White House Climate Change Conference
On October 6, 1997 the White House hosted a conference at Georgetown to “educate” the American people about the dangers of climate change. The conference was telecast via satellite to town meetings nationwide. In his opening remarks President Clinton outlined four principles that would guide his approach toward climate change issues.
First, he stated that he is “convinced that the science of climate change is real . . . although we do not know everything, what we do know is more than enough to warrant responsible action.” Second, the U.S. must commit to “realistic and binding goals on our emissions of greenhouse gases,” Clinton said, “If we expect other nations to act on the problem, we must show leadership.” Third, “we must embrace solutions that will allow us to continue to grow our economy as we honor our global responsibilities and our responsibilities to our children.” Fourth, “we must expect all nations, both industrialized and developing, to participate in the process in a way that is fair to all.”
In spite of Clinton’s assertion that “People of goodwill bring to this conference many honest disagreements about the nature of the threat we face and how we should respond,” there was very little evidence of dissension. The most surprising speech was by William Nordhaus who stated that “we are greatly underestimating the complexity and cost of this undertaking.” He warned that the targets most commonly discussed would double wholesale energy prices and raise coal prices by 300 percent. He compared the effects of binding emission targets to those of the oil shocks of the 1970s.
Vice President Al Gore compared the upcoming negotiations in Kyoto, Japan to the Montreal Protocol which banned ozone depleting substances. At first, he said, the science wasn’t clear, but we put the framework in place. Then, as the science became more clear, we were able to move ahead much faster.
In contrast, Tom Casten, President and CEO of Trigen Energy Corporation argued that deregulation of the energy sector would create the incentives necessary to reduce greenhouse emissions. “Electricity is about the only protected industry left as a monopoly,” Casten said.
Tom Karl, Senior Scientist for NOAA, was silent when claimed heat waves were linked to global warming, even though he recently published an article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (78(6), 1997) showing that there is no trend in apparent temperatures in the Chicago area, debunking recent claims that the deadly Chicago heat wave was further evidence of a warming planet.
Jessica Tuchman Mathews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said several surprising and disturbing things. With regard to a possible international emissions trading scheme, she warned that such a system would not be a panacea, saying that the “sulfur model is a pale shadow of what will be needed internationally.” She also argued, as did others at the conference, that we can achieve the necessary reductions at little cost, saying that, “There’s whole closets full of technological substitutes that we can’t use because energy is just too cheap.”
Pointing to history she noted that international treaties generally take ten years of negotiations to get something meaningful into place. She defined success at Kyoto as not necessarily implementing targets and timetables but merely a commitment by the developed countries to go first and to put a framework in place for future negotiations. Finally, when asked whether the treaty would lessen the sovereignty of the United States, she replied that in the world in which we live, “Ceding tiny bits of sovereignty is the name of the game.”
A Framework Treaty From Kyoto
Acting assistant secretary of State, Melinda Kimble, said that climate talks in Kyoto will most likely fall short of the original goal of setting emission reduction targets and timetables for the industrialized countries. A more likely outcome would be a broad framework agreement on emission controls and an agreement to continue negotiations in 1998.
Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said at a conference sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists that binding targets are not necessarily needed at Kyoto. What is critical, argued Mathews, is that the participants agree that targets and timetables are needed and that a short-term schedule be set for implementing those targets. She also claimed that putting the developing countries on a later emission reduction schedule than the industrial countries would, “wipe away the most difficult political argument” against a climate treaty (Daily Environment Report, October 1, 1997).
What Do the People Think?
The World Wildlife Federation released a poll on September 29 which found that half of U.S. voters believe that global warming is happening now, and 24 percent more believe it will happen in the future. Sixty percent agreed that “stricter controls on CO2 emissions are worth the cost and would protect health and create new jobs,” while 18 percent said stricter regulation would hurt the economy and cost jobs. Of those polled whose income depend on three industries likely to be hurt by CO2 reductions, 74 percent favored international controls on greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other hand, when asked if they would favor a 50 cent per gallon gas tax, even if given a rebate on their income tax more than half said no. Less than half favored a tradable emissions scheme for industry. Respondents did, however, favor incentives and tax credits for households upgrading to more energy efficient appliances and requiring electric utilities to increase energy efficiency and use less polluting energy sources. Finally, the majority of respondents said they
would be willing to pay higher electricity bills so that their utility could cut greenhouse gas emissions (BNA Daily Environment Report, September 30, 1997).
