Guest Post: Stephen Dawson – On acid rain

In a recent post Sinc noted that ‘acid rain was an obvious problem’. Perhaps the effectiveness of the cap and trade ‘solution’ has been overstated. Here’s Ron Bailey on the subject:

In the years prior to 1985, several publications reported the scientific consensus that acid rain emitted by coal-fired electricity generation plants belching sulfur dioxide was destroying vast swathes of forests and lakes in the eastern United States. For example, the March 10, 1985 New York Times cited environmental lawyer Richard Ottinger, who asserted that there is a “broad scientific consensus” that acid rain is destroying lakes and forests and ”is a threat to our health.” In 1991, after 10 years and $500 million, the National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program study (as far as I can tell that report is oddly missing from the web) actually reported, according to a 1992 article in Reason: “The assessment concluded that acid rain was not damaging forests, did not hurt crops, and caused no measurable health problems. The report also concluded that acid rain helped acidify only a fraction of Northeastern lakes and that the number of acid lakes had not increased since 1980.” Nevertheless, Congress passed the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments that regulate sulfur dioxide emissions through a cap-and-trade scheme. Acid rain was clearly causing some problems, but was not the wide-scale environmental disaster that had been feared.

http://reason.com/archives/2010/06/29/agreeing-to-agree

As it happens, the acid rain scare was what precipitated (sorry) Matt Ridley to start questioning the received wisdom of environmentalism:

In the 1980s it was acid rain’s turn to be the source of apocalyptic forecasts. In this case it was nature in the form of forests and lakes that would bear the brunt of human pollution. The issue caught fire in Germany, where a cover story in the news magazine Der Spiegel in November 1981 screamed: “THE FOREST DIES.” Not to be outdone, Stern magazine declared that a third of Germany’s forests were already dead or dying. Bernhard Ulrich, a soil scientist at the University of Göttingen, said it was already too late for the country’s forests: “They cannot be saved.” Forest death, or waldsterben, became a huge story across Europe. “The forests and lakes are dying. Already the damage may be irreversible,” journalist Fred Pearce wrote in New Scientist in 1982. It was much the same in North America: Half of all US lakes were said to be becoming dangerously acidified, and forests from Virginia to central Canada were thought to be suffering mass die-offs of trees.

Conventional wisdom has it that this fate was averted by prompt legislative action to reduce sulphur dioxide emissions from power plants. That account is largely false. There was no net loss of forest in the 1980s to reverse. In the US, a 10-year government-sponsored study involving some 700 scientists and costing about $500 million reported in 1990 that “there is no evidence of a general or unusual decline of forests in the United States and Canada due to acid rain” and “there is no case of forest decline in which acidic deposition is known to be a predominant cause.” (See also: here and here.) In Germany, Heinrich Spiecker, director of the Institute for Forest Growth, was commissioned by a Finnish forestry organization to assess the health of European forests. He concluded that they were growing faster and healthier than ever and had been improving throughout the 1980s. “Since we began measuring the forest more than 100 years ago, there’s never been a higher volume of wood … than there is now,” Spiecker said. (Ironically, one of the chief ingredients of acid rain-nitrogen oxide-breaks down naturally to become nitrate, a fertilizer for trees.) As for lakes, it turned out that their rising acidity was likely caused more by reforestation than by acid rain; one study suggested that the correlation between acidity in rainwater and the pH in the lakes was very low. The story of acid rain is not of catastrophe averted but of a minor environmental nuisance somewhat abated.

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37 Responses to Guest Post: Stephen Dawson – On acid rain

  1. brc

    You only have to hear the emotive name ‘acid rain’ to know it was more emotional than scientific. Clearly the rain wasn’t acidic, but had a slightly different ph level from normal. Just like ocean acidification.

  2. Tel

    I’ve plugged it on here before, but read Ed Krug, “Environment Betrayed” which really explains the gig. It’s a few bucks on your favourite book download network.

  3. blogstrop

    Climate Change – from the people who gave you Acid Rain and … er, Global Cooling. But back to the present: Pay Up Or The Reef Gets It.

  4. johanna

    Respect, Sinc, for publishing this.

    Acid rain was bullshit. But it was a dry run (along with the alleged destruction of the ozone layer) for the larger climate scams that followed.

  5. Andrew

    Why do Greens hate trees so much? First, they introduce a trading scam to deprive trees of nitrogen and now carbon. It almost seems like they have a grudge against them or something.

  6. srr

    60′s hippy, Grade 6 teacher, taught us all about evil man making acid rain kill Germany’s Black Forest, in the ’60′s.

