Vol. IV, No. 7

Vol. IV, No. 7

April 05, 2000

 Politics

 

Senate Bills Get a Hearing

 

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 30 held a hearing on two Republican bills addressing global warming, S. 882 and S. 1776. Committee chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) and other members used the opportunity to attack the federal government’s global warming program, not for being unnecessary and a complete waste of taxpayer money, but for being inefficient.

 

Murkowski said that the federal program to study global warming was "unfocused, uncoordinated, and poorly managed," noted the BNA Daily Environment Report (March 31, 2000). Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) said that, "What is needed is a national commitment embodied in a government framework that provides a blueprint for responsible action based on consensus," he said. "Coordinated action creates consensus."

 

Murkowski’s bill (S. 882) would authorize $2 billion over 10 years for the Department of Energy to do climate change technology research. Craig’s bill (S. 1776) would "consolidate climate change research."

 

Canada Further Delays Kyoto Action

 

Last week’s Canadian inter-province summit on global warming policy was a bust and now it’s finger-pointing time. The meeting was convened

 

to determine how the country would divvy up its commitments under the Kyoto accord, which would place emissions limits on nearly all Canadian industries, from electricity production to manufacturing.

 

The first to walk out of the summit was Quebec Environment Minister Paul Begin who told the Montreal Gazette (March 29, 2000), "We have to decide what we will do in the future, and [the other ministers] refuse." He accused his colleagues of postponing Kyoto-related decisions for three years and characterized their actions as "irresponsible" and untenable under the wide-sweeping accord.

 

The story leaked by the meeting’s other participants, though, casts doubt on Begin’s accusations. According, again, to the Gazette, Begin was upset with plans to regulate emissions by industry rather than by province. Quebec has the lowest per-capita pollution of all the provinces, a situation that Begin wanted recognized and accounted for.

 

A leaked document indicates that provincial ministers "balked at a bold plan to reduce Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions" (Gazette, April 3, 2000), leaving the country’s compliance with Kyoto uncertain and environmentalists dismayed. "I don’t leave here any more confident that the government is going to follow through on its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases," said Robert Hornung of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank.

 

The plan, put together by government experts, would have required much change and sacrifice by every province. Led by the Ontario delegation, the ministers demanded additional economic analysis.

 

Given the division of regulatory power in Canada, compliance with Kyoto will require the efforts of not just the federal government, which ratified the accord, but also of the provincial governments, many of which fear the ramifications of compliance.

 

Economics

 

Banning Coal Would be Costly for New Zealand

 

New Zealand came under attack from environmental activists last year for failing to meet a promised reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Action Network awarded them its fossil award after the country promised to reduce its emissions by 5 percent, but increased them by 30 percent instead. A new report by the government of New Zealand says that it could reduce its emissions by 13 percent by banning coal-fired electricity generation, but the plan would increase the cost of electricity by 26 percent.

 

According to the Dominion (Wellington, March 29, 2000), "The Government wants to ratify this year an international agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, which requires New Zealand to stabilize its greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012." New Zealand is projected to increase greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent higher than 1990 levels by 2010 under a business as usual scenario.

 

Currently, New Zealand is focusing primarily on increasing energy efficiency, increasing the use of public transportation, and developing renewable energy technologies.

 

Automakers, Gore Unveil Prototype Vehicle

 

A billion dollars just won’t buy you much of a car nowadays. At least, not if you’re the federal government. That’s how much money the Clinton-Gore Administration has given to the Big 3 automakers under its Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles program (PNGV).

 

After seven years, a billion dollars from the government, and around five billion from the automakers, a major milestone has been reached: a single prototype unveiled by Gore at a special ceremony and celebration in Washington last week. This car, upon which GM, Ford, and Daimler-Chrysler may base forthcoming models, can get up to 80 miles per gallon of fuel. These diesel/electric hybrid family-sized sedans, when released, will be reasonably priced, save drivers up to $500 per year on gas, and reduce US dependence on foreign oil, claim the program’s participants.

 

Environmental activists have attacked the new car. To begin with these cars use diesel fuel, which environmentalists claim is responsible for much of the localized pollution along roads and highways. "Automakers have used PNGV to focus on harmful, diesel engine technology," said the Sierra Club’s Jon Schneider.

 

Further, the PNGV’s costs are also the subject of some concern. Depending on whom you ask, the cars will cost between five and seven thousand dollars more to manufacture than conventional automobiles. Vice President Gore has a solution for this problem as well – large government tax credits to bring prices closer conventional vehicles.

 

There’s one last reason that the PNGV epitomizes the government’s ineffective approach towards "environmentally-friendly" technologies. Honda and Toyota, also heavily subsidized, are already manufacturing and selling similar hybrid-design automobiles. In contrast, PNGV cars won’t be on the road until 2008, assuming that the government coughs up even more subsidies. The final nail in the coffin: the Honda and Toyota models cost about eight thousand dollars less than the PNGV.

 

Meanwhile, Vice President Gore is hoping to apply the same approach to light trucks and SUVs. Gore had planned to mention such an initiative in his speech at the unveiling, but the Big Three cut him short, refusing to support the proposal. According to an industry spokesman, "All the technologies we are working on do not necessarily apply to different types of vehicles. Expectations need to be managed carefully."

