Vol. III, No. 7

Vol. III, No. 7

March 30, 1999

Politics

Senators Hagel and Murkowski to Introduce Global Warming Bill

Senators Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) are planning to introduce a bill to provide $2 billion for the research and development of new technologies to prevent global warming. The bill says that given the possibility that manmade greenhouse gas emissions "may ultimately contribute to global climate change," a long-term, global effort must be undertaken to stabilize them. It also argues that "all nations must share in an effective international response to potential climate change."

The bill would establish an Office of Global Climate Change within the Department of Energy that would "promote and cooperate in the research, development, demonstration, and diffusion of environmentally sound, cost-effective and commercially practicable technologies, practices and processes that avoid, sequester, control, or reduce anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol for all relevant economic sectors." It would also transfer "environmentally sound" technologies that are developed with federal funds "to interested persons in the United States and to developing country Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change."

The bill would lavish taxpayer funds on companies that successfully acquire government contracts to develop emission reducing technologies. The guidelines for acceptance of a proposal are stringent meaning that only large businesses with the technical expertise, sufficiently large staff, and the necessary discretionary capital would be eligible for funds.

The bill also provides for "public recognition" of voluntary efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Under this provision the Energy Information Administration will keep a national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions and will collect the reports of emission reducing activities. "At a minimum," says the bill, "such recognition shall annually be published in the Federal Register."

The bill makes no mention of several "no regrets" policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as elimination of energy subsidies, deregulation of energy markets, and elimination of environmental regulations that discourage innovation.

Senate Hearings on Early Action Bill

Hearings on the credit-for-early-action bill introduced by Senators John Chafee (R-RI), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Connie Mack (R-FL) took place on March 24 before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Testimony was heard from business groups on both sides of the issue as well as Green groups. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) asked why an early action bill was necessary since the U.S. has not capped greenhouse gas emissions. Dale Lundgren, assistant vice president of business planning for Wisconsin Electric Power Co., responded that emission caps "are inevitable." Eileen Clausen, executive director of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a group of big businesses that favor emissions reductions, said, "we do expect that at some point in the future, the United States will ratify a climate change treaty that includes a binding commitment to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."

Raymond Keating, chief economist for the Small Business Survival Committee told the Senators that the credit-for-early-action bill would make caps on greenhouse gas emissions more likely in the U.S. "Credits would only have meaning and value under the Kyoto Protocol or some similar regulatory regime which would implement an emissions cap-and-trade system," said Keating. The bill "would be pointless" otherwise. Keating also argued that "credits potentially worth untold millions of dollars would act as powerful incentives to push and lobby for treaty ratification or some type of regulatory structure that would give value to such credits."

Baucus said that the bill must encourage small businesses to participate in early emissions reductions. Keating, however, said that small businesses would view the program as being "the domain of big business or be construed as some complex and vague program that offers no or little quantifiable benefit in running their day-to-day operations." Moreover, small businesses "would not be able play the credits game," said Keating, given their small profit margins (BNA Daily Environment Report, March 25, 1999).

Public Perceptions of Global Warming

An important part of the global warming debate is how the public perceives the threat of global warming. Many polls have attempted to assess public perceptions. In an article in the journal Climate Research (December 17, 1999), researchers review and interpret the available polling data as well as their own polling data.

They found that many people have an awareness of global warming and assign a fairly high level of threat to the phenomenon, albeit much lower than other environmental threats. They also found widespread confusion regarding global warming. Many Americans linked aerosols and insecticides with global warming as well as confused it with ozone depletion. Surprisingly, the author’s polling data found that 31 percent of respondents said that heating and cooling their homes was not a cause of global warming and 54 percent said it was minor or secondary cause. "Perhaps," say the authors, "the source of temperature control in homes is not understood by many Americans."

Few poll respondents considered global warming to be a serious threat. Fifty-one percent did not believe that global warming would have a negative effect on standards of living. "In fact," say the authors, "24 to 39 percent think that positive outcomes are likely." This is also reflected in people’s willingness to pay to prevent global warming. One poll asked whether the U.S. should spend less, the same amount or more on global warming, 50 percent said less while only 33 percent said more.

