Vol. IV, No. 15

Vol. IV, No. 15

July 26, 2000

The NACC’s Compliance Problems

 

Continuing White House stonewalling on the National Assessment on Climate Change has prompted another, even stronger letter from House Science Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Ken Calvert (R-Cal.).  Their July 20 letter raises even more questions about the National Assessment’s peer review and public comment requirements as specified under the 2000 VA-HUD Appropriations Act.  The Office of Science and Technology Policy’s reply to two earlier letters from Sensenbrenner and Calvert was “inadequate and non-responsive,” and “raises more questions than answers.” 

 

The conference report of the VA-HUD act requires that the “supporting research” for the National Assessment be “subject to peer review.”  Only 18 days, however, were afforded for peer review and the letter sent to reviewers advised them that the primary purpose of the review was to “ensure technical accuracy of the documents,” noted Sensenbrenner and Calvert.  “Apparently, these reviewers were not encouraged to address issues of substance or to question any aspects of the documents beyond ‘accuracy’ issues.”  Requests by the committee for memoranda regarding peer review process and comments of the peer reviewers have been ignored.

 

The conference report also requires that the “draft assessment” be “published in the Federal Register for a 60 day public comment period.”  This requirement has not been met.  As a result, Sensenbrenner and Calvert have demanded that the 60-day period not begin until the draft report is published in the Federal Register.

 

The National Assessment is also working on several Regional and Sectoral analysis reports, some of which have been completed, for the U.S. Global Change Research Program.  OSTP has attempted to circumvent the conference report requirements for these reports by arguing that they “are not federal reports,” even though they were funded with federal money.  “There is nothing in the conference report to suggest a distinction between federal reports” and “federally funded reports,” stated Sensenbrenner and Calvert.

 

G-8 Founders on Kyoto

 

The G-8 countries fell short of their lofty goal of setting a timetable for Kyoto enactment at their summit this month in Okinawa. Japan reportedly pushed for 2002, making it the most ambitious player present. The U.S. was said to be "reluctant to be so specific" due to domestic policy concerns and the impending presidential election (Japan Economic Newswire, July 23, 2000).

 

G-8 leaders vowed to “achieve a successful outcome at the COP6,” which will occur this November in the Hague, and to push renewable energy sources.  Finally, the leaders promised to strengthen export credit agency guidelines to include greenhouse gas evaluations of transactions (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 25, 20000).

 

Although White House press releases spinned the meeting differently, little progress was made in international climate change policy.  The G-8 summit revealed internal squabbling and fundamental disagreements that may carry over to the Hague.

 

BP: Still Working for that Greenpeace Endorsement

 

Venerable British Petroleum, BP, has just kicked off a massive corporate rebranding initiative under the aegis “Beyond Petroleum.” The centerpiece of this campaign is an effort to move the company’s revenue stream away from fossil fuel sales. The means? Pump-side Internet access which BP Chief Executive Sir John Browne hopes will help lift non-fuel sales to account for half of revenue.

 

Despite the new tagline and stunning new logo - a green, yellow, and white sunburst - environmentalists derided the change as “style over substance.” Greenpeace recommended that the company ought to have considered “a miserable polar bear on a melting ice pack” as a logo.

 

Browne, after playing up the rebranding’s environmental focus at a press briefing, downplayed the rebranding’s environmental focus to the business press: “It’s all about increasing sales, increasing margins and reducing costs at the retail sites.”

 

Economics

 

Kyoto: Bad Public Health Policy

 

Climate change policies would do little to protect public health, said Dr. Hadi Dowlatabadi, a physicist at Carnegie Mellon University, at the International Conference of Emerging Infectious Diseases on July 17.  Indeed, trying to slow global warming may be harmful since it would divert resources from activities that have real impacts on public health.

“Climate change can impact health,” noted Dowlatabadi.  But, “demographics, socioeconomics, technology and political factors are more important … in public health outcomes.”  These factors are “easier to manipulate than the climate system.”

