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Vol. VI, No. 12
Vol. VI, No. 12
June 12, 2002
Bush Administration Stumbles into Quicksand
With the release of a report on global warming, the Bush Administration has again fanned the flames of a dying issue and undermined its own agenda. The report, U.S. Climate Action Report 2002, was submitted to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, in compliance with requirements under the convention. After being posted on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, the New York Times first called attention to it with a front-page story on June 3.
Times reporter Andrew Revkin wrote that the report was a “stark shift” for the administration which “for the first time blames mostly human actions for recent global warming. It says the main culprit is the burning of fossil fuels that send heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.” The story quoted National Wildlife Foundation president Mark Van Putten’s criticism of the administration: “How can it acknowledge global warming is a disaster in the making and then refuse to help solve the problem.” The Times published two editorials and three opinion columns during the week to make sure that this point was not missed.
The point was also quickly repeated by opponents of the administration’s energy and climate policies in the Congress, by dozens of editorial pages, and by other environmental pressure groups. But conservatives were also outraged by the report. Rush Limbaugh, for example, devoted an entire hour of his radio show to criticizing the report and the administration, calling the President, “George W. Al Gore.” The Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal published critical editorials.
Key sections of the report were based on the National Assessment on the impacts of climate change, which was produced by the Clinton administration to support their Kyoto agenda. The National Assessment came under heavy criticism from a wide range of scientists (including supporters of the Kyoto Protocol). Professor Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia commented that the two climate models used for the report performed so badly that a table of random numbers made better predictions for the past century’s temperature record. This devastating critique was later confirmed by Thomas Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center and a co-chair of the assessment.
The reliance by the Bush administration on the National Assessment is curious because the administration had disavowed the assessment as part of its settlement of a lawsuit brought in October 2000 by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Representatives Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Consumer Alert, 60 Plus Association, Heartland Institute, and David Wojick. Rosina Bierbaum, acting director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote in a September 6, 2001 letter to the plaintiffs that the assessment’s two documents were “not policy positions or official statements of the U.S. government.”
The administration reacted to the controversy in a disjointed and confused manner. When asked about the report on June 4, President Bush seemed to dismiss it by saying, “I read the report put out by the bureaucracy. I do not support the Kyoto treaty. The Kyoto treaty would severely damage the United States Economy, and I don’t accept that.”
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer then undid this attempt to distance the president from the report by telling a press briefing the next day that there was nothing new in the report. Fleischer repeatedly insisted that the president's statement on June 11, 2000 that he accepted the National Academy of Science’s conclusion that human activity was largely responsible for the buildup of greenhouse gases was the same as or very similar to the report’s conclusion that human activity was causing global warming.
And in a letter to the editor of the New York Times (June 10, 2002), James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality that signed off on the report, denied that the report represents a “sharp contrast to previous statements to climate change by the administration” as characterized by the New York Times. He also cautioned that significant scientific uncertainties remain, emphasizing that ‘the policy challenge is to act in a serious and sensible way, given the limits of our knowledge,’” wrote Connaughton. “The new report reinforces each of these points, discussing the ‘considerable uncertainty’ about the science, natural variability of the climate, and the fact that ‘definitive prediction of potential outcomes is not yet feasible.’”
A joint letter signed by leaders of 34 public interest groups, including a number of members of the Cooler Heads Coalition, was sent to the White House on June 7 requesting that President Bush “withdraw Climate Action Report 2002 immediately and direct that it be re-written on the basis of sound science and without relying on discredited products of the previous administration.” It should be disclosed that the editor of this newsletter organized the joint letter and elaborated on it in an article published in the conservative weekly, Human Events (June 10, 2002).
Congressional Opponents Jump on Bush Administration Mis-step
Congressional supporters of Kyoto-style policies to regulate carbon dioxide emissions were quick to use the ammunition provided by Climate Action Report 2002. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D.-Conn.) and four Democratic Members of the House wrote to President Bush on June 6 asking him, in light of his dismissive comments, with which parts of the report he disagreed.
At a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on June 12, Senators Bob Graham (D.-Fla.), Ron Wyden (D.-Oreg.), Lincoln Chafee (R.-R. I.), and Lieberman argued that the report provided strong reasons to support Senator Jim Jeffords’s bill (S. 556) that would set limits on carbon dioxide emissions by electric utilities (as well as much lower limits on three air pollutants). Senator Graham had requested the hearing to help him decide whether to support Jeffords’s bill. Graham’s support appears necessary to vote it out of committee.
But in his opening statement, Graham indicated that Climate Action Report 2002 had already convinced him. He said that the report settled the scientific questions. Now the question was whether the Congress was going to continue to defer action on global warming (and build dikes around Florida instead) for “our grandchildren” to deal with or was going to take action now when it would be much cheaper.
