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Vol. IV, No. 5

Cooler Heads Digest

Title

Vol. IV, No. 5

 Politics

Carbon Tax in England

Great Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that his country will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by the 2008-2012 time period, a larger commitment than that agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol. To meet that target, the Blair government proposed the Climate Change Levy that would tax the use of fossil fuels. The tax has met with stiff opposition from industry, which has either opposed it outright or asked for special exemptions.

 

The Confederation of British Industry, for example, has noted that the Labour government has raised taxes on business by about 5 billion pounds per year since it took office in 1997. "The priority of this Budget [should be] to ease business worries over pressures such as the Climate Change Levy and the road fuel duty escalator," said CBI’s president, Sir Clive Thompson (Times of London, March 3, 2000).

 

To resolve the controversy, Blair has introduced a CO2 emissions trading scheme, but businesses have said that they will not participate unless there is a reward, such as an exemption from the Climate Change Levy or a cut in other taxes. "For a trading system to work, there has to be an incentive for companies to put themselves on the block by agreeing to targets. Without incentives, it will be very hard to get a system going," said Chris Fay, chairman of the government’s

 

advisory committee on business and the environment (Financial Times, February 28, 2000).

 

India Should Oppose Emission Targets, Says Environment Group

 

A new report, "Green Politics: Global Environmental Negotiations," by the Centre for Science and Environment, has been presented to India’s President Narayanan. The India-based environmental group, argues that international environmental agreements are "skewed" in favor of developed countries.

 

The Centre’s director, Anil Aggarwal, argues that the developed countries only focus on issues that concern them in international environmental treaties while ignoring the interests of developing countries. "Not a single government agency, environmentalist or academician has a full picture of what is happening at these environmental negotiations," said Aggarwal.

 

President Clinton will be visiting India this spring, and he is expected to raise the issue of India’s participation in the Kyoto Protocol. Aggarwal advised President Narayanan to reject all offers from Clinton, "Since it would compromise development in Third World countries" (Times of India, March 3, 2000).

 

EPA’s Underhanded Regulation

 

On November 3, 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency filed suit against several electric utilities and the Tennessee Valley Authority, claiming that they were guilty of violations of the Clean Air Act at 17 power plants dating as far back as 1979.

 

Under the CAA’s New Source Review (NSR), power plants that make major modifications are required to install pollution control devices. Routine maintenance, repair, and replacement are excluded from the NSR provisions, however. Moreover, EPA has assumed a life span for utilities of 55 to 65 years during which the NSR provisions would not apply. The utilities argued that the actions for which they have been cited were indeed routine maintenance and repair, and until now were treated as such by the EPA. They feel that the EPA has arbitrarily reinterpreted of its own rules.

 

Congressman David McIntosh (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs, agrees with the utilities. An aide for McIntosh pointed out that power plant equipment is "used at high temperatures and under extreme pressure with chemical compounds that are corrosive, and it is not surprising that the equipment needs maintenance or replacement." It would be bad practice it these utilities "did not replace the worn-out equipment with parts that rectify the design flaws of the original equipment," he said (BNA Daily Environment Report, March 8, 2000).

 

McIntosh has submitted a letter with questions to the EPA to determine whether its "actions against the utilities may conflict with EPA’s own understanding of the CAA and its regulations." McIntosh expressed concern "that EPA’s actions may be motivated by what might be called the ‘Kyoto agenda’ – and ideological animus against coal."

 

Economics

 

Bad News on the Alternative Energy Front

 

Is alternative energy the panacea that will save us from global warming at no cost? Not according to the Department of Energy. Tom Sarkus, a director at the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, says that the DOE has received a scanty $1.5 million return on a $1.8 billion investment since the mid-1980s on 40 experimental power projects. He estimates that "one-third of the projects have failed and others just redefined existing technologies or spawned other ideas that do not show up on the DOE’s return" (Greenwire, March 8, 2000).

 

In Europe, alternative energy has not been able to compete since the European Union deregulated electricity markets, leading to a thirty percent decrease in electricity prices. Cogeneration plants – which combine heat and power plants – are under "serious threat of closure" in the Netherlands, according to the World Wildlife Fund. In Germany, 9 cogeneration plants have closed and more are in danger of closure, notes Greenwire.

