Vol. VI, No. 17

Vol. VI, No. 17

August 21, 2002

Politics

Greens Want Funds to Offset Summit Greenhouse Emissions

Several observers have noted the hypocrisy of tens of thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, and environmental activists traveling from all parts of the globe to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, where they will huff and puff about the evils of emitting carbon dioxide.  In response, summiteers have come up with a plan to offset the carbon emissions that will result from the conference.

Conference organizers claim that the 290,000 tons (by some estimates) of carbon dioxide that will be produced as a result of the conference can be offset through some sort of compensation fund.   Mary Metcalfe, of the Department for Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Land Affairs of South Africa’s Gauteng Province, announced, “We are measuring the carbon dioxide emissions of the summit. These emissions will be offset through investments in carbon reducing sustainable projects across South Africa. I urge all delegates to take responsibility for their own CO2 emissions. It is one small step towards a sustainable climate and will be an important contribution to innovative alternate energy projects in South Africa.”

According to Metcalfe, “Companies, individuals, and governments can sponsor this offset by making donations to a dedicated trust fund and, in so doing on this world stage, make one of the most important commitments in modern history to a sustainable future. There is a web site where delegates can calculate how much CO2 their trip will generate and offset it.  Ten dollars will offset one metric tonne of CO2 emitted by the summit” (Electricity Daily, August 20, 2002).  The summit begins in Johannesburg on August 26 and ends on September 4.

Economics

German Utility Criticizes EU Emissions Plan

One of Germany’s biggest utility groups has threatened to cancel the construction of a new power plant that would create 4,000 new jobs in Germany unless significant changes are made to the European Commission’s emissions trading plan, in particular the rules governing trade in carbon dioxide certificates.

The utility group, RWE, is about to commission a new lignite power plant that would emit 2.9 million fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide per year than the plant it would replace.  It also plans on building a second plant in 2008.  But Dietmar Kuhnt, chairman of RWE, said that the second plant would not go ahead “if its profitability is jeopardized by unreasonably stringent sanctions of carbon dioxide penalties.  This could be the case if the EU implements the plans it has for carbon dioxide certificate trading without making the adjustments required by several constituencies” (The Guardian, August 13, 2002).

Insurance Companies Blame Floods on Global Warming

Insurance companies facing massive claims due to the devastating floods in Europe are blaming global warming.  Swiss Re, a major re-insurance company that is likely to be burdened with the lion’s share of the costs, has stated unequivocally that global warming is the reason for the floods. 

“The average global temperature has risen, which has pushed up average humidity.  This in turn leads to flooding,” said Pamela Heck, a climate risk expert at the Zurich-based company.  Scientists disagree with Heck’s assessment of the situation (see below), but that hasn’t stopped the company from fanning the global warming flames.  It seems that Swiss Re is looking for somebody to sue (Xinhua News Agency, August 13, 2002).

Science

New York Times Silly Season: Killer Heat Waves!

In its August 13 issue, the New York Times has continued its tradition of peddling bogus global warming scare stories during the late summer silly season.  This time the threat isn’t anything dramatic like the North Pole melting.  “Heat waves come on subtly, raising summer temperatures just a little higher than normal and then receding,” opined the Times.  “But they kill more people in the United States than all other natural disasters combined.”

That’s a striking, but erroneous statement.  The deadliest killer is cold weather, not hot weather, as a number of studies have shown.  For example, a study conducted in Europe several years ago found that, “Mean annual heat related mortalities were 304 in North Finland, 445 in Athens, and 40 in London.  Cold related mortalities were 2457, 2533, and 3129 respectively.”  The researchers argue that, “Our data suggest that any increases in mortality due to increased temperatures would be outweighed by much larger short term declines in cold related mortalities” (British Medical Journal, September 16, 2000).

The Times couldn’t resist making the connection to global warming, but if climate models are correct, then global warming will not lead to increases in heat-related deaths, since the majority of the warming predicted would occur during the winter at night in high latitudes.  This would actually save lives by lessening the severity of the coldest weather.

