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President George W. Bush made a major policy statement on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol on June 11, immediately before flying off to a week of meetings with European leaders. Although the speech may have been intended to assure European leaders that he is committed to taking action on global warming, his strong, reiterated opposition to the Kyoto Protocol drew immediate criticism throughout Europe before Air Force one landed in Madrid.
Bush said that the Kyoto Protocol was “fatally flawed in fundamental ways” and “unrealistic.” He noted, “Many countries cannot meet their Kyoto targets. The targets themselves are arbitrary and not based upon science.”
He stated clearly that he accepted that the global mean temperature had “risen about 0.6 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years.” But he went on to emphasize that major scientific uncertainties remain. “We do not know how much effect natural variations in climate may have had on warming,” and hence the influence of manmade emissions; “how much our climate could or will change in the future” or “how fast change will occur or even how some of our actions could impact it;” and “no one can say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming and therefore what level must be avoided.”
Opposing Kyoto does not mean that the U.S. will drop out of the ongoing negotiations process. The administration will attend COP-6.5 in Bonn, Germany in July. President Bush proposed several actions, including two research programs, the Climate Change Research Initiative, to further study global warming, and the Climate Change Technology Initiative, to subsidize the development of technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These programs resemble ongoing Clinton Administration programs.
He also stated that these are only the first steps that the administration will propose in the next few months. Inside EPA reported on June 8 that options under active consideration include several cap-and-trade systems for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and a crash program to develop technology to sequester carbon dioxide from hydrocarbon combustion.
COP-6 President Presents Plan
Mr. Jan Pronk, president of the UNFCCC’s sixth conference of the parties and Dutch environment minister, released a “consolidated negotiating text” on June 11. It is meant to serve as the starting point for the resumption of COP-6 in Bonn, Germany, July 16-28. The 180 or so pages may be downloaded at www.unfccc.de . Pronk has also scheduled preliminary informal discussion June 25-28 in the Hague.
Pronk’s proposed negotiating text makes significant concessions to the position of Japan. It might therefore be concluded that Pronk’s strategy is to isolate the United States by drawing Japan into full support of the Kyoto Protocol.
Amidst major criticism from both domestic environmental groups and European officials, President Bush is receiving aid and comfort from an unexpected source – former Clinton Administration officials. Bush has stated that the U.S. will not comply with the Kyoto Protocol because it is “fatally flawed” and would impose undue economic hardships on the country.
Now, according to the June 12 issue of USA Today, “Economists from the Clinton White House now concede that complying with Kyoto’s mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases would be difficult – and more expensive to American consumers than they thought when they were in charge.” This change in tune from the Clintonites is part of the reason that Bush decided to reject Kyoto.
The Clinton Administration was overly optimistic about the costs of Kyoto because its economic analysis was based on unrealistic assumptions. It assumed, for instance, that China and India would accept emissions reduction limits and that they would be able to fully participate in an unlimited international emissions trading system. China has made it clear, however, that it will not accept commitments, and the European Union has remained opposed to unlimited emissions trading.
The Clinton Administration also assumed that industry and consumers would rapidly adopt energy efficient technologies without subsidies. Without China’s participation, for instance, costs would double under the Clinton analysis. According to Joseph Aldy, who assisted in developing the Clinton estimates, “We always thought the (emissions) targets were very ambitious. But the thing that made us really uneasy about our analysis…was that if our assumptions didn’t come true, you could come out with costs that were much, much higher.”
While in office, however, the Clinton Administration never explicitly stated its assumptions, nor did it express any misgivings during several congressional hearings on the matter.
Kyoto = Millions of Lost Lives
Dr. Bjorn Lomborg is causing apoplectic fits across Europe with his recent book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. His views on the Kyoto Protocol are particularly heretical.
The Times of London (June 12, 2001) began its story on Lomborg’s views as follows: “The cost of limiting carbon dioxide emissions far outweighs the damage that global warming will eventually do to the world and merely postpones the problem for six years, Bjorn Lomborg, an environmental statistician, has calculated. As a result, he argues, trillions of pounds that might otherwise be spent on fighting poverty and malnutrition and improving infrastructure in developing countries will be wasted.”
Lomborg is an associate professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus in Denmark. He is also an environmentalist and a former member of Greenpeace. His book was originally published in Danish, but has been translated into English and will be published by Cambridge University Press in August.
The Times story continues that Lomborg bases his conclusions on a “four-year audit of a massive set of environmental indicators.” If the Kyoto Protocol is implemented, “millions of lives will be lost that could otherwise be saved and the eventual impact of climate change on the Third World will be much worse as countries will be less equipped to adapt.”
EU Claims Kyoto Will Be Painless
The European Union can easily meet its Kyoto targets, according to a report by the European Climate Change Programme. The report says that, “There are sufficient potential cost-effective measures to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by twice the target set for the 15 nation EU under Kyoto” (Financial Times, June 12, 2001).