 

And in Norway, Reuters (March 1, 2000) reports that parliament has said it will back overturning the government’s greenhouse gas emissions restrictions set on gas-fired power plants, "clearing the way for development of gas power with existing technology."

 

According to Reuters, Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik’s coalition government, which opposes "building gas-based power plants with technology that does not significantly cut carbon dioxides emissions in Norway," may step down if overruled by parliament.

 

Sea Level Rise Will Not Be Costly

 

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change released another beautifully-produced report on February 29 at a press conference in the U. S. Capitol. "Sea Level Rise and Global Climate Change: A Review of Impacts to U. S. Coasts" was written by James E Neumann and Michelle Manion of Industrial Economics, Inc., Dr. Gary Yohe, professor of economics at Wesleyan University, and Dr. Robert Nicholls, reader in coastal geomorphology and management at the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University, London.

 

As usual, the content of the report bears little resemblance to the spin put on it by the Pew Center. The Pew press release was headlined, "Increases in Global Temperature Could Accelerate Historical Rate of Sea-Level Rise". The report's authors have no relevant scientific expertise to evaluate any possible effects of global warming on sea level rise. The report merely asserts that there could be a causal connection.

 

Instead, the report concentrates on the possible economic and environmental impacts of sea level rise on U.S. coastlines. The authors estimate that the cumulative economic impact of a 50 centimeter rise in sea levels between now and 2100 will be between $20 billion and $150 billion. They neglect to state that over 100 years this is an insignificant cost.

 

European Union Plans Emissions Trading

 

The European Union, which has opposed widespread international trading of emission credits, has now endorsed its own program. A European Commission proposal would allow companies to "buy and sell permits to pollute," reports the Financial Times (March 7, 2000). "The EU needs all the tools possible to meet its Kyoto commitments and … emissions trading will be an ‘integral part’ of its strategy."

 

A green paper discussing the proposal recommends that electricity and heat production, iron and steel, refining, chemicals, glass, pottery and building materials, and paper and printing industries are the most suited to the program.

 

Domestic Emissions Trading Proposals Proliferate

 

The Progressive Policy Institute held a seminar on domestic emission credit trading programs in the U.S. Capitol on Friday, March 3. PPI is the think tank affiliate of the Democratic Leadership Council.

 

Jonathan Naimon of Light Green Advisors, an investment advisory firm, and Debra Knopman, director of PPI's Center for Innovation and the Environment, discussed their proposal for a domestic program to trade emission credits. They claim that their "Third Way" approach is a "no regrets" way to reduce greenhous gas emission that will minimize costs and "reconcile objections of critics on the right and the left."

A similar but rival proposal by Resources for the Future was presented by Ray Kopp. Other discussants included Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and representatives from Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Clean Air Policy, and Enron Corporation. The PPI report may be found at www.dlcppi.org, and the RFF proposal may be found at www.rff.org.

 

Science

 

Global Temperature Update

 

Warm February temperatures in the U.S. gave the press plenty of ammunition for the global warming scare mill. It turns out that U.S. temperatures and global temperatures were going in opposite directions.

 

According to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who compiles the satellite temperature data with Dr. Roy Spencer at NASA, "While North America showed extremely warm departures from the 20 year average, the globe as a whole was cooler than normal by almost one-tenth of a degree (Celsius)."

 

"Virtually all of the tropical belt remained cooler than normal, due to the continuing cold (La Niña) phase of the ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation) cycle." Christy noted that, "February was a good example of how local regional temperature patterns give little information about the globe as a whole."

 

In a related matter, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose by a mere 0.5 percent in 1998 (BNA Daily Environment Report, March 6, 2000).

 

Climate Changes Linked to the Sun’s Magnetic Activity

 

A new study published in the February 23 issues of New Astronomy could have important implications for our understanding of changes in the Earth’s climate. The study shows that the sun may have a significant impact on the Earth’s temperatures.

