like the Sustainable Development Goals (and the Millennium Development Goals that preceded them). If that effort can be improved, By All Means Provide Suggestions (read the 2020 Human Development Report to better understand some of what is already understandable and suggested).

    The problem that is not being effectively addressed is the harmfully over-developed, and continuing to grow, consumptive ways of living "enjoyed" by a small portion of the global population setting bad examples for others to aspire to develop to match or exceed. Suggestions - other than deflecting to claim that the problem is the total human population?

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  19. swampfoxh

    Yes cutting the human population from 8 billion to 1.5 billion would reduce environmental prolems quite substantially  (all other things being equal) but I dont see how we can do that quickly. You can't line people up and shoot them, and enforced one child policies can have unintended side effects and will never happen in democracies.

    Western countries already have easily available contraception and most people are choosing to have relatively small families, about two children. The high income people that consume most and have the biggest environmental impacts are actually those who are already having the smallest families. Bear that it mind. Low income people around the world arent causing many CO2 emissions, but they do contribute to conversion of natural wilderness to farmland and the consequent loss of biodiversity.

    A fertility rate of two children is slightly below replacement rate and will cause population to fall to two billion people eventually probably about five centuries time. A fertility rate of 1.5 over the next decade or so will take it to two billion people by about the year 2300 (I played with this on a population calculator).

    The trouble is most people like to have two children minimum for obvious reasons and it may be difficult to persuade them to have just one.

    Because our options to reduce population are limited in the short term, we have to think about per capita consumption and like OPOF says its the high income group that do consume the most. However shifting that wont be easy. I really get a bit pessimistic about this.

    The issue isn't really about population versus consumption either. Its about both issues and how we can realstically move the dial on each one. Its useful to think about it mathematically:

    "I = (PAT) is the mathematical notation of a formula put forward to describe the impact of human activity on the environment."

    "I = P × A x T"

    "The expression equates human impact on the environment to a function of three factors: population (P), affluence (A) and technology (T). It is similar in form to the Kaya identity which applies specifically to emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide."

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  20. I noticed that, so far, no one on this thread has commented on the present number of domestic bovines (1.544 billion, world-wide) that, lined up, nose to tail, would wrap the planet at the equator...(along with humans)... another hundred times.

    Is industrial animal agriculture off the table of discussion and I'm just not aware that contributors to this site consider this topic of little concern?  I am a participant in a peer review of a new study on animal agriculture's impact on the climate.  It is, frankly, a shocking piece of work.  The peer reviewed references supporting the study are thirty-five pages long.  Essentially, industrial animal agriculture and its products are shown to be responsible for 34% of GGEs and another average 33% of at least eight crucial environmental problems: desertification, deforestation, europhication/contamination of fresh and salt waters, wild animal and plant habitat loss, species extinction, risky land use conversions, a number of human health maladies (beyond heart, artery and genetic malformation), outsized fresh water use... and refrigeration/freezer energy usage/transport, storage, waste disposal and spoilage. 

    Curiously, the outlawing of industrial animal agriculture would be the shortest route to a significantly measurable reversal of adverse climate change, because conversion to a plant based diet could be made simultaneous to the elimination of animal agriculture...making the transition essentially painless, (some may say: tasteless).

    We expect the study to be published in mid-spring 2022. Until then, is this topic worth an in-depth discussion on this site?

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  21. swampfoxh @20,

    I noticed how this thread's content has primarily been responses to your initial comments.

    Now you claim that your addition of "animal agriculture" should have been introduced by someone else for some reason ... what reason would that be?