    She also taught us that evil man’s evil pollution would make evil acid rain even more acid in the future, until being caught in the rain would burn our faces off…oh, and eat away our cars…everyone knows Grade 6 girls care about how their faces look, and Grade 6 boys are invincible super heroes, but even invincible super heroes care about the Hot Rods they were going to get to super hero about in.

    I wonder if that hippy feminist teacher of working class State school kids in that, still, Labor safe seat, who preached and practiced ‘free’ ‘love’ with other, married teachers, ever cares to get out and protest against evil men who throw actual acid in he faces of their wives, sisters and daughters who shame them by being raped, or complaining about it when they are?

  7. Baldrick

    Tell me when to stop … global cooling … acid rain … ozone depletion … (anytime) … global warming … Y2K bug … climate change … peak oil … (I don’t mind when) … avian flu … rising sea levels … ocean acidification … carbon pollution … (I can keep going) … extreme weather … gender inequality …

  8. I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:

    “All the research done over the last fifty years will have to be done again, just to sort out the bullshit artists from the scientists.”

  9. lotocoti

    I remember those dire forecasts of German lakes more acidic than tomato juice.
    What I don’t remember are the stories of where die Grünen got their start up funds and who benefitted most from the environmental restraints placed upon REFORGER.

  10. CameronH

    You will find that all of the above also applies to ozone depleting substances and the hole in the ozone layer.

  11. Louis Hissink

    Acid rain is determined measuring it’s pH. But pH quantifies proton number, not SO4– or other “chemical” acids. So just because rainwater has a high pH does not mean it as a significant amount of ‘acid’ in it. It does have a significant number of positive electrical charges (protons) in addition to those forming H2O.

  12. Louis Hissink

    I should say a low pH, high pH makes it alkaline., but low pH means high numbers of protons.

  13. Cato the Elder

    You mean they LIED?

    Quelle surprise.

  14. David Brewer

    Not only was it rubbish - some people saw it was rubbish at the time.

    But the Germans did not give up on it until around 2000, and those indoctrinated earlier probably still believe it. At the end of the 90s a proper detailed study was carried out of 93 representative sections of the Bavarian forest and found that acid rain had nothing to do with the dead-looking bits. Rather there was an absence of new growth because of an excessive loading of hoofed animals eating the new stuff.

    Last para says:

    The Bavarian Environment Ministry, which commissioned the study, has to date done nothing to alert the media about it. Why the ministry would be so publicity-shy on an issue that has been of such public concern, is a mystery. When we asked them, we received the unconvincing response that given the flood of information available, a selection had to be made. Will the ministry continue not to dare act in a “politically incorrect” fashion, and call out the so-called “new forest damage” for what it is, namely, a fiction?

    Needless to say, both articles led to an avalanche of criticism of their authors but the fact remains the whole thing was an illusion.

    Ed Krug, mentioned by Tel above, also got it in the neck for telling the truth.

  15. JohnA

    Winston Smith #1227193, posted on March 16, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating:

    “All the research done over the last fifty years will have to be done again, just to sort out the bullshit artists from the scientists.”

    See – another reason to restore the Old testament crime of False Prophecy, along with its penalty – capital punishment.

    Or to translate into modern terms eg a T-shirt slogan:
    Bad science?
    Shoot the first one caught doing it,
    Let the word get around…

  16. Chris M

    And now one of the warmy proposals is to pump massive amounts of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere to reduce global warming.

    Presumably in a few years it will be decided to pump out large amounts of CO2 to combat deforestation or something. These people are utterly unhinged, they have reduced science to a joke.

  17. blind freddy

    “Tell me when to stop … global cooling … acid rain … ozone depletion … (anytime) … global warming … Y2K bug … climate change … peak oil … (I don’t mind when) … avian flu … rising sea levels … ocean acidification … carbon pollution … (I can keep going) … extreme weather … gender inequality …”

    Christopher Booker gave a similar list in “Scared to death” —adding ASBESTOSIS to the list!!!

  18. Yohan

    I was in school in the 80′s and it was all about Acid Rain. In the 90′s it was all about the Ozone Hole. Late 90′s it was all about Global Warming, then recently it became climate change.

    Marc Morano pointed out, that in the 60′s it was species extinction caused by pesticides, and in the 70′s it was the Population bomb going to cause mass starvation.

    And again and again we have to hear about Peak Oil, which crops up every decade.

  19. vlad

    Don’t forget the killer bees. They never showed up either.

    And I can remember hearing circa 1975 that there was only about 25 years of oil left.

    Also circa 2001 that within five years you wouldn’t be able to buy a fridge that wasn’t connected to the internet.

  20. john constantine

    funny enough,bit of work being done now,to see how effectively capturing the exhaust from diesel burning tractors,and injecting it into the seed furrow of crops at sowing can be done. the same sort of exhaust fumes that cause lefties emotional hysteria when they think about them. exhaust gases from burnt hydrocarbons are now being found to have distinct fertiliser effects.

