Friday, August 31, 2018

Nature is the Greatest Polluter

We began our posting on this blog on June 29, 2017 with this question: In a room 20 feet by 20 feet with a ten foot ceiling, how many matches would you have to light for the air in that room to have the same percentage of carbon dioxide as the atmosphere from the annual emissions of all the automobiles (about 800 million) in the world? The answer is provided by Ivar Giaever, a Nobel laureate in physics, The answer is one match. Incredible, isn't it? Even if the number of automobiles doubled, mankind's carbon dioxide emissions would still be trivial to our survival or that of the planet; our answer would simply require one more match. Of course, if people understood this they wouldn't support regulating fossil fuels to prevent global warming. Ergo, the need for global warming alarmism, a campaign of exaggeration and warnings of dire consequences unless the government acts. It's a tactic used over and over again to enlarge the scope of government controls.

Terpenes are natural pollutants emitted by pine trees. These hydrocarbons react with oxygen, the oxides of nitrogen and ozone to produce the same effect over the Great Smokey Mountains, the Blue Ridge mountains and many other heavily wooded areas. Professor Harold J. Paulus explains:

Pine forests exude particulate hydrocarbons that react photo-chemically with light to produce haze. The Blue Ridge Mountains in Appalachia are topped by this haze. It looks very beautiful over the trees, but if it were anywhere else, it would look like car exhaust.”

In July 1995 some 200 scientists completed a month-long field study of how ozone forms over a city with smog. The study involved six laboratory-equipped airplanes, weather balloons, 100 air-sampling ground stations and wind-measuring radar. Flying over the Nashville area, researchers noticed a big difference in flying over green fields and flying over thick oak forests around the city. Over the forests, there were markedly higher levels of isoprene, a highly reactive gas given off by the trees. Isoprene has an ozone effect just like the evaporation of gasoline.

Although ozone levels in the lower atmosphere are widely blamed on automobiles, three scientists at Michigan State University reported in 1989 that ozone measurements taken at twenty stations in Michigan between 1871 and 1903—when there were no automobiles—reveal ozone patterns that are the same as today. Furthermore, EPA's own five-volume study of ozone could find no adverse effect of ozone on human health.

In 1978 the EPA suppressed a scientific study showing that up to 80 percent of air pollution was caused by plants and trees rather than cars and smokestacks. If you have an average-size suburban lawn, the grass in your yard emits more hydrocarbons every year than your automobile. Following a suit filed under the Freedom of Information Act to pry out the report, EPA officials told John Holusha of the Washington Star that the report was suppressed because it “possibly would confuse hydrocarbon control strategy.” Associated Press International charged that EPA officials pressured the scientist involved to “put the data in a perspective that could be defended by EPA.”

Forests alone emit 175 million tons of hydrocarbons annually—more than six times the total from all man-made sources. And 2018 saw vast areas of the U.S. consumed by forest fires—nearly all of natural origin—which put vastly greater quantities of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.

Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia says that the Augustine Volcano, which erupted in 1976, “may have injected 289 billion kilograms of HCL (hydrochloric acid) into the stratosphere. That is about 570 times the 1975 world production of chlorine and fluorocarbons.” The amounts of chlorine emitted into the atmosphere in millions of tons per year are: seawater 600; volcanoes 36; other natural sources 13.4, resulting in a total of 649.4 million tons. Compare this to man-made CFCS of 0.75 megatons per year, and we see that the alleged man-made increase amounts to 0.75/650= 0.0000115 percent.

Scientist Linwood Callis of NASA's Atmospheric Sciences Division studied a variety of factors causing ozone destruction, including sunspot cycles, volcanoes, tropical winds, and highly energetic electrons. He concluded: “CFCs come in a very poor last as the cause for lower levels of global ozone.”

According to Dr. William Pecora, former Director of the United States Geological Survey, just three volcanic eruptions in the last century (Krakatoa, Indonesia, 1883; Katmai, Alaska, 1912; and Hekla, Iceland, 1947) produced more particulate and gaseous pollution of the atmosphere than the combined activities of all the men who ever lived. And the modern era has been one where volcanic activity has been relatively quiet. There have been eras in which it has been at least ten times greater. The spectacular explosion of Krakatoa is often thought to be an exception, perhaps the worst disaster in the earth's history. However, there have been at least 18 volcanic explosions as large or larger than Krakatoa just since the year 1500. When Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted in 1991, it blasted 30 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere. It blew 2 million tons of chlorine into the stratosphere in a single day. At that rate, it put the chlorine equivalent of all the CFCs produced in the entire world in 24 hours into the stratosphere every minute. Great though the Pinatubo eruption was, it was dwarfed by the Laki volcanic eruption on Iceland in 1783-84, which emitted 147 million tons of sulfur dioxide.

