Europe May Compromise
The European Union’s chief negotiator, Jorgen Henningsen, has conceded that the EU may be willing soften its stance on climate change. “It will be unrealistic to believe that we can strike a compromise with others if we just sit on a high horse, insisting on 15 percent, nothing but 15 percent,” said Henningsen. He expressed confidence that the EU and the U.S. would be able to narrow the gap between their respective positions. “The way to narrow the gap is for both parties to show a readiness to move.” “I have reason to believe that the Americans are ready to move. That is definitely the conditions on which we will move” (The Daily Yomiuri, November 11, 1997).
The U.S. Has Compromised
The United States delegation has conceded at an unofficial ministerial meeting that it will sign a protocol that calls for developing countries to reduce emissions in the future. The concession has allowed the developed countries to agree not to bind the developing countries with new obligations in the treaty to be negotiated in Kyoto. The concession makes almost certain a rejection of the treaty by the U.S. Senate (The Daily Yomiuri, November 9, 1997).
Administration Gag Order
U.S. undersecretary of state Timothy Wirth “outraged” Republican leaders by telling them that “they should keep their mouths shut and not criticize” the administrations global-warming stance at the climate change conference in Kyoto. A State Department spokesman said the instructions were “not unusual” and were meant to “ensure the United States speaks with ‘one voice’.”
Recall that then-Senators Timothy Wirth and Al Gore harshly criticized President Bush at the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro. Wirth accused Bush of “adolescent politics” and looking “silly” and “embarrassing” for not signing the treaty on biodiversity. Of course Wirth and Gore went as observers. Those congressmen who will be attending the Kyoto conference were given delegate status, a move many believe is the administration’s way to silence critics (Washington Times, November 11, 1997).
Worldwide Poll on Climate Change
Environics International Ltd., has conducted a poll which surveyed 27,000 people in 24 countries. The poll found majority support for concerted action on climate change in 15 of the 24 countries. Among industrialized countries the U.S. was the most skeptical with 46 percent wanting to “assume the worst and take major action now to reduce human impacts on climate,” and 46 percent saying we “should not take major action to reduce human impacts on climate until we know more, because of the great economic costs involved.”
Support for immediate action was strongest in France (74 percent), Germany (71 percent), Italy (71 percent), Switzerland (70 percent), Japan (69 percent), Australia (67 percent), New Zealand (65 percent) and Canada (61 percent). The poll suggests that concern for the environment is very strong in the industrialized countries and is growing in the developing countries (Calgary Herald, November 10, 1997).
A poll commissioned by the Confederation of British Industry has found that 83 percent its members are in favor of the EU’s proposal of a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2010. Sixty-two percent of CBI members “believe Europe should unilaterally pursue an ambitious target even if it is not endorsed by other industrialized nations.”
Derek Norman, environmental manager of Pilkington, the glass manufacturer, doesn’t put much stock in the poll numbers. He believes that “There are a lot of businesses which . . . think nothing will happen at Kyoto so they won’t have to do anything,” making it easy to pay lip service to emission reductions (Financial Times (London), November 11, 1997).
Economic Impacts of Climate Change
A paper by Robert Mendelsohn of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies conlcudes warming could be good for the economy. Mendelsohn looked at a new set of impact studies and empirical results on the economic effects of climate change on the United States. These new studies are more realistic in that they take into account the ability of humans to adapt to new climatic conditions.
The paper looks at the affects of an increase of temperature of 2.5 degrees C, a 7 percent precipitation increase, carbon dioxide of 530 ppmv and 33 cm sea level rise by the year 2060. The study concludes that this warming scenario will lead to a net benefit of $37 billion for the U.S. market economy. Farming, timber, and commercial energy sectors all benefit with the agriculture enjoying “a vast increase in supply from carbon fertilization.”
Two policy conclusions are reached: (1) “the effects that will occur will be small relative to
the size of the economy, and (2) the new models and methods predict warming will result in a net benefit to the economy rather than the net loss suggested by previous research.” “The results,” says Mendelsohn, “strongly suggest that aggregate market impacts in the U.S. are not a motivating factor for near-term action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”
Economic Impacts of Climate Change Policies
Charles River Associates has just released a new study (Economic Implications of the Adoption of Limits on Carbon Emissions from Industrialized Countries, November 11, 1997) looking at the economic impacts of stabilizing emissions at 1990 levels by 2010 and maintaining those levels through 2030 using a cap and trade system. The numbers are not encouraging. To reach these levels the U.S. will have to reduce emissions by 30 percent below emission levels that would have been reached by 2010.
