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Vol. IV, No. 8
Vol. IV, No. 8
April 19, 2000
Assessing the National Assessment
The U.S. Global Climate Research Program is about to release its National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Change. One of the technical reviewers, David Wojick, president of ClimateChangeDebate.Org, has written his own assessment of the National Assessment.
Wojick notes that the release of the report seems to be timed for maximum political impact. Even though the USGCRP is required to make a report every four years, it has not done so since its formation in 1990. Only now, during an election year when one of the presidential candidates is known for his strong pro-global warming views, is the USGCRP making its voice heard.
This is also the year that the sixth conference of the parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet to finalize negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol. The National Assessment will put pressure on the U.S. Senate to ratify whatever comes out of those negotiations.
Wojick also argues that the two climate models used in the report "consistently give extreme forecasts," relative to the "available dozen or so global climate models." This problem extends beyond global average temperatures, says Wojick. "Regional variability, the occurrences
of extreme events, and other climate change variables are also exaggerated in these models."
The report also exaggerates future emissions scenarios. "While technically there is no such thing as a worst case emissions scenario, theirs is among the most extreme the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ever considered," says Wojick. "In fact the IPCC has subsequently abandoned forecasting emissions scenarios, because the technology of energy production over the next 100 years is completely unpredictable."
Finally, Wojick notes that the National Assessment report glosses over or ignores the potential benefits of global warming "many of which are discussed in the underlying studies." For example, "The models predict that over half of the present desert land in the Southwest will become agriculturally productive without irrigation, due to increased precipitation. This fact is not even mentioned as a potential benefit," says Wojick.
Some Utilities Trying to Revive Early Credits Legislation
Faced with hundreds of billions of dollars in added costs from the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed New Source Review regulations, the Edison Electric Institute and several major member companies have started lobbying key members of Congress to revive Kyoto early action credits legislation. Apparently, some utilities have decided that if they fail to stop New Source Review, then they should find some way to benefit financially.
A number of meetings between top EEI officials and members of Congress have been reported. Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has apparently been encouraged to revive the early action credits bill sponsored by Smith’s predecessor as chairman, the late Sen. John Chafee (R-RI).
Few details have emerged, but it is clear that EEI’s gambit is opposed by many of its member companies. These companies understand that early action credits makes implementation of the Kyoto Protocol inevitable (Energy Daily, April 4, 2000).
Greenpeace, BP-Amoco Clash Again
Despite green rhetoric and obeisance to global warming by its CEO, Sir John Browne, BP-Amoco is increasingly under attack from environmentalists and Greenpeace in particular.
At BP’s annual shareholder’s meeting on April 13, Greenpeace an a coalition of "socially responsible" investors headed by Trillium Asset Management introduced a resolution calling on BP to stop its $600 million Northstar field in the Arctic Ocean of Alaska and to redirect the money to solar energy development.
The resolution further directed BP to cease lobbying to open ANWR to oil exploration and to cease all further exploration in Alaska’s North Slope.
Thirteen percent of proxy votes cast, representing about 7 percent of the total share register, were in favor of the resolution, a stunning result for a nuisance resolution. Previous similar shareholder’s resolutions have received only 1 or 2 percent.
Greenpeace representatives were ecstatic. "I’m shocked and I’m very pleased," said Matthew Spencer of Greenpeace. "It’s unprecedented. There’s never been that level of support for an environmental resolution this side or the other side of the Atlantic …. Following this vote they (the board) are going to have to come back with a plan."
Sir John Browne responded by saying that BP is "the world’s largest solar company," and is expanding its solar business rapidly (World Wire, April 13, 2000).
Nothing NOVA Under the Sun
PBS vehicles NOVA and Frontline, whose "balance" typically extends to well-timed sops to Congressional critics, garnered advance plaudits for their evenhanded look at global warming, "What’s up with the weather?" Even the Washington Post assigned a reporter either ultimately swayed by the absence of malice or truly coming to the party with no preset agenda. His Style-page preview promised low-level teeth gnashing for Cooler Heads opting to tune in.
While NOVA/Frontline dropped enough hints to terrify any fool into commuting to a World Bank riot by bicycle, the show did not directly answer its own question: What’s up with the weather? The program included the requisite video cavalcade of severe weather juxtaposed with expressions of economic concern.
