October 17, 2009

Or any of the other 64 colors.

FROM-Irish Independent
The book that will make the Greens turn puce

You have to wonder how much more humiliation the Greens can actually stomach. Their decision to cling to power at all costs last weekend led to a wave of scathing criticism and accusations that the stench of hypocrisy would never leave them. Their credibility, it seemed, was sinking faster than a polar ice-cap.

There was one small glimmer of consolation mid-week when a leading expert on global warming predicted that the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in summer in less than a decade but their cries of 'we told you so' were short-lived, tempered by a BBC report suggesting global warming might not be so hot after all.

Paul Hudson, the channel's climate- change correspondent, threw a spanner in the works when he revealed that the recorded temperature of the planet has not increased at all during the past 11 years and that the Earth's temperature has in fact been cooling down since 1998.

And just when environmental whistle-blowers thought things couldn't get any worse, another indignity is heading their way -- this time in the form of a book which will be released in America next week.

Its title doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but SuperFreakonomics raises some deeply uncomfortable questions for conventional green wisdom on how to solve the planet's woes. Worse still, it's tipped to be the publishing sensation of the year.

The sure-fire Christmas blockbuster is a follow-up to the groundbreaking Freakonomics, which took the dry theory of economics into refreshingly unknown territory and has sold more than three million copies worldwide since its publication in 2005.

Its authors Steven Levitt (42), a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who was once hailed as having America's most interesting mind, and Stephen Dubner (46), an award-winning journalist with the New York Times, set the dismal science alight with their intriguing insights into the world and how it works.

From San Francisco to Sydney, their first book became staple conversation fodder at dinner parties and water coolers -- its common-sense theories acquiring the status of conventional wisdom almost overnight.

The key to its runaway success lay in its simplicity. Rather than poring over unemployment rates and GDP, Levitt and Dubner held a microscope over some of our most deeply held beliefs about everyday life and turned them on their heads.

They showed us, for example, that far from living in bling-laden mansions, most drug dealers are poor and still live with their mothers; and why naming a boy DeShawn instead of David is setting him up for a bleak future.

They calculated that parental income and status is a far more reliable measure of how a child will fare compared to what parents actually do for their offspring.

And, most controversially of all, they cited the legalisation of abortion in America in the 1970s as a reason for the dramatic drop in crime in the 1990s on the basis that unwanted children are more likely to turn into criminals so when they don't get born, crime falls.

Their portrayal of abortion as a socially beneficial tool of law enforcement caused fury within America's religious Right but Levitt and Dubner claimed they have no agenda to push. They are just neutral number-crunchers, they say, with a rather different take on how the world works.

This time around they've turned their attention to the eco-conscious liberal left, the global-warming lobby in particular, posing a series of cutting questions about whether the planet really is on the way out and, if so, are the solutions put forward to save it the right ones?

The cumbersome sub-title of the book -- Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance -- gives a hint at what lies within its thought-provoking pages.

The book suggests that the current "war" against climate change is mired with difficulties not least because it assumes that politicians can alter people's polluting habits.

"Behaviour change is hopeless," says Levitt. "It's just completely pointless to think that you're going to get six billion people, the poorest people around and the richest people around, to work together when every individual person has no impact on the problem. That's a fundamental issue that economists have thought about and recognised the hopelessness of, for hundreds of years ...

"One thing we know is that I'm not going to sacrifice materially my own life to help an anonymous person in Bangladesh who might not even have been born yet, when I know that there will be no help for that person anyway. Calling on people to reduce their carbon emissions is a noble one, but as incentives go it's not a very strong one, especially when the burgeoning economies of China and India have no intention of depriving their people of the life-changing pleasures of cheap electricity."

Calling upon a team of experts in the field including Nathan Myhrvold, a former chief of technology at Microsoft whom Bill Gates once described as "the smartest person I know", they question whether carbon really is the problem.

A generation ago, children were taught that CO2 was the lifeblood of the planet and vital for biodiversity in the plant kingdom. Today's schoolbooks portray it as a poison.

In the book, Myhrvold ponders why so-called warmists lose sleep about the rise in CO2 levels in the atmosphere from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 380ppm when our mammalian ancestors comfortably evolved when the concentration of CO2 was much higher at over 1,000 ppm.

And in a claim that will make his name dirt in the eyes of environmentalists the world over, he has the temerity to point out that atmospheric carbon dioxide does not necessarily warm the earth. He says: "Ice-cap evidence shows that over the past several hundred thousand years, carbon dioxide levels have risen after a rise in temperature, rather than before it."

SuperFreakonomics is particularly taken with one of Myhrvold's current projects, which some scientists believe could be a low-cost, straightforward solution to global warming.

His company Intellectual Ventures is exploring the possibility of pumping large quantities of sulphur dioxide into the Earth's stratosphere through an 18-mile hose, held up by helium balloons.

This freezing liquid would then wrap itself around the North and South Poles in less than a fortnight, reflect the sun's rays back into space and send a cooling chill over the planet. It might sound preposterous but it's an experiment already proven by nature, its proponents say, citing the eruption of a Filipino volcano as an example.

When Mt Pinatubo exploded in 1991, it spewed millions of tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, lowering average global temperatures by half a Celsius degree for two years.

This quick-fix plan has been derided in green circles as gimmickry of the highest order and an offence against nature. But one British commentator in the London Independent suggested this week that this knee-jerk rejection of the idea might be more to do with the fact that there's little glory to be had in spending €6m a year "squirting sulphur dioxide around the poles".

What would become of all those international summits, global treaties and press conferences to the world's media, he asked.

For heaven's sake, we mightn't even need a Green Party any more.


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