Fake news

You may have seen this graphic. I was looking for a reputable conservative news source, to see the other side’s perspective. I am interested in Mr Trump’s cabinet nominations- how much damage can he do, and how do his supporters see them? I was glad to see The Hill was “reputable” from a conservative viewpoint, so I went there.

political-stance-of-news-sources

The Left worries about Scott Pruitt heading the Environmental Protection Agency. We need to prevent global warming. The Hill publishes an article by Benjamin Zycher, the John G. Searle scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who says Scott Pruitt is precisely the right person to clean the EPA up. Commenters say things like Roll Train, Drain the Swamp or Drill, baby, drill, as well as longer, mostly derisive comments.

Zycher testified before the Senate Finance Committee that the EPA analysis of the costs of carbon emission was “the most dishonest exercise in political arithmetic” I had ever seen produced by the federal bureaucracy. The EPA benefit/cost analyses… literally are bogus. In the article he gives one example to back that up.

The EPA has published estimates of the effects of its greenhouse-gas efficiency rule for medium- and heavy trucks:

The results of the analysis, summarized in Table VII-37, demonstrate that relative to the reference case, by 2100 … global mean temperature is estimated to be reduced by 0.0026 to 0.0065 °C, and sea-level rise is projected to be reduced by approximately 0.023 to 0.057 cm.

The EPA then states that “the projected reductions in atmospheric CO2, global mean temperature, sea level rise, and ocean pH are meaningful in the context of this action.” And so we arrive at the benefit/cost conclusion, given in all seriousness:

[We] estimate that the proposed standards would result in net economic benefits exceeding $100 billion, making this a highly beneficial rule. 

Can anyone believe that a temperature effect by 2100 measured in ten-thousandths of a degree, or sea-level effects measured in thousandths of a centimeter, could yield over $100 billion in net economic benefits?

How is that possible?

23 to 57 thousandths of a centimetre, or in other words hundredths of a centimetre. That detail shows shallow dismissiveness, a bias. But it is worse: I looked at the Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles; Phase 2 Proposed Rule Document. It is very long, and there is no contents page, but CTRL-F finds Zycher’s quotes. The savings are not stated to arise from a temperature effect or sea-level effect, but from three ratios of cost effectiveness:

  1. Total costs per gallon of fuel conserved.
  2. Technology costs per ton of GHG emissions reduced.
  3. Technology costs minus fuel savings per ton of GHG emissions reduced.

The saving arises from projected reduction in the use of fuel of 75bn gallons. That is a cost of forty cents per gallon saved.

There are conservative arguments that these matters should be left to manufacturers rather than government. The upfront cost of technology will be passed on to buyers of trucks. However, 40c per gallon sounds good to me. Zycher has not bothered with the arguments, but with a deliberate distortion. My quote is five paragraphs before his, so he will have seen it. Experts might dispute the EPA’s statistics or calculations but I only needed a few clicks and a few minutes to refute Zycher’s statement.

There are free marketeer arguments as well: regulation of trucks in the US is a “non-tariff barrier” making it harder for foreign manufacturers to export to the US; but inhibiting free trade might please those commenters.

This is not fake news of the “Pope endorses Trump” variety. Older language will suffice- Zycher is lying. That is wrong.

Has Mr Pruitt denied anthropogenic climate change? Greenpeace’s evidence is sparse, but he wrote, Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind. CO2 in the atmosphere has increased because of human action. This warms the planet. This is not disputed except by science-deniers and obfuscators.

Interest has moved on, by now. Most commenting ended three days ago. Chris Stone, a horrible man who trashes Environmentalist arguments- “Try to keep up.” “Are you always this stupid”. “Scurry off, hug your tree and then go to your cry room, moron”- said the EPA Falsely Tied Hydraulic Fracturing to Ground Water Impacts, citing this press release from climate denier Senator Jim Imhofe. Does fracking pollute groundwater? A study by Acton Mickelson Environmental, Inc. in Wyoming found that there is gas in the drinking water, but that The potential contribution of gas seepage along gas wells versus natural upward migration of gas is undefined and would be difficult to quantify– the gas might have been in the water, even without fracking- and total dissolved solids exceed drinking water standards or comparison values in almost all the samples. It is not as clear as Senator Imhofe’s press release implies. There should be Continued evaluation of surface pits for potential contribution to water-quality issues.