The surface temperature record sufficed as the ultimate arbiter of climatic trends without any discourse on its serious shortcomings. Temperatures and precipitation "different than normal" were presented as persuasive evidence that man is warming the planet. And dissenters were presented as "a small band" of unenlightened "skeptics," though their ranks were ably represented by Fred Singer, Richard Lindzen, Fred Palmer and others.
Alarming temperature projections extrapolated from a select past few years predicted Venus on the Potomac. Then came red heat lines emanating from a depiction of the earth’s surface, closely resembling a barbecue. Photojournalistic balance neither preceded nor followed. "Industry science" was presented as such, with no mention of the tremendous boodle enticing Warmer scientists. Apologies for the weakness of models were allowed, but not the blistering assessment they deserve.
While the show came down on the side that mankind is causing global warming, it took a surprisingly critical look at possible solutions. With nuclear power and even hydropower ruled out by environmentalists, there aren’t any practical alternatives to fossil fuels in the short run.
Also made clear was the fact that if India, China, and other developing countries are going to advance economically, then they are going to have to burn a lot more coal and oil.
Australian Minister Calls For Compliance With Kyoto
Calling the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "inevitable," Australia’s Federal Minister for the Environment, Robert Hill told an audience at a conference in Sydney that defeating Kyoto now would only lead to harsher emission reduction targets in the future. "There, of course, would be no guarantee that this new process would take into account our national circumstances in the way we were able to achieve in Kyoto.
"There is likely to be an ever-increasing demand for governments around the world, and the people they represent, to take action," said Hill. "And the science which has driven this global call for action is becoming more certain, rather than less certain" (Sydney Morning Herald, March 31, 2000).
Proposed Wisconsin Wind Farm a Poor Alternative
We recently reported on a study by Glen Schleede, president of Energy Market & Policy Analysis, Inc., about the feasibility of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Initiative. Now Mr. Schleede has released a second report on a proposed wind farm in Addison, Wisconsin.
The wind farm is a proposal of a Florida Company (FPL Group) and two Midwestern electric utilities (WEPCo and Alliant Energy/WP&L), who want to build 33 large windmills, each 320 to 350 feet tall, on the scenic Niagara Escarpment. The companies claim significant energy and environmental benefits for the proposal, but Schleede finds the benefits to be insignificant.
Indeed, the wind farm would only produce 0.14 percent of the electricity generated by Wisconsin’s utilities in 1998. Thus the wind farm would have almost no effect on the reliability of Wisconsin’s electricity supply nor would it reduce environmental impacts.
As to the costs of the project, Schleede finds that it "would have significant adverse impact on scenic and other environmental values in the areas where it would be constructed, and an adverse effect on property values and other concerns that underlie well-documented objections to wind farms, particularly in areas such as Addison Township."
The report can be acquired for a fee by contacting Mr. Schleede at EMPAInc@aol.com.
Nukes Needed to Comply With Kyoto
A new report prepared on behalf of the European Commission by the London-based consulting firm, ERM Energy, says that at least 85 nuclear plants must be built in Europe over the next 20 years if the EU is to meet its compliance targets under the Kyoto Protocol.
The report also noted that other energy sources that do not emit carbon dioxide, such as renewables, are not being developed quickly enough to significantly contribute to meeting Kyoto (The Guardian, April 10, 2000).
Advance News On New IPCC Report
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is close to releasing its next report on global warming, and contributors have already begun bickering over what the weighty text (1,000+ pages) does and doesn’t say.
Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and co-author of several sections of the new report, claims that the text "made for a sharper statement" linking warming to human activity compared to the IPCC’s 1995 report. Trenberth attributes this shift to the warm final years of the last decade and new computer models which leave him convinced that "climate change has emerged from the noise of natural variability." Finally, he points to the new report’s focus on "negative elements," which tend to mitigate or obscure global warming, such as sulfate aerosols.
On the other hand, Richard Lindzen, MIT professor and lead author of one chapter, reads the report differently. "We’re really no closer to attributing [global warming since the 19th century] to anything in particular." He laments "the assumption that [computer climate] models are good surrogates for the data."
For their part, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) refuses to comment "until we have completed our review of all the chapters" (Washington Post, April 18, 2000).
All of this raises a question: if the authors of the definitive report on the causes of global warming can’t agree on the conclusions of the report they just wrote, can we expect open-minded policy-makers to make sense of this at all? Maybe the IPCC just needs a professional ghostwriter to clear up the confusion.