Another poll (Public Opinion on Global Climate Issues, May 1997) released by the Small Business Survival Committee found that 60 percent of Americans oppose a climate treaty that would destroy American jobs. Eighty-six percent of the respondents agreed that a climate change treaty should treat all countries equally, requiring all to reduce CO2 emissions. Sixty-seven percent said that the U.S. should not help developing countries reduce emissions with free American technology.
Seventy-three percent of respondents oppose “locking the United States into long-term, costly programs before we know how best to respond,” and 70 percent believe that “government officials will make decisions without checking public opinion and without regard for costs to individuals.
What can we learn from these polls? That Americans are in favor of climate change policies when the costs are perceived as small or will be borne by others. They do not support policies which would impose costs upon themselves.
Japan Announces Its Proposal
Japan has announced that in Kyoto it will propose a 5 percent reduction of greenhouse gases compared to 1990 levels by between 2008 and 2012. The Japanese proposal has three conditions:
- Methane and nitrous oxide will be included in calculating emissions.
- The protocol must be “conditioned by technological developments, energy supply conditions, and changes of industrial structures of participating countries.”
- The protocol must allow nations to “set other targets, based on a formula that reflects gross domestic product, gas emissions per capita, or population growth.”
Under the proposed formula, reduction requirements will be less than 5 percent for most countries. Japan, for example, will only have to reduce emissions by 2.5 percent. But, concede Japanese officials, “the real ratio is only 0.5 percent” when the flexibility provisions are taken into account. Reduction levels for other countries will be 1.8 percent for Australia, 2.6 percent for the United States, 3.1 percent for the European Union, and 5 percent for Russia. The proposal also calls for “studying the viability of financial and technological support” to help developing countries take on “voluntary actions.” (BNA Daily Environment Report, October 8, 1997).
Other International News
- The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, (OECD) an economic organization representing 29 industrialized countries, came out in favor of differentiated targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, based on what countries have already done to reduce CO2 emissions. The OECD also stated that it is necessary for the developing countries to be involved in reducing CO2 emissions (Japan Economic Newswire, September 25, 1997).
- France is considering increasing its commitment to reduce greenhouse gases. Under the European Union plan, which will require a 15 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2010 with differentiated targets for member countries, France would only be required to stabilize their emissions at 1990 levels. France may now commit to a 5 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2010.
A report by the French Institute for Evaluation of Energy and Environmental Strategies (INESTENE) argues that France could cut emissions by 10 percent by 2005 without major costs. According to Antoine Bonduelle of INESTENE, “France can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions without putting economic growth or the quality of life of its citizens at risk. The technological solutions are already on the table and are simply waiting to be put in action” (BNA Daily Environment Report, September 30, 1997).
- U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Timothy Wirth attacked the European Union’s climate change proposal [a reduction of greenhouse gases to 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2010] as “fuzzy” and containing “vague promises,” while the Japanese proposal [a 5 percent reduction over the same timescale] is “thoughtful and specific.” Wirth accused the EU of complicating negotiations by presenting “an unrealistic and unachievable target…” “It appears to me,” said Wirth, “that we’re reaching something of an impasse with our European colleagues.” When the U.S. presents its proposal is should not be judged against the “fuzzy EU standard,” Wirth asserted (BNA Daily Environment Report, October 10, 1997).
- According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if developing nations are allowed to voluntarily participate in an international emission trading scheme they will see the value of agreeing to legally binding commitments. They further claim that voluntary participation in joint implementation will be beneficial, allowing industrialized countries to lower their costs of abatement and giving developing countries advanced technologies to improve energy efficiency and preserve natural resources (BNA Daily Environment Report, October 6, 1997).
Once Again. Kyoto Will Be Costly!
WEFA, Inc. has just released a study outlining the costs of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and stabilizing them at that level.
According to the study such reductions will lead to a loss of $227 billion of GDP (1992$) in the year 2010 alone. The cumulative loss of GDP from 2001 to 2020 will be $3.3 trillion. The per person real GDP loss will be $838 or $2,061 per household.
The impact on employment will also be large. Under this scenario there will be 1.8 million fewer jobs in 2010. Other costs include a 9 percent increase in food prices, 11 percent increase in the cost of health care, and a 14 percent increase in housing costs in the year 2020 over a business as usual scenario.