 

Warnings that global warming may lead to the migration of tropical diseases, such as malaria, to the United States are unfounded, said Dowlatabadi.  Malaria is a disease that afflicts the poor.  “Where people prosper, they devote resources to fighting malaria,” he said.

 

As an example of how disease is correlated with poverty, Dr. Dowlatabadi noted that from 1980 to 1996 there were 50,333 cases of dengue fever in the border states of Mexico while in Texas there were only 43 cases.  “Does the climate change abruptly at the border?” he asked.

 

If governments wish to enhance public health, said Dowlatabadi, they should create an economic environment conducive to allowing people to gain access to food and healthcare rather than spending millions on climate-control.  “My worry is if we pursue climate change as a major objective,” Dowlatabadi said, “we will take away income and potential growth,” from the poor.  “The pursuit of climate policy…cannot be justified on public health grounds” (USA Today, July 18, 2000).

 

Discounting Global Warming Costs

 

Vice President Al Gore in his epic tome Earth in the Balance advocates “a new global economics.” Specifically, “We must change our current use of discount rates, the device by which we systematically undervalue the future consequences of our decisions.”  Writing in the Weekly Standard (July 17, 2000), Ira Carnahan responds deftly: “This is silly.”

 

The debate, surprise, surprise, isn't over economics so much as environmentalism and, you guessed it, global warming. If the earth heats up there is a chance, however unlikely, that there may be economic consequences. The question for most policy-makers would be “What are likely outcomes, and is it worth acting now, at great expense, to forestall them?” The question that Gore and his environmental fellow travelers pose is more pointed: “How can we justify a massive, unprecedented regulatory regime?”

 

Well, unfortunately, you can't, using conventional economics. It seems unlikely that global warming will have catastrophic effects.  But even if you take the most pessimistic scenario and discount it, no policy action, besides “no regrets,” can be justified.  Carnahan reminds us that, “At 10 percent, the present discounted value of one dollar 200 years in the future is one-half of one millionth of one cent.”

 

Clean Coal a Reality

 

Clean-burning coal - a misnomer, a typo?  Hardly. With a new technology developed by FirstEnergy and Powerspan known as Electro-Catalytic Oxidation, or ECO, coal burning plants will soon be able to be retrofitted to remove SO2, NOx, mercury, particulates, and other toxics from emissions.

 

ECO uses plasma to oxidize pollutants into acidic mists which can then be collected and even sold profitably if distilled. Better, ECO costs less to implement and operate than the current scrubber or selective catalytic reduction unit technology, which is not nearly so effective. FirstEnergy vice president Guy Pipitone predicts “ECO should have broad market appeal” (Electricity Daily, July 24, 2000).

 

Science

 

Melting Ice Sheets: Much Ado About Nothing

 

A recent study in Science (July 21, 2000) has prompted the press to run wild with lurid stories of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and looming disaster.  If any of the reporters had taken the time to read the actual study, they would have learned that it is a non-story.

 

The study used aircraft laser altimeter surveys to determine the mass balance of the Greenland Ice Sheet.  It found that above 2000 meters there is both thickening and thinning of the ice sheet.  In the north the ice sheet is thickening at a rate of 14 ± 7 mm/year and a thinning in the south of 11 ± 7 mm/year with an overall thickening of 5 ± 5 mm/year.  The authors estimate a bedrock uplift of 4 to 5 mm/year, meaning that the balance is essentially zero.

 

Below 2000 m, the coastal regions of the ice sheet, the authors estimate that “thinning predominates along approximately 70 percent of the coast.”  The reason this is an estimate is because the coasts were “sparsely” measured.   The authors explain that their estimate was obtained by calculating “a hypothetical thinning rate at the coast on the basis of the coastal positive degree day anomalies.”  They then “interpolated between this calculated coastal thinning rate and nearest observed elevation changes to yield thinning rates within the ice-covered coastal regions.”

