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Vol. I, No. 2

Cooler Heads Digest

Title

Vol. I, No. 2

Science

Fudge Positively Correlated With Higher Temperatures

"Climate modelers have been ‘cheating’ for so long it’s almost become respectable," writes Richard Kerr for the journal Science ("Model Gets it Right – Without Fudge Factors," May 16, 1997). Since no computer model to date has been able to simulate the present climate, modelers have used "flux adjustments" to make the simulation correspond to reality. According to David Randall of Colorado State University, "If you can’t simulate the present without arbitrary adjustments, you have to worry."

A new computer model, developed by thirty researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, can now simulate the present climate without the flux adjustments. The model can run for 300 model years without drifting from a realistic climate, a feat current models cannot match. A doubling of CO2 in the model raised global temperatures 2 degrees Celsius. The IPCC estimated warming of 2.5 to 4.5 degrees C.

If the model is correct "two-thirds to three-quarters of the [temperature variations of the] last 130 years can be explained as natural variation," making the detection of modest greenhouse warming even more difficult. The model suggests, though still in simplistic form, that "future greenhouse warming may be milder than some other models have suggested – and could take decades to reveal itself."

Carbon Trumps Sulfur

New research may force scientists to revise their explanation of why rising carbon dioxide levels have not led to significant increases in temperature. When temperatures did not rise as expected in the early 1990s scientists believed that large quantities of sulfur particles, issued from Mount Pinatubo in 1991, were to blame. Scientists hypothesized that sulfur particulates, a product of industrial activity, forms a thin shield around the earth which reflects solar radiation, cooling the planet. Sulfate aerosol pollution was said to be masking the global warming predicted by climate models but never observed.

A team of researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle measured the carbon and sulfur particles over an industrial area which included New York, Washington, and Virginia. They found that carbon particles overwhelmed sulfur particles. Since there has been no net warming, as would be expected, the sulfur theory took a hit. According to Peter Hobbs, one of the researchers, "I guess, in a sense, you could say it’s back to the drawing board. We’ve only got data from one region, but if it proves to be typical, then we’re going to find that the computer simulations we all use are not nearly complex enough. You can’t rely on them to be accurate if they don’t have the right programming" (Sunday Times, London, June 8, 1997).

Furthermore, Benjamin Santer who postulated the sulfur shield theory, admitted at the American Geophysical Union annual meeting, that if his analysis were extended beyond 1987 (the limit of his Nature article) the sulfate+greenhouse models no longer show a correlation between sulfate density and temperature observations. Both Santer and NASA’s James Hansen told the audience that in recent years greenhouse gases have overwhelmed sulfates without the expected increase in temperatures (World Climate Report, Vol. 2 No. 8).

Uniform Temperatures – Fewer, Smaller Storms

A study published in Geophysical Research Letters has found that the temperature difference between the equator and the poles has decreased, according to an article in Science News ("Earth’s temperature grows more uniform," May 31, 1997). The two latitude zones studied both showed warming over the last 111 years but the northern zone experienced greater warming than the southern zone, decreasing the temperature gap at a rate of 0.30 degrees C to 0.46 degrees C per century. According to meteorological theory a smaller temperature gap between the polar and equatorial regions will reduce either the number or frequency of storms.

Annoying Confidence Levels

Responding to the question of how long we must wait before we can say global warming is upon us, Mark Cane, senior scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, stated, "See, part of the problem in answering a question like that ... depends on how much certainty do you require before you say something.... if I say ... is there evidence of global warming now due to human causes, I would say, there is. And there are certain things happening that convince me pretty much. If I were to put this to the kind of test that we like to use where we say,... is it 99 percent certain? Or 95 percent certain or something like that? OK? Then it gets much tougher to say that that’s happening" (Talk of the Nation, NPR, May 16, 1997).

Of course, this is why confidence levels are so important. Not only do they separate random from causal events but they also make it more difficult for scientists to impose their own biases and perceptions on the evidence before them. Though Al Gore blames every news-making weather event on global warming, scientists must test whether such occurrences are plausibly linked to higher temperatures. If the correlation does not meet a strict confidence level, then an honest scientist, regardless of his belief in climate change, will reject the hypothesis.

Politics

Amendment to Improve Treaty’s Chances

According to Nature ("Europe seeks to head off oil-exporters’ veto on climate treaty," June 5, 1997), the European Union (EU) has submitted an amendment to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) that would allow adoption of the climate change treaty by a three-quarters majority of countries instead of requiring a consensus.

This is an attempt to prevent the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from vetoing a treaty that would hinder petroleum use worldwide. OPEC is demanding compensation for the lost revenues resulting from decreased fossil fuel use. Since such a provision is unlikely to be included in the treaty, the OPEC nations could attempt to block "consensus".

Australia Threatens Withdrawal

Australia has threatened to withdraw from the FCCC if mandatory greenhouse gas reductions are imposed. Citing the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics finding that reducing emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 will cost Australians $7,000 each, Prime Minister John Howard stated Australia would rather withdraw from negotiations than accept such costs.

Environmental groups warn that such a move by Australia would brand it as "an international pariah" risking the possibility of "major economic dislocation from international sanctions." Such threats demonstrate that treaty proponents may go to extreme lengths to impose binding limits on the industrialized countries (Greenwire, May 8, 1997).

