Vol. III, No. 4

Vol. III, No. 4

February 16, 1999

Politics

Greens Oppose Early Credit Bill

Several Green groups, including the Center for International Environmental Law, Greenpeace, National Environment Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ozone Action, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. PIRG, and World Wildlife Fund, have written a legislative analysis opposing the current "Credit for Voluntary Early Action Act." Although not opposed to the idea in principle, these groups argue that they cannot support the Act as currently written.

There are several points of contention, a couple of which will be discussed here. The groups only favor giving "rewards and incentives for actions that would not otherwise have occurred," and, therefore, oppose credits for actions that occur overseas. They point out that the Kyoto Protocol already provides incentives for early action through the Clean Development Mechanism, and that "additional incentives in U.S. domestic legislation for international actions are [not] needed or appropriate."

They also argue that the Act should employ a "declining baseline over time to reflect, at a minimum, existing U.S. commitments under the Rio Convention." They also argue that "baselines must be set in a way that avoids awarding credits for changes in market share unrelated to overall changes in emissions."

They oppose allowing the "President to award credits for actions reported under the controversial section 1605b program," under the Department of Energy that allows companies to report voluntary emission reduction efforts. They believe that reported reductions under this program are not verified. Finally, the groups oppose any credits related to nuclear power which they call "an inherently high-risk form of energy production."

Senators to Sponsor a Counter Bill

Senate opponents of the Kyoto Protocol are offering a bill to counter administration proposals, as well as the Chafee-Mack-Lieberman Credit for Early Action bill that could grease the skids to ratification. Senators Chuck Hagel (R-Neb), Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) will cosponsor the bill.

According to Hagel’s spokeswoman "the legislation will include provisions to increase scientific research on climate change, invest in long-term research and development and remove tax and regulatory barriers that prevent voluntary industry action." The bill, according to the spokeswoman, is a "recognition that Kyoto is going nowhere," and is a "market-based way to approach climate change" (National Journal’s CongressDaily, February 5, 1999).

Economics

Agriculture to Suffer Little from Global Warming

Much has been written about the potential effects of global warming on agriculture. Global warming skeptics have generally argued that the net effects will be positive, while believers have claimed that the effects could be disastrous. A new report from the Pew Center on Climate Change (believers) argues that the net effects of global warming on U.S. agriculture will probably be small even though there could be significant regional effects.

For example, agriculture in the northern United States and Canada could benefit from warmer temperatures, while agriculture in the southern United States could be harmed. The report also concedes that "currently available climate forecasts cannot resolve how extreme events and variability will change; however, both are potential risks to agriculture." This seems to be the tack taken by the Pew Center on each of the aspects relating to agriculture and global warming it discusses. To wit, we don’t know how global warming will effect agriculture but it could have both positive and negative consequences.

The report concludes that "climate change is not expected to threaten the ability of the United States to produce enough food to feed itself through the next century; however, regional patterns of production are likely to change." It also concludes, "the form and pattern of change are uncertain because changes in regional climate cannot be predicted with a high degree of confidence." The report also discusses that farmers will have several means to adapt to any potential change in regional conditions. The report can be found at www.pewclimate.org.

Science

NRC Sees Shortcomings in Global Warming Science

Global warming skeptics have argued for years that the science is riddled with uncertainties, errors and outright ignorance about the climate system. While those who use the threat of global warming to advance political agendas have dismissed this argument, scientists who believe that man is warming up the planet readily admit to these problems.

The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has just released a report, The Atmospheric Sciences: Entering the Twenty-First Century, which discusses in great detail the shortcomings of climate science. The NRC admits that there are large natural variations in the climate system, which make it very difficult to locate a human fingerprint. It argues, for example, that paleoclimatic and computer data show that the climate has varied significantly in the past, and that we can expect it to vary in the future, "irrespective of human impacts on climate."

The report also admits, "current observational capabilities and practice are inadequate to characterize many of the changes in global and regional climate." And that "significant progress in ... characterizing and predicting seasonal-to-century time-scale variability in climate, including the role of human activities in forcing variability, is likely to take a decade or more." For at least ten years, similar reports have claimed that it would take a decade to fully understand the climate system.

The report also discusses problems with the computer models. One the most important but least understood aspects of global warming is cloud feedback mechanisms. According to the report, "intercomparison of the magnitude of cloud feedback in a number of global climate models indicates a fourfold range of uncertainty, with some models predicting strong positive cloud feedback and others a weak negative feedback to the climate system."

In contrast to the statement by the American Geophysical Union, which stated that sufficient knowledge exists to take action now, the NRC argues that "current observational systems are far from adequate in addressing the questions being posed by scientists and policy makers concerning climate change."

Another major problem, according to the report, is the poor quality of the surface temperature record. Even in the United States, which probably has the best surface temperature record in the world, serious problems exist. There is no reference temperature network; there are problems with maintaining the homogeneity of minimum and maximum temperature readings; and discontinuities resulting from inadequate overlap during changes in instrumentation have occurred. In addition, data corrupted by urban heat island effects, changes in local conditions and a failure to calibrate new instruments with old, remains uncorrected. The report can be found at www.nas.edu.

Coral Bleaching May be Naturally Caused

Coral bleaching is one of a myriad of ecological phenomena that has been blamed on global warming. A new study in Science (February 5, 1999) argues that the observed bleaching is probably due to natural causes. Coral bleaching occurs when a symbiotic algae, known as zooxanthellae, is expelled from the coral. The researchers monitored the Acropora formosa coral in a shallow lagoon in Mauritius for six years. They found that there is a strong seasonal cycle with bleaching occurring almost entirely in the spring and summer. In fact the density of the algae during the "autumn and winter are three times the densities in spring and summer." The study concludes that "bleaching events in corals within such lagoons may be frequent and part of the expected cycle of variability."

Etc.

  • An article appearing in the EM-Environmental Manager (December 1998) characterized the debate between global warming proponents, made up of various environmental activist groups and government agencies, and skeptics, primarily the Cooler Heads Coalition, as "greens" versus the "red, white and blues."

Announcements

  • The Cooler Heads Coalitions is sponsoring a briefing for congressional staff and media on February 22, 1999 to discuss the Credit for Early Action Act. The briefing will feature Marlo Lewis, Vice President at CEI and Mark Mills of Mills-McCarthy and Associates and a CEI adjunct scholar. The briefing will be held the Cannon House Office Building room at 12:00 noon to 1:30 p.m.

  • The transcripts from the Cooler Heads science briefings for congressional staff and media and CEI’s Costs of Kyoto lectures are available on CEI’s website at www.cei.org. Transcripts currently available include, Climate Change: Insights from Oceanography, by Dr. Roger Pocklington; Global Warming: Evidence from the Satellite Record, by Dr. John R. Christy and Dr. Roy Spencer; Global Warming and Vector-Borne Disease: Is Warmer Sicker? by Dr. Paul Reiter; Kyoto & Our Collective Economic Future: Economic & Energy Underpinnings, by Mark P. Mills; Emissions Credits: The Supply and Demand Gap, by Robert Reinstein; and Hot Times or Hot Air: The Sun in the Science of Global Warming, by Sallie Baliunas.