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New Early Action Bill Introduced
The latest attempt to smooth the way for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is a plan to allow businesses to earn emissions credits if they voluntarily reduce their CO2 emissions. On March 4, Senator John Chafee (R-R.I.) along with 11 other cosponsors introduced a bill that would give businesses credits for use "in any future domestic program for controlling greenhouse gases," according to the BNA Daily Environment Report (March 5, 1999).
The bill would give several federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Energy, the authority to negotiate emission reduction agreements with companies. Senator Connie Mack (R-Fl.), a cosponsor of the bill, argued that "under this legislation, businesses are encouraged -- not by government fiat or handout -- to do the right thing in protecting the environment and get credit for their own initiative." He also said, "the consequences of regulations targeted at changing our patterns of energy use could be dramatic and economically unsound."
A joint statement signed by both environmental groups and conservative/free-market groups blasted the bill as "an accounting nightmare that could be exploited by special interests for economic advantage." The groups included the American Policy Center, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Friends of the Earth, National Center for Public Policy Research, National Environment Trust, National Tax Limitation Committee, Ozone Action, Small Business Survival Committee, This Nation, Seniors Coalition, and Sierra Club. The statement also said, "as written, this plan could not possibly benefit either the economy or the environment."
UK: Carbon Taxes are Unavoidable
The Clinton Administration has downplayed the need for costly carbon taxes, claiming that the U.S. can meet its Kyoto target through emission trading and energy efficiency measures. Great Britain doesn’t see things the same way. According to an article in the March 10 issue of the Independent (London), "the Government considers the [carbon] tax unavoidable if emissions of carbon dioxide from power stations are to be curbed in line with the Kyoto agreement on climate change of December 1997, and the even tougher Labour manifesto pledge to cut CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2010."
In line with this sentiment the Government has recommended an energy tax on industry as well as measures to cut automobile CO2 emissions. Even though proponents claim the tax will be revenue neutral, many in industry are wary. "I don’t think energy-intensive industries can stand being taxed any more than they are without being driven out of business," said Lisa Waters, economic advisor to the Energy-Intensive Users’ Group. The proposal would lower industry’s CO2 emissions by 1.5 million tons. Vehicle emissions would also be cut by the same amount.
EU Ministers Fail to Agree on Kyoto Commitments
On March 11 the EU Environment Ministers met to define their position regarding commitments made in Kyoto. On the agenda was a ceiling on the use of flexible mechanisms such as emission trading, clean development mechanism, and joint implementation. They agreed in principle on restricting the amount of emissions reductions to be achieved through flexible mechanisms, but did not agree on what the specific ceiling should be. The Netherlands, Finland and Sweden argued that the German proposal to "calculate ceilings based on real national annual emissions," was too restrictive. The Dutch argued in favor of allowing at least 50 percent of greenhouse gas reductions to take place using flexible mechanisms if national measures are adopted (European Report, March 13, 1999).
The War on Cars
The automobile has become public enemy number one in some quarters, even though its benefits are tremendous. Al Gore even called for eliminating the internal combustion engine in his book Earth in the Balance. Currently the state legislature of Massachusetts is considering a bill that would penalize individuals who purchase "gas-guzzling" cars, and reward those who purchase fuel-efficient cars. According to the Associated Press (March 9, 1999), the bill would raise gasoline taxes for large vehicles from 5 percent to 10 percent while lowering the tax for smaller cars to as low as zero percent.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator David Magnani (D-Framingham) said that the tax would be like a "user fee for the environment." Also, the bill "suggests when you pollute, it has a public impact," according to Magnani. Rob Sargent, legislative director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, applauded the bill, saying it would help prevent global warming. Others are not so happy, however. Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation and Government, argued that this would penalize people who want larger cars for safety reasons. "This is not David Magnini’s business," she said. "This is strictly elitist know-it-all politicians trying to force their particular choice on other people who they feel are not competent to make choices for themselves and their families."
World Bank Seeking Funds for Emissions Reductions
World Bank officials are submitting a proposal for a Prototype Carbon Fund to curb greenhouse gas emissions to its board of directors. If approved the bank can seek funding from governments and companies. Three Japanese companies, Mitsubishi Corp., Mitsui and Co., and Tokyo Electric Power Co. have already agreed to invest $5 million in the project (Greenwire, March 12, 1999).