As for wind, it ranks with volcanoes as one of the two largest sources of pollution today. Analysis of the Greenland ice sheet shows that when some of its layers were formed thousands of years ago, the atmosphere contained forty times as much dust as it does today. What the world's industries emit is truly trivial by comparison.

Man is an insignificant agent in the total air quality picture,” says Dr. Pecora. “Those individuals who speak about restoring our inherited environment of pure air, pure rain, pure rivers, pure coastlines and pure lakes never had a course in geology. Natural processes are by far the principal agents in modifying our environment.”

Human efforts are so puny compared to those of nature that man has a difficult time doing serious environmental damage even when he tries. The gigantic fires from the more than 700 Kuwaiti oil wells deliberately torched by Saddam Hussein's government produced “insignificant” damage to the global environment, according to scientists at University of Washington and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. Their study concluded those fires had effects on air quality and some aspects of the weather in the Gulf but insignificant effects globally. Yet those fires produced 3,400 metric tons of soot per day—about 13 times the soot emitted daily from all combustion sources in the U.S. And those fires emitted sulfur dioxide at a rate equal to 57 percent of emissions from all electric utilities in the United States, an area 600 times larger than Kuwait.

For several decades the overwhelming factor of Mother Nature's pollution has been ignored in favor of political and ideological agendas that have perverted science and substituted scare tactics in place of truth that would benefit both the environment and the human condition.

Most of the above comes from my book MAKERS AND TAKERS: How Wealth and Progress Are Made and How They Are Taken Away or Prevented.  Abundant references can be found therein.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Welfare Programs, Promises, Pensions and Problems

Everyone knows that Social Security and Medicare are underfunded. They can only provide the benefits they have promised by borrowing from future taxpayers who are obligated to pay for them. And these programs will never be fully funded because the obligations are growing faster than the public's ability to pay for them. The nation's economic growth cannot keep up with the politicians' promises. But what the public doesn't realize is that beneath the gigantic funding gaps in these federal programs there are several levels of promised benefits that are similarly underfunded. These include state pension liabilities, city and county pensions, teachers' pensions, and pensions of private corporations, including those supported by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation—which itself is underfunded and has indicated it will likely have to go out of business in a few years.

The PBGC has two kinds of programs: single-employer (light blue on graph) and multiemployer (dark blue). Both have lost billions of dollars, with the multi-employer programs being by far the biggest losers. A report by the PBGC projects it will run out of funds in 2022, which is close to the Congressional Budget Office projection of 2021. The CBO projects that almost $9 billion of additional funds would be needed to continue paying guarantees to multiemployer plans through 2024.

 A recent analysis by Wirepoints shows that between 2003 and 2016, accrued liabilities (what the states owe) grew more than 50% faster than assets in 28 states and more than twice as fast in 12 states. New Jersey grew 4.3 times faster than GDP, Illinois (3.32 times), Connecticut (3.18), New Hampshire (3.46) and Kentucky (3.08). The Wall Street Journal notes that the “solution” is always to raise taxes but “no tax hike is ever enough because benefits keep growing faster than revenues...The only salve to state pension woes, as the Wirepoints study notes, is to reign in current worker benefits.”

The PBGC supports 71 penniless union pension funds, but the payouts are often down to about one-third of what the worker is due. The average Local 707 retiree was getting $1,313 a month from the union pension fund, but the average monthly take home is now $570.

Writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dick Vorkmann says, “Almost every public pension plan is underfunded, some severely so. Illinois and Connecticut have only 35 percent of their liabilities covered by assets. San Diego County, at 77 percent funded, has an unfunded liability of $3.3 billion. San Diego City‘s unfunded liability is $2.1 billion....[Under the current system] taxpayers don’t pay for the cost of the pension being earned by employees in that year, but rather just pay for the pension checks to the current retirees who worked many years ago. Then, years from now, taxpayers will pay for the pension costs of the public employees working today. This is what our Social Security and Medicare systems have become: unfunded pay as you go plans. And that is why there is concern that these systems will go broke in the not too distant future.”

Dallas has the fastest-growing economy of America’s 13 largest cities. Last year, the Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund paid out $283 million and the city put in just $115 million.

The Manhattan Institute’s Josh B. McGee reports that teachers’ pension plans, which cover more people than all other state and local plans combined, have at least a $500 billion difference between promised benefits and money set aside to fund them.

Standard & Poor's 500’s biggest pension plans face a $382 billion funding gap. Of the 200 biggest defined-benefit plans in the S&P 500, based on assets, 186 aren’t fully funded. They simply don’t have enough money to fund current and future retirees. U.S. private pensions overall have only 82% of the funds necessary to meet their liabilities. That's a U.S. $3 trillion shortfall.

Ania Zalewska, professor of finance, University of Bath, concludes: “The pension industry is already in a deep financial crisis and could well be the trigger for another global financial and economic meltdown.