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Bush May Propose Kyoto-lite
While the Kyoto Protocol looks dead at the moment, it might be coming back to life. The Bush administration is currently working on an alternative to Kyoto that should be ready for the EU-U.S. summit meeting in Goteborg, Sweden this June.
Although the administration’s deliberations on the new plans have been secretive, the May 25 issue of Inside EPA said the plan would probably include technology development, market mechanisms, such as emission trading, and carbon sequestration. European leaders are skeptical, however, that the plan will come out in time for the meeting in Sweden. In fact, they are skeptical that it will be out in time for the international climate change treaty negotiation in Bonn this July.
Wilfried Schneider, deputy director of press and public affairs for the European Commission, said US participation is critical to the climate talks. “There is no point” in trying “to solve global pollution without the United States, the greatest polluting country.”
To complicate the issue, the Democrats have taken over the Senate. In the past, both Democrats and Republicans have been against Kyoto, but now many Democrats may support Kyoto in part because the president is opposed to it. Democrats, such as Senators John Kerry (D-MA), Harry Reid (D-NV) and Tom Daschle (D-SD), have reportedly been discussing offering a resolution to replace the Byrd-Hagel Resolution.
The National Academy of Sciences, at the request of the Bush Administration, has convened a committee of scientists to review global warming science. The project will cover much of the same ground as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Some of the questions to be addressed include, “Is climate change occurring? If so, how?” and “Are greenhouse gases causing climate change? What is the relative contribution of each of the major gases?” They are expected to deliver their results to the White House next month.
Members of the committee include:
· (Chairman) Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone (NAS) is the chancellor of the University of California at Irvine and the Daniel G. Aldrich Professor in the Departments of Earth System Science and Chemistry.
· Dr. Robert E. Dickinson (NAS) is a professor of dynamics and climate in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
· Dr. James E. Hansen (NAS) is head of the NASA/Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
· Dr. Eric J. Barron is director of the Earth and Mineral Sciences Environment Institute and distinguished professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University.
· Dr. Inez Y. Fung (NAS) is the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor for the Physical Sciences, director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences, and a professor in the Departments of Earth & Planetary Science and of Environmental Sciences, Policy & Management at the University of California at Berkeley.
· Dr. Richard S. Lindzen (NAS) is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusets Institute of Technology.
· Dr. John M. Wallace (NAS) is a professor of atmospheric sciences and co-director of the University of Washington Program on the Environment.
· Dr. James C. McWilliams is the Slichter Professor of Earth Sciences in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and the Institute for Geophysics at the University of California at Los Angeles.
· Dr. F. Sherwood Rowland (NAS) is the Donald Bren Research Professor of Chemistry and Earth System Sciences at the University of California at Irvine.
· Dr. Edward S. Sarachik is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and an adjunct professor in the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington.
· Mr. Thomas R. Karl is the director of the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
International reaction to President Bush’s national energy policy has, with the exception of Italy’s new leader, been hysterically negative.
Mr. Jan Pronk, Dutch Environment Minister and chairman of the sixth Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, blasted the plan, saying, “Disconnecting energy and climate policies from each other is fairly disastrous. We were expecting an all inclusive program but that didn't happen” (Agence France Presse, May 18, 2001). This is an odd expectation given President Bush’s clear rejection of carbon dioxide regulations. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan used his commencement address at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University to berate the U.S., accusing the administration of putting the world at risk. “Make no mistake all countries will suffer,” he said, calling U.S. actions a “grievous setback” (UPI, May 20, 2001).
With Italy’s election of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, President Bush now has an ally in Europe for many foreign policy decisions that other European officials have criticized. He remarked, “I am on whatever side America is on, even before I know what it is” (Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2001).
Berlusconi’s leading candidate for environment minister, Altero Matteoli, has praised Bush’s energy plan stating that “Europe dreams, while Bush sees reality and marks the trail for everyone” (BBC, May 20, 2001).
California residents are finding that solar energy is not such a hot idea. According to a May 29 article by William Booth in the Washington Post, although Los Angeles wants to become the “Solar Capital of the World,” consumers are not buying it. The city has offered to pay for half the cost to outfit a home with solar power, which costs between $10,000 and $20,000. Even with a $10,000 rebate, only about 40 homes have installed solar power. This is a tad short of the goal of 100,000 homes.
