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Vol. II, No. 10
Vol. II, No. 10
May 13, 1998
UN Readies "Buenos Aires Mandate"
The UN Conference on Trade and Development has developed recommendations for the proposed Buenos Aires Mandate to be completed at the November 1998 climate treaty Conference of the Parties. The UNCTAD plan would provide for voluntary developing country participation in a global emissions trading scheme. The proposals were released at a London forum co-sponsored by the UN Environment Program and the Earth Council, an NGO directed by environmental power broker Maurice Strong.
Among UNCTAD’s proposals:
- Limit developing country emissions growth, but impose no emissions cuts
- Allow developing countries to choose different base years
- Consider regional groupings of developing countries as one emissions unit, like the "EU bubble"
(BNA Daily Environment Report, May 7, 1998)
Ashcroft Bill to Block Kyoto Implementation Without Ratification
On April 30, U.S. Senator John Ashcroft (R-MO) introduced a bill to prevent the Clinton Administration from implementing the Kyoto Protocol prior to Senate ratification. The bill, S. 2019, reads in part, "Federal funds shall not be used for rules, regulations, or programs designed to implement, or in contemplation of implementing, the Kyoto Protocol . . . unless or until the Senate has given its advice and consent to ratification." Sen. Ashcroft’s bill also states that "no Federal agency shall have the authority to promulgate regulations to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide." According to Sen. Ashcroft, "This legislation will protect the American economy, our jobs and incomes, and it will uphold important constitutional values. Having given away far too much to get a bad agreement in Kyoto, the Administration is seeking to put salt into this wound by sneaking the Kyoto terms past the Senate and the public."
Several groups responded to the proposed legislation. Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute pointed out that the Clinton administration has committed to take unilateral steps to cut emissions independently of a climate treaty. One of the ways that the Administration is surreptitiously implementing the treaty is through "Post Kyoto" conferences for State and local environmental agency officials and air quality regulators that took place in January and April. "Through such networking exercises, the Administration is recruiting pro-Kyoto lobbyists in bureaucratic power centers immune from Senate oversight," Lewis remarked at the press conference where Sen. Ashcroft released his bill.
The American Farm Bureau Federation also strongly supports the bill. "The Kyoto Protocol is a bad deal for American farmers," said Minnesota Farm Bureau President Al Christopherson. "It will dramatically increase production costs and reduce net farm income." Phil Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, was less complimentary. "New technology and energy savings can only benefit our economy," Clapp told reporters. Preventing energy efficiency programs "would fly in the face of common sense and prudent government policy," he said (BNA Daily Environment Report, May 1, 1998).
Clinton Kicks Off Efficiency Crusade
On May 4, President Bill Clinton called for an "American crusade" to stop global warming as he officially kicked off the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH). Joined by actor-environmentalist Ed Begley, Jr. and National Association of Home Builders president Don Martin, Clinton outlined a new program to cut energy use in new homes by 50 percent over the next ten years. It would fund improvements in 15 million existing homes and cut energy costs by 30 percent. "If we achieve that goal, it means by the year 2010 we’ll save consumers $11 billion a year in energy costs," the President said. The PATH project is intended to utilize energy-saving technologies and home designs that would reduce both greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs.
The National Association of Homebuilders endorsed PATH, which has already dedicated $70 million in subsidies for the homebuilder industry to encourage research and testing of energy-saving technologies. Clinton has asked for another $100 million for the program for next year as part of the $6.3 billion tax credit and spending plan that will face opposition in Congress (Washington Post, May 5, 1998).
President Clinton used the event, which took place in storm-wracked California, to warn about the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming. "If you liked El Nino for the last several months, you will love the 21st century if we keep on the path we're on," he said. For probably the first time, however, the President acknowledged scientific doubt about climate change. "There is virtually unanimous – not complete, but virtually unanimous – opinion among scientists that the globe is warming at an unacceptably rapid rate." The President also claimed that "We know that if the climate, in fact, continues to heat up, through the excessive emissions of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we will have more extreme, dramatic weather events such as those you’ve experienced so frequently in California in the last few years."
More on Petition Project Controversy
In our last issue we reported on the Petition Project, which has garnered the signatures of more than 17,000 scientists opposing the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and critical news reports on the petition drive. Since then more information has come to light. Writing in Access to Energy (April 1998), Arthur Robinson, President of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, which sponsored the petition, says that of the thousands of petitions returned, only 1.4 percent were negative responses. Ninety percent of the negative responses "consisted solely of profanity scrawled across the petition card, usually with the name of the writer removed," Robinson wrote.
