Clinton’s Public “Education” Campaign
On July 24 President Clinton began his promised campaign to alert the American people to the dangers of climate change by bringing seven scientists to the White House to discuss the issue. Clinton stated that, “It is no longer a threat, but now a fact that global warming is for real,” warning that, “The longer you wait, the more disruptive the ultimate resolution will be.”
Though supposedly an educational exercise it became rapidly apparent that the meeting was a propaganda campaign meant to scare the American people. Clinton warned that failure to cut emissions could cause “widespread ecological disasters including killer heat waves, severe floods and droughts, and increase in infectious diseases and rising sea levels that could swamp thousands of miles of coastal Florida and Louisiana” (The Washington Post, July 25, 1997). Clinton urged the American people to look at the scientific evidence, advice he should follow himself, given that there is no scientific evidence for the disasters he predicts nor are they predicted by the computer models used by climate scientists.
When Al Gore asked biology professor, Stephen Schneider, if recent floods in the upper Midwest, Ohio, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Northwest could be due to climate change, he replied that this was consistent with climate change (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 25, 1997). What Schneider didn’t mention was that the spring runoff that caused the North Dakota, Red River flood (the upper Midwest), for example, was due to greater snowfall as a result of colder temperatures. In the middle latitudes colder temperatures are correlated with greater snowfall (World Climate Report, v. 2 no. 17).
Of course, Clinton didn’t promise to tell the facts, just to convince Americans to support an economically painful treaty.
The following is a portion of a transcript from an interview with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt on the Diane Rehm Show (WAMU-FM, July 21, 1997):
Secretary Babbitt: “Let me suggest that we have a really big opportunity coming up this year, in 1997. Climate change is underway. We have already changed the atmosphere through fossil fuel emissions. That’s a scientific fact beyond denial. The effects are starting to show up. And there’s going to be a treaty negotiation in Kyoto, in Japan, at the end of this year to try to set national plans to control global warming.”
“But it’s an unhappy fact that the oil companies and the coal companies in the United States have joined in a conspiracy to hire pseudo scientists to deny the facts, and then begin raising political arguments that are essentially fraudulent, that we can’t do this without damaging the economy, the same kinds of arguments they used against acid rain, they used against the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. This time I think it’s especially unfortunate, and I think that the energy companies need to be called to account because what they’re doing is un-American in the most basic sense. They are compromising our future by misrepresenting the facts by suborning scientists onto their payrolls and attempting to mislead the American people.”
Host Diane Rehm: “And keeping the issue alive. I mean keeping the question as to whether climate change is actually occurring, keeping the question in people’s minds [unclear] it’s supposed to, assuming that there is something happening.”
Babbitt: “That’s absolutely true. There was an article by the president of Chrysler Corporation in The Washington Post last week. It’s an outrageous distortion of existing science [note: the editorial (July 17, 1997) merely stated that the science is still uncertain, a statement wholly supported by statements made by IPCC scientists] that is reflective of what’s going on in the energy industry. And I don’t thinks it’s too strong to say that it is a deliberate attempt to distort the facts and to mislead and simply stall any kind of progress for their own short term advantage with possibly really catastrophic effects in the long run.”
Bruce Babbitt, the Joe McCarthy of the environmental movement.
It’s About Time
After burying it for over six months the Clinton Administration finally released a Department of Energy report on the economic impacts of proposed energy regulations. The report finds that rising energy prices resulting from climate change policies would be devastating to the chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum refining, aluminum, paper and allied products, and cement industries. Based on a carbon tax of between $100 and $140 per ton of carbon dioxide phased in between 2000 and 2010 the report forecasts an increase in the cost of coal of $70 to $90 per ton. Electricity prices would rise by 25 to 35 percent, No. 2 fuel oil would rise by 60 to 90 percent, and natural gas by 50 to 60 percent.
Clinton Administration greens were not pleased. A memo released with the report, written by Marc Chupka, acting assistant secretary of DOE’s Office of Policy and International Affairs, called the assumptions used in the study “outdated” because they did not take into consideration the Clinton Administration’s own opinions. Specifically, the Administration believes that proposals such as an international trading system for greenhouse gas emissions and joint implementation programs will lower abatement costs.
Regardless, Chupka argues that the study is still valuable in instructing policy makers as to the dangers of increasing energy costs. It also makes clear to industrial countries the danger of unilaterally imposing binding emission reduction targets. According to the study, this policy would cause a massive transfer of manufacturing in the six industries listed above from the industrialized world to the developing world (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 15, 1997).
International Trading Scheme Would Transfer Wealth
A Brookings Policy Brief (“A Better Way to Slow Global Climate Change,” No. 17) argues that an international emissions trading scheme – which would allow for the most abatement to occur where it is cheapest – would result in a large transfer of wealth from the industrial countries. A tradable emission system would increase the U.S. trade deficit by $27 billion to $54 billion every year, a 24 to 47 percent increase. Most of this wealth would go to the developing countries, dwarfing the $17 billion in foreign aid the U.S. sends abroad each year.
