General Science

Don’t recycle plastic – burn it or bury it

Plastic in the oceans has been deemed an environmental problem and a danger to wildlife. Where does this plastic come from? According to a new report from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, much of the plastic comes from “leakage” from recycling operations. Some of that “leakage” is deliberate dumping in oceans and rivers by shippers in order to avoid fees.

The report: Save the Oceans – stop recycling plastic may be read in full here:

https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2018/06/Save-the-oceans.pdf

The report is just ten pages, but it cites 50 scientific studies and articles.

Here is the executive summary:

A marine plastic litter crisis has been declared and the mass media around the world has given their front pages over to the story for a while now. The European Union – among other actors – has declared a war against marine litter. Annually over 10 million metric tons (Mt) of plastic litter end up in oceans, harming wildlife. The International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) – the most competent specialist organization in the field – has summarized the origins of the marine litter crisis:

75% of land based marine litter in low to upper-middle income economies comes from litter and uncollected waste, while the remaining 25% of the land-based sources is plastic which leaks from within the waste management system.

In other words, the ISWA report shows that 25% of the leakage is attributable to the waste management option preferred by green ideologues; meanwhile, waste incineration can prevent any leakage of plastic if municipal solid waste (MSW) is incinerated along with sewage sludge. Despite this, incineration is vehemently opposed by green ideologues and also by the EU, which chooses to believe in the mirage of a circular economy.

The vast majority of the marine litter problem is attributable to poor waste collection and other sanitary practices in Asian, and to a lesser extent African, towns and cities in coastal areas and along rivers. The problem is particularly acute in China. The neglect of urban sanitary policy – the backbone of development agendas until that time – started when the ‘mother of sustainability’, Norway’s Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, personally refused to have it be part of her World Commission’s work program and ultimately its 1987 report, which famously led to the adoption of ‘sustainable development’ goals by the UN General Assembly.

This report describes the absurdities, inefficiencies, double or even triple waste management structures and horrible consequences of the EU’s erratic green waste policy, its fact-free claim that its waste policy helps to implement the Paris climate agreement, and its dumping of 3 Mt of plastic in China each year, with horrific consequences for the marine environment and health.

The EU has now started to sideline – in the name of circular economy – the highly successful waste incineration policy implemented in seven EU member states – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden – which all have major waste incineration capacity and now landfill less than 3% of their MSW.

The study notes the best thing to do is bury plastic in landfills or burn it. However, these methods don’t fit into the environmentalist’s scheme of sustainable development. Burning plastic along with other material has very few undesirable emissions. The resulting ash can be sent to landfills or used for applications such as road-building materials.

The study’s author, Mikko Paunio, opines: “that ideologically motivated environmentalists in the 1980s and their dreams of recycling and a ‘circular economy’ are the ultimate cause of the marine waste problem, because they have discouraged development of municipal waste schemes in Asia and Africa, and because they have encouraged developed nations to use management schemes that make it hard or expensive to deal with waste and therefore tend to ‘leak’ to the environment, sometimes catastrophically so.”

Recycling plastic poses some problems. First much plastic has to be washed which uses large amounts of water. Plastic also has to be sorted from other waste and by type of plastic because recycling processes are different for different types of plastic.

Save time, water, energy, and expense by burning or burying plastic. Don’t recycle it.

The plastics in the ocean problem has spawned some dumb regulations. For instance, silly in Seattle:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/07/02/seattle-bans-plastic-straws-utensils-becoming-first-major-us-city-to-do-so.html

The solution is to have more-careful waste collection and management.

Related:

Plastic bags and global warming

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Some Basic Science about “Toxic Molds”

This article is written by Blair King  a Professional chemist and biologist. He resides in the Township of Langley, British Columbia, Canada. He writes a  blog: A Chemist in Langley. I am reblogging the article here because it is very interesting and informative. It busts some myths about mold.

See the complete article in the original here: https://achemistinlangley.net/2018/05/14/some-basic-science-about-toxic-molds/

 

Let’s start with some mold basics. Mold is a non-scientific term for a varied group of fungi. Molds are literally everywhere. Molds existed on the planet long before humans and will likely exist long after the last humans are gone. Humans evolved in a world heavily populated by molds. What does this mean? Well that that we, as a species, have mostly evolved to live side-by-side with molds and to filter out their spores. That is lucky because virtually every breath we take, indoors or out, brings us in contact with mold spores.

In order to grow, mold only needs warmth, moisture and food (often called “the mold triangle“…the mold version of “the fire triangle“). Molds will thrive at temperatures over 5 degrees C (and under about 45 degrees C) and humidity over about 50 per cent. Molds have evolved to live on pretty much anything organic in nature so can grow almost anywhere. To make it worse some molds, like Penicillium or Cladosporium, can tolerate colder temperatures. This is why you tend to find these two molds growing on rotting veggies in your fridge or on the cold grout in your windows in winter time.