Environmentalists have attacked the review article that accompanied the petition because it is not peer-reviewed. As Robinson points out, however, "review articles are often not peer reviewed at all, since they do not contain original research and do contain complete references to the peer-reviewed literature for all of their data." Moreover, states Robinson, "the 8-page review was written . . . to communicate the fully referenced facts on both sides of this issue to scientists, so that they could easily locate the information needed to reach their own objective conclusions." Nothing in the petition mailing indicated that the article had been peer-reviewed or published in any scientific journal.
Robinson also responded to one of his more ardent critics, University of Chicago atmospheric chemist Raymond Pierrehumbert, who is quoted in various news accounts. Pierrehumbert is a prolific contributor to Internet newsgroups where he pontificates on a wide range of subjects, Robinson reported. Based on these postings, Pierrehumbert opposes sports utility vehicles, currently installed refrigeration, incandescent lights, short and medium-distance air travel, nuclear power, strategic defense, logging, private gun ownership, and fuel-bearing transport. Pierrehumbert once wrote: "On balance the U.S. doesn't produce ANY of the world's goods. We are a net importer of other peoples’ goods . . . Therefore, I propose that a large fraction of China's CO2 emissions should be attributed to the U.S., in the Kyoto discussions. Japan's too." A member of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ "Sound Science Initiative," Pierrehumbert has argued that cold water evaporates faster than warm water.
In what some now view as a never-ending quest to destroy the coal industry, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is once again considering regulating mercury from coal-fired power plants. In mid-April the EPA proposed that all coal-fired power plants measure and report mercury levels on a weekly basis. Some utilities will be required to measure the amount and type of mercury emitted from each smokestack and report on a quarterly basis. Since regulators need statistics to control an activity, this is the first step towards regulation. The most effective way to reduce mercury emissions is to switch from coal to gas. Thus many fear that this is the beginning of the end for the coal industry (The Electricity Daily, April 27, 1998).
Thirty-One Nations Ink Kyoto Pact
Representing 38.5 percent of global emissions, the following countries have signed, but not necessarily ratified, the Kyoto Protocol. For the treaty to enter into force, Annex I countries accounting for at least 55 percent of 1990 CO2 emissions must ratify. (Global Climate Coalition)
Belgium Saint Lucia
Britain Saint Vincent
Don’t Bite the Hand That Feeds You
Environmental lobby groups are quick to criticize the private sector for investing in "dirty" industries such as oil refining, coal mining, and auto manufacturing. The same level of scrutiny is not applied to the philanthropic foundations that provide tens of millions of dollars every year to support the environmental lobby, according to independent newsletter The Climate Change Report. Charitable grant-makers such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, the MacArthur Foundation, and the W. Alton Jones Foundation invest heavily in some of the very industries the Green lobby is out to destroy. Their portfolio includes numerous emitters of greenhouse gases, including corporations represented in the Global Climate Coalition.
Pew donated almost $4 million for global warming advocacy last year, yet it also earned $250,000 from $6.6 million in energy-related investments the previous year in companies such as Atlantic Richfield, Phillips Petroleum, Texaco, and Unocal. Pew invested over $1.5 million in auto companies Chrysler and Ford, and $6.7 million in electric utilities.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the sixth largest contributor to environmental causes nationally, profits from investments in the Big Three auto manufacturers plus Exxon, Alcan Aluminum, and Imperial Oil. Likewise W. Alton Jones, which supports Environmental Defense Fund and Ozone Action, invested substantially in Atlantic Richfield and Mobil.
National Environmental Trust’s Philip Clapp urged that attention not be focused on his benefactors: "The real issue is what the oil industry is doing." Ironically, the bull market in blue chip stocks is helping to finance the Green campaign against energy use (The Climate Change Report, April 29, 1998).
Global Warming and Insurance Costs
An essay for the State of the Climate Report 1998 by Stanley A. Changnon, University of Illinois professor of atmospheric sciences and geography, analyzes insurance and the weather. A recent study he participated in "performed an extensive analysis of temporal fluctuations in severe weather conditions based on two insurance data sets, one for crop insurance and one for property insurance."
The study found that though there are large regional fluctuations in crop-hail losses, "No statistically significant long-term trend of decrease or increase in [national] crop-hail loss costs exists." For weather-caused insured property losses the study found that the increased weather-related losses that have occurred since 1950 "were directly related to population growth." Other studies have confirmed this result.
The principal finding of the study "was that population (reflecting the changing property target and increasing sensitivity to damaging storms), frequency and intensity of extra-tropical storms, and annual temperatures explained 98 percent of the historical fluctuations in catastrophes." Population growth alone accounts for 85 percent of increase in weather-related losses.
Is 20th Century Climate Man Made?
