Wednesday, April 22, 2009

That rarest of exotic beasts: rational public policy

Rational public policy - an oxymoronic phrase if there ever was one. I am very happy to learn that there exist stout-hearted individuals and organizations who continue to carry the banner for clear-thinking public policies over irrational fear-mongering and nanny-state nagging that does more harm than good.

The conventional wisdom, perpetuated not only by cigarette companies but by otherwise reliable sources, including the U.S. Surgeon General, includes the fallacy that all tobacco products are equally harmful to public health. That is, smokeless tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, and pipe tobacco are, from a public health perspective, the same thing. Scientific studies have proven that they are not, and a rapidly-growing body of evidence confirms that they are not. Any effort to regulate tobacco products must explicitly acknowledge the differences in health risks between types of tobacco.

ACSH* recently reported on a study to gauge the efficacy of a program that encourages smokers to switch to smokeless tobacco products as an alternative both to smoking (which they know is harmful to them) and complete tobacco abstinence (which they have found extremely difficult). The results of the study are extremely positive. The program works. It works so well, in fact, that Sweden now has the lowest smoking-related mortality rates in the world. ... Smokeless tobacco is demonstrably less harmful than cigarettes, while making it much easier for some smokers to quit cigarettes.

*The mission of the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) is to promote sound science and to inform policy debates about public health, providing independent scientific evidence and analysis to clarify the scientific record in order to educate the public and assist policy-making.

Other ACSH resources on tobacco-related issues:

The Unintended Consequences of Tobacco Laws (HuffingtonPost.com)

Warning: Overstating the Case Against Secondhand Smoke is Unnecessary—and Harmful to Public Health Policy

Tobacco Harm Reduction: An Alternative Cessation Strategy for Inveterate Smokers (Harm Reduction Journal)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The political obstacles to feeding the world

Nice report by Douglas Southgate, Ohio State University, on Feeding the World:

Regardless of whether increases in prices were catalyzed by the declining dollar, biofuel development, or something else, they have been aggravated by the economic suppression of agriculture in Argentina, the Ukraine, and many other nations. Since 2007, this suppression took the form of export restrictions, adopted by a large number of countries.

In his June 2008 address, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon rightly criticized these restrictions. He also emphasized that a renewed commitment to agricultural research and development is needed, in Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world. Without this research and development, which includes the application of agricultural biotechnology and which requires institutional reform as well as the financial investment that Secretary General Ban advocates, the world’s supply of food will not keep up with rising food demand.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"What they're proposing is simply not allowable..."

The poor of the world were the hardest hit by price spikes in oil the last few years. But according to a scientist from NASA, as quoted by Wired, new technology to make cheap gasoline from coal is verboten: "What they're proposing is simply not allowable..."

Some excerpts from the Wired article:

Scientists have devised a new way to transform coal into gas for your car using far less energy than the current process. ... The new process could cut the energy cost of producing the fuel by 20 percent just by rejiggering the intermediate chemical steps, said co-author Ben Glasser of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"The bottom line is that there's one fatal flaw in their proposed process from a climate protection standpoint," Pushker Karecha of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies wrote in an e-mail to Wired.com. "It would allow liquid fuel CO2 emissions to continue increasing indefinitely."

It's the very fact that coal-to-liquids could work that make them such a scary idea for people devoted to fighting climate change.

"What they're proposing is simply not allowable if we want to avoid the perils of unconstrained anthropogenic climate change," Karecha said.
Bottom line: The elite technocrats know what is best for us. We are just the ignorant masses who don't know any better and must be saved from ourselves. See the Wired article for all the requisite scary global warming cliches.

For the best information on the global warming debate, see this web site, voted the best Science blog on the Internet: watts up with that

For a much better article on the new, more efficient coal-to-liquids technology, see Researchers Propose New F-T Process for Synfuels.

That article, btw, includes the following quote from the journal Science which reports on the new process: "...the second part of the new process also represents a direct way of using CO2. If H2 is produced via nuclear, wind, or solar energy, this process becomes a method for consuming CO2 and may bypass the difficulties in the direct use of H2 as a fuel."

So nuclear power plants (high temperature fission reactors of various types) could be used to inexpensively split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen could be fed into this new process to create cheap gasoline from coal.

Sounds brilliant to me. Hopefully the NRC can get its act together and come up with a licensing process for the smaller reactors that would work best for such processes. It looks like there is some hope.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Let's learn from Europe

In the middle of a harsh Eastern European winter, Russia shut off the gas to Ukraine and then the rest of Europe. With 80% of its power supplied by nuclear fission reactors, France was hardly affected by the dispute and nuclear power advocates were vindicated. This was a wake up call to many European countries who are now scrambling to build their own fleet of nuclear reactors.

For those concerned about CO2, France has shown how it can be done without ruining the economy. This in stark constrast to the countries who signed the Kyoto Protocol, most of which will not meet their carbon reduction targets despite massive subsides to wind farms and solar projects that provide expensive, unreliable power.

If we really want good paying, stable green jobs and dependable, safe, and affordable energy, carbon trading and carbon taxes will not achieve what a viable nuclear program can do.

Let's learn from Europe, from her hard-working metal and auto workers who now take to the streets in Brussels to protest the latest round of carbon taxes and ever more restrictive emissions regulations which threaten to send their jobs overseas. They have experienced the myth of green jobs.

Can we learn our lesson from Europe's disasterous carbon policies and France's sucess with nuclear power? Or are we doomed to blindly imitate their folly and ignore the reality of the success of nuclear power?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

African countries intimidated by aggressive European lobbying shun life-saving biotechnology

The hunger and related diseases resulting from food insecurity are a humanitarian tragedy: An estimated 25,000 people per day die of malnutrition-related causes. Hungry children suffer worst, with low survival rates, stunted bodies and impaired cognitive development. Moreover, hunger has profound implications for peace and U.S. national security. Hungry people are desperate, and desperation often sows seeds of conflict and extremism.

The world needs a new green revolution. ... This new revolution won't succeed without new tools, namely biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) seeds, to meet the enormous demands for increased production. But Europeans oppose most GM technology, despite its proven safety and success in cutting pesticide use, raising output and adapting to adverse conditions. African countries in particular have been intimidated by aggressive European lobbying from deploying biotechnology, widely used in many places, including America - GM varieties comprise 80 percent of our corn crop.

Thomas Malthus warned 200 years ago that food production would not keep pace with population growth. He did not foresee how technology and innovation would forestall his dire predictions. Today, we can either succumb to Malthusian pessimism or once again invest in agriculture and embrace technological solutions inspired by the green revolution. It is both a moral and security imperative that we act.

---
Norman Borlaug is a Nobel laureate and father of the green revolution.
As proof of the intransigence of some European countries, which continue to fight for superstious and politically motivated bans on GM crops at the expense of African children...

Austria and Hungary have asserted their right to ban cultivation of a genetically modified (GM) corn, known as MON810. ...it now seems likely that when the council of ministers next meets in June, it will uphold similar bans currently in place in France and Greece. ... Things will deteriorate further if Germany confirms statements released by its ministers of environment and agriculture ... that Berlin is considering a cultivation ban.

"EU Impasse over GM Deepens", Nature Biotechnology 27, 304 (2009)
"What? The little brown children have no food?! Let them eat organic vegetables!"
-Princess Europa

Never mind. Please disperse and go back to whatever you were doing.... nothing to see here... just move along...