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Green Activists Criticize Gores Environmental Record
If Al Gore wants to become the next president of the United States he must have the support of the Greens. A recent letter signed by the heads of the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Izaak Walton League, National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. Public Interest Research Group and World Wildlife Fund indicates that support may not be forthcoming.
These groups accused Gore and President Clinton of failing to keep their promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which they call "global warming pollution." The letter expressed "deep disappointment with the lack of an administration proposal to require significant reductions in global warming pollution. We are particularly frustrated," continues the letter, "that the administration has not sought meaningful emission reductions from either power plants or passenger vehicles."
The administration calls these accusations unfair. Todd Stern, White House climate change coordinator, said, "Despite strong resistance in Congress, this administration is moving aggressively on both the domestic and international fronts to meet the challenge of global warming. We believe our common-sense strategy will achieve the necessary emissions reductions while maintaining strong economic growth." The Greens are not persuaded, however, accusing Gore of repeatedly breaking promises, failing to even take steps to meet the goals of the 1992 Rio Climate Treaty which would stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels (Washington Post, April 14, 1999).
EU Should Wage "Public Awareness Campaign"
The European Union has generally been seen as eager to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But a report from the European Consultative Forum on the Environment and Sustainable Development, an advisory body to the EU, claims that there is little public support for such measures. "Very little has been done to inform and convince," said the Forum. "Unless this is remedied by a large-scale public awareness campaign, planned with intelligence and sensitivity, efforts to combat climate change will not succeed."
The Forum also argued that the poorer countries in the EU must be "convinced that the climate change problem exists, and that it is not a fabrication of unknown power centers for equally unknown purposes." Consumers must be targeted since one-third of total emissions that they claim contribute to global warming comes from end consumption and another third from transport. Without public support the EU will fail to reach its greenhouse gas reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol, says the report.
Greens Target Stanford Endowment to Fight Global Warming
The activist group Ozone Action has launched a campaign to shame Stanford University into using its investment clout -- a $4.7 billion endowment -- to pressure large corporations to alter their environmental practices. According to SF Weekly (April 7, 1999), Ozone Action is recruiting Stanford students and faculty to its cause of forcing Stanford to use "their shareholder clout by prodding corporations -- particularly oil companies -- into improving their environmental performance."
Ozone Action particularly wants Stanford to target companies who belong to the Global Climate Coalition, an industry lobbying group that opposes the Kyoto Protocol. It claims that GCC is waging a multimillion-dollar "misinformation campaign" to discredit the scientific consensus about global warming. If Stanford cannot convince these corporations to change their ways, then, says Ozone Action, they should divest stock in these companies.
CCTI Will do little to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The Clinton Administration has requested $4 billion in programs to prevent global warming in its fiscal year 2000 budget request. At the request of the House Committee on Science, the Energy Information Administration analyzed the potential impacts of the Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI). The CCTI is a $1.8 billion program that includes "tax incentives, research, development, deployment, and other spending..."
The EIA report found that "in 2010, the tax credits for buildings, industry, and transportation would reduce primary energy consumption by 31.6 trillion Btu, or 0.03 percent, relative to baseline consumption of nearly 1 quadrillion Btu." Tax credits for biomass and wind power generation would reduce consumption by only 0.06 percent and carbon emissions would be reduced by about 3.1 million metric tons, or 0.17 percent.
The EIA report concedes that tax credits "reduce the initial cost of purchasing the applicable equipment." But, "consumers are typically reluctant to invest in more expensive technologies with long payback periods to recover the incremental costs. In addition, energy efficiency is only one of many attributes that consumers consider when purchasing new energy equipment or buildings," says the report.
The Department of Energy’s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, Dan Reicher, wasted no time in attacking the report. The report, Reicher said in hearings before the House Science Committee, is "of very limited usefulness in any objective evaluation of the initiative." The report titled, Analysis of the Climate Change Technology Initiative can be found at http://www.eia.doe.gov/ .
European Trade Unions believe that Kyoto Will Create Jobs
The Clinton Administration has claimed that government programs to increase energy efficiency and to develop renewable energy will create jobs. For the most part these arguments have fallen on deaf ears as labor unions continue to oppose the Kyoto Protocol. The story is different in Europe, however. The European Trade Union Confederation is convinced that he Kyoto Protocol will create all kinds of new jobs and rescue the European Union from long-standing high unemployment levels.