A reduction of this magnitude will have various adverse effects. It is estimated that to reach these emission levels it would be necessary to tax carbon emissions at $177/ton. The same holds true for emission permits. To achieve the same result carbon permits will have to be priced at $177/ton. That price would have to rise to $400/ton by the year 2030. As a result household energy prices for natural gas would rise by 46 percent by 2010 and 70 percent by 2030. Electricity prices would rise by 23 percent by 2010 and 35 percent by 2030, and heating oil prices would rise by 45 percent and 66 percent respectively. Other costs will include the equivalent of a 50 cent per gallon gasoline tax and a massive increase in the price of coal.
U.S. GDP losses would be large; on the order of 1 percent in 2010 and 2.7 percent in 2030. To put this in perspective current total expenditures on environmental protection in the U.S. equals 1.8 percent of GDP. Thus climate change mitigation would be “the single most expensive environmental protection measure ever adopted by the U.S. government.”
Such a measure would also result in a reduction in investment to 7 percent below baseline levels for 2030 that would not be offset by increased investment in energy-efficiency. The U.S. would also experience a worsening of the terms of trade.
Emissions Trading is Key
Testifying on November 5th before the energy and power subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee, Timothy Wirth, undersecretary of state for global affairs, argued that a global carbon trading scheme is needed to end the impasse over a climate change treaty. The “successful” SO2 allowance trading program in the U.S., according to Wirth, “should be a model for an international greenhouse gases trading system.”
Some critics have pointed out that SO2 emissions reductions were primarily achieved through switching to low-sulfur coal and had little to do with the trading program. Another problem with an international trading scheme is the almost limitless number of emission sources that would have to be monitored; especially if we are going to limit six different greenhouse gases. Everything from cow flatulence to lawnmower exhaust to carbon sinks would have to be monitored in order to measure total emissions. Furthermore, about 30 percent of total manmade emissions disappear without a trace each year.
Wirth also claimed that “The U.S. will not agree to a treaty that will hurt it economically.” But according to Brian Fisher, an economist with the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics, the U.S. would be worse off under an emission trading policy relative to a uniform abatement policy.
Finally, Wirth argued that U.S. demands of “meaningful participation” by the developing countries could be met by transferring U.S. energy efficient technology to the developing countries (The Electricity Daily, November 12, 1997).
Global Epidemics Not Likely
Climate change has been implicated in a variety of catastrophic scenarios, most of which are purely speculative. One such case is the apocalyptic warnings of global plague sounded by Harvard Physician Paul Epstein among others. Epstein and others have predicted that malaria, yellow and dengue fever, cholera epidemics and heat stroke could increase as a result of rising temperatures.
These dire predictions have received a lot of publicity. However, as Science (November 7, 1997) points out in a recent article, there is very little evidence to support these contentions. “What I find astounding,” University of Michigan epidemiologist Mark L. Wilson told Science, “is how little research is actually being done in this whole thing.”
Duane Gubler, director of the division of vector-borne infectious diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dismisses the claims as “probably the most blatant disregard for other factors that influence disease transmission.”
He notes, for example, that the dengue pandemic that afflicted Mexico in 1995 leading to more than 2,000 confirmed cases only caused 7 confirmed cases in Texas just across the Rio Grande. He also notes that the Gulf states are several degrees warmer than the Caribbean during the summer yet the Caribbean has the disease and the Gulf states don’t. “If temperature was the main factor, we would see epidemics in the Southern U.S. We have the mosquito; we have higher temperatures and constant introduction of viruses, which means we should have epidemics, but we don’t,” he says.
Gubler and others argue that public health measures are far more important in disease patterns. According to Gubler, “The most cost effective way to mitigate the effect of climate change on infectious disease is to rebuild our public health infrastructure and implement better disease-prevention strategies.”
Wealthy countries are nearly immune to the vector-borne infectious diseases which afflict much of the third world. This is due better housing, better sanitation, piped water systems, and many other factors that come with greater wealth. Destroying wealth by signing an ill-advised climate treaty may well cause prophecies of global plague to be self-fulfilling.
Health Affects of Climate Change
The American Council on Science and Health has just released a study on the possible health effects and policy implications of climate change. The report, Global Climate Change and Human Health, evaluates the various health scenarios that have been suggested as possible outcomes of increased global warming. These scenarios are evaluated assuming a 1 to 3.5 degrees C increase in global temperatures by the year 2100 as has been predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The researchers concluded, for example, that heat-related deaths are not likely to increase significantly as a result of climate change since most warming would occur in winter and at high latitudes. The agricultural affects of climate change are likely to be positive according to the report. Elevated concentrations of CO2 will increase plant growth and the northern latitudes would benefit from higher temperatures. Other regions are likely to be only slightly affected by global warming. Regardless, undernourishment is and will continue to be a major health problem. But it is caused by “poverty-related maldistribution of food,” not underproduction.