Using a comprehensive compilation of proxy evidence such as sediment, ice core and tree ring data, a new article in the April 27 Nature claims that the 20th century is the warmest in the last 600 years and that the warming is due to manmade greenhouse gases. According to one of the authors, University of Massachusetts at Amherst climatologist Michael E. Mann, "Our conclusion was that the warming of the past few decades appears to be closely tied to emission of greenhouse gases by humans and not any of the natural factors," while the changes of the previous five centuries examined by the researchers can be attributed to natural factors such as solar radiation and volcanic haze.
Dr. Mann admits, however, "We do have error bars. They are somewhat sizable as one gets farther back in time, and there is reasonable uncertainty in any given year. There is quite a bit of work to be done in reducing these uncertainties." Others point to additional problems. Dr. Thomas Wigley, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, said, "I don't think we're ever going to get to the point where [the proxy data is] going to be totally convincing." Dr. Philip Jones of the University of East Anglia in England questions the validity of combining proxy data and thermometer data (The New York Times, April 28, 1998).
Several problems with the study have emerged. First, the time period used by the researchers is suspect. They begin their study towards the front end of the Little Ice Age. It is not surprising that the current century is the warmest given that the Little Ice Age ended at the turn of this century. Second, the article puts forward the claim that manmade greenhouse gas emissions best explain the climate change of the 20th century. Other researchers disagree with that conclusion. We reported in our last issue about promising new evidence regarding the influence of solar activity on the earth's climate. Jasper Kirby of the European particle physics center CERN in Geneva says that "A striking correlation has been observed between global cloud cover and the incidence of cosmic rays [which are influenced by changes in sunspot activity]. . . causing estimated changes in global temperatures that are comparable to all the warming attributed to greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution" (Reuters, May 5, 1998).
Precautionary Principle Pitfalls
Many who advocate restricting energy use to prevent global warming concede that there are many uncertainties yet to be resolved with the global warming hypothesis. Yet they insist that we should act now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that it is better to be safe than sorry. Meteorologists have discovered, however, that this precautionary approach is flawed and carries with it dangers of its own. In the late 1980s and early 1990s with the advent of Doppler radar, meteorologists felt that they could better predict and track tornadoes. They have increased the percentage of tornado warnings from 44 percent of all twisters in 1992 to 59 percent in 1997 and the lead time between warning and touchdown has also increased from 6.2 minutes in 1992 to 10 minutes in 1997.
There is a downside, however. There has been a massive rise in false alarms. In 1997, of the 2,592 tornado warnings 2,022 of them were false alarms. False alarms for severe thunderstorms, which are considered precursors to tornadoes, reached a whopping 10,475, an increase of 50 percent since 1992. "That's crying wolf way too often," according to Joseph Shaefer, a meteorologist at the weather service's center in Oklahoma. And just like the villagers in The Boy Who Cried Wolf, people are tuning out the National Weather Service. People living in tornado prone areas who buy special radios that emit an alarm when a tornado warning is issued have begun to turn the radios off because they are "frustrated by the constant beeping from false alarms."
The problem, according to Brian Peters, a meteorologist in the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service, is that "We've got this wonderful piece of technology giving us lots of information, but we don't have the ability to interpret it all…It's not quite reading tea leaves, but it is a close kin." It is becoming more and more difficult in all scientific fields to determine when a scientist should report potentially worrisome information. Yet Americans continue to "have the attitude that if we have information, we have to act now -- even if its meaning isn't clear," says Louise Russell, an economist at Rutgers University and the author of Educated Guesses: Making Policy About Medical Screening Tests. This would be an apt description of the global warming debate.
Just as with global warming science, meteorologists are learning that what they thought they knew about tornadoes is incorrect. For example, meteorologists believed that mesocyclones resulted in tornadoes 50 percent of the time. So when these disturbances appeared they would issue immediate warnings. They have since discovered that a tornado results only 10 to 20 percent of the time, and even these numbers are very uncertain, says E. DeWayne Mitchell, a meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma (The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 1998).
What can we learn from this? That acting on partial information has risks. Global warming is no exception. Restricting energy use based on inadequate knowledge will be costly and may bring us few benefits. Climatologists have said that waiting another 10 to 15 years before acting would make little difference but would give us valuable time to learn more about whether man is warming the planet.
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 email@example.com.
Thomas Gale Moore, a member of CEI’s board of directors, has written Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn't Worry About Global Warming published by the Cato Institute. Call 1-800-767-1241 to order.
The Institute of Economic Affairs in London has published Climate Change: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom. The book can be ordered via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF) has published Global Warming: The Continuing Debate. It can be ordered for $25 from CEI or contact ESEF at email@example.com.