Molds absolutely love places that are wet and dusty. Most mold spores travel with the wind and deposit (stick) to places that are wet. That means that a well-designed air-conditioning system will filter out mold spores but that means the drop trays in your air conditioning system should be regularly cleaned because that is where the spores went. This will also mean that indoor air concentrations of mold spores should be lower than outdoor concentrations. If the opposite is true that means you likely have mold growing in your house that needs to be cleaned up. A big warning for people with flooded homes is that molds also grow pretty quickly. Within 24-48 hours of water intrusion mold will start growing, but on the bright side if you eliminate the water the molds will stop growing and dry up.

Given its ubiquity, you might wonder why one would spend so much time testing for mold? Well in the last 20 years an industry has built up around the idea of “toxic molds.” This industry preys on our fears and ignorance with mold being described as “black gold” in some circles. The reality is there is no such thing as “toxic mold.” There are some mold species that are “toxigenic,” that is they produce “mycotoxins.” Mycotoxins are metabolites produced by molds that are capable of harming other living organisms. Molds evolved these metabolites as part of their strategy to battle bacteria (and each other). Molds have spent the last billion years in an ongoing arms race against bacteria; their primary competition for living space and food. One of the most famous of these mycotoxins is a compound we call penicillin. Penicillin is produced by the mold Penicillium (one of the supposedly “toxic molds”) and is essentially harmless to non-allergic humans in the concentrations encountered in our day-to-day lives.

Certainly, there are people who can be deathly allergic to penicillin but even these people are exposed to the mold Penicillium on a daily basis with no ill-effect. As for allergies, approximately five per cent of individuals have some allergic airway response to elevated mold spore concentrations. That is, these people will get runny noses, itchy eyes and some wheezing when encountering high concentrations of mold spores. But let’s put that number into perspective, about 10 per cent of people are allergic to household pets.

Now I am not saying that mold is good for you as that is clearly not the case. Molds can and do produce spores that can act as human allergens. I can personally attest that at high enough concentrations mold spores can even induce headaches in people who are not directly allergic to mold. In addition I have to include this important proviso, individuals with illnesses that decrease their immune response (immunosuppressed individuals) should be especially careful to reduce their exposure to molds as molds can cause them serious harm. From a physical perspective, molds can also damage and weaken structures. But on a day-to-day basis, molds and mold spores are not a significant risk to a healthy individual.

As for ingesting mold. Issues with mold have been known since biblical times and everyone knows that you should not eat moldy food as it can make you sick. Moreover, it is not unheard of for horses to actually die from eating moldy hay. But for people to die from eating mold is incredibly rare.

The question you are probably asking is: if mold is so harmless why has this industry grown so big? It has been argued that our current generation of mold panic can be directly linked to U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) studies in 1994 and 1997. At that time, the CDC incorrectly linked lung damage in children to the presence of Stachybotrys chartarum mold. In 2000, this linkage was retracted by the CDC. Unfortunately, by then the damage was done and a few very lucrative lawsuits later, the “toxic mold” industry was born.

So what is the truth about “toxic mold”? The fact that is understood now, that was not fully recognized in the 1990s, is that it is not the mold in your house that is making you sick. Rather it is living in conditions where mold can thrive that actually causes illnesses. As explained by the World Health Organization in 2009

Sufficient epidemiological evidence is available…to show that the occupants of damp or mouldy buildings, both houses and public buildings, are at increased risk of respiratory symptoms, respiratory infections and exacerbation of asthma. Some evidence suggests increased risks of allergic rhinitis and asthma. Although few intervention studies were available, their results show that remediation of dampness can reduce adverse health outcomes.

As for the mycotoxins, the research is also clear:

Current scientific evidence does not support the proposition that human health has been adversely affected by inhaled mycotoxins in home, school, or office environments (Hardin Kelman and Saxon, 2003)

and

Currently, there is no supportive evidence to imply that inhaling mold or mycotoxins in indoor environments is responsible for any serious health effects other than transient irritation and allergies in immunocompetent individuals (Fung and Clark, 2004).

So what are the take-home messages about “toxic molds”? It is not “toxic mold” that is making people sick, it is living in conditions conducive to mold growth that is bad for human health. If you are living in a house with high humidity and low temperatures then you are going to get sick irrespective of the presence or absence of “toxic molds”. As such mold can serve as a useful indicator. If you see mold growing in your house it is time to deal with the conditions that are likely to make you sick sometime in the future.

Abuse of the Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was passed with good intentions, but in practice it has many problems. The ESA actually encourages private property owners to rid their properties of endangered species and their habitats because of the restrictions in beneficial use the Act imposes on property owners. The ESA is very expensive to taxpayers (regulatory costs exceed $1.2 billion per year). Besides trampling on property rights, the ESA destroys industries (remember the timber industry in the northwest?).