The report concludes that measures to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases would be costly and ineffective. The researchers argue that, “The optimal approach to dealing with the prospect of adverse climate change-related health effects would be largely adaptational: its primary goal would be to suit economies, healthcare systems, and living conditions to lasting – i.e., existing foreseeable – challenges to human health.” The study can be found on the web at www.acsh.org.
Immediate Health Effects from Climate Change
A new study published in Lancet (November 8, 1997) has predicted that 700,000 avoidable deaths will occur every year worldwide by 2020 from exposure to particulates from fossil fuel combustion. Thirty-three thousand of these deaths are expected to occur in the U.S. alone. The authors argue that if climate change policies are implemented early these deaths can be avoided.
The results, however, are based on the controversial findings of a study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency. The study by C. Arden Pope III of Brigham Young University found that air-born particulate matter is associated with a 17 percent increase in mortality. The study of more than 550,000 people did not, however, measure how much pollution the study subjects were exposed to, nor did it adequately consider other confounding factors such as behavioral, occupational, environmental and genetic influences. Moreover, any statistical association less than 100 percent is considered to be weak and difficult to interpret (Wall Street Journal, January 7, 1997).
Finally, with regards to the Lancet study, Pope himself is cautious. After interviewing Dr. Pope, Science News reports that: “[Pope] who has conducted many of the particulates and health studies upon which the Lancet analysis is based, hopes that people will not place too much weight on its estimates of lives that can be saved by climate policies. Those numbers are still preliminary and rest on substantial uncertainties” (Science News, November 8, 1997). Also see www.junkscience.com for further information.
CO2 and Plant Growth
In a paper presented at a Fraser Institute Conference, Sherwood Idso of the U.S. Water Conservation Laboratory in Phoenix, Arizona surveys the scientific literature on the Biological Consequences of Atmospheric CO2 Enrichment. Hundreds of experiments have verified that atmospheric CO2 enrichment boosts plant productivity in a variety of environmental conditions, including low light levels, inadequate water, and insufficient soil nutrients. In each case CO2 enrichment helped plants to “overcome growth restrictions resulting from resource limitations.”
One reason for this result is that plants grown with high levels CO2 have more extensive root systems and are, therefore, able to “more thoroughly explore larger volumes of soil in search of the things they need.” Other factors are greater efficiency in nitrogen use, increased activity of beneficial soil microorganisms, and most importantly direct stimulation of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Increased “vegetative productivity from CO2 enrichment stimulates bacterial nodule growth and activity” which in turn “produce several-fold increases in nitrogen fixation.”
Other adverse environmental conditions which are overcome by CO2 enrichment are soil salinity, air pollution, and global warming. In the case of global warming it turns out that the benefits of high CO2 concentrations actually rise as temperatures increase. The percentage of growth enhancement rose from nearly zero percent at 10 degrees C to a full 100 percent at 38 degrees C. “The optimum temperature for plant growth generally rises as the air’s CO2 content rises.”
There is a worry that the benefits of CO2 enrichment found in short-term experiments does not apply to the long-term. The longest running CO2 enrichment study has not found this to be a problem, however. The ongoing experiment, which is now 10 years old, involves eight sour orange trees which have been grown from seedlings to maturity. The trees that are CO2-enriched (receiving 75 percent more CO2 than the ambient treated trees) have “produced over twice as much biomass as the trees growing in normal air.” At the last harvest the researchers picked over three times as much fruit from the enriched trees.
The paper can be obtained from The Fraser Institute at (604) 688-0221 or (416) 363-6575.
Where Has All The Warming Gone?
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that the summer of 1997 was the 37th coolest for the contiguous United States in the last 103 years at an average temperature of 71.5 degrees F. It was also the 24th driest with a national average annual precipitation of 7.68 inches (AMS Newsletter, www.ametsoc.org/AMS/newsltr/newsltr.html, October 1997).
Undersecretary of state for global affairs Timothy Wirth surprised everyone by announcing that he will take a job with Ted Turner managing his $1 billion United Nations fund. Wirth will be replaced as the administration’s lead negotiator by Stuart Eizenstat. Wirth may still attend the affair as an adviser. Word is the administration is not very happy with the move (Washington Times, November 24, 1997).
The American Policy Center has called for a “Strike For Liberty” to send a loud and clear message to the United States Senate against the Climate Change Protocol. The Strike has been called for December 5, 1997. For further information see www.americanpolicy.org/.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute has produced a book and a highlights video based on The Costs of Kyoto conference held in July 1997. Both the book and the video are available for $15 or buy both for $25. To order call CEI at (202)331-1010, or e-mail to [email protected].