The study notes that though the costs will be significant for everyone, they will fall more heavily on low income families. Lower income families spend a greater proportion of their income on energy. For example, a family earning between $15,000 to 20,000 spends from between 5.8 to 7.7 percent of its income on fuel expenditures. While a family earning over $75,000 spends only 2.4 percent of its income on fuel. In other words a carbon tax would be highly regressive.
According to a new study released by the Department of Energy (DOE), the United States can reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 with no net cost to the economy. This can be achieved by increasing the use of energy efficient technology.
But, the report warns, the federal government will have to massively increase investments in developing and promoting technology. Is it any surprise that the major recipient of this increased “investment” would be the DOE and the five national laboratories that participated in producing the study?
The study claims that the U.S. can reduce its energy bill by between $50 billion and $90 billion per year by switching to natural gas instead of electricity for residential use, replacing coal-burning plants with natural gas plants, and increasing the use of biofuels such as ethanol. It further claims that through the use of tradable emission markets at a cost of $50 per ton of carbon and greater use of energy-efficient technology industry can reduce emissions by 390 million tons per year (Nature, October 2, 1997).
It’s interesting to note that Argonne National Laboratories, which participated in the current study, recently found in its own assessment that the costs to the economy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be very high. No explanation was given for the flip-flop.
Administration No Show
The Clinton Administration failed to show up at hearings conducted by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on September 30. A Department of Energy report, claiming that greenhouse gas emissions could be paid for through energy savings, as well as a statement made by President Clinton that the U.S. could reduce emissions by 20 percent at no cost, prompted the committee to invite the Administration to defend these claims in hearings. Committee chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “the empty chair is all the testimony we need that the Administration’s position is economically indefensible.”
Several witnesses did, however, discuss the economic impacts of a new climate change treaty. Cecil E. Roberts, Jr., president of the United Mine Workers of America, argued that a binding commitment would lead to 1.6 million lost jobs with coal miners being hardest hit. Ron McMahan, president of Resource Data International Inc., argued, “My greatest concern about the administration’s position is their assumption that it is somehow possible to ‘de-link’ energy from the economy – an unprecedented and, in my opinion, unreasonable assumption.”
McMahan also criticized the proposed carbon emission trading schemes. “Right now,” he said, “low sulfur coal generally is less expensive than high sulfur coal, making compliance with the trading program easy. There are no ‘low carbon’ coal sources” (Daily Environment Report, October 1, 1997).
$1 Billion Initiative
President Clinton has proposed a $1 billion give away to nine countries to promote energy efficiency, develop alternative energy sources and improve resource management. The plan developed by the U.S. Agency for International Development will spend $750 million in grant aid and $250 million in loans and loan guarantees over five years and will focus on Russia, Ukraine, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, Poland, the Philippines, and South Africa. Central Asia, Central America and Central Africa will also receive some of the money (Reuters, October 4, 1997).
Satellite Temperature Data: How Accurate?
In an letter to Nature (March 13, 1997) James W. Hurrell and Kevin E. Trenberth questioned the reliability of the satellite temperature data which show a slight cooling trend over the last 20 years. They argue that the data contain significant discontinuities due to various factors, the most important being the replacement of worn out satellites. The main contention in the Hurrell/Trenberth paper is that there are two “spurious” downward jumps in the satellite record due to changes in satellites and that the real temperature trend is slightly positive.
There are some serious errors with the method used by Hurrell and Trenberth, however. Drs. John R. Christy, Roy W. Spencer, and William D. Braswell, who track and publish the satellite temperature data, point out those errors in correspondence to Nature (September 25, 1997).
There are two methods to directly measure the temperature of the lower troposphere (surface to 7 km). One is balloon-borne instruments known as radiosondes which rise through the atmosphere. The other are microwave sounding units (MSUs) mounted on satellites which measure the intensities of microwave emissions from atmospheric oxygen which are proportional to temperature.
There is strong agreement between the two records even over the periods where Hurrell and Trenberth claim that the spurious jumps take place. Another data set is also available from the NOAA-06 and NOAA-07 satellites which were measuring temperatures at the time of the breaks that Hurrell and Trenberth claim to have discovered. These also agree with the MSU data.