When asked about lifestyle changes 60 percent of respondents said that Americans would be willing to install more insulation and weatherize and 41 percent said they would replace older appliances. Forty-five percent said that Americans are not likely to buy more fuel-efficient cars while 30 percent said they would. Forty-nine percent said they are unlikely to carpool and drive less and 59 percent said that it was unlikely that they would use less air conditioning and heat. Only 21 percent and 15 percent respectively, said that Americans were likely to engage in the latter activities.

The authors conclude "that global warming is not a salient problem for most Americans." They do not "support initiatives that threaten car use or home heating and cooling options."

Media Coverage of Extreme Weather

Green activists have made concerted effort to link global warming with extreme weather. Droughts, floods, hurricanes, and forest fires have all been attributed to global warming. Some claim that extreme weather events prove the global warming is already here. Coupled with the public’s belief that the weather has become more extreme and you have the making of a real scare story.

A study in the journal Climatic Change (February 1999) by Sheldon Unger, asks if the weather is becoming more extreme or whether the public’s perception is being influenced by other factors? Unger searched media stories about extreme weather events that aired on television network news (ABC, CBS, and NBC) from 1968 and 1996, and found that there has been a five-fold increase in network coverage of extreme weather events. Most of the increase has occurred since 1988 when global warming became a major issue.

Several scientific studies, however, have failed to find upward trends in extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, and hurricanes. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in its 1996 report that "Overall, there is no evidence that extreme weather events, or climate variability, has increased, in a global sense, through the 20th century, although data and analyses are poor and not comprehensive."

Economics

Russia May Have More Credits than Anticipated

The Clinton Administration has claimed that international emission trading system would greatly lower the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions because countries such as the former Soviet Union will be have large amounts of credits available for purchase. The Energy Information Administration now says, in a newly completed International Energy Outlook 1999, that due to last year’s economic collapse the former Soviet Union will have more credits available for sale than previously expected.

In 1998, the EIA estimated that the former Soviet Union would have 199 million metric tons of carbon credits for sale. That estimate has now increased to 324 million metric tons. Eastern European countries would have about 50 million metric tons to contribute. This could account for as much as 45 percent of needed emission cuts for "successful implementation of the Kyoto Protocol," according to the EIA. Purchasing countries will be able to increase emissions by 7 percent over 1990 levels and still meet Kyoto commitments, the report said (www.iea.doe.gov).

This assumes that the former Soviet Union would be willing to sell its surplus permits. According to Robert Reinstein, president of Reinstein & Associates International, Inc., the Russians do not plan to sell their permits in the near future. They have announced a three-phase plan for meeting their targets. First, they want to use joint implementation to attract investments in the form of money and technology for emission reduction projects, as well as learn how to implement these projects on their own.

In the second phase the Russians will use their newly acquired knowledge to reduce emissions and create more allowances. Some of these allowances may be sold under certain conditions. Only in Phase III would Russia engage in Article 17 trading which would take place in 2013.

An Alternative to Kyoto

Proponents of global warming policies are beginning to realize that the Kyoto Protocol has little chance of being ratified. Paul Portney, president of Resources for the Future, told the Energy Information Administration that it is unlikely that the Kyoto Protocol will pass in its current form. He has proposed a new approach that would cap carbon emissions 1996 levels by 2008. The plan would include emission trading and would be applied to "upstream" producers of coal, oil and natural gas.

As a safety valve the plan would also allow the government to sell emission permits whenever the price exceeds $25 per ton. Seventy-five percent of the revenue raised would be returned to households in the form of rebates and 25 percent would be distributed to states "based on the vulnerability of low-income households and industries" (www.weathervane.rff.org).

Science

Glaciers Don’t Show Global Warming

One of the most powerful images used by the global warming activists to frighten the public is that of melting glaciers and precipitous sea level rise. The Greens also claim that glaciers are one of the most important leading indicators of manmade global warming. A recent survey of the science, however, shows that "glaciers are poor barometers of global climate change," and "Far from providing scientific proof of global warming, the behavior of glaciers represents yet another powerful indictment of the already controversial global warming theory."

According to John Carlisle of the National Center for Public Policy Research, glaciers are subject to many influences which scientists don’t fully grasp. Mountain glaciers are especially tricky due to the "complex topography of mountain areas." Carlisle quotes Alaska Geophysical Insitute glaciologist Keith Echelmeyer as saying, "to make a case that glaciers are retreating, and that the problem is global warming, is very hard to do . . . The physics are very complex. There is much more involved than just the climate response."