 

This interpolation from a calculation of a hypothetical thinning rates shows a total net reduction in ice volume of “51 km3/year, which is equivalent to 0.13 mm/year sea-level rise or, about 7 percent of the observed rate of sea-level increase.”  The authors concede, “We do not have a satisfactory explanation for the observed, widespread thinning at elevations below 2000 m.”  Perhaps the answer has to do with “hypothetical” rather than observed thinning.

 

To further complicate matters, the authors also note that “The 1980s and early 1990s were about half a degree cooler than the 96-year mean.  Consequently, if present day thinning is attributable to warmer temperatures, thinning must have been even higher earlier this century.”  But thinning rates on many glaciers are too large to be explained by warming, “leaving a change in ice dynamics as the most likely cause,” they argue.  “We have no evidence for such changes, and we cannot explain whey they should apply to many glaciers in different parts of Greenland.”

 

Tree Rings: What Do They It Tell Us?

 

A study in Science (July 14, 2000) concludes that “A 21st-century global warming projection far exceeds the natural variability of the past 1000 years and is greater than the best estimate of global temperature change for the last interglacial.”  The researcher, Thomas J. Crowley, at Texas A&M’s Oceanography Department, comes to this conclusion using computer models that test various forcings for a 1000 year temperature time series.

 

Using an energy balance model, Crowley determined that solar irradiance and volcanism account for a large part of temperature variations prior to 1850, before the advent of man-made greenhouse gases.  By removing solar and volcanic forcings from the temperature data (reconstructed from proxies such as tree ring data) Crowley determined that the resulting natural variability was similar to the control run of the climate model.  A model run with only greenhouse gas forcing resulted in a warming similar to the “very large late-20th-century warming that closely agrees with the response predicted from greenhouse gas forcing.”

 

The temperature data used by Crowley was a combination of proxy data up to 1860 and data from the instrumental surface record beyond 1860.  There are several problems with combining the two data sets, which result in an apparent pronounced warming in the 20th century.  According to the study in the Quaternary Science Reviews (January 2000), there are several puzzles within tree ring data that complicate its use in climate science. 

 

Keith R. Briffa, with the Climate Research Unit, University of East Anglia, notes that “The evidence from dendroclimatology in general, supports the notion that the last 100 years have been unusually warm, at least within the context of the last two millenia.”  He cautions, however, that “This evidences should not be considered equivocal.  The activities of humans may well be impacting on the ‘natural’ growth of trees in different ways, making the task of isolating a clear climate message subtly difficult.”

 

In the section titled “Reconstructing large-scale patterns of climate change”, Briffa discusses a tree ring data set of the northern boreal forest which he says “provides the best overall indicator to date of long-term temperature changes over the higher northern land areas,” the area where climate models predict the most warming.  There is a divergence in temperature trends between proxy records and the instrumental record after 1950, notes Briffa.  “Average [tree ring] density levels have continuously fallen while temperatures in recent decades have risen.”  The reason for this “is not known” says Briffa, but he gives several possible explanations.  One explanation that he doesn’t entertain is the possibility that the instrumental record is wrong.

 

On the whole, however, tree-ring chronologies show an increase in density that has been widely interpreted as evidence for “anomalous global warming.”  Biffra argues that “Some of this accelerated growth is no doubt temperature driven but ‘fertilization’ by increased nitrogen and/or CO2 levels may also be involved.”

 

Announcements

 

·         The Competitive Enterprise Institute has published a new report, Greenhouse Policy Without Regrets: A Free Market Approach to the Uncertain Risks of Climate Change, by Jonathan Adler, CEI’s former senior fellow in Environmental Policy, with contributions from CEI staffers Clyde Wayne Crews, Paul Georgia, Ben Lieberman, Jessica Melugin, and Mara-Lee Seivert.  The report is available at www.cei.org.

 

THE COOLER HEADS COALITION

 

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