The ESA is easy to “game,” a characteristic that radical environmental groups take full advantage of through their “sue and settle” tactics. According to attorney Karen Budd-Falen, “Species are listed by a petition process, which means that anyone can send a letter to the federal government asking that a species, either plant or animal, be put on the ESA list. The federal government has 90 days to respond to that petition, no matter how frivolous. If the federal government fails to respond in 90 days, the petitioner – in the vast majority of cases, radical environmental groups – can file litigation against the federal government and get its attorneys fees paid. The simple act of filing litigation does not mean the species will get listed or that it is warranted to be protected; this litigation is only over whether the federal government failed to respond to the petition in 90 days. Between 2000 and 2009, in just 12 states and the District of Columbia, 14 environmental groups filed 180 federal court complaints to get species listed under the ESA and were paid $11,743,287 in attorneys fees and costs.” The act of responding to lawsuits causes government biologists to spend much less time on conservation work.

An example of this tactic was published last Monday by ADI in their article: “Absurd Sue And Settle Lawsuit Launched To Protect Borderlands Moth.” (Link) “Serial litigators, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Patagonia Area Resource Alliance filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Patagonia eyed silkmoth under the Endangered Species Act.”

In my opinion, while these enviros are gaming the system for money, their main purpose is to stop development of new mines in the Patagonia Mountains of Southern Arizona. These properties have the potential to become a major source of lead, zinc, and silver, and the only U.S. source of manganese.

See related stories:

New Zinc-lead-silver mineral deposit discovered in SE Arizona

Silver project may become only US source of manganese

The other major problem with the Endangered Species Act is that, through bureaucratic bungling and bad science, the ESA is particularly poor at recovering endangered species.

The Heritage Foundation has recently published an assessment of the Endangered Species Act entitled: Correcting Falsely “Recovered” and Wrongly Listed Species and Increasing Accountability and Transparency in the Endangered Species Program by Robert Gordon (Read full report)

Abstract

Numerous administrative actions should be taken to correct the record of species that are falsely claimed to have “recovered” and that have been declared endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) using erroneous data. It is crucial to improve implementation, accountability, and transparency in the administration of the ESA. The recommendations and information here will help correct the record, provide guidance as to some of the species that may be suitable for delisting on the grounds of data error or extinction, improve the likelihood that future delistings are appropriately categorized, eliminate unnecessary regulations and further waste, and ensure scarce conservation dollars are better spent.

In five years the Endangered Species Act will reach the half-century milestone—and yet only 40 U.S. species have graduated from the program as “recovered,” slightly less than one species per year. If not one more bird, beetle, or bear were added to the list of federally endangered animals and plants and somehow species recovered at 10 times that rate, it would take well over a century and-a-half to work through the current list.

There is, however, no indication that the list of regulated species will stop growing. Even worse, almost half of the “recovered” species—18 of 40— are federally funded fiction. They were never really endangered; like many species that remain on the endangered list, they were mistakes. With all the ESA’s costs and burdens, it should perhaps come as no surprise that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is fabricating success stories to cover up this unsustainable mess and substituting fluff for statutorily required reporting regarding the recovery program.

 

My opinion: It is time to consider repealing the ESA and replacing it with a more effective system that encourages conservation with positive incentives.

 

Related:

Endangered Species paperwork to cost $206,098,920

Endangered species act could halt American energy boom

Endangered Species Act administration changes bode ill for property rights

Endangered species listings based on questionable science and lack of independent review

Repeal the Endangered Species Act

Rosemont and the Cuckoo scam

Arizona Game & Fish Department against critical habitat for jaguar

Pygmy owls and property rights

Forest thinning needed to save water

Dense forests suck up surface and groundwater and dump it into the atmosphere through the process of evapotranspiration. This means that there is less water for other uses.

“There are too many trees in Sierra Nevada forests, say scientists affiliated with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory (CZO).”

A new study supported by the National Science Foundation published in the journal Ecohydrology (see press release) proclaims “Billions of gallons of water saved by thinning forests.” The study of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California notes that “excessive evapotranspiration may harm a fragile California water system, especially during prolonged, warm droughts.”

The primary methods of good forest thinning are fire and logging.

Forest Service policy exacerbated sound forest management. Remember Smokey the Bear, “only you can prevent forest fires?” But fire is nature’s way of managing forests. Logging was largely reduced for misguided environmental reasons such as saving the spotted owl.

From the NSF study:

“Forest wildfires are often considered disasters,” said Richard Yuretich, director of NSF’s CZO program, which funded the research. “But fire is part of healthy forest ecosystems. By thinning out trees, fires can reduce water stress in forests and ease water shortages during droughts. And by reducing the water used by plants, more rainfall flows into rivers and accumulates in groundwater.”

Using data from CZO measurement towers and U.S. Geological Survey satellites, researchers found that over the period 1990 to 2008, fire-thinned forests saved 3.7 billion gallons of water annually in California’s Kings River Basin and …17 billion gallons of water annually in the American River Basin — water that would otherwise have been lost through evapotranspiration.