Many Alaskan glaciers, for example, are advancing in the same areas that others are retreating. Switzerland has experienced mild winters, warmer summers, and less precipitation over the last decade, yet many of its glaciers have advanced during this time.

An important determinant of how glaciers react to temperature change is size. A polar ice sheet’s response time to temperature change ranges from 10,000 to 100,000 years, for example. Large mountain glaciers respond on time scales ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 years and small mountain glaciers take 100 to 1,000 years to respond. "One explanation for some glaciers retreating today," says Carlisle, "is that they are responding to natural warming that occurred either during the Medieval Warm Period in the 11th century or to an even warmer period that occurred 6,000 years ago."

Mountain glaciers only account for about 6 percent of the earth’s total ice mass. The real danger of precipitous sea level rise would come from the melting of the polar ice sheets. Again Carlisle finds little evidence to support these claims. If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet which is deemed to be the most vulnerable to global warming, were to melt the earth’s seas would rise by 17 feet. It has been estimated, however, that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would take about 50,000 years to respond to any warming that may occur now, due to its great size. A recent study of the ice sheet found that it has been stable for the last 100 years.

The Greenland ice sheets have also failed to recede. In fact, Greenland is in the midst of cooling period, contrary to global warming predictions. One study has found that the West Greenland Ice Sheet has thickened up to seven feet since 1980.

CO2 Is Good For the Planet

The Cooler Heads Coalition hosted a science briefing for congressional staff and media that featured Dr. Keith Idso. Dr. Idso argued that even though it is a trace gas, carbon dioxide, a necessary component of plant photosythesis, supports all life on earth. Idso explained to the audience that CO2 is not a pollutant, but is an odorless and invisible gas that is not toxic to animals, even at very high levels.

Thousands of scientific experiments have confirmed that a CO2 rich environment is more healthy, one in which plants thrive. One of the most important scientific discoveries about CO2 is that under a variety of stressful situations plants do better when there is more CO2 in the air. In fact plants that are stressed due to lack of water, high soil salinity, low light conditions or the presence of pollutants in the air, have a relatively higher response rate to CO2 than do plants in optimal environmental conditions.

Plants are now starving for CO2, according to Idso. About 95 percent of earth’s plant life evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 3,000 to 4,000 parts per million. Now with CO2 making up only about 360 parts per million, plants are struggling to survive. Any increase in CO2 can only benefit plants and the animals that depend on them.

Global Warming Guru Urges Caution

Recently several scientists who traditionally supported the apocalyptic global warming theory have made statements that downplay the certainty of the science behind the global warming scare. Most recently Stephen Schneider, a Stanford University biologist and one of the stalwarts of the global warming scene, told an audience at a March 23 conference in St. Louis University, that there is no reliable way to determine the impact of global warming on the earth, and that scientists don’t really know what should be done about it.

He also argued that there is a "large degree of uncertainty among the experts over what might happen," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (March 24, 1999). Schneider also made the case that "so many variables exist that estimates on the timing vary from the years 2030 to 2100, and the estimates on temperature rise vary from a manageable 1 degree Fahrenheit or less to as much as 4 degrees," the Post-Dispatch reported. "It’s not so much a scientific question as it is a question of human values," said Sncheider.

Another scientist who is favorable to the global warming theory, Jerry Mahlman, director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University, said that it will be at least 10 years or more before scientists can separate the human effects on climate from natural variation. "The uncertainties concerning the responses of clouds, water vapor, ice, ocean currents and specific regions to increased greenhouse gases remain formidable," he said.

Announcements

  • The Cooler Heads Coalition is sponsoring two briefings for congressional staff and media in April. On April 9 Ben Leiberman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute will discuss the Montreal Protocol: A Success Story or Cautionary Tale. On April 16 Jeremy Rabkin will discuss the sovereignty implications of the Kyoto Protocol. Both briefings will be held at the Rayburn HOB room 2200 at 12:00 noon. Lunch will be provided.

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced the release of the draft inventory for U.S. emissions for the years 1990 to 1997 as required by the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Comments from the public will be accepted until April 9, 1999. Comments received after that date will be considered for the next edition of the report. The draft is available at www.epa.gov/globalwarming/inventory.

  • 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.