    My interest in the promotion of the pursuit of all humanity living sustainably as a part of the robust diversity of life on this planet includes concerns about grain production as well as bovines. Specifically, my concern would be having all the collective impacts be within safe global impact boundaries (refer to the Planetary Boundaries understanding which is aligned with the SDGS and is presented as part of the understanding presented in the 2020 Human Development Report).

    btw, Tongue-in-cheek, but semi-seriously: Outlawing any harmful impacts from the actions of the wealthiest and most powerful 1% of the global population would be more beneficial than "outlawing industrial agriculture". And I would support "industrial agriculture" that is more aligned with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and limiting impacts exceeding Planetary Boundaries than "non-industrial agriculture" that is less aligned with achieving those objectives. In other words, I do not believe new technological developments are "de facto improvements" but new technological developments can be sustainable improvements.

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  22. One Planet...

    No, I was not looking for anyone to introduce the topic of animal agriculture in this particular thread, I was inquiring if this Skep/Sci forum had a body of materials on the topic that I might not, previously, have noticed.  I don't usually comment on Skep/Sci as I am pretty well tied up as a climate science writer and am forced to look at a lot of materials to support my offerings/editorials, etc.  The Human Development Report (2020) has not struck me as "on point" to the matter of Global Warming/GGEs, ecological change etc etc.  That's just my own two cents worth.  If my initial comment, above, has generated all of this conversation, my apologies for taking up y'all's time.  I will, however, be sure Skep/Sci gets a copy of the first published study I referred to, above.  I think it will be quite a useful piece of work in the hands of our decisionmakers. 

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  23. swampfoxh @22,

    Thank you for clarifying that "I noticed that, so far, no one on this thread has commented on the present number of domestic bovines ..." was not meant to be what it can be understood to imply.

    I am certainly not the most familiar or best able to point you to what you are seeking on this website. But as a regular reader/user of SkS I am aware of the following which may help you find what you are looking for.

    • Check out this SkS item from 2020 "A Skeptical Science member's path to an experiment on carbon sequestration"
    • Use the Search feature on SkS to search for "agriculture". There are 12 related "Skeptic Arguments" found, and many Blog Posts, that may interest you.
    • Searching for "livestock" finds 3 related "Skeptic Arguments" (a subset of the 12)
    • A variety of other searches like "cattle" also find items that may be of interest that are not found by the "agriculture" or "livestock".
    • You can also use the "Search" feature on SkS and search for RedBaron, the individual the first article I pointed to is about, expanding the search to include "Comments".

    My primary interest is increased awareness and improved understanding of what is harmful and understand how to help reduce harm done and develop sustainable improvements for global humanity. I regularly visit Skeptical Science to learn. I occasionally comment when the situation motivates me.

    Climate change impacts caused by the developed and developing ways of living are likely the most significant impediment to achieving sustainable improvements of living conditions for humans, particularly sustainable improvements of conditions for the least fortunate.

    Skeptical Science is very informative on the matters it focuses on which are well described by the website header statement: "Our mission is simple: debunk climate misinformation by presenting peer-reviewed science and explaining the techniques of science denial."

    The science denial aspects of this website are particularly helpful. They help me appreciate the diversity of denial and misrepresentation that happen when people resist learning more about something that contradicts their developed interests and beliefs. And the developed socioeconomic-political systems have developed a lot of "interests and beliefs" that need to be robustly contradicted and corrected by increased awareness and improved understanding.

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  24. swampfoxh @22,

    Under the items found by a search on SkS for "agriculture" you will see a November 9, 2021 item by Evan called "The Keeling Curve: Part III".

    That article appears to contain a lot of information that is similar to the points you have shared regarding agricultural climate change impacts.

    I recalled reading about the topic recently. And I suspected it had been here on SkS. But I needed to look a little to find it.

    I look forward to seeing what new information the study you are referring to provides.

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  25. swampfoxh @22,

    I wish you the best of luck in getting a helpful change of mind from policymakers by delivering "new information" or "a different presentation of information" to policymakers (decisionsmakers).

    My observation is that the attitude (beliefs and interests) of voters and the resulting "set of elected policymakers" matters far more than "the provision of information to policymakers".

    The threat of misleading marketing attacks on a political competitor can powerfully influence the choices they make (the power of misleading marketing is real and significant).

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