What non-experts can do is limited. I am satisfied that Zycher is lying. I don’t think Stone has reason to be satisfied the EPA’s connection of fracking to ground water impact was false, let alone deliberately so, and if false it could be only one mistake, so that most EPA activity is still in good faith and reliable.

I have not shown that Imhofe is wrong, or that the Wyoming report admits fracking pollutes ground water. I have made selective quotes from the executive briefing. I disbelieve Imhofe because of his climate denialism. He lies about one reason why fossil fuels should not be extracted, so I cannot trust him on another alleged reason. I see from the Wyoming report that the gas, and the fracturing, is much deeper than the deepest well, and it might seem reasonable that something so deep might not affect water hundreds of feet above, but I really don’t know. If it were my drinking water, I would want to be certain it was safe.

We need to be careful of what we believe, and hold sites like The Hill to account for disseminating falsehoods. One deliberately deceptive article does not mean The Hill is never reliable, but it cannot be taken for granted.

Benjamin Zycher attacking the EPA.
The Proposed Rule document.

Denial

Here’s Donny on hairspray.

Well, yes CFCs can affect the ozone layer. Gas can leave his apartment, or he would suffocate. It then circulates through the atmosphere and catalyses a reaction, breaking down the O3, causing a 4% reduction worldwide since the 1970s as well as the holes at the poles. That lets solar UV light reach the surface of the planet, causing skin cancer, cataracts, and damage to crops. The gases we used to replace CFCs mitigate the effect.

Reducing CO2 is complex, but replacing CFCs with HFCs was comparatively simple. The treaties are old, and more or less observed. So why deny that reasonable precautions are necessary? Because if you feel you have enough problems, you focus on the most pressing. If someone tells you you can’t use spray cans any more, and you can’t think of an alternative, they are loading more problems on you, and you don’t want to deal with that one. So you say, that does not make sense to me. And they explain catalysis and you don’t want to listen. How reassuring to be told that you don’t have to, that your own instincts- my deodorant can’t damage the atmosphere- are sound.

Donald gives false hope. He reassures. Those people telling you what to do, they’re fools, right? You don’t want to listen to them? You don’t need to! Go with your gut instincts, and don’t let experts tell you what to do!

Saving the planet is a group activity. Countries need to work together. People need to do more, to stop buying certain things, to sort their rubbish out. If you can’t afford petrol, you don’t want to be told that the price needs to go up to reduce CO2.

Warming the planet in thirty or seventy years is overwhelming and distant at the same time. There needs to be group action for the good of all. But the Right does not like group action, it wants everyone to work for themselves, and the market to make wealth gush up to the wealthy- to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance. So oil companies will continue to profit from extraction of hydrocarbons. And voters go along with this. It feels like freedom. Very little benefit comes from one person recycling their milk cartons anyway.

As for me, I like to work on one problem at a time, and if others tell me I should be working on something else, I resent it. Denial is comforting. If a problem is too great, well, maybe it will never happen. We go on as before. If a problem is insoluble, well, I’ve got to die of something.

Working together is ennobling and empowering. In Britain we have great love for the NHS, the symbol of our society working together for the good of all, and the extreme Right used that to get us to vote for them, against immigration, even as they tear it down.

Why do towns flood?

Towns downstream flood because water runs off the land upstream, rather than draining naturally into aquifers. Because of the lack of water in aquifers, water use must be restricted when there is low rainfall, even low rainfall within normal ranges. The problem is compaction of soil upstream, which could be ameliorated by restoring trees: rain passes down their roots into the soil below. When rivers are dredged, removing their habitat for wildlife, water flows more quickly: all the rain reaches the town at once, overwhelming the expensive flood barriers built on the riverbanks downstream. And that fast flowing water moves silt: dredging causes the need for more dredging. The answer is to allow rivers to meander and braid, holding the water back, filtering it and releasing it slowly.