  21. Aynsley Kellow

    Sulphur dioxide is a problem without acid rain – but it is largely local rather than global.

    It is worth remembering that the 1990 amendments repealed a system that required percentage removal of SOx regardless of what the starting percentage was. This advantaged (unionised) Eastern coal producers against (non-unionised) Western producers and made it economic to retain old, more polluting plant.

  22. Walter Plinge

    And again and again we have to hear about Peak Oil, which crops up every decade.

    Peak Oil is a re-run of Peak Coal which had its heyday in the 1880s. Peak Copper seems to have been forgotten too.

    Already the damage may be irreversible,” journalist Fred Pearce wrote in New Scientist in 1982

    That was about when I ceased subscribing to New Scientist. Acid rain was peaking, the hole in the ozone layer was a cause for panic and global warming was just getting off the ground. I seem to recall one reason for dying forests was eventually discovered to be a dieback similar to jarrah root rot.

    Incidentally wasn’t the hole in the ozone layer a swindle. The only outcome was the perfectly safe and harmless CFCs as propellants were banned in favour of dangerous and less effective hydrocarbons.

  23. Boambee John

    Baldrick (1227188):

    You forgot Mad Cow Disease, which was going to kill several hundred thousand in the UK alone during the 1990s.

  24. Walter Plinge

    Sulphur dioxide is a problem without acid rain – but it is largely local rather than global.

    It occurred to me sulphur dioxide was being wrongly demonised when I visited Rotorua in the late 80s. The botanical gardens in the centre of town were green and healthy despite the fumes issuing from the rose beds.

  25. braddles

    Also interesting is the fact that Sinc, highly educated and extremely well-read, believed that acid rain was a real and major problem that had been solved by decisive action. There would be countless others who think the same; the reality remains well-hidden, and only those who really delve into it would know this.

  26. johanna

    “Acid rain” was junk science from the get-go, as was the crap about the ozone layer (which had never been measured before 1959).

    But they fitted in with the greenie zeitgeist. And, every time, it meant slugging consumers and taxpayers. That was (and still is) the zeitgeist.

  27. CameronH

    More on the ozone layer. The supposed problem with CFCs was that UV radiation would split of a chlorine atom from the CFC molecule and it would form a free radical and charge around destroying ozone molecules which themselves were formed by UV radiation. This reaction for the breaking of the carbon chlorine bond, which is very stable, by UV radiation has, to the best of my knowledge, never been demonstrated in any experiment. I have read papers which look at the relative energy needed to break this bond compared with that available from the UV radiation and it seems that this reaction is very unlikely.
    It should also be realized that two of the main contributors to chlorine in the atmosphere are from the sodium chloride in the oceans and from volcanic eruptions. The amount of chlorine emitted by the oceans is estimated at orders of magnitude above the amount of CFCs released and it is interesting that there are a few active volcanoes on Antarctica.

    I agree that all scientific papers produced over the past 50 years are suspect. Particularly those in the environmental area. Much work needs to be redone.

  28. johanna

    Cameron, the most devastating point about the whole “hole in the ozone” debate is that there is no data before 1959. It is a sign of how greenies captured feelings over facts that CFCs were banned on the basis of such flimsy data.

  29. Yohan

    Peak Oil is a re-run of Peak Coal which had its heyday in the 1880s. Peak Copper seems to have been forgotten too.

    So Peak Coal and Peak copper have had their day of hysteria as well? Amazing….

  30. Aynsley Kellow

    Walter Plinge,
    The effects of SO2 and SO2 as a localised pollutant are well enough documented. Concentration is all – the dose makes the poison.
    Johanna,
    This is the problem with much environmental science – especially as practised by advocates. We only have anything like global climate records since c1950. We have no data on polar ozone before 1959. And so on. If we then assume, as many environmentalists do, that the earth is in stability and balance (‘Nature’s delicate balance’) then a change in any direction becomes cause for alarm. Of course, as even ecological science has acknowledged (key datum: 1990 meeting of the American Ecological Society) nature is about chaos and perturbation. Environmentalists – led by the likes of David Suzuki – are in denial of this particular scientific consensus. They betray themselves with nonsense like ‘do you believe in climate change’, when the earth’s history is all about a constantly changing climate.
    If only we could leave behind tis nonsense and concentrate on remedying those environmental problems that are serious — much fewer than the middle class millenarians would have us believe. As Lomborg keeps annoying them by pointing out, not only is humanity having it better, but the environment is also improving. (Which is not to say some concern is not warranted).

