Vol. II, No. 1

Vol. II, No. 1

January 06, 1998

Politics

You Think One Kyoto is Bad? Try Thirty

Jorge Sarmiento of Princeton University told Science (December 19, 1997) after the completion of the Kyoto accord that "It is a laudable and reasonable first step, but much deeper emissions cuts will be needed in the not too distant future if we are going to meaningfully reduce the rate of warming." Indeed, as the treaty now stands increases in developing country emissions will swamp emission reductions by the industrialized countries.

According to Thomas Wigley, a climate researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in order to stabilize emissions (a major objective of the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change) the developing countries would have to freeze emissions at current levels while the industrial countries would have to cut emissions in half. This, according to Jerry Mahlman, director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton "might take another 30 Kyotos over the next century."

But, says Sarmiento, "you have to start somewhere, and the protocol at least provides a framework for revisiting the issue as our understanding improves."

Treaty May Be Moot

The European Union’s Environment Commissioner, Ritt Bjerregaard, told the European Parliament that the Kyoto treaty may not come into force because of opposition from the United States Senate.

The treaty requires ratification by 55 participants to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change which corresponds to 50 percent of carbon emissions in developed countries. Since the U.S. accounts for 35 percent of the total and Russia accounts for 15 percent, at least one of them would have to ratify the treaty for it to take effect.

Bjerregaard said that "To facilitate U.S. ratification, it is crucial that the [European Union] moves ahead as quickly as possible to maintain the highest possible political pressure" (BNA Daily Environment Report, December 22, 1997).

Economics

The Magic Solution

Most of us have seen the infomercials in which a hyperactive salesman pitches a "no exercise, no dieting" weight-loss program. Most of us are also smart enough to know that losing weight requires some sweat and pain.

The Department of Energy (DOE), however, will have none of that. It is now pitching its own version of the all gain, no pain diet. Joe Romm, DOE’s principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy said in a panel discussion sponsored by the Environmental Media Services, that the U.S. can achieve the reduction targets agreed to at Kyoto without reducing energy use and may even be able to increase energy use. "We can get the reductions not by using less energy, but by using cleaner energy," he said.

Also on the panel was Nancy Kete, director for climate, energy and pollution programs at the World Resources Institute, pitching her own "eat more, weigh less" program. She admits that some jobs will be lost as a result of the Kyoto treaty, but overall there will be net gain in jobs if the U.S. becomes "more carbon efficient" (BNA Daily Environment Report, December 19, 1997).

Renewable Energy Mandates

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) has estimated in its report, Annual Energy Outlook 1998, that requiring utilities to derive 5 percent of their energy output from renewable energy sources would reduce emissions by 26 million metric tons between 1996 and 2020. A 10 percent mandate would reduce emissions by 62 million metric tons.

According to EIA Administrator Jay Hakes a renewable energy mandate "would require somewhat higher prices, but the impact does not appear large." Hakes said that wind, geothermal, and biomass would benefit from such a mandate. Solar energy, however, would probably not benefit as a result of its relatively higher cost (BNA Daily Environment Report, December 19, 1997).

Taxes and Fuel Efficiency Standards Cannot Be Avoided

At a briefing for congressional staffers on Capitol Hill, Steve Plotkin, transportation analyst at the Argonne National Laboratory, stated that, "Without further market intervention, we are not going to achieve the goals" of the Kyoto protocol.

The Clinton administration has maintained that the U.S. can comply with the treaty at little cost using new technologies. This claim is based on a study completed last year by the five national laboratories. But, revealed Plotkin, "the study assumed all along that government would have to impose energy taxes or raise fuel economy standards to attain treaty goals." Plotkin also said that he was "very pessimistic" that the U.S. can reduce emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2010 (Automotive News, December 22, 1997).

Ethanol Flop

A five-year experiment with ethanol-powered buses by the Greater Peoria Mass Transit District flopped. The Peoria government had purchased 14 ethanol buses to replace about one-third of its diesel-powered fleet. The transit district paid for fuel and maintenance.

The buses, however, were too expensive to operate. "When a part, such as a pump, goes down, you’ve got a one-of-a-kind engine, said Steve Tartar, spokesman for the transit district. "If we can’t get it, that bus sits." Ethanol also costs about twice as much as diesel fuel.

The National Center for Alternative Fuels at West Virginia University analyzed 32 different ethanol projects, and concluded that "it’s not appropriate at this time to convert fleets to ethanol and too expensive to have multifuel fleets." Ron Miller, vice president of Pekin Energy Co., who supplied ethanol to Peoria, said that ethanol competes with petroleum products which have "a lot of hidden subsidies which keep those prices artificially low" (Chicago Tribune, December 21, 1997).

Frederico Pena, Secretary of the Department of Energy has said that ethanol will play an important role in greenhouse gas reduction. "We are at the point where ethanol is ready to emerge as a major force in the market," Pena said. Maybe the Clinton administration should reconsider wasting further subsidies on the ethanol boondoggle (21st Century Fuels, November 1, 1997).

Japan’s Compliance Plan

The Japanese government has announced the breakdown of how it will of lower greenhouse gases by 6 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. Carbon sinks such as forests and vegetation will account for 3.7 percent; helping developing countries through technology transfers and cooperative projects, 1.8 percent; and emission reduction measures, 2.5 percent (Mainichi Daily News, December 31, 1997).

Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry also plans to give subsidies to consumers who purchase "hybrid" cars. Consumers who choose to buy the Toyota Prius, the only hybrid on the market, will receive about 350,000 yen or about $2,700 (Asahi News Service, December 22, 1997).

Science

Global Warming and the Spread of Disease

Among the many predicted effects of climate change the least plausible is an increase of vector-borne diseases. The British medical journal, The Lancet (December 20, 1997) discusses these predictions in two articles.

In an open letter signed by physicians, and distributed in Kyoto, warned that a rise in temperature of 1-3.5 degrees C would result in a public health disaster from the spread of diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever.

Paul Epstein, the foremost advocate of this hypothesis, admits that public health programs, poverty and other factors are important, but insists that global warming is also responsible. He also claims that higher temperatures have increased the number of disease-carrying rodents which he believes may have caused the 1993 US hantavirus infection outbreak. Andrew Haines, a London physician, said, "There are some early signs of malaria and other vector-borne diseases being experienced at higher altitudes than was previously the case."

Another article, however, casts doubt on the claims of Epstein and others. At a symposium on climate change and vector-borne disease at the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene annual meeting Paul Reiter of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Puerto Rico said that "it is simplistic and misleading to say that climate change will necessarily bring an increase in all these diseases."

He pointed out that malaria, dengue and yellow fever were all once common in temperate regions, but have disappeared as a result of better housing and sanitation. Duane Gubler of the Center for Disisease Control claims that a breakdown of mosquito control, increased mobility and other factors are to blame for increases in these diseases.

Yellowstone Park: Environmental Criminal

Cindy Werner, a geoscience graduate student at Penn State, has found that the Mud Volcano area of Yellowstone National Park emits about 176,300 tons of carbon dioxide each year. Extrapolating these numbers to the entire park Werner estimates that it emits as much as 44 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. That’s equivalent to about ten medium-sized power plants that burn fossil fuels. "We believe," concluded Werner, "that geothermal systems are significant contributors to global estimates of carbon dioxide" (The New York Times, December 26, 1997).

Another Modeling Error

In an article appearing in Earth Interactions (Vol. I, 1997), a publication of the American Geophysical Union, researchers Y.C. Sud and G.K. Walker look at possible simulation errors that may occur as a result of ignoring the effects of oceanic salinity on the near-surface specific humidity gradient, a primary determinant of oceanic evaporation. All of the general circulation models (GCMs) used at the Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres ignore oceanic salinity.

A 5-year-long salinity simulation revealed "discernible systematic errors" in the way the models handled "global evaporation, boundary layer specific humidity, and several key parameters that affect the onset of moist convection . . ." The researchers state that "we infer that coupled ocean-atmosphere models that ignore the influence of salinity on ocean evaporation might also benefit from the salinity correction. Indeed, the correction is so trivial to include, its neglect in the modern state-of-the-art GCMs is unwarranted."

Another Mitigation Option

The atmosphere is not the only place where carbon could end up. The most obvious way to sequester carbon dioxide is in trees. Others possibilities also have been suggested. One option is to pump carbon dioxide in to the deep ocean. Some may balk at transferring "pollution" from medium to another, but given that the ocean already contains 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere the impact would be proportionally smaller.

The most practical option may be putting the gas underground. Oil companies already inject carbon dioxide from underground deposits into deep-seated formations to flush oil from depleted reservoirs. Indeed, a new offshore oil rig constructed by Statoil, a Norwegian oil company, will separate carbon dioxide from natural gas returning the carbon dioxide to a nearby underground formation. By doing this the company will avoid the Norwegian carbon tax (Scientific American, January, 1998).

Etc.

An article in The Economist (December 20, 1997) with the subheading, "Forecasters of scarcity and doom are not only invariably wrong, they think that being wrong proves them right," pooh-poohs environmental scare stories propagated by the greens. About global warming the article notes: "Today the mother of all environmental scares is global warming. Here the jury is still out. . ." According to The Economist, "Just one environmental scare in the past 30 years bears out the most alarmist predictions made at the time: the effect of DDT (a pesticide) on birds of prey, otters and some other predatory animals. Every other environmental scare has been either wrong or badly exaggerated."

The story continues, "Environmental scare stories now follow such a predictable line that we can chart their course." The first year a "scientist discovers some potential threat." The second year a journalist "oversimplifies and exaggerates it." In the third year the environmentalists "polarize the issue." "Either you agree that the world is about to come to an end and are fired by righteous indignation, or you are a paid lackey of big business." The fourth year a conference is called which keeps bureaucrats "well supplied with club-class tickets and limelight," moving the debate from science to politics. "A totemic ‘target’ is the key feature." Fifth year, "pick a villain and gang up on him." Sixth, the skeptics, who say the fear is exaggerated, come on the scene, "driv[ing] greens into paroxysms of pious rage." Seventh, "the year of quiet climbdown." The population explosion went from a maximum of 15 billion to less than 10 billion. "Greenhouse warming was originally going to be ‘uncontrolled’. Then it was going to be 2.5-4 degrees in a century. Then it became 1.5-3 degrees."

The story concludes with, "Environmentalists are quick to accuse their opponents in business of having vested interests. But their own incomes, their advancement, their fame and their very existence can depend on supporting the most alarming versions of every environmental scare."

Announcements

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has produced a book and a highlights video based on The Costs of Kyoto conference held in July 1997. Both the book and the video are available for $15 or buy both for $25. To order call CEI at (202) 331-1010, or e-mail to info@cei.org.