 

According to the authors, solar physicists Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, climatologist Eric Posmentier of Long Island University, and physicist Pius Okeke of the University of Nigeria, changes in the sun’s magnetism are closely correlated to temperatures in the Earth’s lower troposphere as measured by satellite-borne instruments called microwave sounding units.

 

The data show, for instance, that as the Sun’s magnetic activity weakens there is a distinct drop in the atmospheric temperature. This is due to the corresponding expansion of coronal holes in the Sun’s outer atmosphere, which in turn increase the amount of hot, supercharged particles striking the Earth’s atmosphere. These particles may increase cloud cover, lowering the Earth’s temperature. Greater magnetic activity, on the other hand, warms the Earth.

 

The study concludes that, "Variable fluxes either in solar charged particles or cosmic rays modulated by the solar wind, or both, may influence the terrestrial tropospheric temperature on a timescale of months to years."

 

New York Times Gives Skeptics a Fair Shake

 

The New York Times’ environment reporter, William K. Stevens, has been suspected of bias in his reporting of global warming issues. Recently, however, his reporting has tended to be balanced, making some concessions to those who are not convinced that global warming is a serious threat. His most recent article, "Global Warming: The Contrarian View," is devoted entirely to the global warming skeptics.

 

Featured in the article are atmospheric scientists, Dr. William Gray, of Colorado State University, Dr. Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, Dr. Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Robert Balling of Arizona State University, and Dr. Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia.

Although Stevens gives fair play to the skeptic’s veiws, he also finds it difficult to avoid using terms such as "mainstream" when referring to the views of global warming believers. He cites Michael Oppenheimer an atmospheric scientist with Environmental Defense (formerly Environmental Defense Fund) as representative of the mainstream (New York Times, February 29, 2000).

 

Oppenheimer himself seems to give up a great deal of ground to the skeptics when he says in the article, "There is no compelling evidence to allow us to choose between the low end, or the high end, or the middle."

 

As for what constitutes "mainstream," Dr. Singer, who circulates widely among the scientific community, noted that, "Stevens fails to mention that there are dozens if not hundreds of contrarians out there besides the half dozen he mentions in his article" (The Week That Was, www.sepp.org, March 4, 2000). Indeed, the Cooler Heads Coalition has sponsored several congressional briefings featuring some of the other contrarians.

 

Is Global Warming Speeding Up?

 

According to a paper published in the March 1 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters, during the sixteen month period from May 1997 to September 1998, "Each month broke the previous monthly world average temperature record," reported the New York Times (February 23, 2000).

 

The research team led by Dr. Thomas R. Karl of the National Climatic Data Center calculated that there is a 1-in-20 chance of such a string of record breaking months occurring. "It raises a flag because it was such an unusual event that we need to watch very carefully in the next several years, because, indeed, it could be a signal of an increased rate of temperature increase," said Karl.

 

Dr. John Christy, of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, urges caution in linking the unusual event to global warming, however. The powerful El Niño of 1997-98 is at least partly to blame for the temperature spike, said Christy. Karl agrees, but he said, "It’s important to keep in mind that El Niño is a natural phenomena but not necessarily unrelated to the forcing of man on the climate."

 

That may be true, but an article that appeared in Nature on May 28, 1998, showed that there have been several powerful El Niño events long before the buildup of manmade greenhouse gases and when temperatures were much cooler. There appears to be no correlation between the frequency or magnitude of El Niño events and global temperatures.

 

Dr. Patrick Michaels, of the University of Virginia, also takes exception to the study’s interpretation of the data, noting that it uses "16 months of data to forecast the next 100 years" (Washington Times, March 7, 2000).

 

Announcements

  • The George C. Marshall Institute and the Cooler Heads Coalition will hold a science briefing by Dr. Sallie Baliunas on Friday, March 24, titled, "The Sun Also Warms: New Findings on the Sun-Climate Link." Dr. Baliunas is senior scientist at the Marshall Institute and an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The lecture will be held at Noon in Room 2325, Rayburn House Office Building. Lunch will be provided. Reservations are requested, but not required. To make reservations or for more information, please call (202) 296-9655 or e-mail info@marshall.org.

     

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