Economics

Assumptions, Assumptions!

The Washington Post (Business Page, June 12, 1997) reports that the World Resources Institute has just released a study looking at 16 models which predict the economic impacts of global warming and global warming policies. The studies’ predictions range from a 4.3 percent decrease in GDP to a 3.5 percent increase by the year 2020 as a result of decreasing emissions to 1990 levels.

The study argues that both the best-case and worst-case scenarios contain unrealistic assumptions. The worst-case scenario, for example, assumes that no cost-effective alternative energy sources will emerge, while the best-case scenario assumes many readily available alternatives already exist or will very shortly. Other assumptions deal with energy conservation, changes in developing countries’ emissions, and the costs of global warming. A study by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, for instance, has concluded that global warming would result in a small economic gain for the United States. Other models assume high health benefits from reduced emissions.

Global Emission Trading – Rube Goldberg Would’ve Been Proud

William L. Fang, Deputy General Counsel of the Edison Electric Institute, delivered a paper to a conference of the Royal Institute of International Affairs questioning the suitability of the United States’ SO2 trading system as a model for an international emissions trading system to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG). The U.S. system, for example, deals with one gas (SO2) and one primary source (public utilities). There are, however, multiple greenhouse gases of which there is no primary source. According to Fang, "Sources range from large utility and industrial plants to residential and commercial heating systems to individual automobiles and trucks and more for CO2, from landfills to natural gas pipeline systems to coal mines to land use changes for methane, to fertilizer applications for nitrous oxides, etc.

Fang also brings up the problem of monitoring and enforcement. The EPA, for example, collects hourly data on SO2 emissions at great cost under the premise that such strict monitoring is required to prevent cheating by the utilities. Some kind of monitoring is necessary but, asks Fang, "Does this approach make sense, even for sources of GHGs that can be monitored? At what cost? What level of regulatory oversight would be needed? How would sources that cannot be physically monitored be handled? How would credit for GHG sinks be determined, such as for CO2 sequestration from planting trees?"

Finally, Fang points out that the Clean Air Act Amendment establishing the SO2 trading system "significantly expanded [the EPA’s] enforcement authority . . . What agency or organization will fulfill this role for a GHG trading programme? What level of oversight should be provided for an international trading programme? Who will keep the ‘books’ on international trades? What remedies will be available if one country strictly enforces its programme but feels other countries do not?" asks Fang. These are important questions to be sure. The U.S. must consider carefully before it rushes to create an international bureaucratic monster.

Etc.

Hot Air Goes Up in a Cloud of Smoke

Proponents of international limits on greenhouse gases have begun to compare climate change "skeptics" to tobacco industry scientists who for years have denied the dangers of smoking. By repeating this smear, environmental activists hope to discredit their opponents without engaging in substantive debate. Here is a small sampling:

"The [newspaper editors] would not accord to tobacco company scientists who dismiss the dangers of smoking the same weight that they accord to world-class lung specialists. But in the area of climate research, few major news stories fail to feature prominently one of these handful of industry-sponsored scientific ‘greenhouse skeptics’" (Ross Gelbspan, "Hot Air, Cold Truth: Why Do We Pay Attention To Greenhouse Skeptics?, The Washington Post, Outlook, May 25, 1997).

"Many oil and gas companies continue to do whatever they can to block progress – challenging science in the best tobacco-company tradition, spreading economic scare stories, advising OPEC nations on how best to sabotage international talks" (Fred Hiatt, "No Credible Goal for Global Warming," The Washington Post, June 11, 1997).

"With these very real health risks in mind, the denial by many industries of the seriousness of climate change begins to resemble the tobacco industry’s attempts to tarnish the debate on smoking. Fortunately, the IPCC has maintained its scientific integrity despite ad hominem attacks by the most extreme ‘carbon club.’ What’s more, these lobbies are beginning to lose members as their credibility weakens and the public becomes more familiar with their tactics – perhaps in the fear that like their brethren in the tobacco industry, they may one day face exorbitant lawsuits for their effect on human health" (Seth Dunn, "Is Climate Change the Biggest Issue of All?" The Earth Times, June 1-15, 1997).

Announcements

The Competitive Enterprise Institute will be holding a one day conference, "The Costs of Kyoto," on Tuesday, July 15. For more information contact Nicole Hamilton at (202) 331-1010.

The Australian APEC Study Center and The Frontiers of Freedom Institute will be holding an international conference, "Countdown to Kyoto," in Canberra, Australia, August 19-21, 1997.

The following are town hall meetings being organized by Vice President Gore’s office and the White House Office on Science and Technology Policy to "examine the vulnerability of various regions of the US to climate variability and climate change and to aggregate information across regions to support a national scientific assessment."

     

  • June 20-22, Denver. Summit of Eight. Environmental focus, including climate change.

     

     

  • June 24-27 UN General Assembly review session on 1992 Rio Summit, New York.

     

     

  • June 24-27, Nashville, TN. NASA and DOI co-hosting with the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

     

     

  • June 26, Boston, hosted by EPA

     

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The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics has released its study, The Economic Impact of International Climate Change Policy. For copies of the report contact Denise Flamia in Australia at (06) 272 2211 or e-mail: dflamia@abare.gov.au.