UN Conference in Bonn
The United Nations recently ended a negotiating session in Bonn, Germany to lay the groundwork for the upcoming conference in Kyoto, Japan where countries will negotiate binding emission targets on greenhouse gases.
Unlike past conferences, all negotiations at Bonn were closed to the public. NGOs were allowed to address the delegates at the start of the conference, though the AFL-CIO was prohibited from speaking, since, according to UN officials, they are a U.S. interest group and do not represent an international constituency.
Judging from hallway conversations the mood of the conference was one of lowered expectations. What may come out of Kyoto is a fill-in-the-blank treaty with no targets and timetables but a mandate to fill them in within two years.
Greenhouse Deal Not Likely
Apparently climate change treaty negotiators are not confident of a deal being made before the Kyoto conference in December. According to an unnamed source close to the negotiations, participants are still “far apart” on many issues revolving around the climate change issue.
Most notable is the Byrd/Hagel resolution which passed the U.S. Senate 95-0. It calls for binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions on the developing countries. The U.S. gave copies of the resolution to representatives of the developing countries and, according to the source, “We made it very, very clear that we would have to see some kind of action by them that was consistent with the kind of action that we were taking. . . . We’re going to have to have binding targets and timetables out of them in time frames roughly consistent with our budget.”
With only two weeks of formal negotiating left, one in October and one in December, the source is not optimistic. “Do I think there’s going to be a deal? Probably not” (The White House Bulletin, August 11, 1997).
Linking Clean Air to Hot Air
The EPA will create a subcommittee of its Clean Air Act Advisory Committee to look at integrating Clean Air Act implementation with programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The subcommittee will:
- “Consider a comprehensive strategy for meeting air quality standards that encompasses the interaction of clean air, energy and climate change;
- Consider the interaction of clean air issues and state and federal restructuring initiatives;
- Consider various options on climate change policy and negotiations, and provide advice on scientific, economic and policy issues that affect the administration’s positions in international negotiations over a new agreement to limit emissions of greenhouse gases” (The Electricity Daily, August 14, 1997).
Pressure on Australia
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has called for the government of Australia to convene a greenhouse summit to resolve the controversy over Australia’s position on greenhouse gas emission targets. Australia has been resistant to targets and timetables that would severely injure their energy industry. New projections show that greenhouse gas emissions from Australia’s energy sector will rise between 20 and 65 percent by 2010 under current policies.
Jim Downey, director of ACF, explained, “The principal purpose of a summit would be to achieve agreement by industry, government, and the community sector about the policies and measures necessary to achieve emission reductions” (AAP Newsfeed, August 19, 1997).
High Costs Projected for Climate Treaty
According to a study by Resource Data International, Inc., the potential costs of reducing electricity use in the U.S. are very high. By examining how growth in the U.S. electricity supply affects economic growth as measured by GDP the study shows that a $100 carbon tax, required to reduce CO2 emissions to 1990 levels, would reduce GDP growth by $1.314 trillion, or 14 percent by 2010, and up to $16.823 trillion over a 10-year period.
The economic impact of a reduction in the growth of electricity use would fall most heavily on the Midwest. The Midwest lacks alternative electricity generating resources such as hydroelectric and nuclear power and rely on inexpensive coal which generates 72 percent of their energy, compared to only 35 percent in the Coastal regions.
Moreover, energy-intensive industries are more heavily concentrated in the U.S. interior, whereas seaboard economies are more service oriented. The Clinton administration has stated that the primary method to reduce CO2 emissions will be to reduce coal use. Finally, the study argues that a CO2 emission trading scheme would not be a panacea. The success of the SO2 trading scheme in the U.S. primarily results from switching from high to low sulfur coal. The study notes that there is no such thing as low carbon coal.
The study concludes that “no single alternative resource or combination of natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables such as solar or wind, can replace coal to generate electricity and sustain current levels of U.S. economic growth to meet even the most modest climate treaty proposal that would stabilize CO2 emissions at 1990 levels.” The study is available by calling (314) 342-7554 or via the internet at www.peabodygroup.com.
Natural Gas to Reap Benefits from Climate Change Treaty?
At a Colorado Oil and Gas Association conference, Energy Secretary Frederico Pena promised natural gas producers to help “cut red tape that delays drilling and transportation of natural gas as part of a national effort to combat global warming.” Pena promised to convince Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to go ahead with a plan to reduce gas royalties by 1 to 2 percent in exchange for environmental improvements by gas firms. It is doubtful whether favorable treatment to natural gas interests will significantly reduce greenhouse gases, given that natural gas is also a fossil fuel which emits CO2 when burned (Greenwire, August 13, 1997).
Climate Change in Perspective
The Washington Post with its publication of “The Little Ice Age: When Cooling Gripped the World” (August 13, 1997) has finally put climate change in perspective. Alan Cutler, visiting scientist at the National Museum of Natural History, portrays the history of climate change as a primarily natural phenomenon. The Little Ice Age, which began about 500 years ago, was a climate phenomenon which ended sometime between 1850 and 1900, before the industrial revolution. Indeed, most of the warming of the past century occurred before the industrial revolution and is most likely a recovery from the Little Ice Age.
More importantly, however, the article points out that climate change has occurred frequently and rapidly in the past before man began to burn fossil fuels. Throughout history, ecosystems as well as human communities migrated to compensate for climate changes. Between 1000 and 1300 AD, for example, grapes were grown in England 300 miles further north than they are today because of warmer temperatures. During the Little Ice Age, however, the British celebrated the freezing of the Thames river with “Frost Fairs,” while in the United States one could walk from Manhattan to Staten Island on the frozen New York harbor.