The Times, whose fact checkers (if they still have any) are not up to the standard of the National Enquirer’s, also failed to mention that, even though heat waves are indeed deadly catastrophes, the deaths that result are also the most easily preventable.  Those who succumb to heat waves have two things in common: they are either elderly or in poor health and are too poor to afford air conditioning.  But if the pro-Kyoto Times gets its way, energy prices will soar and even fewer people will have access to the one thing they need to beat the heat.

Flooding Not Caused by Warming

European leaders, like the big re-insurance companies, have been quick to link the catastrophic flooding this month in central Europe to global warming.  And some have then used that to blame the United States.  According to an August 15 Reuters story, German Environment Minister “Juergen Trittin, a Green, said higher global temperatures in recent decades had led to rising sea levels and increased rainfall and were at least partially to blame for a bout of unpredictable weather seen in recent years.”  

"Mankind shares a real co-responsibility," Trittin told a news conference. "It is unacceptable for American citizens to pump twice as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as Europeans," he said earlier in an ARD television interview.

However, according to Tim Osborn, a climatologist at the University of East Anglia, global warming is an unlikely culprit in this case.  “If this had happened in winter, then it might be reasonable to talk about global warming,” he said.  “However, the models suggest that rainfall in summer is likely to remain the same, or perhaps even fall, if climate change continues” (www.bbc.co.uk, August 13, 2002).

What is really going on, says the BBC, is that the jet stream, which determines the rate of progress of weather systems, is in an unusual position and is pushing the weather systems out of their normal paths.  “Instead of moving eastwards across the north Atlantic, picking up relatively little water because of the low temperatures at those latitudes, the system crossed into Europe at a lower point, carrying far more moisture as a result.”

Geoff Jenkins from the UK’s Met Office says it is wrong to “jump to conclusions” about global warming in this case.  “We have to be careful about ascribing all these changes to global warming, because the Earth is a very variable system already.  We do get these events from year to year - they are unusual, but not unprecedented.  The weather at any particular point at any particular time is determined in our latitudes by the jet stream, and it just happens that at the moment the jet stream is in a very unusual position.”

Etc.

·       Greenpeace, the radical environmental pressure group, gained major media coverage around the world for before and after photos of an Arctic glacier that purport to show dramatic shrinking due to global warming.  The photos are of a glacier on Svalbard, a 63,000-square kilometer island on the edge of the Arctic Circle.  The 2002 photo shows that the glacier has receded a long way since a 1918 photo.

The two photos were published across the world with the statement, “The blame can be put squarely on human activity.  Our addiction to fossil fuels releases millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and this is what is causing temperatures to rise and our future to melt before our eyes.”

But according to Professor Ole Humlum, a leading glaciologist in Svalbard, “That glacier had already disappeared in the early 1920s as a result of a perfectly natural rise in temperature that had nothing to do with man-made global warming.”  The photos are misleading, he said.  “They should have asked the specialist on Svalbard first” (Daily Telegraph, August 17, 2002).

·       Britain’s Environment Minister Michael Meacher, who likes to berate the U.S. for its backward stance on global warming, made a fool of himself in the August 9 issue of the London Sunday Times.  Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

Meacher:  “I mean floods in Britain is one we are having to explain, rising sea levels, but in America quite serious things are happening, certainly stronger hurricanes on the east coast which are to do with, what is the name of that hurricane that comes every 2-3 years?”

Interviewer: “They call them different names.”

Meacher: “No, no, there is a name which is the Spanish word for a young child, what is it called?”

Interviewer: El Niño.”

Meacher: “The El Niño is becoming more frequent and more violent….”

El Niño, of course, is not a hurricane, nor is it becoming more frequent or more violent.  The last one began in 1997, five years before the current El Niño, which began this year.  That’s the average interval between El Niños.  Moreover, the current El Niño is significantly less powerful than the one in 1997.  Nor are hurricanes becoming more frequent or more intense.

 

THE COOLER HEADS COALITION

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