Heated House Hearings
On July 29, the House Committee on Small Business became the scene of a heated debate about the science of global warming. The committee held a hearing to “determine whether and to what extent the Earth is actually warming.” Committee chairman Jim Talent (R-MO) concluded that according to the preponderance of evidence brought before his committee, global warming predictions are based primarily on:
- “The pretense of a consensus within the scientific community, when in fact no such consensus exists;
- “Highly selective and misleading use of data; and
- An “utter failure to confront the body of evidence suggesting that the Earth’s warming trend is natural and beneficial.”
The hearing featured various scientists on each side of the debate. Robert Watson, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), led off the hearings by claiming that “[t]he overwhelming majority of scientific experts recognize that scientific uncertainties exist, but still believe that human-induced climate change is inevitable.”
On the basis of this assertion, Watson proceeded to speculate about the dire consequences of global warming. The litany is now familiar: the migration of endangered ecosystems, starvation, sea level rise, increased disease, and so on. Dan Lashof of the National Resources Defense Council relied almost entirely on recent weather extremes to bolster his case, raising the specter of global warming-induced heat waves, infectious disease, floods and droughts.
Patrick Michaels, a climatologist with the University of Virginia, argued that several recent findings “lead inescapably to the conclusion that the magnitude and the threat from global warming is greatly diminished.” For example, it appears that the IPCC overestimated the contribution of carbon dioxide to global warming. Moreover, methane, an important greenhouse gas, is not likely to increase as greatly as the IPCC has projected. Michaels believes that the failure of the climate models is the result of overestimating the sensitivity of the atmosphere to climate forcings.
“Attempting to understand the climate is not aided by the recent fixation on extreme events as indicators of climate change,” according to University of Alabama, Huntsville climatologist John Christy, a contributor to the 1995 IPCC report.
Using data from the National Climatic Data Center, Christy showed that the drought that caused the recent Florida wildfires was not remarkable. In fact, in this century “only one decade – the 1940’s – barely had fewer drought months than the decade of the 1990s.” Christy also showed that there is no significant trend in extreme droughts or floods in the last 100 years.
Congress Opens Door to EPA Lobbying, Kyoto Implementation
The House voted to approve an amendment authored by David Obey (D-WI) that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to spend money for educational outreach and informational seminars on global warming (National Journal’s CongressDaily, July 24, 1998). The amendment does not affect language that prohibits the EPA from using funds to lobby for implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. Critics of the amendment point out that it will allow the EPA to continue its advocacy efforts under the rubric of “education.” The EPA already claims that its lobbying efforts are merely educational efforts.
A Senate Republican aide signaled that even the no-implementation-without-ratification language would not survive a House-Senate conference committee. The aide reported that the goal of Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee VA/HUD panel, “is to get a bill that the president will sign” and attempt to “minimize very controversial issues” (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 31, 1998). For a description of EPA-funded outreach efforts, see “Cashing in On Global Warming” by James Sheehan in CEI UpDate, www.cei.org/update/1998/0698-js.html.
Allegations of Misconduct, Abuse of Power Surface at Federal Agencies
The Environmental Protection Agency is developing a reputation for retaliating against whistleblowers who question the agency’s use of science in the implementation of regulatory policies. Abuses of power at the EPA – extending to the level of Administrator Carol Browner’s office – are documented in The People v. Carol Browner, by Bonner Cohen, editor of EPA Watch. A Washington Times story about the allegations of official misconduct inspired a letter to the editor signed by numerous EPA scientists and staff confirming Cohen’s claims. The letter says in part, “We find the situation [at EPA] so reprehensible that we submit this letter, risking our careers rather than choosing to remain silent.” They also assert that, “retaliation against whistleblowers occurs at every management level. At times it involves the highest levels of administration – including the offices of regional administrators and the office of Administrator Carol Browner” (The Washington Times, June 10, 1998). A copy of the report and the letter can be found at http://www.nwi.org/SpecialStudies/EPAReport/Overview.html.
Similar patterns of misconduct have surfaced at the Department of Energy. Hazel O’Leary, former Energy Secretary said that there has been “a practice of repeated and long-term reprisal” against whistleblowers at the department. In a videotaped deposition, she confesses that this was an “agency-wide” problem. It was believed at DOE that those “who generally challenged the department on issues of health and safety and reliability were somehow kooky, a little crazed” (Government Executive, July 1998).