The authors, Warwick J. McKibben and Peter J. Wilcoxen, propose an internal trading scheme where each nation will receive permits based upon historical emission levels. Each national government could distribute the permits as it saw fit. Trading would occur entirely within the nation, avoiding the international wealth transfer problem. Of course, an obvious weakness of this plan is the difficulty in verifying whether governments are enforcing emissions reductions within their own countries (Brookings’ webpage www.brook.edu/ES/POLICY/Polbrf17.htm).
In a speech at the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s “Costs of Kyoto” conference on July 15, economist Brian Fisher of Australia’s ABARE projected that by 2010, 12 percent of the former Eastern bloc’s GNP would come from income transfers, assuming a climate treaty covering industrialized countries with a tradable emission scheme. He wondered aloud whether the U.S. Senate would be comfortable with that.
1996 Greenhouse Gas Data
According to the World Energy Council (WEC), global carbon dioxide emissions continued to rise in 1996, with the highest increase of 5.5 percent, occurring in India, China, the newly industrializing Asian tigers and the Middle East. U.S. emissions increased by 3.1 percent while the European Union experienced a 2.3 percent rise in its second consecutive year of greenhouse gas increases, most of which can be attributed to Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark.
Rapid increases in the Asian-Pacific countries could heighten pressure to impose binding emission targets on developing countries. Increases in the U.K. and Germany erode their moral credibility and raise doubts about their ability to reach the stringent targets proposed by the two countries at the Rio Plus Five conference. According to Michael Jefferson, the WEC’s deputy secretary general, the honeymoon of closing polluting industries is over for the U.K. and Germany. They must now deal with the economic realities that the rest of the world faces in terms of emissions reduction (Nature, July 17, 1997).
Voluntary Programs Not So Great
A General Accounting Office (GAO) report argues that EPA predictions about the greenhouse gas reducing potential of three voluntary programs are overly optimistic. The EPA estimates that the Green Lights program will save 3.9 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE), the Source Reduction and Recycling Program 1.9 to 6.7 MMTCE, and the State and Local Outreach Program 1.7 MMTCE. But the GAO argues that the EPA’s projections “are not consistent with experience to date.” The GAO also argued that much of the future reductions attributed to the outreach program might happen regardless of EPA’s actions (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 21, 1997).
The Consequences of Climate Change Policy
In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (July 25, 1997), Jack Kemp identified three major economic consequences of proposed limits on greenhouse gases. First, production costs would increase for virtually all U.S. industries, making American products less competitive abroad and less affordable at home. Second, as much as 250,000 high paying jobs could leave the U.S. as American companies struggle to remain competitive in world markets. Finally, Americans would face higher energy bills which could increase as much as 50 percent.
As the AFL-CIO has indicated, carbon taxes “. . . are highly regressive and will be most harmful to citizens who live on fixed incomes and work at poverty level wages.”
The pain involved is not justified, however. As Kemp points out, a treaty excluding the high growth developing nations such as China, South Korea, and India, would do nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions. And if climate change is not happening anyway, as Kemp indicates in the article, then why should anyone implement all pain, no gain policies?
The Climate Change Debate
In an article highlighting climate change skeptics, the New Scientist (“Greenhouse Wars,” July 19, 1997) shows that there is still significant uncertainty concerning the validity of global warming predictions. One of the most important issues currently debated is the role of water vapor in the atmosphere (see below). One thing that the satellite data have shown is that the temperatures of the surface and free troposphere move in different directions. Computer models have them moving in the same direction. According to David Parker of the British Meteorological Office, “The surface and midtroposphere appear to be much less coupled than the models assume . . . . If the models don’t get tropospheric heating right, we are in trouble.”
If coupling of the surface and atmospheric temperatures is modeled incorrectly, then it is very likely that the models incorrectly handle the way water vapor moves between the surface and the free troposphere. This means that the positive feedback from water vapor – which turns “the greenhouse effect from a benign curiosity into a potential apocalypse. . .” – may not even exist. Simon Tett, a modeler and IPCC author, concedes, “the upper troposphere is probably drier than the models suggest.” Though there is, to date, little evidence for a negative feedback mechanism, things are moving in the direction of the skeptics.
The bottom line, though, is that the modelers and skeptics are not far apart. The skeptics concede that that a doubling of CO2 may raise temperatures by between 1 and 1.5 degrees C, the lower end of the modelers’ predictions. However, as Patrick Michaels, a climatologist with the University of Virginia, says, “You can’t make a case for a global apocalypse out of 1.5 degrees C warming.”
