Vol. I, No. 4

Vol. I, No. 4

July 30, 1997

Politics

Senate Resolution Passes 95-0

The Byrd-Hagel Resolution (SRes 98) passed on July 25 by a margin of 95-0 (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 28, 1997). The resolution states that the U.S. Senate will not ratify any treaty signed at Kyoto that:

     

  • Would impose binding limits on the industrialized nations but not on developing nations within the same compliance period.

     

     

  • "Would result in serious economic harm to the economy of the United States."

     

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Senator Robert Byrd argued during the floor debate that climate change is a global problem requiring global action. He hopes that the resolution will give U.S. negotiators the clout they need to complete a truly global treaty.

Japan to Propose Climate Change Legislation

Japan’s Environment Agency will propose binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions to avert global warming. A carbon tax is under consideration. Other ideas include stricter fuel economy standards for cars, restrictions on energy use for domestic electrical machinery, and environmentally friendly tax and fiscal systems.

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) has, to date, opposed binding targets on emissions. "We haven’t yet judged whether such ideas will be needed after the Kyoto conference," stated an MITI official (Japan Economic Newswire, July 7, 1997).

Nuclear Power, Anyone?

At a gathering in Santa Fe’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, fifty energy experts from the United States and Japan urged greater use of nuclear power to combat global climate change.

According to Dr. Chauncy Starr, president emeritus of the Electric Power Research Institute, "a strong consensus emerged that nuclear energy is an important power source that must be supported and expanded if the world is to address the environmental, security and economic well-being of its people" (U.S. Newswire, July 9, 1997)

Also, at the UN environment conference Hans Blix, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, argued against a report by the UN Development Program which concluded that nuclear power is not necessary to meet future energy needs. According to Blix, nuclear power is essential if the developing nations are to meet their energy demands without significantly raising greenhouse emissions (Greenwire, July 7, 1997).

Nebraska Coalition Opposed to Treaty

A coalition of farm organizations, the AFL-CIO and the State Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Nebraska held a press conference opposing a treaty that would discourage fossil fuel use. The coalition argued that there are still serious doubts about the magnitude and effects of climate change, claiming that precipitous action will lead to higher home heating and transportation costs, taxes on fuel and fertilizer for farmers as well as planting controls and limits on livestock production. Factories will be forced to relocate to countries with fewer energy restrictions, taking American jobs.

The coalition stated, "Rather than rushing into policies that would lower our standard of living and force unwelcome changes in personal lifestyle we believe it would make far more sense to concentrate on improving the scientific research on climate issues and on developing new, cost-effective technologies for use in the United States and around the world" (Omaha World-Herald, July 8, 1997).

Science

What About Clouds?

According to the Anchorage Daily News (July 10, 1997) the U.S. Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement program is going to fund a 10-year, $10 million study to "track how clouds soak up or reflect the sun’s energy in the Earth’s polar regions." The effect of clouds on climate change is still a mystery for scientists. Sometimes clouds cool the earth, at other times they keep it warm.

Knut Stamnes, a researcher at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, asks, "Are increased greenhouse gases going to have an effect or not?" His answer? "To understand that, we need to understand what clouds do."

Sensors located Alaska’s North Slope, Oklahoma and Guam will provide new information that will lead to a greater understanding of how clouds affect global climate change in polar, midlatitude and tropical areas. According to Martha Krebs, director of DOE’s Office of Energy Research, "The question is whether or not the use of energy is going to cause a major impact on our environment . . . . That requires more data, and better and more accurate models."

Melting Icecaps, Schmelting Icecaps

According to David Vaughan, a British Antarctic Survey member, "At current warming rates it will take 200 years before the problem in the Antarctic became serious . . . . And it is very unlikely that the warming trend in the Antarctic Peninsula could be sustained for that length of time without very major changes elsewhere which would make this issue rather irrelevant."

Warnings of rising seas that will flood island states are overblown and, according to Vaughan, it is very possible that the "effects of oceanographic conditions on the ice shelves could thicken them" (Daily Mail, July 10, 1997).

Birds of a Feather Arrive Early Together

Ecologists are puzzled by the return of some species of birds earlier in the spring than usual. According to records kept by ornithologist Elizabeth Browne Losey, birds are returning to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula 21 days earlier than they did in 1965, suggesting that spring’s arriving earlier than before.

Though a report by the World Wildlife Fund recently warned that, "The first signs of climate change have been detected and can be seen in our own back yards," ecologists are more cautious about blaming ecological changes on human-induced climate change since "North America’s ecological systems have always been in flux."