Forest thinning has increased in recent decades in an effort to stave off disastrous wildfires fueled by dense forests. This study shows that restoring forests through mechanical thinning or wildfire can also save California billions of gallons of water each year.

Perhaps we should take guidance from the first land managers in North America, the Indians. In my article “The Pristine Myth” I note the following:

Archaeological and anthropological research during the last 25 years or so, shows that much of what we thought was pristine in the Western Hemisphere, even the Amazon rain forest, is actually human-formed landscape created by the first New World inhabitants, the Indians. It seems that American Indians, from North America, Mexico and South America, were the ultimate land managers, and they transformed the land to suit their needs. They constructed the world’s largest gardens.

American Indians built cities and civilizations, cultivated forests and farms, and developed more than half of the crops grown worldwide today. Indians, rather than subsist passively on what wild nature provided, instead survived by cleverly exploiting their environment. Their principal tool was fire. They did not domesticate animals for meat, but instead used fire to change whole ecosystems to raise deer, elk, and bison.

Related story:

Forest thinning may increase runoff and supplement our water supply

A new study (“Effects of Climate Variability and Accelerated Forest Thinning on Watershed-Scale Runoff in Southwestern USA Ponderosa Pine Forests” published October 22, 2014) conducted by The Nature Conservancy and Northern Arizona University recommends accelerated forest thinning by mechanical means and controlled burns in central and northern Arizona forests. The study estimates that such thinning will increase runoff by about 20 percent, add to our water supply, and make forests more resilient.

EPA says Glyphosate is not harmful to humans

The herbicide glyphosate is the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. This product has been used for more than 40 years on farms, residential lawns, and on golf courses. Environmentalists have been conducting a scaremongering campaign asking for a world-wide ban.

Glyphosate was classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2015, based on very sketchy evidence. However, in November 2015, the European Food Safety Authority determined that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans. In May 2016, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization meeting on pesticide residues (another subdivision of the WHO), concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.

A new study published December 12, 2017 by the Environmental Protection Agency concludes that glyphosate and its metabolites are not likely to be harmful to humans, neither as a carcinogen, nor harmful in other ways. You can read the entire 216-page report here.

The EPA reviewed thousands of studies relating to glyphosate effects on humans and other animals. The EPA’s main conclusion: “In summary, considering the entire range of information for the weight-of-evidence, the evidence outlined above to potentially support the ‘suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential’ descriptor are contradicted by other studies of equal or higher quality and, therefore, the data do not support this cancer classification descriptor.” The strongest support is for “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”

This story has been largely ignored by the mainstream media. I did find mention by Reuters which noted that the EPA reported that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans and found “no other meaningful risks to human health” when glyphosate, the world’s biggest-selling weed killer, is used according to its label instructions.

There was also mention in the LATimes which pointed out that the EPA finding contradicted “California regulators, who have included the chemical on the Proposition 65 list of probable carcinogens.”

As Steve Milloy pointed out in a June 19, 2017, Washington Times article, it’s time to dismantle the chemical scaremongering industry.

For additional background see Is glyphosate, used with some GM crops, dangerously toxic to humans? From the Genetic Literacy Project (link). They point out:

Toxicity is all about dosage; this applies to all substances. Some chemicals like aflatoxin and botulin are toxic in small doses, while others like vitamin D and caffeine have low toxicity, becoming dangerous only at higher doses.

Let’s take a closer look at glyphosate. Glyphosate is derived from an amino acid, glycine. It acts against plants by suppressing an essential biochemical mechanism commonly found in plants, but not in animals. According to the Extension Toxicology Network, a joint pesticide information project by Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University and University of California at Davis, and funded by US Department of Agriculture, glyphosate is non-volatile, minimizing exposure through inhalation, and undergoes little metabolism in the human body. If accidentally consumed, glyphosate is excreted mostly unchanged in feces and urine, so it doesn’t stay in the body and accumulate.

The EPA has also determined that glyphosate has “minimal” ecological effects. Glyphosate is only slightly toxic to birds and fish, and it binds tightly to the soil, reducing the possibilities of leaching. Microbes in the soil then break glyphosate down so it doesn’t accumulate in the soil. According to plant pathologist Steve Savage, glyphosate has also replaced mechanical tillage to destroy weeds, which is “a substantial positive for the environment because of reduced erosion and retention of soil carbon.”

So how toxic is glyphosate exactly? To examine toxicity, one must look at the LD50 value given to the chemical in question. LD50 is a standard measure of acute toxicity for chemicals, expressed in the amount of chemical (milligrams) per body weight (kg) that it took to kill fifty percent of a population of test animals. Because LD50 is a standard measure, it is used to compare toxicities of compounds; the lower the number, the more toxic it is.