Assumption Dries Up
According to a paper appearing in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (June 1997), the tropical free troposphere, the layer of air between 25,000 and 50,000 feet, is much dryer than climate modelers previously thought. Using west Pacific radiosonde data and infrared and microwave satellite data, Roy Spencer of NASA and William Braswell of Nichols Research Corporation were able to verify the skeptics’ assertion that the climate models have too much moisture present in the upper atmosphere, increasing warming estimates by 100 percent. If Spencer and Braswell’s data are correct, warming estimates will need to be revised downward from 2 degrees C warming over the next one hundred years to 1 degree C.
Soaking Up Greenhouse Gases
For many years scientists have been puzzled by carbon dioxide that seems to disappear each year without a trace. When comparing total carbon dioxide releases with known sinks, researchers cannot account for approximately 1 to 2 billion metric tons of the greenhouse gas. Recent scientific evidence, however, has shown that forests store much more carbon than previously thought. In the past scientists believed that the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by trees was roughly equal to the amount given off through respiration. One of the reasons for underestimating the carbon-capturing potential of forests is that researchers did not include the carbon stored in peat and other organic matter in soils, which accounts for about two-thirds of the carbon stored by forests. Also, forests are expanding in many areas of the world.
One study, done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Laboratory, found that, “the increase in biomass and organic matter on U.S. forest lands over the last 40 years has stored enough carbon to offset 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions for that period.” Other studies have shown that tropical forests sequester up to 200 metric tons of carbon dioxide per hectare.
A computer model at the Environmental Sciences Division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee suggests that harvesting and replanting fast-growing forests is more effective than storing carbon in mature forests. When harvested trees are used in construction it takes carbon out of circulation. The New Zealand Forest Research Institute Ltd., found that a radiata pine plantation takes 112 metric tons of carbon out of circulation each time it is harvested and replanted (Science, “Resurgent Forests Can Be Greenhouse Gas Sponges,” July 18, 1997).
Warming Occurs Mostly at Night
A study appearing in Science (July 18, 1997), shows that the warming over the last half century has occurred primarily at night. Between 1950 and 1993 nighttime warming has closed the gap between maximum and minimum temperatures. The global average minimum temperature has risen by 0.186 degrees C while the global average maximum increased by 0.088 degrees C. In some places, such as the Southern United States and Eastern Canada, daytime maximum temperatures have dropped, reducing the gap even further in those areas.
Possible beneficial effects from nighttime warming include lower heating costs for homeowners and longer growing seasons for farmers. Adverse effects may include greater growth of harmful insects and weeds and lower yields by causing plants to expend energy faster at night. Winter wheat yields may also be lower (Science News, July 19, 1997).
Gelbspan, Feeling the Heat
Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat is On, is feeling the heat himself. In the book he attacks the integrity of several well-known greenhouse skeptics. His own integrity, however, is now in question. The dust cover on his book touts him as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, for his contribution to a series of stories for the Boston Globe in 1984.
Gelbspan, though, has never won the Pulitzer Prize. He was just an editor involved with the series of articles for which seven Boston Globe staff writers won the award. An internet search (www.pulitzer.org/search/searchform.html) of past winners confirms that Gelbspan has not won the award. However, in an article about the prize, the Globe did include a profile of Gelbspan and another editor involved in the project as well as a profile of the executive editor John Driscoll.
When asked if claiming a Pulitzer Prize under these conditions was acceptable, John McCaughey, a veteran Washington reporter, said “I wouldn’t do it, would you? It’s what the English call ‘sharp practice’ and others call ‘resume inflation’” (The Electricity Daily, July 31, 1997). For further information on Gelbspan, see the Science and Environmental Policy Project’s web page at www.his.com/~sepp.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s “The Costs of Kyoto” conference was a huge success. Both the full transcript and audio of the conference are available on CEI’s webpage at www.cei.org.
The Christian Science Monitor, in an August 7 online (www.csmonitor.com) article on climate change, provides a link to our webpage at www.globalwarming.org, as a source for information on climate change issues.
The Australian APEC Study Center and The Frontiers of Freedom Institute will be holding an international conference, “Countdown to Kyoto,” in Canberra, Australia, August 19-21.
The following are town hall meetings being organized by Vice President Gore’s office and the White House Office on Science and Technology Policy to “examine the vulnerability of various regions of the US to climate variability and climate change and to aggregate information across regions to support a national scientific assessment.”
- Sept. (no date provided), Tuson, AZ. DOI and NOAA co-hosting with the University of Arizona
- Sept. 3-5, Durham, NH. NSF co-hosting with University of New Hampshire.
- Sept. 9-11, State College, PA. EPA co-hosting with Pennsylvania State University.
- Nov. 10-12, Washington, DC. National Workshop on Climate Change Impacts to release regional and national scale impacts of climate change.
The IPCC will hold its thirteenth session in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sept. 9-11.