Eighteen thousand years ago ice sheets two miles thick covered the northern half of the American continent. Also, the mid 19th century saw the Little Ice Age with temperatures a few degrees colder than now. In fact, the warming we have experienced over the last one hundred years may be a natural recovery from that cooler period.

Dan Fagre, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Biological Resources Division, said, "Our goal is not necessarily to say human-induced climate change is responsible as much as to say that things are changing."

Regardless, some ecologists are worried due to melting glaciers in Glacier National Park, warmer waters off the coast of California, declining bird and salmon populations, and other changes. Ken Cole, a government ecologist based in Flagstaff, Arizona says, "I think we can eventually do it but I’m not ready to commit myself and say that these changes are due to climate change and not these other causes."

David Peterson, professor at the University of Washington states, "Change is natural and normal. The question at this point is: Are the changes that we’re seeing really natural or are they human-caused? And that poses some really tough questions" (Associated Press, July 7, 1997).

New and Improved Climate Modeling Computers

Japan’s Science and Technology Agency will develop a new computer system called the Earth Simulator to model regional climate variations with greater precision. To date limitations on computer power have frustrated the ability of scientists to accurately model the earth’s climate systems.

What will become the world’s fastest dedicated parallel-processing computer, the Earth Simulator will be able to model temperature variations on a grid 100 times finer than current advanced simulators. The Earth Simulator will allow scientists to better understand the regional effects of climate change (The Nikkei Weekly, July 7, 1997).

Early Humans Experienced Rapidly Changing Sea Levels

According to a study by Heiner et. al. appearing in the journal Science ("Early Humans and Rapidly Changing Holocene Sea Levels in the Queen Charlotte Islands – Hecate Strait, British Columbia, Canada," July 4, 1997), humans during the Holocene era experienced rapidly changing sea levels.

Marine cores from the continental shelf edge of British Columbia, Canada show that sea level varied from -153 to +16 m between 14,600 and 10,100 calendar years B.P. Using marine core data and archeological evidence, researchers were able to determine that local sea levels rose rapidly (five centimeters per year) during the period of early human occupation.

To put this in perspective, climate change catastrophists are predicting a 2 foot increase in sea levels from global warming over the next 100 years. A five centimeter per year rise, however, would increase sea levels by about 19 feet.

"In this context," states the researchers, "it is interesting that the Gwaii Haanas Haida Indian oral history abounds in legends of rapidly rising seas." It is also interesting to note that sea levels changed by magnitudes far exceeding anything predicted by climate change proponents in the absence of anthropogenic influences.

Economics

Ecological Imperialism

In a paper delivered at "The Costs of Kyoto" conference, sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Deepak Lal, James S. Coleman Professor of International Development Studies, UCLA, argued that "At Kyoto Third World countries are going to face their first serious confrontation with the growing ecological imperialism of the international green movement . . ."

Though treaty proponents initially proposed restrictions only on the industrialized countries, the Clinton administration has stated "that the Kyoto accord must include ‘language that makes it clear’ that developing country obligations under the pact will increase over time ‘and will include binding targets.’"

Lal cited a study by Thomas Schelling which shows that a delay in doubling of CO2 emissions for four decades would lead to a loss of 2 percent of gross world product in perpetuity. Though this will harm the industrial countries it could be devastating for the Third World.

Lal points out that it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that it became possible to eradicate "mass structural poverty." "So" concludes Lal, "I look upon the green agenda . . . as ultimately trying to stop growth in the Third World. And if you’re saying you’re going to stop growth in the

Third World, you’re really going to say that you’re willing to condemn three-quarters of the world’s population to continuing poverty."

Ignorance is Bliss

The Clinton administration has decided to dispense with using three economic models to analyze policy options to reduce greenhouse gases. Timothy Wirth, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, argued that the economic models were unable to produce an "honest result" in predicting the economic effects of climate change policy.

A draft report by the interagency team, that will not be completed, showed that a reduction in greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2010 would require a $100 per ton carbon tax increase the price of gasoline by 26 cents per gallon, $1.49 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas, $52.52 per ton of coal, and 2 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity.

Janet Yellen, chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, told a House subcommittee that the administration would do economic analyses, but will "preclude . . . detailed numbers." Not to worry, the administration will tell the public what it believes the impact of climate change policy will be: "Any policy the president endorses on climate change will be informed by his commitment to sustaining a healthy and robust economy" (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 16, 1997).

Real Action Not Likely

According to Robert J. Samuelson, "Global warming may or may not be the great environmental crisis of the next century, but – regardless of whether it is or isn’t – we won’t do much about it."