The ETUC cites several studies, mostly by government agencies with "environment" or "climate change" in their titles, as support for this contention. The Austrian Council on Climate Change estimates that 12,200 net jobs will be created in Austria through encouraging energy efficiency, renewable energy and other carbon reducing activities. The Centre for Energy Conservation and Environmental Technology in the Netherlands claims that it will see 71,100 net jobs created. These studies caused the "ETUC to lend general support to the EU strategy at the Kyoto and Buenos Aires Conferences," according to the European Report (April 2, 1999).
Robert Bradley of the Institute of Energy Research in Houston writes in a report on renewable energy that "subsidizing renewable energy for its own sake is akin to ‘creating’ jobs by digging holes and filling them back up." This type of job creation is a blatant waste of resources and cannot lead to an improved economy. The report can be found at www.cato.org .
Russia’s Economic Collapse Reduces Greenhouse Emissions
Proponents of the Kyoto Protocol have argued that meeting emission reduction targets will be nearly painless. Others argue that it could lead to serious economic harm. One clue to who may be correct can be found in Russia. The Moscow Times (April 6, 1999) reports that "in a bitter irony, some Russians who have lived for years with bad air, dirty water or a dying river have at least seen an improvement, but only through the loss of factories providing desperately-needed work." Most notably Russia has seen a steep cut in its emissions of greenhouse gases.
At Lake Seliger, a tanning factory was closed. It is one of the only sources of employment in the area and its closing "was a major blow to the impoverished area and its people." But, says the article, at least the people can swim and fish in cleaner water.
Some environmentalists are also aware, that "there has not been a sharp improvement in the environmental situation due to the fact that factories are standing idle." Christoph Thies, international coordinator with the forest campaign of Greenpeace, admits that such poverty can lead to environmental problems, but he still insists that "being too rich causes major global environmental problems because of overconsumption." Russia’s experience shows that reducing greenhouse gas emissions and economic hardship go hand in hand.
A Possible Mechanism for the Solar/Warming Link
Many scientists believe that the solar cycle plays an important role in climate change. Their beliefs are bolstered by data that show a strong correlation between solar activity and changes in the earth’s climate. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to discover the mechanism that is responsible for this correlation. Several mechanisms have been suggested. "Cosmic ray influence on clouds has been proposed; others have suggested that the variability reflects other influences such as volcanoes or internal climate oscillations. Another proposed mechanism is amplification of solar variability via stratospheric or thermospheric changes," according to a new study in Science (April 9, 1999).
The new study, however, suggests that changes in ozone concentrations that are affected by changes in solar cycle irradiance may be the mechanism scientists are looking for. The researchers used a global circulation model in which they added interactive stratospheric chemistry. They found that increases in solar radiation cause greater ozone production that enhances the greenhouse effect, further heating the stratosphere. Atmospheric circulation moves the heat into the lower layer known as the troposphere, warming the earth’s climate.
El Niño Reduces Global Warming
According to a study in Nature (April 8, 1999), the Pacific Ocean releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during El Niño events that may help slow down global warming. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that during the period from 1991 to 1994, when El Niño was present, 30 to 80 percent less carbon dioxide escaped the Pacific Ocean than normal.
What do Scientists Think About Global Warming?
There has been lots of talk about scientific consensus surrounding the issue of global warming, and debate about whether a consensus exists or not. There have been several petitions and surveys conducted to try to understand the state of scientific opinion about global warming. A new study published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (March 1999) surveyed 412 scientists from Germany, Canada and the United States who are connected in some way to climate science.
The scientists were asked to rate how well ocean circulation computer models and atmospheric models handled various "physical elements of the climate system." All of the scientists agreed that there are limitations to computer modeling, and they were very skeptical about the ability of atmospheric models to deal with clouds and precipitation. Overall, the scientists leaned towards optimism about the ability of models to adequately deal with the different processes in the climate system.
The scientists were also asked about the predictive ability of climate models for 1, 10 and 100-year forecasts. According to the study, "the mean of the entire sample...for the ability to make reasonable predictions of interannual variability tends to indicate that scientists feel that reasonable prediction is not yet a possibility." It is interesting that the German scientists were more confident in the ability of climate models to handle climatic phenomena as well as predict future climate change.
Regardless of the general pessimism of the ability of model to forecast future climate change "there is some agreement that global warming is a process already underway but that there is a greater tendency to agree that it is a prospect for the future." The authors, Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch of the Institute of Hydrophysics, GKSS Research Center, Geesthacht, Germany, conclude the "this incompatibility between the state of knowledge and the calls for action suggests that, to some degree at least, scientific advice is a product of both scientific knowledge and normative judgement, suggesting a socioscientific construction of the climate change issue."