Two Senate committees announced that they would hold hearings on whether the administration report strengthened the case for actions to address global warming beyond the administration’s announced policies (Greenwire, June 12, 2002). Senator Lieberman requested that Chairman Jeffords schedule an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee tentatively scheduled a hearing for June 20 at the request of Senators John McCain (R.-Az.) and John Kerry (D.-Mass.). At press time, it appeared that the White House would try to have that hearing delayed.
Kyoto Ratification Update
Both the European Union and Japan have formally ratified the Kyoto Protocol, moving the accord closer to the threshold required to bring it into force. For Kyoto to come into force 55 countries must ratify as well as a sufficient number of Annex I countries - those with targets and timetables - to account for 55 percent of the emissions of those countries in 1990. With ratification by the 15 EU nations and Japan, 74 countries have now ratified. Annex I countries that have ratified account for 35.8 percent of Annex I greenhouse gas emissions.
Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard told Parliament on June 5 that, “It is not in Australia’s interests to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. For us to ratify the protocol would cost us jobs and damage our industry. That is why the Australian government will continue to oppose ratification.”
The lynch pin in all of this is Russia. Without Russian and U.S ratification, it would be impossible to cross the 55 percent threshold even if all other Annex I countries ratified the treaty. Russia has used its strong bargaining position to wring concessions from the Europeans. Its latest demand is debt forgiveness in exchange for ratification.
Canada Proposes Raising Automobile Costs
A recently released Discussion Paper on Canada’s Contribution to Addressing Climate Change contains three proposals that would significantly increase the cost of driving for both motorists and commercial truckers.
The plan proposes road tolls on both inter-city and urban highways, which would cost three cents per kilometer for intercity travel and 15 cents per kilometer for urban travel. The total cost of the tolls would be about Canadian $1,200 per year. The Canadian Automobile Association opposes the measures. “It would create a financial hardship for Canadians who rely on urban and intercity roads and will have a significant negative impact on Canadians living in rural areas who do not have the benefit of alternative transportation options,” said CAA President David Flewelling.
The second proposal would increase parking fees between $3.00 and $5.00 in Canada’s three largest cities. Flewelling stated that, “Aside from being a restrictive measure to motorists, a parking pricing strategy might simply shift travel from one location to another by increasing travel to outlying areas. This measure would fail to achieve an overall reduction in greenhouse gases and result in a loss of business to the core of cities.”
Finally, the report proposes to levy surtaxes on higher fuel-consuming vehicles and rebates for lower fuel-consuming vehicles. CAA said that while it encourages consumers to purchase fuel efficient vehicles, it is opposed to measures that would force motorists to change what they drive (Reuters, June 7, 2002).
Japan Business Federation Reverse Stance on Greenhouse Tax
The Japanese Business Federation says that it is dropping its opposition to taxes that are meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The federation came into being with the merger of the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations, which has typically been anti-Kyoto, and the Japan Federation of Employer’s Associations, which has favored the Kyoto agenda.
The federation acknowledges that taxes could be effective in reducing emissions, but supports the tax based on the condition that there be a comprehensive study of the effects of the tax “over the medium to long term,” on the economy and how it would fit into the overall tax structure (www.eyeforenergy.com, June 12, 2002).
Sun’s Magnetic Cycles Influence Earth’s Climate
A study published in the June 10 issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters, shows a clear link between changes in solar magnetism and the Earth’s 100,000 year climate cycles. The author, Mukul Sharma of the Department of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College, used data of changes in the production rates of beryllium 10 to map variations in the sun’s magnetic activity. “Beryllium 10 in the Earth’s atmosphere depends on the galactic cosmic ray influx that, in turn, is affected by the solar magnetic activity and the geomagnetic field activity [earth’s magnetic field intensity].”
When the sun is magnetically more active, it blocks incoming cosmic rays, which are charged particles that contribute to cloud formation, causing the earth to warm. When the sun is less active, more cosmic rays enter the atmosphere, increasing cloud cover, and cooling the earth.
Sharma found that changes in solar variation match changes in earth’s climate. “Surprisingly, it looks like solar activity is varying in longer time spans than we realized,” said Sharma. “We knew about the shorter cycles of solar activity, so maybe these are just little cycles within a larger cycle. Even more surprising is the fact that the glacial and interglacial periods on earth during the last 200,000 years appear to be strongly linked to solar activity” (www.eurekalert.org, June 6, 2002).
Conflicting Evidence on Global Glacier Trends
The great majority of the world’s glaciers are retreating at rates faster than established historical rates, according to preliminary research results from a joint NASA and United States Geological Survey project to make a global assessment of glaciers. A small minority of glaciers appear to be advancing.
