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Vol. III, No. 26

Cooler Heads Digest

Title

Vol. III, No. 26

Politics

 

Aviation and Global Warming

 

Aviation has come under attack in the global warming debate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released a report that airplanes are "polluting the skies and changing the weather," reports the Earth Island Journal (December 22, 1999).

 

The report claims that planes account for 3.5 percent of the global warming experienced to date and could account for 15 percent by 2050. The IPCC report recommends that governments discourage air travel and encourage travel by train. The report also calls for higher taxes on fuel used in airplanes.

 

Global Warming Caused by Foreign Aid?

 

The one thing that both proponents and opponents of global warming policies can agree on is the need to end government subsidies for fossil fuels. The World Bank, for example, has promoted $13.9 billion worth of fossil fuel projects since 1992, according to the Earth Island Journal (December 22, 1999). These projects will produce 37.5 billion tons of CO2 in the next 20 to 50 years.

 

A report by Friends of the Earth and the Institute for Policy Studies shows that from 1992 to 1996 the U.S. Export-Import Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation financed $23.2 billion in oil, gas and coal projects around the world.

 

Economics

 

Internet Saves Energy

 

The idea that the Internet will be an energy saving panacea is not new. After all, the ability to telecommute, to shop and gather information on the Internet and other useful services, have allowed people to use less energy on these activities. The question is whether the overall use of energy has decreased.

 

According to a study by Joseph Romm, executive director of the Center for Energy and Climate Studies, the answer is yes. The study shows that even though U.S. economic growth increased by 9 percent during 1997 and 1998, energy consumption per dollar of GDP fell 3.2 percent in 1997 and 3.9 percent in 1998.

 

This sharp drop in energy intensity has occurred even though energy prices are very low. Romm says that the Internet is the reason. Romm also claims that economic forecasts of the costs of emission reductions have not taken this into account. "If the model is right, then it makes all the other economic models…all wrong, and that has its own profound implications," he said. "We anticipate that we’re in a position, for example, where far less effort will be needed for the United States to reduce greenhouse gases…than we once thought."

Romm errs in his assessment, however. Energy experts argue that the reason energy consumption fell by such a large amount in 1997 and 1998 was due to a mild winter that lowered home heating needs, not because of increased Internet use.

 

Moreover, in evaluating the energy appetite of the Internet (the essential first part of any two-part equation to determine a net energy benefit), the study concludes:

 

"The authors found that the Internet itself is not a major energy user, largely because it draws heavily on existing communications and computing infrastructure."

 

Mark Mills, CEI Senior Fellow, and co-author of a seminal analysis of the Internet’s electric appetite (Forbes, May, 31 1999), wrote, "Let me be kind; their observation about Internet energy use is breathtakingly myopic. Just what exactly do the study’s authors think the past half decade of hundreds of billions in new investment in telecommunications and computing equipment has been for and driven by, if not the Internet?

 

"The exponential growth in equipment (and related Wall Street valuation) constitutes the electric-intensive infrastructure of the Internet. None of it was ‘existing.’ The Internet does improve efficiency, but at the cost of greater electric use. The jury is out on whether the ‘net’ effect is more or less overall energy use."

 

The internet may indeed lower energy intensity, but the history of energy use shows that decreasing energy intensity almost always leads to greater overall energy use.

 

Science

 

Are Humans Melting the Arctic?

 

The melting of sea ice has been a worry to global warming advocates for some time. There is little evidence to suggest that humans cause the melting, however. Recently, Science published an article claiming that manmade global warming is a major cause of decreases in arctic sea ice. Using a computer model the researchers found that when greenhouse gases are not factored into the equation there would be a much smaller decrease in arctic sea ice.

 

The World Climate Report (December 13, 1999) suggests a much simpler test, however. "Perhaps instead of comparing observed change in sea ice with the model’s change in sea ice, it might be better to see if reality is likely to be involved." A weather balloon temperature record of arctic temperatures dating from 1958, compiled by James Angell, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Commerce, shows a problem with the conclusions in the Science article.

 

The record shows little correlation between melting sea ice and temperatures. For example, arctic sea ice melts only in the summer. Yet even though we see a decrease in arctic sea ice there is no corresponding increase in summer temperatures. WCR suggests that perhaps the warming takes place in the winter, lowering wintertime ice accumulation.

 

A look at yearly temperatures, however, shows this not to be the case. From 1958 to 1988 there was no statistically significant warming in the arctic. Yet the sea ice has been retreating for over 40 years, showing no causal connection between temperature and sea ice extent.

 

There is a lesson to be learned here: Computer models outcomes should not confused with the real world outcomes no matter how closely they mimic them. The causal variables that drive computer-generated outcomes should be checked against empirical data. Instead, climate modelers claim that their virtual variables explain the real world despite contrary evidence.

 

Warm Winters: Polar Vortex or Global Warming?

 

A new study on shifting wind patterns has partly attributed a series of warmer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere and declining sea-level pressures in the Arctic to changes in the "polar vortex." The study, introduced at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union by David Thompson and John Wallace of the University of Washington, shows that the polar vortex has tightened since 1970 and that upper-atmospheric winds have been blowing in a smaller, more circular motion around the polar area.

This phenomenon may be responsible for the recent severe winter weather in the western United States and Europe, due to the interaction of high temperature fronts from the Northern Hemisphere with cold temperature fronts from the North Pole.

 

The researchers are still undecided as to whether global warming is to blame for part of this phenomenon. The report stated that if coming winters continue to experience higher pressures over the arctic and more wintry weather in the Northern Hemisphere, as they have the last couple of winters, it may be an indication that the earlier changes were due to a natural cycle that is now returning to its previous state.

 

However, if the coming winters shift toward warmer weather, the study suggests that it would convince most scientists that some human factors must be involved (Reuters, December 17, 1999).

 

Announcements

 

     

  • The Competitive Enterprise Institute has just released a new book, Earth Report 2000, published by McGraw-Hill. The book features two chapters about global warming written by Roy Spencer a climate scientist at NASA and Indur Goklany, manager of science and engineering at the Department of the Interior. There is also a chapter by Jerry Taylor and Peter VanDoren of the Cato Institute on energy policy. Other important environmental issues are also covered. Copies can be purchased for $12 (includes S&H) from CEI by calling (202) 331-1010.

     

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