Glyphosate has a LD50 of 5600 mg/kg based on oral ingestions in rats, according to EPA assessments (PDF), placing it in Toxicity Category III. The EPA ranks chemicals in four categories, I being the most toxic and IV being the least. The EPA has also found that glyphosate does not cause cancer. To compare, caffeine has a much lower LD50 of 192 mg/kg based on oral ingestions in rats.

These words are followed by a chart of LD50 for many common substances.

See also:

Food Scares – WHO vs Bacon

Genetically modified food, nothing to fear

GMO modified rice eliminates methane emissions and increases nutrition

Out of the wildfire and into the flood – Arizona Summer 2017

After several quiet years, Arizona has had a very active wildfire season. Halfway through 2017, just over 352,000 acres have been burned in Arizona by wildfires of >100 acres in size (Inciweb for Arizona: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/3/). This was the worst fire season since the record burns of 2011, and is almost 4 times as many acres burned than in 2013 (Table 1; Southwest Coordination Center: https://gacc.nifc.gov/swcc, accessed July 12, 2017). While the worst part of the fire season is likely behind us, based on recent years we can expect to see more wildfires in the fall. Most of the 2017 burned acreage has been on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), followed by Arizona State lands (AZFD), Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

As the monsoon season ramps up, it is time to be cognizant of potential post-fire flooding and debris flows. Both floods and debris flows pose significant hazards to human health, property and infrastructure, and both carry a significant amount of sediment, woody material and rocks. Debris flows can be more dangerous, however, as they resemble slurries of dense, fast-moving concrete that carry more sediment and woody debris and larger caliber rocks (maybe up to basketball sized rocks in floods and car or truck sized boulders in debris flows).

Wildfires significantly impact watershed hydrology, causing much more runoff to occur and frequently triggering post-fire floods and debris flows. In the absence of wildfire, unburned vegetation intercepts raindrops, mitigating the impacts of high-velocity drops on soils. Depending on the burn severity of the wildfire, interception of rainfall by plants can be severely reduced or completely eliminated. At the same time, infiltration of water into the soil is impeded by the presence of ash and fire-related changes to soils (e.g. hyper-dry soils, hydrophobicity, and the destruction of organic matter). These changes result in increased runoff volumes and velocities such that smaller, short-lived monsoon storms can generate tremendous runoff, flooding, and debris flows, and do a huge amount of geomorphic work (i.e. erosion and transportation of sediment) in a very short period of time.

Post by Ann Youberg

Read more at: http://arizonageology.blogspot.com/2017/07/out-of-wildfire-and-into-flood-arizona.html

Will Trump rein in regulation?

Have we just witnessed a second American revolution; one that repudiates the policies of the political establishment of both Republicans and Democrats? We had a hint of this when Trump beat out establishment Republicans in the primary.

Trump will have much to deal with. In this article I will concentrate on the EPA, an agency whose regulations have trampled private property rights, and killed much inexpensive electricity generation.

What if, in his inaugural address, Trump were to issue an executive order that says something like “no federal agency shall regulate carbon dioxide emissions from burning of fossil fuels and all existing regulations to that effect are null and void?” Even the EPA admits that the possible effect on climate of its “Clean Power Plan” is prevention of just 0.03°C by the year 2100. That would be a great positive step in quelling the climate madness. It would also boost our economy. EPA regulations on particulate matter have no basis in science (see references below).

The EPA itself could be phased out and replaced by the environmental agencies of each state.

The EPA’s “Waters of the United States” rule (WOTUS, see here and here) impacts private property rights because the rule has become so invasive that it regulates every puddle and rill that may occur on or pass through a property.

In addition to the above:

The U.S. should withdrawal from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, from the Paris climate agreement and from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC). These agencies and agreements suck money and provide no benefit. In the thousands of pages from reports by the IPCC, they have never produced any physical evidence that carbon dioxide emissions play a significant role in controlling global temperature.

The U.S. should also terminate all federal government subsidies for climate change research and for “renewable” energy. Let the solar and wind turbine companies test the demand for their product on the free market without any artificial markets produced by mandates and subsidies.

Endangered species listings based on projected climate change should be rescinded. In fact, the Endangered Species act should be amended or replaced with something that is more science-based and provides a positive incentive for conservation.

I hope Trump can “drain the swamp” and make the government serve the people once again.

 

See also:

EPA Clean Power Plan is Junk Science

EPA’s own human experiments debunk health claims

EPA claims on dangers of particulate matter are false

EPA Clean Power Plan is Junk Science

Replace the Environmental Protection Agency

EPA targets wrong cause of haze in Grand Canyon

The Flaws in the Endangered Species Act

 

 

Science in Trouble

Science, as practiced today, is in trouble mainly because of money and politics. Much grant money flows from government which seeks results that will confirm the current political orthodoxy. And there are many willing takers.

A good scientist is always skeptical, but often that skepticism may be a career breaker. You as a reader should also be skeptical when a new Study claims this or that. This is especially true in the fields of climate and medical research.

