Thursday, June 28, 2012

Margaret Wente: that boat don’t float

Coming down hard on the Elliot Lake rescue, Margaret Wente writes: “Then there was the man who fell out of a boat into a lake in England. The lake was three feet deep. Emergency crews were summoned to the scene, but refused to rescue him because they were not trained to enter water that was more than ‘ankle deep.’ By the time the specialist water team arrived, the man was dead”.

A boat in three feet of water?  Hmm…sounds odd.  Perhaps, memory failing, Ms. Wente decided to spice up the story?  (In the past she’s been happy to change a scientist into a fisherman, or borrow a character and place him at an event he didn’t attend).    After all, what does it matter?

From the Daily Mail , the case of Simon Burgess, who, while feeding swans at the edge of a  three foot deep artificial lake, went in to retrieve his plastic bag, suffered a seizure, and fell in the water:

“12:15 pm:  Witness Gillian Hughes dials 999.  Simon Burgess, who had entered the lake to retrieve a plastic bag, is lying face down in the water and has stopped moving…

12:22:  When Fire Rescue arrives, Mrs. Hughes says the victim has been in the water for between five and ten minutes…there is no visible sign of life…”

Apparently, “the first fire crew to arrive hadn’t been trained to enter water higher than ankle-deep”.

"12:31:  Specialist Water Support Unit arrives…officers wade into the pond to retrieve him…"

Lack of judgment on the part of the rescuers?  Over cautious?  Absolutely. 

But if Ms. Wente expects others to do their jobs, we also expect her to do hers.  That means accuracy in reporting, and not making up characters or events to suit one’s opinion, or because it’s too much trouble to check facts. 

Update:  The following Editor’s Note is now appended to the online version of Wente’s article.  We await a similar correction for the error noted above:
Editor's note: An elderly woman had to wait for an ambulance after falling in a Niagara Region hospital entrance last year. An incorrect location was used in an article Thursday.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Neil Reynolds: “A bridge too far”, indeed


Neil Reynolds writes: The Ambassador Bridge, all by itself, carries more trade than the United States carries with all of Europe. As Christopher Sands, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said in this context: ‘If al-Qaeda had understood [the importance of the Windsor-Detroit crossing], it would have done more damage to the U.S. economy by destroying this bridge than the World Trade Center in New York.’”

In addition to the quote about Al Qaeda, Reynolds appears to have borrowed the trade comparison from the right wing Hudson Institute’s Chris Sands.  While he puts quotation marks around Sands’ observation about Al Qaeda, he omits citation of Sands as the source of his comparison statistics.  

Sands:  “The Ambassador Bridge, then and now, carries more trade between the United States and Canada in any given year than the United States conducts with all of Europe. If al Qaeda had understood this, they would have done more damage to the U.S. economy by destroying this bridge than the World Trade Center in New York”.

But there appears to be a problem with the figures (first noted by an astute commenter at the Globe's website).  According to reports like these, “In 2011, the volume of trade between the U.S. and the European Union was $986 billion” -  considerably higher than the Ambassador Bridge numbers. 

Bridge supporters (including Minister John Baird) state that, “Two-way trade between the U.S. and Canada is nearly $2 billion per day and the Detroit-Windsor corridor handles 30 percent of trade, approximately $130 billion per year, between the U.S. and Canada”.

Forbes magazine puts the number slightly lower: “$524 billion in cross-border trade in 2010. About $120 billion worth of goods cross the Detroit River each year”.

And other sources put the volume of trade the Ambassador carries at only 25 percent:
The Detroit-Windsor corridor carries about 25 percent of the trade between the U.S. and Canada each day.  The same sources put the volume of U.S./Canada trade at $1.5 billion.

Whatever the exact figures – whether $100 billion or $130 billion – the yearly volume of U.S./Canada trade across the Ambassador Bridge does not appear to equal to the roughly $986 billion in U.S./European trade.  Unless of course Mr. Reynolds can cite a credible source for those statistics (as he is required to do). 

Update - A correction was appended to the online version of Reynolds’ article late this afternoon:

"The United States trades more with Europe than with Canada. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story and in Monday's original print version".

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Margaret Wente’s noxious gases

This is getting tiresome.

Cheerleading for shale gas 'fracking' today, Margaret Wente spews a number of falsehoods.  For starters: “the U.S. appears to be the only major emitter that's actually reducing emissions. Since 2006, U.S. emissions have fallen by 7.7 per cent, according to the International Energy Agency – despite the absence of a global carbon treaty, or stiff new regulations, or a cap-and-trade regime”. 

The “only major emitter” reducing emissions? 

Well, no.  That’s not what the International Energy Agency says: “CO2 emissions in the United States in 2011 fell by 92 Mt, or 1.7%...CO2 emissions in the EU in 2011 were lower by 69 Mt, or 1.9%.” 