  31. MT Isa Miner

    braddles

    #1227449, posted on March 16, 2014 at 10:30 pm

    Also interesting is the fact that Sinc, highly educated and extremely well-read, believed that acid rain was a real and major problem that had been solved by decisive action. There would be countless others who think the same; the reality remains well-hidden, and only those who really delve into it would know this.

    Now I’m old and have the internet, I reckon all green science is crap but I DID believe the acid rain story which I now see was another crap conspiracy too. I don’t know whether to get angry or order a tinfoil hat off ebay.

  32. Ellen of Tasmania

    So Peak Coal and Peak copper have had their day of hysteria as well?

    Wasn’t there a kind of ‘Peak Horse Manure’ scare as well, when someone worked how how deep and high and wide it would be piled around NYC?

  33. johanna

    The last article linked by David Brewer is well worth a read.

    It is a spine-chilling account of what happened to respected US soil scientist Ed Krug, who was commissioned to research the issue for the US government in the 1980s. When his results (which were published in Science before it became a front for eco-loons) didn’t support the prevailing wisdom, he was traduced, and his career ground to a halt. The EPA fought him tooth and nail, misrepresented his work, and trashed his professional reputation. They had hoped that his research would support the case for the Clean Air Act, and when it didn’t, they were furious.

    It’s a good read, and demonstrates that the lack of ethics which later became evident in the climate wars were already coming into play in the 1980s. For example:

    “While Krug was working for the Illinois State Water Survey in 1986, the EPA gave a grant for soil research to a team at the University of Illinois. “These scientist did not have my qualifications,” Krug says, “and I really knew things were bad when they came to me and asked me to show them how to do the chemical analysis.”

    In 1985, the EPA advertised for a soil scientist at its Corvalis, Oregon, station. Krug applied. After he scored 99 out of 100 in the civil service exam, the EPA suddenly informed him that the position had been canceled. “They later advertised for an ecologist,” Krug recalls.”

    The parallels with what happened to anyone who rocked the boat about global warming a few decades later are striking.

  34. cohenite

    Acid rain, peak oil, AGW, the O3 layer decline, indeed every modern environmental cause has at its heart misanthropy. Every major environmentalist celebrity from Attenborough to prince Charles thinks humans are a virus, a blight and the world would be better off without humanity.

  35. I believe that Mr Hillary, in the seventh chapter of Nightmare Abbey (1818) by Thomas Love Peacock, is right on misanthropy as sometimes arising from disappointed benevolence but too often from mortified vanity:

    It is very true, a happy disposition finds materials of enjoyment every where. In the city, or the country—in society, or in solitude—in the theatre, or the forest—in the hum of the multitude, or in the silence of the mountains, are alike materials of reflection and elements of pleasure.  It is one mode of pleasure to listen to the music of “Don Giovanni,” in a theatre glittering with light, and crowded with elegance and beauty: it is another to glide at sunset over the bosom of a lonely lake, where no sound disturbs the silence but the motion of the boat through the waters.  A happy disposition derives pleasure from both, a discontented temper from neither, but is always busy in detecting deficiencies, and feeding dissatisfaction with comparisons.  The one gathers all the flowers, the other all the nettles, in its path. The one has the faculty of enjoying every thing, the other of enjoying nothing.  The one realises all the pleasure of the present good; the other converts it into pain, by pining after something better, which is only better because it is not present, and which, if it were present, would not be enjoyed.  These morbid spirits are in life what professed critics are in literature; they see nothing but faults, because they are predetermined to shut their eyes to beauties.  The critic does his utmost to blight genius in its infancy; that which rises in spite of him he will not see; and then he complains of the decline of literature. In like manner, these cankers of society complain of human nature and society, when they have wilfully debarred themselves from all the good they contain, and done their utmost to blight their own happiness and that of all around them. Misanthropy is sometimes the product of disappointed benevolence; but it is more frequently the offspring of overweening and mortified vanity, quarrelling with the world for not being better treated than it deserves.

  36. Myrddin Seren

    Good old NASA – you know, those people who think outreach to the Muslim world is a key objective – have sponsored a computer model that says imminent doom is upon us.

    A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

    ( Note – the Space Flight Center has sponsored this expense from their budget. Rather explains NASA’s retreat from efficient space exploration. )

    Rather like their climate models – ‘the science says’ there is an answer. Which most people would think was politics, not science, but I am old fashioned.

    It is, of course, more Agenda 21:

    Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.

    Quelle suprise.

    Here is an oped that does a reasonable job of dissecting this, although I hope Ben Pile at Climate Resistance might turn his forensic logic upon it.

  37. cohenite

    Misanthropy is sometimes the product of disappointed benevolence; but it is more frequently the offspring of overweening and mortified vanity, quarrelling with the world for not being better treated than it deserves.

    The progressive left defined.

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