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Bush Offers Lukewarm Plan
President George W. Bush outlined his Global Climate Change and Clear Skies Initiatives in a speech on February 14 at the NOAA Science Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. The bulk of the climate plan is warmed-over policies from the Clinton Administration, but with a few significant new twists and considerably more federal funding, while the Clear Skies plan would require cuts in three major air pollutants of approximately 70% by 2018.
Bush set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas intensity by 18% by 2012. This translates into producing one million dollars of economic output per 151 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions (or equivalent) compared to 183 metric tons today.
This voluntary goal appears to be achievable on current trends. Reducing carbon intensity by 18% over the next decade would be one-fifth more than the 15% reduction in the 1990s.
Bush called for a major review of progress in 2012, that is, several years after he leaves office, and said that at that time mandatory emissions reductions may be appropriate. The promise, or implied threat, of future mandatory limits makes workable a major feature of the president’s plan-awarding tradeable credits for emissions reductions made voluntarily now.
According to the White House’s Fact Sheet, “The President will direct the Secretary of Energy to recommend reforms to: (1) ensure that businesses that register voluntary reductions will not be penalized under a future climate policy; and (2) give credit to companies that can show real emissions reductions.”
It appears that the motive for creating and buying these “early action credits” is the prospect that they will have value once the scheme is made mandatory. As part of this effort, the president also directed Secretary Abraham to improve the Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Sequestration Registry in unspecified ways.
The Global Climate Change Initiative calls for higher federal funding for the whole range of climate programs, domestic and international. Most notable, perhaps, is $4.6 billion over five years for tax incentives for renewable energy, cogeneration, and purchasing hybrid and fuel cell vehicles. Possible higher CAFE standards are also mentioned.
Much of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions may come from the Clear Skies Initiative. The large cuts proposed for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury may force utilities to close some of their coal-fired power plants. A cap-and-trade program is proposed for the three pollutants.
Reaction is Two Thumbs Down
Initial reaction to President Bush’s new global warming package was almost uniformly negative from environmental groups, conservative groups, major newspapers and networks, and world leaders. Several industry trade associations and the Australian and Japanese governments reacted at least mildly favorably.
From abroad, German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin called the plan “disappointing,” according to Reuters (February 18, 2002). “The goal has to remain to re-integrate the world’s biggest polluter into this system. The door should not be closed to an eventual U.S. return to the Kyoto framework,” Trittin said. British Environment Minister Michael Meacher judged that the European Union would not be “satisfied” by Bush’s plan (Reuters, February 18).
At a United Nations environmental conference in Cartagena, Colombia, officials from many nations demanded more action from the U.S. Among these was Canadian Environment Minister David Anderson (Reuters, February 18), who noted the serious effects that global warming was already having on Canada’s northern regions.
In Japan, the official reaction from the new Environment Minister, Hiroshi Oki, was initially critical, but that changed as soon as President Bush landed in Tokyo. At a joint press conference with Bush, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that, “The United States has come up with a very positive proposal (Reuters, February 19).
Australian Prime Minister John Howard clearly views Bush’s program as offering a way out of Kyoto for Australia. He said, “Our position…is much closer to that of the United States than the attitude of the European countries. I do think that what the president indicates in his speech will lead to an alternative to simply saying ‘no’ to the Kyoto Protocol, and I welcome that” (Reuters, February 18).
At home, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said, “Unfortunately, the Bush Administration is using Valentine’s Day to give a sweetheart deal to the corporate polluters that funded his campaign.” Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Change Campaign, accused the President of delivering “a Valentine’s day present for the coal and oil industry.”
Conservative groups were a little more original in their comments, but no less critical. For example, Consumer Alert wrote that, “The President's plan would undermine the very economic growth which, as he has pointed out, facilitates the advances that lead to cleaner air and more efficient technologies. Starving the US economy of energy, whether it's called Kyoto or something else, will only harm consumers.”
Among many editorials criticizing the plan, the Washington Post wrote that, “There was more air than substance in the global warming policy President Bush outlined last week, a disappointing program that aims too low, asks too little and waits too long to assess the need for tougher action.”
On the other side of the political spectrum, James Glassman in the Wall Street Journal (February 14, 2002), wrote that Bush’s “new position on global warming is clearly a disingenuous attempt to appear concerned about the environment - for the sake of empty plaudits from domestic and foreign audiences. It hurts his credibility, and, frankly it won’t work because the opposition won’t buy it.”
On February 14, ABC News provided plenty of air time to environmental critics of the plan, quoting extensively an e-mail from former Vice President Al Gore.