People are not converting to solar power for a number of reasons, but mostly because it does not save money. It takes an average of 20 years for a solar power system to pay for itself, but could take as long as 36 years, even with the subsidy.
Houses must have south-facing roofs and be shade free to be eligible for solar panels. Owners must also maintain the panels by cleaning off pollution, dust and leaves, a monumental task in smoggy LA. “It is not an economic proposition at this point,” said Terry Peterson, a solar expert at Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif.
Another big problem is that solar power users are still subject to rolling blackouts. People cannot live off the grid, unless they buy a large bank of batteries, which costs thousands of dollars more. Most solar homes do not produce enough electricity to be completely free of the power company. The sun supplies a typical house in Southern California with solar panels with anywhere from 20 to 80 percent of its power. Nationally, solar power now supplies 300 megawatts of electricity, which is roughly equal to one mid-sized traditional power plant.
For all its failings, solar power is still well subsidized. The LA power department has committed $75 million over the next five years to solar energy. California lawmakers have required that utilities spend 3 percent of their revenue on efficiency, conservation and renewable energy. With laws like these, it is no wonder that California is the home of the rolling blackout.
The European Union reacted with disdain and outrage when President Bush announced in March that the United States is pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol. Now, however, the EU might want to thank the US, as they will probably not be able to meet Kyoto’s targets and timetables, according to a May 23 Reuters story.
While overall the EU’s emissions are down 4 percent from 1990 levels, Europe will still need to make major cutbacks in order to have emissions down 8 percent by 2010. If the EU continues its current course, their emissions will only be 1.4 percent below the 1990 level by 2010.
With the possible exception of Germany and the United Kingdom, European countries will find it very difficult to comply with Kyoto’s mandates. France’s emissions have increased by 11 percent, which is about the same as the United States. Belgium’s emissions are up 13.5 percent and Ireland, which has experienced fabulous economic growth, has seen its emissions increase 29 percent.
The added expense of trying to fight global warming could hurt the EU’s already perilous economy. With the recent economic downturn, governments may lack the political will to force economic sacrifices on their peoples.
One of the world’s leading experts on mosquito-borne diseases, Dr. Paul Reiter, with the Center for Disease Control, Dengue Branch, has published a study in the March 2001 supplement of Environmental Health Perspectives. It has been claimed that a warming planet could lead to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases (often erroneously referred to as tropical diseases), such as malaria and yellow and dengue fever into the higher latitudes. Reiter looks at past climate history to better understand how these diseases interact with climate.
To understand how climate affects the transmission rates and geographic ranges of mosquito-borne disease, Reiter examines the historical record of these diseases during the different climatic episodes of the Ice Age, the Medieval Warm Period, which was very similar to the current climate, and the Little Ice Age.
Although Reiter discusses the existence of malaria during the Dark Ages and the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age is of most interest, since it waned only recently (circa 1850) and was “probably the coldest era of any time since the end of the last major ice age,” according to Reiter. “Yet despite this spectacular cooling, malaria persisted throughout Europe.”
Malaria was found in most of England and parts of Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was also endemic as far north as Denmark, the coastal areas of southern Norway, and much of southern Sweden and Finland. It was also found in the Baltic provinces of Russia and at similar latitudes in Siberia.
At the end of the Little Ice Age, malaria declined throughout these areas, with the exception of Russia, as global temperatures increased. This was due to several factors that are attributable to greater wealth that resulted from a warmer and more benign climate. Russia’s volatile political situation throughout the first half of the 20th century prevented the decline of malaria experienced throughout Europe. Reiter gives similar accounts of yellow and dengue fever.
He concludes that although the “recent resurgence of many of these diseases is a major cause for concern…it is facile to attribute this resurgence to climate change.”
Indeed, the histories of these three diseases “reveal that climate has rarely been the principal determinant of their prevalence or range; human activities and their impact on local ecology have generally been much more significant. It is therefore inappropriate to use climate-based models to predict future prevalence.”
According to the New York Times (May 24, 2001), “two new studies are challenging the idea that planting forests could be a cheap way to absorb emissions of carbon dioxide.” The studies appeared in the May 24 issue of Nature.
Unfortunately, the Times and other newspapers have misrepresented what the studies actually say. Rather than looking at whether trees are effective carbon sinks, the studies investigated “the degree to which extra CO2 in the air enables trees to produce extra biomass that removes an additional amount of CO2 from the atmosphere above and beyond the large and visibly-obvious amount trees are currently removing from the air,” according to the CO2 Science Magazine (www.co2science.org ). Nearly half of a tree’s dry mass is made up of carbon extracted from the air.