There are two possible explanations for the Little Ice Age. Researchers have found a correlation between sunspot activity and temperature. The Little Ice Age occurred during a time of low sunspot activity, known as the Maunder Minimum. The sun’s energy output was about one quarter of one percent dimmer during that period.
Other researchers have examined the possibility of volcanic eruptions as a cause of colder periods. The “Year Without Summer,” for example, followed the eruption of Tambora which put ten times as much ash into the atmosphere as the Krakatoa eruption. One thing is for certain: climate change is a common phenomenon and will occur again regardless of man’s actions. The question is should man raise his puny arm to avert such changes or should he make himself more able to adapt to the inevitable change?
A sidebar to the article begins; “Although it often is claimed that global air temperatures are the warmest ever and that a warming trend in the last 20 years is unprecedented, climatologists know better.”
The warming we have experienced is small compared to the warming after the Little Ice Age which began in 1850 and occurred entirely from natural causes. That warming trend was interrupted by a 35 year cooling between 1940 and 1975 which had some climatologists predicting another ice age. What scientists are
trying to decide is whether current warming is a result of increased atmospheric CO2 or whether this is just “part of a natural climate change of the sort that has been routine for millennia.”
Warming May Thicken Ice Shelves
According to a study in Nature (“Predicted reduction in basal melt rates on an Antarctic ice shelf in a warmer climate,” July 31, 1997), “A moderate warming of the climate could . . . lead to a basal thickening of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, perhaps increasing longevity.”
Though smaller ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula may be shrinking from warming, the larger shelves further south may actually thicken as a result of warming. For now, conditions in the far south are so cold that any warming that has or may occur presents no threat in the immediate future.
Anomalous Heat Wave
Two years ago Chicago experienced an unprecedented heat surge which lead to many deaths. Environmentalists blamed global warming. And the Clinton administration, to this day, cites the heat wave as evidence of the potential impacts of climate change.
A study by Thomas Karl and Richard Knight (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78(6), 1997) counters this view. The researchers found an increasing trend in apparent temperature between the years 1948 and 1995 in Chicago. However, when they accounted for changes in temperature measuring devices (which measure higher maximum and minimum temperatures) they found the trend to be “essentially close to zero.” The urban heat island effect also played a role since the researchers found that Midwestern stations surrounding the Chicago area did not have the same apparent temperature trend.
CO2 Effects on Biomass
In an article for Nature (“CO2 increases oceanic primary production,” August 7, 1997), researchers have found that increases in CO2 concentrations spurs primary production of biomass in the Earth’s oceans, which constitutes 40 percent of total primary production on Earth.
By manipulating CO2 concentrations at 18 stations in the Atlantic Ocean the researchers found that at elevated levels primary production in surface waters was 115 percent of the ambient level, and 119 percent of ambient levels in deeper chlorophyll-rich waters. The levels of CO2 used correspond roughly to those predicted by the IPCC’s “business as usual” scenario.
Another article in the same issue of Nature (“The fate of carbon in grasslands under carbon dioxide enrichment”), researchers found that a doubling of CO2 increased carbon uptake in grasslands, though they warn that the sequestration potential of grasslands has been overestimated. This is due to the fact that elevated CO2 concentration “causes a greater increase in carbon cycling than in carbon storage in grasslands.”
Emission Reduction Proposals Will Be Ineffective
Research conducted at the University of Illinois has shown that of the many short-term targets proposed for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, none of the proposed reductions “will lead to stabilization of carbon dioxide concentrations.”
According to climate researcher Atul Jain, computer simulations “show that the projected rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from the year 1995 to 2010 is much larger than the projected effects of the proposed emission reductions. We also found that the effects of emission reductions on global-mean temperatures and sea level will not be measurable by the year 2010” (Agence France Presse, August 13, 1997).
Babbitt Strikes Again
At an annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt pleaded with those present to help the administration to convince people of the reality
of climate change. Without the support of scientists, politicians will not get support for climate change policies. Babbitt proclaimed, “These are times that simply cry out for scientific involvement, because the public does not have any other source to turn to,” adding that it was scientists’ “civic obligation to take up the advocacy role” (Albuquerque Journal, August 13, 1997).
John Browne, CEO of British Petroleum, recently parted ways with his cohorts in the oil industry over climate change policy. He stated that he now believes that the scientific evidence for global warming is sufficient to justify a climate change treaty. He also admonished the oil industry to begin to take steps to reduce the threat of global warming. For his actions he was rewarded with a standoff with Greenpeace activists as they attempted to prevent the delivery of BP oil rigs to the new Foinaven field north of Scotland and a field in the arctic Beaufort Sea off the coast of Alaska (ANP English News Bulletin, August 18, 1997).
Maybe industry will learn that the environmental movement is not interested in anything less than their total surrender and an end to industrial society. Capitulating to such enemies only emboldens them further. Compromising or retreating in the face of pressure will not appease environmentalists but will invite increasingly harsh demands.
The recent controversy over whether Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat is On, was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize has been settled. In a letter to The Science & Environmental Policy Project, Seymour Topping, Administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, confirmed that Gelbspan is not entitled to claim the Pulitzer Prize on the basis of his having been an editor of the series which won the prize. Topping stated, “Only individuals specifically named in an award citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board are recognized by this office as Pulitzer Prize winners.” For further information see the SEPP’s website at www.his.com/~sepp/.
Sept. 11, EPA Regional Conference on Global Warming, Clarion-Executive House Hotel, downtown Chicago (71 East Wacker Drive).
The Heartland Institute will be hosting a reception at the Clarion-Executive House Hotel on September 10 for participants of the EPA conference. The reception will feature expert discussions on the junk science and flawed economics of the global warming debate. For additional information call Eric Caron or Mike Dixon at (847) 202-3060.
The White House will hold a conference on climate change, October 6, 1997.
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.