Below are introductions to five articles dealing with the trouble with science today.

Annals Of Fake, Politicized “Science”

by Francis Menton

If you have never read President Dwight Eisenhower’s January 1961 farewell address, you should. It’s not long. He clearly foresaw the oncoming unchecked expansion of the federal government, and the associated dangers. The famous passage deals with the risks to science from the new-found gusher of federal grant spending:

A steadily increasing share [of scientific research] is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government. Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. . . . The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded.

Fast-forward 55 years, and we are deep in the dystopia that Eisenhower foresaw. In science today, government funding is everything, and control of it empowers orthodoxy enforcement and the banishment of skeptics and dissenters — the antithesis of science. Many examples can be cited of science gone completely off the rails through the perverse incentives of government monopoly funding. But really, nothing can top the hysteria — underwritten by tens of billions of dollars of annual federal spending — of the climate change machine. Read more

Advocacy research, incentives and the practice of science

by Dr. Judith Curry

There is a problem with the practice of science. Because of poor scientific practices, and improper incentives, few papers with useful scientific findings are published in leading journals. The problem appears to be growing due to funding for advocacy research.

Funding for researchers is often provided to gain support for a favored hypothesis. Researchers are also rewarded for finding evidence that supports hypotheses favored by senior colleagues. These incentives leads to what we call “advocacy research,” an approach that is contrary to the definition of science. In addition, university researchers are typically rewarded with selection and promotion on the basis of their performance against measures that have the effect of distracting them from doing useful scientific research. Read more

Politics and the Changing Norms of Science

by Lucas Bergkamp

“The politician is sometimes tempted to encroach on the normal territory of the scientific estate. In such issues the problem is less often whether politics will presume to dictate to science than it is how much politics is to be influenced by the new findings of science.”

The climate change debate has exposed a deeper problem with our science and scientific knowledge. The problem is not that science is unable to answer all of our questions. Rather, the problem is that the body politic has come to see science as an instrument to pass on ‘hot potatoes,’ i.e. complex issues raising a large range of empirical questions and implicating important value judgments. Scientists have failed to point out the limits of science and to bounce the ball back to the politicians. In the market for ‘evidence’ for policy making, politicians demand arguments for their desired policies, which scientists supply in the form of research and reports. Their research, however, does little to resolve the policy issues faced by the body politic, and does not advance social progress. Climate science is the poster child of these developments. Read more

Peer Review, Why skepticism is essential

by Donna Laframboise

Peer-reviewed research is reliable, so the reasoning goes. Non-peer-reviewed research is not. The IPCC makes exclusive use of the former, therefore its conclusions can be trusted.* This argument has long been used to deflect criticism and to repel contrary climate perspectives.

But behind it lies a dubious assumption: that academic publications are a sound foundation on which to base real-world decisions. In fact, science is currently in the grip of a ’reproducibility crisis’ so severe that the editor of a prominent journal has declared that ‘much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue’. Media coverage declaring that ’science is broken’ has become commonplace. Read report (40 pages)

*In her book, Laframboise shows that in fact, about 28% of sources used by the IPCC were from magazine articles, press releases, and unpublished papers. (See book review)

 The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists

by Julia Belluz, Brad Plumer, and Brian Resnick

In the past several years, many scientists have become afflicted with a serious case of doubt — doubt in the very institution of science.

The scientific process, in its ideal form, is elegant: Ask a question, set up an objective test, and get an answer. Repeat. Science is rarely practiced to that ideal. But Copernicus believed in that ideal. So did the rocket scientists behind the moon landing.

Today, scientists’ success often isn’t measured by the quality of their questions or the rigor of their methods. It’s instead measured by how much grant money they win, the number of studies they publish, and how they spin their findings to appeal to the public.

Scientists often learn more from studies that fail. But failed studies can mean career death. So instead, they’re incentivized to generate positive results they can publish. And the phrase “publish or perish” hangs over nearly every decision. Read more

Read also: On consensus in science

War on the Range – Ranchers versus Mesquite

 

mesquite-at-baboquivari

Southern Arizona ranchers have been battling mesquite trees for almost 100 years. The principal reason is that mesquite trees and shrubs suck up the water and thereby degrade the range making it less suitable for raising livestock. It also makes the grasslands less accommodating to wildlife.

Mesquite is a very hardy plant that produces an abundance of seed pods. The seeds and pods are collected and stored by rodents. Many animals, including livestock and deer, eat the seed pods, but the seeds themselves pass through undigested and are deposited with some fertilizer.

