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Climate Change? Not Yet!
Finally someone has brought the climate change debate back down to earth. Amidst claims by environmentalists that we are in the throes of runaway global warming, the prestigious journal Science ("Greenhouse Forecasting Still Cloudy," 16 May 1997) has put everything into perspective. According to Science, climate experts are a long way from proclaiming that human activities are already heating up the earth. Even Benjamin Santer, lead author of chapter 8 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report admits as much: "We say quite clearly that few scientists would say the attribution issue was a done deal." Known as the holy grail amongst scientific circles the search for the "human fingerprint" is far from over with many scientists saying that a clear resolution is at least ten years away.
Why all the uncertainty? Forecasts of global warming rely on computer models which attempt to simulate the earth’s climate. Climate change proponents have always been quick to point out that the models predict a discernible amount of warming resulting from CO2 buildup. What they are hesitant to discuss is the relative confidence they have in their own models. And in fact confidence levels are low, for two main reasons.
One is the lack of computer power. There are 14 orders of magnitude in the climate system. So far researchers have only been able to model the two largest: the planetary scale and the scale of weather disturbances. To model the third scale (thunderstorms) would require a thousand times more computer speed.
Even if researchers could model smaller scales they would run into the second obstacle: a very sketchy understanding of the earth’s climate. Researchers, for example, are still debating the impacts of clouds on the earth’s climate. Until these questions are resolved it is difficult to build models that make accurate predictions. As one modeler put it, "The more you learn, the more you understand that you don’t understand very much." Unfortunately, the executive summary of the IPCC report did not, according to Brian Farrell of Harvard University, "convey the real uncertainties the science has."
The Spin on Hurricanes
The Competitive Enterprise Institute has just published Calmer Weather: The Spin on Greenhouse Hurricanes, in which Robert C. Balling, Jr., Director of the office of Climatology and Associate Professor of geography at Arizona State University, reviews the scientific literature on the connection between climate change and hurricane activity. According to Balling, "as with so many other elements in the greenhouse debate, the theoretical and empirical evidence is not very supportive of this claim."
Research has shown that Atlantic hurricane activity from 1970 to 1987 was less that half of that observed from 1947 to 1969. Additional research found that warmer years actually produced fewer hurricanes than cooler years. Furthermore, there is strong evidence from satellite measurement that the planet has actually cooled over the last two decades.
"Blaming hurricanes on recent warming is flawed on all fronts – not only is there little to no linkage between global warming and hurricane activity, but there seems to have been no warming in recent decades either." Balling concluded that, "There is little reason to expect an increase of hurricane activity throughout the upcoming century."
To order copies of Calmer Weather, call CEI at (202) 331-1010.
The Heat is Off
Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat Is On, laments in the Washington Post ("Outlook," May 25, 1997) what he claims to be an enormously successful campaign by a "tiny band of scientists" to create the "perception that scientists are sharply divided over whether it [global warming] is taking place at all." These scientists, he claims, have taken advantage of scientifically naive newspaper editors to wield influence far greater than their numbers. He even goes so far as to paint them with the same brush as tobacco company scientists who deny the dangers of smoking. Rather than attack the scientific statements of these so called skeptics Gelbspan’s Post article concentrates on their funding sources, implying that one need look no further to debunk what is being said.
Unfortunately, for Gelbspan, Science (see above) just published an article which suggests that some scientific skepticism is still justified. Even Gelbspan can’t chalk this up to editor naiveté. Worse, Gelbspan gets many "facts" wrong. For instance, he leads the article with a story of a Rhode Island sized chunk of ice which broke off the Larsen ice shelf in Antarctica. He doesn’t mention that this occurred following two of the coldest years on record for Antarctica. Furthermore, Science ("Rapid Sea-Level Rise Soon From West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse?" 21 February 1997) recently published an article by Charles R. Bentley of the Geophysical and Polar Research Center, in which he argues the West Antarctic ice sheet is very stable and it is very unlikely that climate warming could trigger a collapse in the next century or two. Bentley calculates that there is a 0.1% chance of this happening and could only occur through natural causes.