White House Releases its Analysis
After months of stonewalling, the Clinton Administration finally released on July 31 its economic analysis of the costs of complying with the Kyoto Protocol. If ratified, the protocol would require the U.S. to reduce its emissions to an average of 7 percent below 1990 levels during the period of 2008-2012. According to the analysis, meeting the target would cost between 0.07 and 0.11 percent of GDP or about $7 to $12 billion per year. These costs would mean a rise in gasoline prices of about 4 to 6 cents per gallon and increase the average household utility bill by $70 to $100 per year.
The Administration continues to assume a fully functioning, international emissions trading system that it believes would reduce the costs of compliance substantially. Emissions allowances would sell for between $14 and $23 per ton of carbon equivalent, according to the analysis. It is not clear how this figure was estimated. The Administration explained that the analysis only looked at how the market would develop under these prices. It estimates that the U.S. would meet approximately 75 percent of its reductions through emissions trading.
Finally, the analysis claims that compliance would have little effect on the international competitiveness of U.S. firms. Since energy only makes up a small amount of the costs of production, increases in those costs will not induce U.S. companies to flee to the Third World. Moreover, the costs of emissions reductions will fall most heavily on those economic sectors that are “severely limited in their ability to relocate to other countries.”
Several industry and environmental groups blasted the Administration’s analysis. Michael Marvin, executive director of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy said that the analysis has “ridiculous overestimations.” According to Marvin, using existing energy-efficiency, renewable energy, and natural gas, the U.S. could meet the Kyoto obligations at even less cost than the Administration claims.
Connie Holmes, chairman of the Global Climate Coalition, argued that “The analysis is based on the smoke and mirrors [of] an emissions trading system that may never be put in place.” Indeed China and other key developing countries have made it clear that they will not participate in emissions reductions in any form. Ozone Action fears that if the United States does not show a willingness to reduce emissions at home it will be impossible to get the developing countries to agree to participate in emissions reductions (BNA Daily Environment Report, August 3, 1998).
Switch to Solar, Wind Power No More Possible Today Than in 1970s
The Kyoto Protocol will turn over 1 million small to medium size businesses into regulated stationary emission sources. To comply with the new regulatory requirements each business will have to spend a minimum of $30,000 per year just on administrative costs alone, estimates technology analyst Mark P. Mills, president of Mills, McCarthy and Associates.
Mills presented his findings at a July 24 congressional staff and media briefing sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in conjunction with the Cooler Heads Coalition.
Renewable energy sources, according to Mills, cannot meet America’s growing energy needs. Mills points out that one third of America’s GDP growth in the last two decades was fueled with nuclear power, approximately the same percentage of energy that would have to be replaced if the U.S. complies with the Kyoto Protocol. He calculates that to replace that much energy use over the next two decades with solar and wind power would require a 37,000-fold increase in the next ten years. “It ain’t going to happen,” says Mills. To get an idea of the magnitude of the change necessary in the U.S., Mills said that to replace just 5 percent of energy use in 2010 using wind power would require a two-mile wide swath of wind turbines the size of the Washington Monument from coast to coast.
Finally Mills exposes the hubris of the would-be energy planners. The same people, says Mills, who just twenty years ago utterly failed to predict our current energy situation are now telling us that they can make forecasts and policy for 50 to 100 years into the future. He quoted several studies from the 1970s by environmental groups, government agencies, think tanks, and universities that utterly failed to correctly predict the future of energy.
One such study, by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) stated, “It’s now abundantly clear that the world has entered a period of chronic energy shortages that will continue until mankind has learned to harness energy from renewable sources.” Mills points out that “[t]he prescription to solve the problem, if you read these old documents, is verbatim. It’s like they took the documents and just recycled the word processor to what they’re saying today to solve a different problem, the problem then was we had too little oil, the problem today is with too much oil.”
Activists Downplay Kyoto’s Cost
Speaking of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the advocacy group just released its latest study in support of energy controls. The new report claims that compliance with the Kyoto Protocol would cost little and might even reap net benefits. Says UCS: “Claims that compliance with the Kyoto Protocol would be prohibitively expensive and would seriously harm the American economy are overblown.”
UCS believes that the Kyoto accord will force the adoption of numerous cost-saving opportunities that have thus far escaped the attention of profit-making businesses. The study’s findings parallel those of the White House, but do not rely on emissions trading to offset costs (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 24, 1998).