To do something effective Congress would have to impose something equivalent to a $100 carbon tax, which would raise gasoline prices by 26 cents per gallon and electricity and natural gas rates by about 30 percent.

Because of the great amount of uncertainty surrounding the likelihood or magnitude of global warming, Congress is not likely to pass a tax that would put the economic screws to the American people.

The best way to cope with potential warming, according to Samuelson, is to adapt to it. To sign a sweeping treaty that would ultimately lead nowhere would make global warming "a gushing source of national hypocrisy" (Washington Post, "Dancing Around a Dilemma," July 9, 1997).

Baby Steps to Lower Greenhouse Emissions

In hearings before the Senate Environmental & Public Works Committee, the panel of four scientists and one economist generally agreed that moderate steps should be taken to reduce greenhouse emissions. Harvard University Economics Professor Dale Jorgenson, argued that the U.S. should eliminate energy subsidies and adopt a tax based on carbon content of fuels. The proposed tax would lead to an increase of 5 cents per gallon of gasoline by 2025, starting at $5.29 per ton of CO2 and rising gradually to $10 per ton.

Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and well-known skeptic of the global warming hypothesis, argued that Jorgenson’s proposal would have no effect on climate change. Both John Christy, associate professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama at Hunstville, and Eric Barron, director of the Earth System Sciences Center at Penn State University, endorsed modest emissions reductions that would improve energy efficiency and provide overall benefits to the economy (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 11, 1997).

There is one problem with such modest proposals. If human-induced climate change is a major problem then modest proposals will do nothing to avert it. If it isn’t a problem, then why do anything at all?

Canada Could Be Divided

According to the study by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE), a treaty to restrict greenhouse emissions would be devastating to Alberta’s oil, coal and gas industries as well as to Ontario’s iron and steel sector. Additionally, governments of the Atlantic provinces are counting on growing offshore oil and gas production to spur further economic growth. On the other hand, Central Canadian manufacturers will benefit by absorbing labor and capital driven out of the oil producing sector. Overall, Canada will experience a 0.5 percent reduction in output by 2010.

Chris Peirce, vice president of strategic planning with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said, "You can kind of gloss over the really difficult issue that people would have to deal with by saying, ‘Well, the overall number [for the economic cost] is only 0.4 percent of gross domestic product’ . . . . When you look beneath that surface at what it’s going to do within the sectors, it’s quite a different matter" (The Financial Post, July 5, 1997).

Etc.

NATO Soldiers to Fight Climate Change?

According to the Washington Post ("Clinton’s NATO Effort Risky; President’s Vision Rests on Historic Rationale," July 8, 1997) the Clinton administration envisions a new role for the expanded NATO alliance.

"The administration argues that the new NATO will be the cornerstone of a new system of international security dealing with a much wider array of threats than was the case during the Cold War. ‘Unlike Marshall’s generation, we face no single galvanizing threat,’ [Madeleine] Albright said at Harvard. ‘The dangers we confront are less visible and more diverse – some as old as ethnic conflict, some as new a letter bombs, some as subtle as climate change, and some as deadly as nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands" (emphasis added).

Investor’s Business Daily ("Our Rain Forest Rangers," July 7, 1997) reports that the administration’s Quarterly Defense Review claims that, "The most serious security problems are . . . those threats to the ‘international community’ stemming from ‘instability’ caused by ‘transnational problems’ such as poverty, disease, terrorism, global climate change, migration, and integration into a global economy" (emphasis added).

The United Nation’s Windbags

In a scathing editorial in the Village Voice ("When Smog Snobs Meet: Saving the Earth From Windbags," July 8, 1997), Linda Stasi asks, "What do you call it when billions of tons of hot air per second are released into the atmosphere by gigantic gas bags? How about Rio Plus Five – the recent UN conference on the environment?"

Stasi continues, "Last week, world leaders and assorted international windbags from 60 – count em – 60 countries arrived here to whine about pollution while simultaneously causing massive traffic jams, which in turn caused massive pollution."

Stasi is skeptical whether anything will come of the conference; instead she suggests, "maybe we’d have a better environment if they just shut down the UN altogether – it would be years before anybody even noticed that nobody was there."

Announcements

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s "The Costs of Kyoto" conference was a huge success. Both the full transcript and audio of the conference are available on CEI’s webpage at www.cei.org.

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.

Resources for the Future has launched a new website at www.weathervane.rff.org. The site, according to RFF, will provide "neutral analysis and commentary on U.S. and international policy initiatives designed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases." It will also include feature articles and a point - counterpoint forum for invited players.