The Benefits of Global Warming
Several economic studies have attempted to determine the economic costs of a rise in global temperatures. Most have found that global warming will have a significant negative impact. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, found that the costs of global warming would range from 1.5 to 2 percent of GDP for the world and about 1 to 2 percent for the U.S. Fred Singer, an atmospheric scientist and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, notes that several sectors were not included in the IPCC analysis and that non-market sectors all suffered from negative impacts and much of the time the impacts were greater than in the market sectors. Since no reliable or agreed upon metric to measure non-market impacts exists, those results are little more than an assumption by the IPCC.
A new book, titled The Impact of Climate Change on the United States Economy (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1999) by Robert Mendelsohn at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and James E. Neumann with Industrialized Economics, Inc. finds a different result. Mendelsohn and Neumann assume a doubling of CO2 that would lead to a 2.5 degree C increase in global temperatures. They also include sectors of the economy that were ignored by the IPCC, such as commercial fishing. Other improvements included the possibility of adaptation, reliance on natural climate experiments, in towns with different temperature changes, and so on.
Mendelsohn and Neumann found that overall the economic impact of global warming on the U.S. is positive, about a 0.2 percent increase in GDP. This includes large positive impacts on agriculture and smaller positive impacts on forestry and recreation. All other sectors experience negative impacts, but far smaller than found by the IPCC. There were 26 economists involved with the writing and reviewing of the book. Not only were individual chapters reviewed but also several economists reviewed the overall work. A review of the book can be found at www.sepp.com .
What’s Up (or Down) With Carbon?
Two new studies appearing in prestigious science journals may force scientists to rethink the global warming hypothesis. It has been an ongoing debate within the scientific community as to whether increases in atmospheric CO2 leads or follows rises in global temperature. In the March 12 issue of Science, researchers concluded that during three separate deglaciations temperature rise came first. Using ice core samples from the Antarctic they found that "carbon dioxide concentrations increased by 80 to 100 parts per million by volume 600 ± 400 years after the warming of each of the last three deglaciations." This is directly the opposite result that one would expect from simple global warming theories.
Another assumption made by climate scientists is that CO2 levels have remained constant over the last 11,000 years, a period known as the Holocene epoch, until the advent of the industrial revolution. An article in Nature (March 11, 1999), which shared many of the same authors as the Science article, argues that during this period atmospheric CO2 levels fluctuated significantly. This is no surprise given that we still do not fully understand the carbon cycle nor can we account for significant amounts of CO2 emitted by man a third of which seem to disappear without a trace.
It’s interesting how the press handled the studies. The Washington Post (March 15, 1999) basically got the story right, acknowledging that the studies may force a new understanding of the "relationship between airborne carbon dioxide and climate change." But Anthony J. Broccoli of the NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory is worried that "greenhouse skeptics will probably jump on this paper as ‘proof’" that there is no link between global warming and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. He claims, according to the Washington Post that "the new findings are completely consistent with a ‘positive CO2-temperature feedback" system in which changes in one prompt changes in the other."
The Associated Press did two articles about the Science study. On of the articles explained correctly that rises CO2 follow rises in temperature. The other article, however, got the story almost completely backwards. AP science writer Joseph B. Verrengia wrote, "a new study suggests carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere fluctuated after the Ice Age, helping to warm the climate and trigger the spread of deserts." Fred Singer points out that the study shows a "transition from a warm and wet Climate Optimum, 6000 years ago, to a cooler and dryer climate, i.e., the droughts and deserts correlate with cooling." Unfortunately, nine newspapers ran the article that bungled the story and none pick up the one that got it right.
IPCC Plans to Use Fewer Climate Models in its Next Assessment
The IPCC could be gearing up to start another major controversy. Of the thirty-three general circulation models in existence, it is currently planning on using only three. Depending on the three they choose this could have the effect of raising estimates of warming over the next several decades.
A clue to the direction that the forecast is heading is the elimination of the newest model produced by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). The NCAR model, according to University of Virginia climatologist Patrick Michaels, has "better resolution vertically and horizontally, improved methods of moving heat from the surface to the upper atmosphere, and a more sophisticated treatment of clouds and the oceans." As a result it only predicts 2.3 degrees C of warming for a doubling of CO2 and a 1.3 degrees warming over the next 100 years, lower than any model to date. Moreover, the NCAR model, unlike other models, is completely transparent (World Climate Report, March 1, 1999).
"Are these the same scientists who, after the virtually snow-free Alpine winters of 1988-89, 1989-90, 1991-92 and 1994-95, were warning us that global warming meant much less snow in the Alps in future decades? The European winter holiday industry, they said, would have to up sticks to Scandinavia...."
"Please, Kate, the next time you have some unusual weather to report, see if you can do it without mentioning global warming."