The problem as described to me by a southern Arizona rancher:

Southern Arizona is characterized by intermittent drought. This results in marked death loss of the perennial forage grasses, however, drought seldom causes death of whole mesquite plants. Mesquite have a long tap root enabling it to reach underground moisture and can tolerate drought. Grasses do not have that advantage. As the tree grows it demands more moisture. The result is each year, depending on the rainfall, less and less forage is produced as the tree shades the ground and quickly takes up the moisture. As the mesquite grow, noxious plants also become established with their deeper roots which make them drought resistant. These include burroweed and snakeweed. These also crowd out grass. As the ground is bare, when a heavy rain falls there is not grass and grass roots to hold the soil so erosion becomes an issue.

According to University of Arizona Technical Bulletin 74, published in 1938:

Certain range lands of the grassland type in southern Arizona are undergoing an invasion by the mesquite tree and noxious shrubs to the extent that the native stand of palatable forage is being materially reduced. The development of this problem has taken place at a pace gradual enough that its seriousness was not fully realized by stockmen until the cumulative effects of some forty years’ transition in the vegetation type of the affected areas became increasingly apparent.

The report goes on to discuss various methods of mesquite eradication including use of petroleum products, arsenic, acid sprays, and other chemical means. These methods proved ultimately ineffective. Petroleum did not kill the roots so the mesquite soon sprouted new growth. The chemicals remained on the stumps and were thus dangerous to livestock and wildlife. Burning individual trees was also ineffective. Only sodium arsenite solution would kill the roots, but it was difficult to prepare and handle.

The US Department of Agriculture weighed in with Circular 908 published in 1952:

One of the most serious and perplexing problems in southeastern Arizona is mesquite invasion of grasslands. Mesquite occurs there in varying degrees of abundance on 9 million acres of range land. The problem is likewise serious elsewhere in the Southwest. Mesquite is now firmly established on considerably more than 70 million acres of range in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. An estimated half of the area now occupied by mesquite has been invaded since the advent of domestic livestock. The increase of mesquite is viewed with ever-increasing alarm by range operators.

The principal reasons for concern are : (1) Mesquite, even under moderate grazing use, is still persistently increasing both by invading open grassland and by thickening of old stands. (2) Cutting mesquite, especially in bottom-land areas, usually results in an impenetrable thicket of sprout regrowth and new seedlings. In many of these “jungles,” grazing has had to be abandoned. (3) Livestock handling costs are increased, especially in dense upland mesquite thickets where it is difficult to gather livestock for market or to find screwworm-infested animals for treatment. (4) Increases in mesquite are usually accompanied by decreases in quantity and quality of perennial grass forage and corresponding reductions in livestock production. (5) Still more serious from a long-time viewpoint is the accelerated erosion generally found on uplands as well as bottom lands wherever mesquite has encroached.

The USDA further opines on the cause of the mesquite invasion:

The probability is that neither protection nor heavy grazing has much to do with the increase of shrubs here, but it is primarily the direct result of the prevention of fires.

I spoke with several ranchers who are battling mesquite in southern Arizona. For many years they have been using mechanical means to cut the trees and shrubs and digging out the roots. They try to remove at least 80% of the mesquite. Studies at the Santa Rita Experimental Range show that removing about 80% and leaving some mature trees makes the range more amenable to wildlife than thick mesquite stands or open range.

Before removal work can be done, the ranchers have to make surveys for endangered species such as the Pima Pineapple Cactus, which was listed in 1993 (and there is still no recovery plan). They also have to survey for cultural resources.

The mechanical method means bulldozers to knock down the trees and dig up the roots. One rancher told me it costs $300-$400 per acre and can get only one acre per hour. This is an expensive and tedious operation.

More recently, ranchers have been experimenting with chemical warfare again. Dow Chemical has developed an herbicide that is specific for mesquite. It is deployed by helicopter spraying. This costs about $106 per acre and can cover 80 acres per hour. This is similar to crop dusting operations used on farms.

The ranchers say another main reason for mesquite removal is to reduce soil erosion and restore native grasses. Since chemical removal has begun, ranchers have noticed return of many native grass species.

After reading a version of this article published in the Arizona Daily Independent, another southern Arizona rancher send me these comments:

Mesquite proliferation can be a problem, but they multiply and then decrease quite apart from grazing. It’s fairly cyclic and occurs even where no grazing has occurred (there’s a very deep and large area surrounded by cliffs in Mexico–never grazed–where scientists measured mesquite increase. It increased at the same rate as in the grazed pastures elsewhere.

Mesquites do consume a lot of water and at greater than 20% cover they are problematic, however, at lower than 20% overall, they are a major feed item for both cattle and wildlife–the beans are highly nutritious and so are the leaves. Also, they make a rich, nitrogen-enhanced (they are nitrogen fixers) soil beneath the tree which grows and maintains good native perennials, just so long as the tree cover is not beyond 20-30% and sunlight reaches the area below the tree for some good part of the day. Shade is also good! The upshot is: these trees are natives and are highly adapted to this climate; they have significant value for both wildlife and cattle as forage and as shade for natives that prefer less direct sun like plains bristlegrass and viney mesquite (that’s a grass in spite of the name) and others.