 

There is an additional potential problem with the PNGV vehicles. The government’s own studies, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have found that a 100 pound per car weight reduction in the passenger fleet would cause approximately 300 additional deaths annually. Given that the PNGV prototypes tout a weight loss on the order of 1,000 pounds, the associated toll, on a fleet-wide basis, could be on the order of 3,000 additional deaths annually. New safety technologies will, perhaps, reduce this toll, but those technologies would have the same life-saving effect in conventional cars as well.

 

Fuel Cell Drawbacks

 

Environmental groups have been touting fuel cells in recent years as the solution to the problem of carbon dioxide emissions from internal combustion engines. Major car companies, such as GM and Daimler-Chrysler have been persuaded to invest huge sums in the companies developing these environmentally friendly dynamos, such as Canada’s Ballard Technologies. Only now, though, is a key concern cutting through all the greens’ hype: from where do fuel cells get their energy?

 

Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen in a reaction that yields water. But where does this hydrogen come from? According to the Economist (April 1, 2000), it can be obtained "by stripping it from hydrocarbon molecules of the sort found in fossil fuels." This is accomplished in a separate unit known as a reformer. But, "the chemical processes used in reformers release the surplus carbon as carbon dioxide." Of course, this requires energy, and the most likely source of this energy would be from fossil fuels. Sounds like fuel cells aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

 

Science

 

The Moon and Climate Change

 

When it comes to external influences in the climate, the sun receives most of the attention. But according to some researchers, the moon also plays an important role. Three years ago, Gerard Bond of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, discovered a 1500 to 1800-year cycle in the world’s temperatures that corresponds with lunar oscillations. "This puts the Earth in the middle of a warming phase that began at the end of the Little Ice Age, and will carry on until the 24th century," notes the New Scientist (April 1, 2000).

 

Bond, who has traced the fluctuation back 100,000 years from sediment cores from the Atlantic Ocean, said, "It seems to be the pacemaker of rapid climate change," but he had no explanatory mechanism. Charles Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography believes that changes in the alignment of the Sun, Earth and Moon affect the Earth’s tides, which in turn affect global temperatures.

 

According to Keeling, strong tides "increase the vertical mixing of water in the oceans, drawing cold ocean water from the depths to the surface, where it cools the atmosphere above." Weak tides, on the other hand, keep the cold water at the bottom of the sea, thereby allowing the atmosphere to warm up. Indeed, tides were at their peak strength during the worst of the Little Ice Age. Keeling believes that the 1800-year cycle has been the primary driver of climate change for the last 10,000 years.

 

Unfortunately, Keeling claims that these findings mean that efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are more urgent than ever. Presumably, since the Earth is already warming due to natural causes man’s influence on the climate may be even more dangerous than previously thought. Keeling’s inference is incorrect, however.

 

This new evidence suggests that greenhouse gases have less of an effect on global temperatures than previously thought. Scientists are still sorting out the relative magnitudes of the different forcings on the climate system, including the magnitude of manmade greenhouse gases. Global temperature increases have been much smaller than predicted by the theory of human-induced global warming, suggesting a much smaller carbon dioxide forcing than that assumed in the computer climate models. Including natural forcings such as the sun, fluctuations in oceanic circulation, and now lunar oscillations, the estimated magnitude of temperature forcing from CO2 should fall even more.

 

Iceberg Break Due to Ocean Tides not Global Warming

 

In late March one of the largest icebergs ever broke free of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. "We see an iceberg of this magnitude only once every 50 to 100 years," noted Mathew Lazzara, senior research specialist at the University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC). "This is a naturally occurring phenomenon, but this is not a common thing." Only a week later a smaller, but still significant, iceberg broke free from the same place.

 

The iceberg, which is 180 to 185 miles long and 22 miles wide, broke free due to ocean tides, according to the researchers. "As the ice shelf develops and gets influences from the ocean it starts to deteriorate where the ice meets the ocean waters. The ocean tides act upon it, causing it to crack and wearing it away. The ocean currents and the tides are responsible for getting it going and putting it into motion," said Lazzara.

 

And what about global warming? "Climate change is not a factor in the break off, although people try to use the event to further their objectives," said Professor Emeritus Charles Stearns, also of SSEC. "If the ice did not flow off Antarctica, all the water in the oceans would be deposited there. Be glad that all the water in the world does not collect on Antarctica" (University Wire, March 20, 2000).

 

CBS Hot Air Watch

 

The latest victim of CBS’s morbid fascination with global warming is the science of glacial activity. On March 29, CBS’s Bob McNamara played the straight man and let his on camera guests make the case that "Global warming … is a reality" and glacial melt "is probably going to be a wake-up call." But while reporting on the melting glaciers and permafrost from Alaska, McNamara mentioned in passing that, "In Greenland it's actually getting colder." So if the warmer weather in Alaska is due to global warming, the colder weather must be due to global warming, too?

 

If anyone doubts CBS has an agenda here, Dan Rather should erase them: he introduced the Alaska glacier story by casually noting, "Against the backdrop of the latest tornadoes in Texas, US climate experts say global warming and La Nina are making for longer and stronger tornado seasons." That’s right, Dan, toss in La Nina to give yourself some wiggle room, while snidely suggesting we share collective guilt for the tragic Fort Worth tornado.

 

Ironically, the very next night CBS proved it can play it straight by airing a story on the virtues of warming for the British climate and its (ever-hopeful) wine industry. Sure, they threw in a few scare lines about disastrous floods and avalanches, but they've got to do something to get their viewers excited, right?

 

THE COOLER HEADS COALITION

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