I get all this from George Monbiot, in two Guardian articles, one more political, one in depth. Do read that second article, it explains the issues beautifully. The farmers of Pontbren, where the Severn rises, planted trees, to provide shelter and bedding for their hill-pastured sheep. One of the research papers estimates that – even though only 5% of the Pontbren land has been reforested – if all the farmers in the catchment did the same thing, flooding peaks downstream would be reduced by about 29%. Full reforestation would reduce the peaks by about 50%. For the residents of Shrewsbury, Gloucester and the other towns ravaged by endless Severn floods, that means – more or less – problem solved.

Monbiot explains that the Common Agricultural Policy is to blame: the Single Farm Payment, which pays the same for poor hillside pasture as for lowland pasture, will not be paid where there is “unwanted vegetation”. Farmers are paid to remove the trees which would prevent the flooding.

Monbiot quotes some of the ripostes. Rory Stewart, Conservative MP and now an Environment minister, attacked the National Trust because it “allows water to ruin the lowland pastures of small tenant farms, apparently on the advice of the Environment Agency”. Monbiot links Stewart’s article on the Green Alliance Blog. Small farms matter as a link to our traditional culture says Stewart, decrying rationalist “Whiggery” concerned with profit not people. Stewart supports the tradition of the legacy of more than a thousand years of small cultivation and also blames the CAP, which he says drives out small farmers. Land becomes either an industrial factory for the production of the maximum food at the cheapest price, or a national park almost devoid of human cultivation. His answer is to demand something impossible: that national parks should clarify not in the abstract but, specifically, valley by valley, what landscape they are seeking to create.

I am not rationalist. I am seduced by Stewart’s Yeats quote against whiggery: that levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind that never looked out of the eye of saint or out of a drunkard’s eye. Yet I favour a collectivist response, balancing the interests of town dwellers downstream against those of farmers, small and large. It would reduce the need for public spending, £3.2bn, £500m more than in the last parliament, on flood defences downstream, which are failing.

Raphael, Holy Family with a lamb

Cui bono?

At the tender age of twelve, I was a Thatcherite.

Is fracking for shale gas dangerous? The Spectator says not.

Fracking is not a pretty process: it involves drilling a large well and then pumping large quantities of water and sand down it in order to fracture the appropriate strata of rock. Once the rock is fractured, gas can seep into the well and be forced to the surface. But it isn’t anything like as hazardous as environmentalists — in a repeat of the fantasy and exaggeration which characterised the campaign against GM foods a decade ago — like to claim.

What about cost?

kilo­watt for kilowatt, energy generated from shale gas emits only half as much carbon as coal — the energy source which it is already beginning to replace in many American states. It is estimated that $4 spent on shale delivers the same energy as $25 spent on oil

So why do environmentalists oppose it? Because they are hysterical liars and puritans who want everyone to suffer:

The energy-scarce world of their dreams has been put off for a couple of centuries at least; instead we are staring at a future of potential energy abundance.

OK. Turn to Potomac Upstream, a blog I rather like. Here I find fracking described as the end of our World. So I asked her for sources, and she referred me to Salon. What do they say about the dangers?

In every fracking state but New York, where a moratorium against the process has been in effect since 2010, the gas industry has contaminated ground water, sickened people, poisoned livestock and killed wildlife.

And on cost of production, it refers to Wikipedia, which, citing the New York Times, states:

The degree to which production is economically viable remains uncertain as only high prices resulting from high demand can support the increased cost of production

What particularly irks me about this is the statements of fact. I have a degree, and the ability to understand complex concepts, even research them a little, but my specialism is restricted, and I cannot find for myself what is the cost or carbon footprint of fracking. These two sources tell me opposed things. Even if there are statistics which each can rely on, one at least is not telling the whole truth.

I love the Spectator’s slogan “Don’t think alike”. However, it seems to be strongly in favour of regimented thinking. At the tender age of 12, in a strongly Tory household, I was a Thatcherite, and reading the Spectator recently has caused my final break with the Conservative party. I could not bring myself to vote for my current MP.

I want to read to know about the World, not to reinforce my current prejudices, or get an emotional kick from anger at lying environmentalists or lying corporations. People need jobs. I get that. And NIMBY is not a good argument, so people may pretend to more general environmental concerns. But when I ask Who benefits? I think the corporations have a greater interest in distorting truth than the campaigners. I dislike not knowing, but need to admit when I actually do not know.