Hurrell and Trenberth ignore the balloon data and estimate atmospheric temperatures using sea-surface temperatures (SSTs). There are a couple of problems with this method, however. First, the regions where Hurrell and Trenberth find the greatest disagreement is in the Pacific and Indian Oceans where ship data are scattered. Buoy data have also been available since the early-1980s. But, as Christy points out in correspondence with May Cooler Heads Prevail, “the SST dataset is not homogeneous for these critical regions. Ships and buoys do not measure the water temperature to the agreement necessary for the types of variations we look at for climate change over a decade or so.”
Second, Hurrell and Trenberth derive atmospheric temperatures from the SSTs using general circulation models (GCMs). Christy argues that “There is considerable evidence that SSTs and the atmospheric temperature do not behave in the rigid fashion believed by Hurrell and Trenberth and represented by their simple [linear] regression model. Several studies show that for long periods of (months to years) there are differences between SSTs and air temperatures due to the natural variability of the vertical structure of the atmosphere.”
Once again advocates of the global warming hypothesis use imperfect models to attack actual observed data, standing the scientific method on its head. In the past, when data contradicted the models, the models were rejected. With highly politicized global warming science, however, empirical evidence that contradicts the politically predetermined outcome is either ignored or explained away as anomalous.
What Do Scientists Say?
A survey of state climatologists by Citizens for a Sound Economy found that there is little support for the global warming hypothesis. When asked if they agreed with the statement by President Clinton, “The overwhelming balance of evidence and scientific opinion is that it is no longer a theory but now a fact, that global warming is for real. There is ample evidence that human activities are already disrupting the global climate….” 36 percent agreed, while 58 percent disagreed.
Asked whether “recent global warming is largely a natural phenomenon,” 44 percent said yes while 17 percent said no. Nine out of ten surveyed agreed that “scientific evidence indicates variations in global temperature are likely to be naturally-occurring and cyclical over very long periods of time.” Eighty-nine percent of the climatologists agreed that “current science is unable to isolate and measure variations in global temperatures caused only by man-made factors,” and 61 percent said that the historical data do not indicate “that fluctuations in global temperatures are attributable to human influences such as burning fossil fuels.”
Sixty percent of the respondents said that reducing man-made CO2 emissions by 15 percent below 1990 levels would not prevent global temperatures from rising, and 86 percent said that reducing emissions to 1990 levels would not prevent rising temperatures. Finally, by a 39 to 33 percent margin, more climatologists say that, “evidence exists to suggest that the earth is headed for another glacial period.” The survey can be found at www.cse.org/cse/ and www.globalwarming.org.
What Does the Science Say?
Dr. S. Fred Singer of the Science and Environmental Policy Project has just released a overview of the current state of climate change science and asks whether drastic reductions in greenhouse gases are justified.
The objective of a global climate treaty would be to prevent “dangerous interference with the climate system.” But, according to Singer, there is no scientific evidence that would suggest what level of interference would be dangerous. An article appearing in Science argued that 350-400 ppm is a dangerous level of CO2. However, they base this on an arbitrary “dangerous” temperature increase of 2 degrees C.
Singer also challenges the claim in the 1996 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that it is now possible to discern the human influence among the noise on climate change. First, the “natural” variations are derived from computer models rather than actual observations. Second, the computer models exclude the cooling effects of mineral dust and of smoke and soot from burning biomass and the cloud production effects of sulfate aerosols.
Singer also contends that warmer weather would be beneficial to mankind. Warmer global temperatures, the models predict, would reduce the temperature gap between the northern and southern hemispheres reducing storm intensity at the mid-latitudes. Northern hurricanes, for example, have fallen in both frequency and intensity over the last 50 years. Rainfall has fallen worldwide for the last 40 years. As for rising sea levels Singer argues that they are correlated with falling temperatures.
Singer concludes there is little evidence to justify drastic reductions of greenhouse gases. The best way to avoid the adverse effects of climate change is to adapt. He notes that societies that are economically advanced are the least affected by changes in climate and more readily adapt to changes. Economic development (which will require greater emissions) then is necessary if we are to avoid adverse effects which may arise from climate change. The report is available by contacting SEPP at (703) 352-7535 or by e-mail at [email protected].
The Competitive Enterprise Institute placed a newspaper ad in the Outlook section of the October 5th Washington Post. The ad compared Clinton Administration statements that climate change is now a fact and that skeptics are “un-American” with statements appearing in news stories in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Science that cast doubt on climate change forecasts.