Jeff Kargel, a USGS scientist and head of the Global Land Ice Measurements from Space project, presented the results at the American Geophysical Union’s recent spring meeting held in Washington. “Glaciers in most areas of the world are known to be receding,” said Kargel. “But glaciers in the Himalaya are wasting at alarming and accelerating rates, as indicated by comparisons of satellite and historic data, and as shown by the widespread, rapid growth of lakes on the glacier surfaces” (www.spacedaily.com, June 3, 2002).
Much ado has been made about glacier retreat in the Himalaya and many have fingered rising temperatures as the culprit. But when Robert Balling, a climate scientist at Arizona State University, checked temperature trends in the Himalaya, he found that the temperature data from January 1876 to December 1998, available through the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, shows a statistically insignificant cooling of 0.04 degrees C for the region.
Kargel went on to warn that accelerating climate change could have significant direct impacts on the rate of glacier retreat and that this could have serious political and economic consequences.
Other research published in the March 1 issue of Progress in Physical Geography shows a different picture from the one presented by Kargel. The study, by Roger Braithwaite of Manchester University, “reviews measurements of glacier mass balance in the period 1946-95.”
Although there are data for 246 glaciers worldwide, most of the records are quite short, says Braithwaite. Moreover, the available data are heavily concentrated in Western Europe, North America and the former USSR, and in wetter conditions with too few data from dry-cold glaciers typical of many regions. Given the poor quality of much of the data, it is difficult to get a complete picture of global trends.
Nevertheless, the available data show that, “There are several regions with highly negative mass balances in agreement with a public perception of ‘the glaciers are melting,’ but there are also regions with positive balances.” Braithwaite concludes, “There is no sign of any recent global trend towards increased glacier melting, and the data mainly reflect variations within and between regions.”
Rain a Major Factor in Carbon Sinks
One of the major uncertainties that has plagued scientists is what happens to large amounts of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere. About 10 to 30 percent of all carbon dioxide emitted in the United States, for example, is being absorbed by the mainland’s ecosystem and the amount is steadily increasing. At least one study has estimated that North America fully absorbs its carbon dioxide emissions.
Some explanations of the increasing rates of carbon absorption focus on forest regeneration in formerly logged areas, increased plant growth and even higher temperatures. Geophysical Research Letters has published in its March 28 issue a study that argues that the single most important factor for accelerated carbon absorption is the documented increase in rainfall and humidity in the U.S., which increases plant growth.
The researchers focused on climate data from 1950 to 1993. Using a computer model, they found that even including all other possible factors that may influence plant growth, increases in rainfall account for two-thirds of the additional plant growth. The researchers determined that increased rainfall during the study period led to a 14 percent increase in plant growth.
As has become typical of global warming research, there is a dark cloud for every silver lining. According to an article about the study in Science (June 7, 2002), “The new findings might mean that proposals to counteract global warming by planting forests are over naïve. Planting trees is well and good,” says Steven Running at the University of Montana and one of the study’s co-authors. “But the trees’ effectiveness as carbon sinks will depend on rainfall - which could suddenly reverse its trend and decrease. Perhaps rainfall will continue increasing with global warming, but if that doesn’t happen,” Running cautions, “we could lose a lot of carbon sink strength very quickly.”
Pity Poor Tuvalu - It’s Not Sinking
Tuvalu, the tiny island nation that has become the poster child of global warming catastrophe, has had its bluff called. The government of Tuvalu claims that its people, as well as peoples from other small island nations, are in danger of losing their homes due to rising sea levels cause by manmade global warming.
In 1993, the National Tidal Facility in Adelaide, Australia installed a tide gauge in Funafuti, Tuvalu, which “has been returning high resolution, good scientific quality data since March 1993.” The measurements show that during the nine years there has been a increase in sea level of 0.9 mm per year. The NTF notes, that, “A major anomaly occurred in 1998 in response to an El Niño that lowered sea levels by 35 cm in March and April of that year. By November 1998, sea level had completely recovered and resumed its normal seasonal cycle that typically exhibits about a 10 cm rise early in the calendar year followed by about a 10 cm sea level drop relative to average sea level for the latter part of the year.”
A historical assessment of sea level change in Australia and the Pacific from 1978 to 1999, “shows a very similar sea level behavior at Funafuti,” showing a sea level rise of 0.07 mm per year. “The historical record shows no visual evidence of any acceleration in sea level trends” (www.ntf.flinders.edu.au).
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
Alexis de Tocqueville Institution
Americans for Tax Reform
American Legislative Exchange Council
American Policy Center
Association of Concerned Taxpayers
Center for Security Policy
Citizens for a Sound Economy
Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Defenders of Property Rights
Frontiers of Freedom
George C. Marshall Institute
National Center for Policy Analysis
National Center for Public Policy Research
Pacific Research Institute
60 Plus Association
Small Business Survival Committee