Competitive Enterprise Institute | 1899 L ST NW Floor 12, Washington, DC 20036 | Phone: 202-331-1010 | Fax: 202-331-0640
Debate Over Early Credits Heats Up
Support is steadily building for proposed legislation that, if passed could seriously erode industry opposition to limits on greenhouse gas emissions. According to the New York Times (January 3, 1999), "big companies are maneuvering to push through legislation giving them valuable credits for early actions to control the waste gases that the binding treaty would strictly limit."
It also states that "the legislation would mark a significant shift in the debate in the Senate over climate change, potentially moderating the opposition to the treaty among big industry groups and linking their financial interests to the goals of treaty supporters."
The legislation, sponsored by senators John Chafee (R-RI), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Connie Mack, (R-FL), would give "ton-for-ton credits to any of the more than 150 companies that can document reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions under various voluntary federal programs."
It’s interesting that this legislation would only apply to a few businesses. As mentioned in the last issue of Cooler Heads, since there is no provision in the Kyoto Protocol for early credits, those awarded will have to be subtracted from the U.S. target, leading to a higher target for those companies not covered under the proposed legislation.
In a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers, Senator Chafee said "the good guys who take action now will be rewarded by having these actions count." He also said "this credit program may also make early greenhouse gas reductions financially valuable to the companies who make them."
While some environmental groups, like the Environmental Defense Fund, favor the legislation, others have criticized it. The National Environmental Trust says that the bill "does not provide sufficient guarantees that emission reductions credited under it will actually result from reduced emissions, as opposed to phantom paper reductions." Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists has pointed out that "there is a lot of money involved, and there is going to be a lot of ferocious jockeying to control who gets the money. It is going to be pretty intense."
There are other doubts about the legislation. A report for the Pew Center for Global Climate Change by Robert Nordhaus and Stephen Fotis of Van Ness Feldman argued that "to the extent the credit is regarded as an incentive to spur industry to make greenhouse gas reductions that would not otherwise occur, there is little basis for rewarding reductions already achieved."
Something Funny with Peer Review
As reported in our last issue, Thomas Wigley with the National Center for Atmospheric Research published a paper in Science claiming to have detected the human influence on global warming. Atmospheric scientist Fred Singer with the Science and Environmental Policy Project challenged the findings of the paper. In a response to Singer, Wigley included the following comments of the reviewers to his paper:
Referee #1: "Overall evaluation: Excellent and exciting... presents an insightful and deceptively simple analysis..."
Referee #2: "Overall evaluation: excellent and exciting... an exciting paper using an underutilized technique... deserves rapid publication..."
Referee #3: "This is an excellent and exciting paper... has some very interesting and important results... a novel, yet simple approach..."
Wigley commented, "I hope you will note the uniformity of the referees opinions."
To which Singer said, "We certainly did. In fact, we are still trying to calculate the statistical probability that three reviewers, wholly unknown to each other and examining the paper independently--as they should--would each come up with the rather unusual phrase ‘excellent and exciting’" (www.sepp.org ).
Scientists Argue about 1998 Weather
With the end of 1998, there has been a lot of ink spilled in the press about the odd and sometimes devastating weather that occurred over the last year. A few scientists want to blame global warming, others think it is just more of the same natural variation we’ve always experienced. "Of course, we have natural variability, but that doesn’t account for what went on," says Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. "We don’t have definitive answers, but there is reason to believe this is part of the signals of global warming we may be seeing."
Jerry Mahlman, director of NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, disagrees. "There’s no bad guy out there," Mahlman insists. "Basically, we’re getting jerked around by the same stuff that’s been jerking us around for a long time." Mahlman is referring to El Niño and La Niña that have a powerful effect on the earth’s weather patterns.
One thing that atmospheric scientists have learned is that El Niño/La Niña oscillations affect the path of the jet stream that moves weather systems around the globe. El Niño causes the jet stream to flow steadily across North America, suppressing hurricanes and tornadoes. La Niña pushes the jet stream north which "sets off a loopy pattern that streams in over the Northwest, curves down into the country’s mid-section and back up toward the East Coast" bringing heavy winter storms, spring tornadoes and more hurricanes. "All hell breaks loose," according to Jim O’Brien, director of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University.
There’s another reason why 1998’s weather has seemed so strange, according to Mahlman. "A lot of topsy-turviness is an impression born of the fact that weather in the news has gotten a lot sexier than it used to be," Mahlman says. "Everybody’s interested in it. You hear more about weather far from where you live than you used to . . . . Everybody has a heightened sense of weather as something that can get you."
Scientists like Trenberth argue that global warming will lead to a nightmare scenario of weather-related global catastrophes. Other’s think it is "hysterical nonsense." There’s little evidence to support such scenarios, and even if it does happen, they argue that a certain amount of global warming would be a good thing. "We have this gigantic heat engine made up of land, water, air, ice that makes it so wonderful for us to live here," says O’Brien. "[Global warming] means you’ve just thrown another log on the fire" (Palm Beach Post, December 31, 1998).
Record Cold Temperatures in the Midwest
Most of the environmental reporters around the country are fond of pointing out record high temperatures that occur around the country whenever they discuss global warming. When temperatures are colder than ordinary there’s a deafening silence. For example, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post (December 8, 1998) mentioned the unseasonable warm temperatures experienced in the eastern United States at the time in an article about global warming. He failed to mention, however, that at the same time the western United States was experiencing record cold temperatures.
Currently much of the nation is experiencing abnormally frigid conditions. According to an Associated Press article, "winter showed no mercy across much of the nation yesterday, bringing a record cold reading of 36 degrees below zero to Illinois, more than a foot of new snow to heavily blanketed upstate New York and rare frigid conditions all the way south to the Gulf Coast."
The death toll from the cold weather stands at 91, most occurring from traffic fatalities from slick roads. In Mobile, Alabama the temperature dropped to 18 degrees, breaking a 75 year old record (Washington Post, January 6, 1999). So far, Al Gore has not attempted to link the cold weather to global warming.