The Houston Chronicle (February 15, 2002) pulled out the heavy guns, quoting several scientists who claim that Bush’s plan falls well short of what is needed to stop global warming. “I think this thing (global warming) is very serious and government must get serious about doing something about it,” said Gerald North, head of the department of meteorology at Texas A&M. “We need to be more serious than a voluntary program.”
Canada Still Hesitant to Ratify Kyoto
The Canadian government insists that it still wishes to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, but must consult with the provinces first (Reuters, February 20, 2002).
“That’s what we have to do before we make a decision to ratify,” said Environment Minister David Anderson. Nine of the ten provincial premiers signed a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, expressing reservations about the wisdom of ratifying the treaty.
“We are concerned that ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and Canada’s response to climate change could impact competitiveness and, in turn, employment, economic growth and investment opportunities across Canada,” said the letter.
Although the provinces do not have veto power over whether to ratify Kyoto, it would present a dilemma if they were opposed to it. “That’s a decision we’ll have to come to,” said Natural Resources Minister, Herb Dhaliwal.
Anderson made it clear, however, that Canada would not consider complying with the treaty without ratifying it.
Britain Debates Energy Policy
A new British government-commissioned report by the Performance and Innovation Unit says that the country should increase the amount of energy supplied by renewable sources by 2020. It also suggested that the government keep its nuclear power options open (Reuters, February 17, 2002).
British industries are not convinced, however. According to them, increased use of renewable energy sources would be harmful to England’s economic prospects. “If the cost base to industry increases as a result of a shift towards green power that will damage Britain’s global competitiveness,” said Ruth Lea, head of the policy unit at the Institute of Directors (Reuters, February 18, 2002).
The beneficiaries of a renewable energy mandate are already saying that it’s not enough. Nick Goodall of the British Wind Energy Association said, “This (20 percent by 2020) target is far too modest,” claiming that, “companies are already gearing up to generate this much from wind power alone.” If that’s the case, then why the need for government mandates?
According to a U.S.-owned utility, TXU Europe, Great Britain’s current renewable energy mandate of providing 10 percent of the nation’s energy through renewable sources, would cost about 20 million pounds or $28.5 million in the first year alone (Reuters, February 18, 2002).
Climate Models Are Wrong. Are We Repeating Ourselves?
A new study appearing in Physica A (302: 2001), tests the accuracy of climate models and finds them lacking. The problem, say the authors, is that the models do not adequately take into account persistence in the climate system.
“The persistence of short term weather states is a well-known phenomenon: there is a strong tendency for subsequent days to remain similar, a warm day is more likely to be followed by a warm day than a cold day and vice versa,” say the authors. They also note that persistence can occur at time scales of several weeks due to stable high pressure systems that remain stable for long periods of time.
The authors also note that, “There have been also indications that weather persistence exists over many months or seasons, between successive years, and even over several decades. Such persistence is usually associated with slowly varying external (boundary) forcing such as sea surface temperatures and anomaly patterns.”
This issue of persistence is another reason why “separating the anthropogenic forcing from the natural variability of the atmosphere may prove to be a major challenge since the anthropogenic signal may project onto and therefore be hidden in the modes of natural climate variability.”
The authors tested several models. “We are interested,” they write, “in the way the models can reproduce the actual data regarding (a) trends and (b) long-range correlations. Of course, we cannot expect the models to reproduce local trends like urban warming or short-term correlation structures. But … long-range correlations show … characteristic universal features that are actually independent of the local environment around a station. So we can expect that successful models with good prognostic features will be able to reproduce them.”
“It turns out,” according to the study, “that the models considered display wide performance differences and actually fail to reproduce the universal power law behavior of persistence. It seems that the models tend to underestimate persistence while overestimating trends, and this fact may imply that the models exaggerate the expected global warming of the atmosphere.”
Al Kamen in his “In the Loop” column in the February 15 Washington Post: “The Bush White House excels at keeping secrets from the press, opponents, and, sometimes, even friends, judging from a somewhat testy exchange Wednesday evening when White House Council on Environmental Quality aides and others briefed a dozen or so senior GOP congressional staff members on the administration’s new environmental package.
“The Hill folks protested that they had not been consulted about the package beforehand. When the White House disagreed, one Hill aide apparently asked for a show of hands from those who’d been consulted. None went up, we’re told. Then talking points were distributed. Bush’s goal of ‘reducing our greenhouse gas intensity by _____ will reduce overall U.S. emission by _____ million metric tons by 2012,’ one point said, calling it ‘an extremely ambitious, yet realistic goal.’
“Numbers would help, the Hill team said. After some reluctance, the numbers were supplied. It’s like the Wheel of Fortune: you can buy a vowel, you can buy a number….”
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
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Defenders of Property Rights
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