There are problems with the studies themselves, however. The study by Oren, et al. found that at nutrient-poor sites higher concentrations of CO2 had no detectable effect on the stimulation of biomass growth and only transient effects on nutritionally-moderate sites.
One of the problems with this study, as pointed out by CO2 Science, is that the researchers failed to measure changes in root biomass. Other studies have found similar changes in trunk biomass as the Oren, et al. study, but also found significant increases in root biomass.
The other study by Schlesinger and Lichter looked at carbon storage in soils in forest ecosystems. They found that a 200 parts per million increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations led to a statistically insignificant rise in the soil’s total carbon content of 15.5 percent in the top 30 cm of the soil.
At the beginning of the three-year study, the percent carbon values in the soil of the control sites was measured at 1.43 percent and 1.54 at the CO2-enriched sites. At the end of the experiment, the control sites percent carbon value dropped to 1.31 percent while the CO2-enriched sites increased to 1.59 percent.
“Viewed in this light,” according to CO2 Science, “the importance of atmospheric CO2 enrichment to soil carbon sequestration is immediately obvious. Under the site-specific conditions of the study in question, the soils of the forest plots growing in ambient air were actually losing carbon, i.e., they were carbon sources; while the soils of the plots exposed to the extra 200 ppm of CO2 were gaining carbon, i.e., they were carbon sinks.”
Three new studies looking at how changes in solar radiation affect the climate have recently appeared, further confirming the suggested link between solar and climate dynamics.
A study in Science (May 18, 2001) used lake-sediment cores from the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico to reconstruct the region’s climate history for the last 2,600 years. The reconstruction revealed a drought cycle of 208 years, which is similar to a 206-year variation in solar activity. The researchers conclude, “that a significant component of century-scale variability in the Yucatan droughts is explained by solar forcing,” which also “correspond with discontinuities in Maya cultural evolution.”
A Nature study (May 17, 2001) used stalagmite samples from northern Oman in Arabia as a proxy for variations in the tropical circulation and monsoon rainfall in the Indian Ocean over a period of 9.6 to 6.1 thousand years to the present. They compared this record to a record of changes in solar activity. “The excellent correlation between the two records suggests that one of the primary controls on centennial- to decadal-scale changes in tropical rainfall and monsoon intensity during this time are variations in solar radiation,” conclude the researchers.
Finally, Geophysical Research Letters (28: 2001) has published a study looking at how changes in the cosmic ray flux, caused by solar variation, affect precipitation. Using data on the cosmic ray flux recorded by ground-based neutron monitors and precipitation data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center Merged Analysis of Precipitation, the researchers found “evidence of a statistically strong relationship between cosmic ray flux, precipitation and precipitation efficiency over ocean surfaces at mid to high latitudes.”
· In a May 3 speech to the Science and Technology Policy Colloquium sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Larry Lindsey, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy said the following about the Kyoto Protocol:
“This financial math is important when considering some of the biggest environmental challenges one faces today. When confronting long-run challenges - and the environment is certainly one of these - investments in the research and development of new technologies, with actual applications decades in the future, are far more cost-effective than trying to act with existing technologies.
“It is for precisely this reason that the Administration opposes the Kyoto protocol. We believe the Kyoto protocol could damage our collective prosperity and, in so doing, actually put our long-term environmental health at risk. Fundamentally, we believe that the protocol both will fail to significantly reduce the long- term risks posed by climate change and, in the short run, will seriously impede our ability to meet our energy needs and economic growth. Further, by imposing high regulatory and economic costs, it may actually reduce our capacity both to find innovative ways out of the environmental consequences of global warming and to achieve the necessary increases in energy production.” The full speech is available at www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/rd/colloqu.htm .
· The Atmospheric Division of Australia’s Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organization (CSIRO) has released a new global warming brochure, Climate Change: Projections for Australia, filled with the usual scare stories about floods, droughts, heat waves, etc. The following appears at the end of the report (see www.john-daly.com ):
The projections are based on results from computer models that involve simplifications of real physical processes that are not fully understood. Accordingly, no responsibility will be accepted by CSIRO for the accuracy of the projections inferred from this brochure or for any person’s interpretations, deductions, conclusions or actions in reliance on this information.
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