As for longer term comparables, in October 2010, the Guardian reports, The European Environment Agency reported that by the end of last year emissions produced by the current 27 member countries have fallen by more than 17% since 1990, putting them "well on track" to meet the target to meet the EU's own pledge of a 20% reduction by 2020 . The original 15 EU member states who signed Kyoto have dropped their emissions by 6%, giving them "a headstart to reach and even over-achieve" their target under the treaty of an 8% reduction. Emissions from the current 27 member countries have fallen by more than 17% since 1990, putting them "well on track" to meet the target to meet the EU's own pledge of a 20% reduction by the same date…”.

Wente: “You'd think that environmental groups would rejoice at this great news. Instead, they've gone to war. The main reason for the fall in greenhouse gasses is a new technology known as hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), which they claim is a menace to the planet”.

Wrong.  The International Energy Agency in fact says that the U.S. move away from coal is just one of several reasons for the small decrease.  Others are exceptionally mild winter weather, the economic downturn and energy efficiencies (no doubt in response to “stiff new regulations” Wente claims played no role). According to them, the most recent reduction is
"primarily due to ongoing switching from coal to natural gas in power generation and an exceptionally mild winter, which reduced the demand for space heating”.  The longer term (since 2006) reduction, “has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector (linked to efficiency improvements, higher oil prices and the economic downturn which has cut vehicle miles travelled) and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector.  They do not claim that fracking or shale gas is the “main reason” for the reduction, as Wente maintains.

And then Wente says this:  “Fracking promises to unlock vast new reserves of shale gas, which emits roughly half as much CO2 as coal, and 30 per cent less than conventional oil”.

Wrong again.  While conventional natural gas “emits roughly half as much CO2 as coal, and 30 per cent less than conventional oil”, this is not true of shale, which comes with a much higher methane component.

The New York Times cites studies that "suggest that the rush to develop the nation’s vast, unconventional sources of natural gas is logistically impractical and likely to do more to heat up the planet than mining and burning coal.  The problem, the studies suggest, is that planet-warming methane, the chief component of natural gas, is escaping into the atmosphere in far larger quantities than previously thought, with as much as 7.9 percent of it puffing out from shale gas wells, intentionally vented or flared, or seeping from loose pipe fittings along gas distribution lines".

And a report from Cornell University notes these problems with shale:

Natural gas is composed largely of methane, and 3.6% to 7.9% of the methane from shale-gas production escapes to the atmosphere in venting and leaks over the life-time of a well. These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas…Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential that is far greater than that of carbon dioxide, particularly over the time horizon of the first few decades following emission. Methane contributes substantially to the greenhouse gas footprint of shale gas on shorter time scales, dominating it on a 20-year time horizon. The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years…

In addition, a report in the New York Times indicates that the shale gas boom is likely to go bust, just like Enron – with consequences not just for the economy, but the environment.

Wente’s nonsense appears to be original this time, rather than the borrowing so often seen in the past (here, or just browse the archive for many other examples), but her breathtaking NIMBYism is worth a final mention.  

Content to argue for “more and faster” when it comes to someone else’s water contamination, Wente was recently fiercely protective of her own little bit of paradise – a country house she maintains to provide picturesque relief from the monotony of her upscale Toronto condo (whose kitchen appliances alone, she brags repeatedly, cost more than an earlier house).  Madame Wente’s country estate must be kept free of all intrusions or development – no gravel pits, limestone quarries or wind turbines nearby to disturb the weekend tranquility or decrease property value.  But for the rest of the country folk - the ordinary people who actually have to live year round on land whose well water may be affected – well, says Lady Margaret, let them drink flaming water with their cake.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Neil Reynolds’ “ludicrous” error(s)

In today's instalment of the Globe and Mail's ongoing effort to discredit unions, Neil Reynolds reprises a Margaret Wente article from a few days ago, relying largely on talking points from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s campaign. 

But he ventures beyond spin and into fiction when he writes:

“Naturally, as in any bureaucracy, “special privileges” extended to the ludicrous. Correctional workers were entitled to book off sick and collect overtime pay for the very shift they didn’t work”.

This does seem ludicrous.  That might be because it’s not true.  

Under the heading “$150,000 Correctional Officers”, a document from Walker’s own campaign against unions makes clear that these officers may be paid overtime for the following shift - not the same shift for which they booked off sick, as Reynolds has it: 

“Officers can call in sick for a shift, receiving 8 hours of sick pay, and then are allowed to work the very next shift, earning time and a half for overtime”.

Still a little excessive?  Maybe.  But certainly not as “ludicrous” as Reynolds wants it to be.  An error?  A deliberate embellishment?  Won’t know til we see a correction.  

Update:   The following Editor's Note now appears at the end of the online version regarding another error in Reynold's article.  No sign yet of a correction for the one above.
Editor's Note: The Wisconsin teachers’ union (WEAC) created the WEA Trust insurance company in 1970. The union does not run the insurance company. Incorrect information appeared in the original newspaper version and an earlier online version of this article. This online version has been corrected.

Update, the second (now appearing at the bottom of Reynolds' online version): 
After calling in sick for a shift, correctional workers in Wisconsin were allowed to collect overtime for the following shift, not for the shift for which they called in sick. Incorrect information appeared in the earlier versions of this column. This online version has been corrected.