Reuters (June 12, 2001) reported that according to a European Commission official, the total cost to the EU to meet its Kyoto target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 8 percent below 1990 levels by 2012 would be 3.7 billion euros per year or about .06 percent of GDP.
It is unclear how the ECCP defines “cost effective.” Given that Kyoto would have almost no effect on predicted global temperatures and hence virtually no benefits, any cost would seem to outweigh the potential benefits.
“These results increase our credibility,” said Margot Wallstrom, the EU environment commissioner. “I hope they will encourage the European Council to restate its commitment to meeting the Kyoto target even if the US withdraws from the process.”
Just before this good news from the EU was released, UPI (NewsMax.com, June 6, 2001) reported that European Union leaders had failed to agree on a EU-wide energy tax. The proposed tax is the main tool to reduce energy consumption and thereby meet the Kyoto targets.
Proponents of government policies to fight global warming often cite concerns of the reinsurance industry – companies that insure the insurers – as evidence that catastrophic global warming is real. Indeed, some major reinsurance companies have expressed concern over global warming, but others have pointed out that the upward trend in insurance claims due to natural disasters is almost entirely due to greater economic development in disaster-prone regions, not to global warming.
An article in the May 31 issue of the Palm Beach Post reports that Florida’s property insurers aren’t really concerned about global warming. “At State Farm we do not see global warming as an issue that drives anything,” said Tom Hagerty, the company’s Florida spokesman. “We have not changed any of our plans or policies on the basis of global warming information or on the various hurricane activity forecasts.” Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of American said, “The industry doesn’t treat it as a serious issue. It’s not factored into rating decisions.”
NAS Report Confuses Public
The National Academy of Sciences released a rush report reviewing global warming science on June 7. Done at the request of the Bush Administration by a panel of 11 prominent scientists (of whom six are members of the NAS), it was immediately and uniformly hailed by the major print and broadcast outlets as confirming global warming alarmism and therefore a slap in the face to the Bush Administration.
What the report actually says, however, is difficult to determine. The opening summary begins with a fairly strong statement that, “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes are also a reflection of natural variability.”
The report also states, “Despite the uncertainties, there is general agreement that the observed warming is real and particularly strong within the past 20 years. Whether it is consistent with the change that would be expected in response to human activities is dependent upon what assumptions one makes about the time history of atmospheric concentrations of the various forcing agents, particularly aerosols” (emphasis added).
It goes on: “The predicted warming of 3 degrees C (5.4 degrees F) by the end of the 21st century is consistent with the assumptions about how clouds and atmospheric relative humidity will react to global warming” (emphasis added).
On the other hand, once you get beyond the summary, the report itself is full of qualifications and expressions of uncertainty. For example, “Because there is considerable uncertainty in current understanding of how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warming should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments upward or downward.”
It also notes, “Because of the large and still uncertain level of natural variability inherent in the climate record and the uncertainties in the time history of the various forcing agents (and particularly aerosols), a causal linkage between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.” A comprehensive listing of the caveats has been produced by Dr. Ken Green of the Reason Public Policy Institute and can be found at www.rppi.org .
The press downplayed the report’s caveats. CNN’s Michelle Mitchell stated that the report constituted “a unanimous decision that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man. There is no wiggle room.”
In a June 11 Wall Street Journal op-ed, one of the scientists who helped prepare the report objected to the way it was treated in the press. Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at MIT, said that the report says nothing of the sort. There are three things that scientists can agree upon, said Lindzen: 1) global mean temperatures have risen 0.5 degrees C over the last century; 2) atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased over the last two centuries; and 3) carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.
“But,” he said, “we are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future. That is to say, contrary to media impressions, agreement with the three basic statements tells us almost nothing relevant to policy discussions.”
· Scientists in Australia have developed a vaccine for sheep and cattle that would reduce the amount of methane – a greenhouse gas – they emit by about twenty percent. The drug, which inhibits methane-producing organisms in the animal’s digestive tract, is now ready to undergo testing (BBC News, June 7, 2001).
· Global warming and even the next ice age are minor problems compared to higher solar radiation that may make the Earth too hot to support life in about a billions years. Luckily, NASA is working on how to prevent the catastrophe.
London’s Observer reported on June 10 that Dr. Greg Laughlin of NASA’s Ames Research Center and two colleagues have proposed using the same methods being discussed to prevent asteroids or comets from hitting the Earth to instead bring an asteroid or comet very close to Earth. If done just right, the procedure would transfer some gravitational energy to Earth and move it to an orbit farther away from the Sun.
Dr. Laughlin is quoted as saying, “It is basic rocket science,” but admits that the slightest miscalculation could result in a life-sterilizing collision. NASA, however, has several hundred million years to work on getting it right.
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
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