Saturday, February 24, 2007

GLOBAL WARMING: UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

I have been critical of the media's portrayal of climatologists vs. economists. While they rarely seek genuine material from economists, there have been a few occasions that I have witnessed interviews with economists discussing the 'pros and cons' of popular policies such as increasing the minimum wage.

I seldom see any news stories where climate change is discussed in any context other than one being inexorably connected to human activity. Positions held by 'skeptics' such as Richard Lindzen of MIT are seldom debated. Here are some issues I would like to see cleared up with good reporting.

1) Global warming is supposed to lead to increased numbers and/or intensity of hurricanes. If global temperatures are increasing at the poles, then shouldn't there be fewer hurricanes since it is temperature differences across global regions that cause hurricanes? Shouldn't the warmer temperatures decrease the excitation energy responsible for their formation?

2) Do climate models account for the 'Iris Effect'? This is where upper level cirrus clouds contract with increased temperatures. It provides a strong negative feedback effect that actually decreases the warming effect of increased CO2 levels.

3) Do climate models incorrectly emphasize positive feedback mechanisms while empirical evidence supports negative feedback loops?

4) Can you empirically link past CO2 levels to climate change and forecast what effect anthropogenically produced CO2 will have on the climate in the future? How can you statistically separate the effects of solar cycles, the earth's rotation, and its axis tilt from anthropogenically increased levels of CO2?

5) Can you explain or debunk the early February article published in the journal Science that documents a reversal of ice melting in Greenland?

These are questions posed by a layman. I have no background in climate science. These are ideas that I have been able to gather from multiple sources. I have seen numerous stories in the media linking human activity to global warming (AGW), but have never witnessed a comprehensive discussion of these views in the media. To an expert, many of these questions may seem naive, and unworthy of reporting. However, until even naive assertions are taken seriously and addressed formally by the media with facts, skeptics of AGW will remain.

When credentialed skeptics are attacked personally, dubbed as lunatics, and dismissed on a regular basis, I think members of the thinking population ( that are not climatologists) will remain unconvinced regardless of how large the consensus about AGW is reported to be.

note: AGW- anthropogenic global warming

ECONOMISTS VS CLIMATOLOGISTS

When an economist is asked about a policy such as increasing the minimum wage, he is able to abstract from mathematical models and explain to the laymen the potential effects. In addition, in explaining these effects, he will often introduce contradictory models and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. In many cases he has empirical evidence to offer to support his theoretical analysis. While an economist may make what appears to be a one sided argument, he is often able to offer reasons why competing theories are off base.

It does not appear to me that climatologists are able to do this. At least not as presented in the media. Climate models are no more complex than an economists comparative statics, differential equations, or econometrics. The media certainly expounds on the facts that global temperatures have risen by about 1 degree since the early 19th century, and that CO2 emissions have at the same time increased 30%. Immediately man's connection to global warming is made, and with a few quotes from the IPCC, the prestige of science is granted to movies such as "An Inconvenient Truth" and "The Day After Tomorrow." You seldom hear about competing ideas. When you hear about a skeptic, they are immediately discredited and lumped in with Holocaust deniers ( which is the same as resorting to personal attacks vs. arguing facts).

QUOTES

These are some great quotes from our founding fathers. I obtained them from the website of economist Walter E. Williams of George Mason University.

In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison stood on the floor of the House to object saying, "I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." -- James Madison, 4 Annals of congress 179 (1794)

"Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated." --Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Albert Gallatin, 1817

"Whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force."-- Thomas Jefferson, Draft Kentucky Resolutions, 1798. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, (Memorial Edition) Lipscomb and Bergh, editors, ME 17:380

"I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for public charity. [To approve the measure] would be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive to the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded." -- President Franklin Pierce's 1854 veto of a measure to help the mentally ill.

"I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit."-- President Grover Cleveland vetoing a bill for charity relief (18 Congressional Record 1875 [1877]

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

ADVANCES IN BEEF PRODUCTION: HUMAN AND ENVIRONENTAL HEALTH

Since I’ve covered some of the major objections to beef production ( hormones, feeding grain to cattle(see “ETHANOL AND CORN FOR FOOD ”), and antibiotic use) I’m ready to talk about the health and environmental benefits that consumers have derived from the scientific advances in beef production.

In 1990, there were only 9 cuts of beef that could be classified as ‘lean’ (< 10 grams of fat/serving). Now there are 29 cuts, including the tenderloin, sirloin, and 95% lean ground beef.
These cuts have less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol per 3-ounce serving. On average 20 of the 29 lean beef cuts have, only 1 more gram of saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast per 3-ounce serving.

I read this info from the National Cattlemans Beef Association web site, and thought to myself is this really true. All it took was one trip to Kroger’s meat section and some packaged beef/chicken comparisons and I was convinced. The media, past experience, and general consumer ignorance made me think that beef was an unhealthy product in general. I could not have been more wrong ( but I liked it anyway). In additon. beef is not only low fat, but also very nutrient-rich. Compared to a skinless chicken breast, beef has eight times more vitamin B12, six times more zinc and two and a half times more iron.
In addition, the advances in nutrition, management, and genetics has made beef more productive. Beef production per cow has increased from about 185 pounds since the mid-1960s to 585 pounds per cow in 2005. More food per pound of grain equates to a lesser impact on the environment.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

HORMONE FREE BEEF

There is no such thing as hormone free beef. Conventionally produced beef with hormone (estrogen) implants contains about 1.9 nano-grams of estrogen per 3 oz serving of beef. Even organic ‘hormone free’ beef contains 1.6 nano-grams of estrogen per 3-oz serving.

This is just over a difference of ½ of a nano-gram. These amounts are enough to provide improved feed efficiency in beef production, but too little to have any response in the human body.


In contrast, a 3-oz serving of soybean oil contains 168,000,000 nano-grams of estrogen. The average human produces about 136,000 nano-grams of estrogen on a daily basis.

These claims are is just another example of a marketing strategy for ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ production.

It is also an example of food fears born out of politics and rhetoric vs. science.

SOURCES: Sources: Food and Drug Administration; Hoffman and Evers; Scanga et al.; FSIS-USDA; Dr. Harlan Ritchie, Michigan State University