Here we are not at war with mesquites; however there are areas where their density exceeds desirable. Right now the cost of control (just private land–forget trying to do anything on federally managed land) and the issues with flood plains or critical habitat for assorted species are overwhelming and make constructive control financially impractical.

The screw worm issue mentioned in that 1952 publication is past tense; screw worms were effectively controlled decades ago by the propagation and dissemination of sterile male screw worms by the federal govt. and ranchers. It used to be a huge problem in the summer–now not, We can only surmise that such control would be met by howls of opposition from those who would prefer not to eradicate pest insects.

Controlling mesquite makes the range more productive, saves water, and benefits wildlife.

 

For information on traditional use of mesquite trees see:

Mesquite trees provide food, fuel, medicine, and more

 

Private Property Rights vs Environmental Feudalism

We have seen, especially over the last 40 years, a determined assault on private property rights. It is not coincidental that the passing of the Endangered Species Act marks the beginning of this period. Preservationist groups have accomplished through government coercion what they could not get people to do voluntarily. Increasingly, the cost of perceived societal goals are not borne by society as a whole, but by individual property owners. This situation is nothing more than legal plunder, or as Frederic Bastiat put it, “See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”

The U.S. Constitution states that “..nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” The problem of late, is that the definition of “taking” has been subject to debate in the courts. If government condemns private land for a public project, the issue is straight forward and the owner is usually compensated. But it has been less clear in the courts for the situations where a property owner has been denied beneficial use of all or part of a property through zoning ordinances, “growing smarter” schemes, conservation easements, habitat plans, ecosystem management districts, or for the alleged protection of endangered species, wetlands, historic districts, heritage areas, conservation areas, wilderness areas, wildlife preserves, buffer zones to the foregoing, or for the many other excuses government uses to restrict land use.

So what is the big deal about property rights anyway? Karl Marx: “The theory of Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” The big deal is that private property rights are essential to a free society. These rights confer upon the owner the fruits of his labor, the right to the benefit from his work, his investments, and his ideas. Notice that places without private property rights are generally totalitarian regimes where the citizens are slaves to the government.

The concept of private property rights has a long history in western thought. Our founding fathers, particularly Madison and Jefferson, equated property rights with individual rights. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote of the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The later part of this trinity refers to property rights and seems to have been taken from philosopher John Locke’s “life, liberty and estate.” Jefferson goes on to write, “a right to property is founded in our natural wants, in the means by which we are endowed to satisfy those wants, and the right to what we acquire by those means without violating the equal rights of other sensible beings.”

Other western philosophers and statesmen reinforce these principles. For Jeremy Bentham, there were four inalienable rights: liberty, property, security (in the sense of the 4th Amendment) and the right of self-defense. Georg Hegel: “Right is in the first place the immediate embodiment which freedom gives itself in an immediate way, i.e., possession, which is property ownership.” Pope Pius XII: “Private property is a natural fruit of labor, a product of intense activity of man, acquired through his energetic determination to ensure and develop with his own strength his own existence and that of his family, and to create for himself and his own an existence of just freedom.” Friedrich von Hayek: “The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.” U.S. Supreme Court (Lynch vs Household Finance, 1972): “The dichotomy between personal liberties and property rights is a false one. Property does not have rights. People have rights. The right to enjoy property without unlawful deprivation, no less than the right to speak or the right to travel, is in truth, a ‘personal’ right…a fundamental interdependence exists between personal right to liberty and the personal right to property. Neither could have meaning without the other.”

Individual and property rights have long been under assault by governments. A warning by George Washington applies as well today as it did when he wrote, “The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own…”

The current great assault on our rights derives from environmental laws and their unconstitutional application. We have entered a state of Environmental Feudalism. As Karol Ceplo writes in Land Rights: “The ever-increasing use of regulation to restrict private property rights represents a profound change in the politics of land use. This movement has been described as a ‘new feudalism of regulation.’ The management of environmental resources has shifted from the private owner to a centralized bureaucracy, much as land use in medieval times was controlled by centralized royal or ecclesiastical powers, rather than by the people who lived on and worked the land.”

Local manifestations of environmental feudalism came in the form of draconian rules concerning the pygmy owl, in county interim regulations requiring set aside of 80% of land as mitigation to build on the remaining 20%, and in the scheme called the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.

These changes did not happen over night, but evolved incrementally, just as James Madison warned, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” The road back may also be in small steps. The U.S. Supreme Court seems to have rediscovered the Constitution in many recent decisions, but so far, these decisions deal only with individual circumstances and form no overarching return to Constitutional government.

With the coming change in federal administration, we must insist that environmental laws be tempered with just notice to our rights, and that our representatives and senators return to the principles upon which this nation was founded.

 

See also:

The Flaws in the Endangered Species Act

Endangered Species Act administration changes bode ill for property rights

Environmental Sophistry