Recent Icebergs Due to Natural Causes
Xie Simei, Chinese South Pole expert and member of China’s 14th South Pole Expedition Team, released his findings on the recent break-off of three giant icebergs from the South Pole to the Xinhua News Service (April 18, 2000).
According to Simei, these new icebergs are nothing unusual. The ice and snow that comprise the Antarctic cap, as thick as 2,000 meters, shift constantly, sometimes breaking off pieces that become icebergs. He notes that this activity is especially common in the summer, when drifting icebergs can be seen more easily in satellite photographs.
Although some have attributed the icebergs’ appearance to global warming, Simei is quick to discount that claim, arguing instead that gravitation, warm weather, and tidal activity are the causes of this phenomenon.
Finally, Simei maintains that gains in snowfall will make up for any Antarctic ice mass lost via icebergs.
In related news, it has been noted that although one of the icebergs was very large – 180 miles by 22 miles – it is still quite a bit smaller than previous observed icebergs from the same area. The a largest berg ever recorded was "sighted by the U.S. Navy on November 16, 1956, at 60 miles by 208 miles in size," notes John Daly. "Little America Harbor from 1948-55 was unusable due to the amount of icebergs clogging that area" (www.vision.net.au/~daly).
Ozone Depletion and Global Warming Linked - Again
On April 5th, NASA and several European space agencies announced that the hole in the ozone layer over the Arctic was bigger than ever this past winter. After conducting research over the past several months, they concluded that the Arctic ozone layer was depleted by as much as 60 percent.
As with past efforts to garner media attention for ozone research, the press conference was very selective and misleading. For example, the 60 percent depletion only occurred at a particular altitude, above and below which the ozone layer was not affected. And most importantly, the bottom line effect on ground-level ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) from ozone loss remains so small that scientists still cannot even say that there has been a long-term increase at all.
The press conference was much like any of a dozen others over the years, but with one relatively new wrinkle. Several participants blamed the putatively worsening ozone problem on global warming. Scientist Georgios Amanatidis explained that "Warm air is being trapped at lower levels by greenhouse gases and therefore the upper atmosphere is much colder, which helps trigger the chemical reaction that destroys ozone." Crossing the line from science to advocacy, Amanatidis concluded that this new research "certainly puts even more emphasis than ever on the need to reduce greenhouse gases as outlined in the Kyoto Protocol."
This is not the first time the two major global environmental issues were linked in order to sell a policy prescription as a means of killing two birds with one stone. Back in the mid-1970s, when the ozone depletion hypothesis was still new, several scientists insisted that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the class of refrigerants believed to be the main ozone depleters, were global warming gases as well.
Indeed, one 1976 study predicted that CFCs, if unregulated, would overtake carbon dioxide as the primary anthropogenic greenhouse gas by 2000. CFCs’ greenhouse potential was frequently offered up as a second good reason to ban these compounds, in addition to the main concerns about ozone loss.
But then the policy considerations changed and, strangely enough, so did the science. By 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed, committing the US and other developed nations to CFC reductions based entirely on their ozone depletion potential. By the early 1990s, this treaty was strengthened into a complete ban on CFCs. At this point, there no longer was anything more to be gained by demonizing these compounds as greenhouse gases.
Quite the contrary: the Bush Administration, which was opposed to carbon dioxide emissions reductions, hoped to get credit in a greenhouse context for the CFC reductions the US was already committed to under the Montreal Protocol. Unwilling to give the US this free ride, a number of scientists changed their minds and decided that CFCs were not global warming gases after all. Their reason was that since CFCs deplete the ozone layer and ozone depletion has an offsetting cooling effect, the net greenhouse potential is a wash. From that point on, the already-banned CFCs have stayed off the table in all global warming discussions.
The science (more accurately, the spin put on the science) may have done a flip-flop, but it has been used consistently to support additional international restrictions on industrial activities.
Now we are to believe that the as-yet-unratified Kyoto Protocol will save us from the twin threats of global warming and ozone depletion. Granted, the hypothesis that there may be a link between greenhouse gas-induced stratospheric cooling and increased ozone loss is plausible enough to warrant further research. But if past is any guide, international environmental agreements marketed as two-for-one deals may not be as good a bargain as they sound.
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
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