PCSD to Advise President on Global Warming
According to the BNA Daily Report for Executives (May 16, 1997), the President’s Council on Sustainable Development – a presidential commission charged with devising a sustainable development strategy for the U.S. – has been asked by President Clinton to offer recommendations on "adaptations in the U.S. economy and society that maximize environmental and social benefits [of reducing greenhouse gas emissions] and minimize negative economic impacts." This is a tacit admission by the administration that there will be negative economic impacts from climate change policies. The question is how is a hodgepodge of environmental and civil rights activists, business CEOs, and government bureaucrats going to devise a plan to address it.
Political Difficulties for Global Warming Treaty
The Wall Street Journal ("Global-Warming Treaty Faces Host of Political Clouds," May 27, 1997) reports that the global warming treaty to be negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, in December, faces many political obstacles. Treaty proponents are complaining that the Clinton Administration is having difficulty selling the American public on the need for an international treaty to stop global warming. While the coal, oil, steel, electricity, chemical and automobile manufacturing industries are opposing the treaty as expected, the greater obstacle has come from the labor unions who believe that a treaty restricting emissions will lead to lost jobs.
Labor spokesman Bill Cunningham has said it is "amazing that harsh, arbitrary flat-rate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (imposed only on developed countries), are being proposed and contemplated without regard to their impact on working people . . . (It’s) even more galling when we find that there is no scientific evidence (this) will solve the greenhouse problem. In fact it might even exacerbate it." (John Shanahan, "Greenhouse pact and labor" The Journal of Commerce, April 10, 1997).
The administration is claiming that part of the problem is insufficient education. According to Eileen Claussen, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs, Europeans "have a strong green constituency that knows more about this than the American public." The U.S. is proposing a "flexible" compliance scheme. A uniform target, for instance, may be set to stabilize emissions at 1990 levels by 2010 and at ten percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Within the limits of the target countries will be able to purchase and trade permits that allow them emissions within the target. The flexibility of the plan arises from the ability of firms to determine the most efficient way to reduce emissions and to purchase more or fewer permits based upon their relative ability to do so.
The treaty faces other obstacles internationally from China, Brazil and India who want an exemption from the treaty. The oil rich nations are also opposed to the treaty, as is Australia.
DOE Study Documents Costs of Kyoto
The Clinton Administration has yet to admit that curbing energy use to reduce greenhouse emissions will harm U.S. competitiveness and jobs. In fact, the Vice President suggests that curbs on energy use will strengthen the U.S. economy by motivating companies to invest in "environmentally friendly technologies of the future." The Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory demolishes these claims in a draft study the administration has been sitting on since February.
According to the DOE study, "The Impact of Potential Climate Change Commitments on Energy Intensive Industries," greenhouse controls would cripple energy-intensive U.S. industries, including paper, steel, petroleum refining, chemical manufacturing, aluminum, and cement. Under one scenario, the energy cost of producing steel would rise from $48 per metric ton (pmt) to $128 pmt – an $80 increase, exceeding the industry's current $60 pmt profit margin.
All the economic pain would yield little or no environmental gain, the report argues. The proposed policies would trigger a massive regulatory flight of U.S. and other OECD companies to Third World countries, which are not covered by the treaty. "The main effect" of climate change policy "would be to redistribute output, employment and ... emissions from participating to non-participating countries."
ABARE Model Shows High Costs and Low Benefits from Kyoto
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics has determined that the costs of climate change policy would be prohibitive and would not achieve significant environmental gains. Its MEGABARE and MENSA models show that carbon dioxide reductions in developed countries would do little to reduce global emissions primarily because of expected increases in emissions from countries such as China and India. Even if the OECD countries reduced emissions as drastically as has been proposed, world emissions would continue to grow at a rate of 2.6 percent a year. For Australia, meeting such uniform targets would mean a net present value loss of 3.3 percent of gross national expenditure.
More information on the ABARE studies is available at http://www.abare.gov.au:80/ .
The Competitive Enterprise Institute will be holding a one day conference, "The Costs of Kyoto," on Tuesday, July 15. For more information contact Nicole Hamilton at (202) 331-1010.
The National Center for Policy Analysis will be holding a Congressional staff briefing "Truths, Myths, and Impacts of Global Warming," on Friday, June 13, 1997, 10:00 to 11:45 a.m. at 1324 Longworth HOB in Washington, D.C. RSVP at (202) 628-6671.