Infectious Disease Expert Debunks Global Warming Myth
A warmer climate would not cause the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, according to Dr. Paul Reiter, chief of entomology at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a July 28 briefing to congressional staff and media sponsored by the Cooler Heads Coalition, Reiter explained that there is no connection between warmer temperatures and the presence of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever. Proponents of the Kyoto treaty claim that global warming will spread many tropical diseases to the U.S.
Reiter called these claims false and alarmist. Malaria, for example, has been found as far north as the Soviet Union and Scandinavia. Many of these diseases used to be endemic in the United States, sometimes killing thousands of people in dozens of epidemics. The near absence of these diseases in the United States today can be credited to modern day innovations in both housing and health care (Washington Times, July 29, 1998).
Ocean False Alarms
One of the possible consequences of a warmer world would be the disruption of the Atlantic Ocean’s thermohaline circulation that warms the northern latitudes by carrying warm water from the equator on a conveyor belt type circulation. Researchers have discovered that this conveyor belt has shut down completely in the past, causing violent temperature swings of as much as 10 degrees in just a few years.
At the end of the last Ice Age, around 13,000 years ago, the conveyor belt motion shut down and stayed that way for about 200 years. Researchers believe that a gradual warming of the Arctic melted glaciers, injecting large volumes of freshwater into the northern North Atlantic. The less salty, less dense water failed to sink, causing the thermohaline circulation to cease. Ironically, the warming that stopped the circulation led to frigid temperatures in Europe.
Wallace Broecker, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in an article appearing in Science last year, discussed the possibility of this occurring as a result of manmade global warming. Using a computer model he determined that freshwater injections from Arctic rivers could cause the shutdown of the thermohaline circulation.
The study, however, has some serious shortcomings, according to Dr. Roger Pocklington, an oceanographer at the Bermuda Biological Station. Broecker assumes, for example, that the “excess of precipitation plus runoff over evaporation” will increase by 50 percent. The IPCC, however, only predicts an increase of precipitation of 5 to 10 percent. Pocklington also points out that Arctic rivers draw their waters from the interior of the Asian continent which is supposed to get drier as a result of global warming (The Climate Change Report, November 28, 1998). Pocklington’s research also shows that the North Atlantic is in the midst of a long-term cooling trend.
Broecker admits that current knowledge about ocean circulation is incomplete, which is why “there’s nothing to do but guess” about the chances of a climate flip-flop. He sounded the alarm precisely because of the climate’s capricious nature. Much more research will be needed, however, before Broecker’s conclusions can be verified (Science, July 10, 1998).
No Panic Yet on Antarctic Glacier
Melting glaciers and rising sea levels have been touted as one of the consequences of manmade global warming. An article in Science (July 24, 1998) by E.J. Rignot at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology finds that the Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica receded quickly from 1992 to 1996. Using satellite images Rignot found that the glacier had receded 1.2±0.3 kilometers per year during this period, which implies that the ice thinned by 3.5±0.9 meters per year.
The significant retreat has some researchers afraid that this could signal the beginning the collapse of the entire ice sheet, according to a news article in Science. But most aren’t panicking yet. The main problem is the very short time interval of four years, according to glaciologist Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University in State College, a reservation that Rignot shares. “Glaciers do weird things,” says Alley. For example, “one of the ice streams draining into the Ross Sea stopped flowing about 100 years ago, and another slowed by 50 % during the past 35 years.”
An Assist From The Plants
The carbon cycle, the exchange of carbon between the atmosphere and the earth, is a little understood phenomenon. As much as a third of the carbon dioxide emitted by man, for example, disappears without a trace. We simply do not know where it goes. We do know that there are three major reservoirs of carbon – the oceans, the atmosphere, and the terrestrial biosphere – that are in constant exchange with one another. We also know that carbon dioxide is on the rise due to the burning of fossil fuels, but scientists are not sure if this is good or bad.
Some have been concerned that the release of carbon dioxide through biomass burning and deforestation would lead to large increases of atmospheric CO2. However, as discussed in a recent Science article (July 10, 1998) by Pieter Tans at NOAA and James White at the University of Colorado, Boulder, researchers have found that there is a large terrestrial carbon sink at the temperate latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere that “compensates for, or is larger than the estimated rate of carbon loss attributable to deforestation in the tropics.”
Other questions remain. The oceans, for example, are the largest component of the carbon cycle. Recent research, however, should cut the error bars of the current IPCC estimates of ocean uptake in half. It is still very difficult to predict the future, says Tans and White. “Will the terrestrial sink taper off?” they ask. They don’t know, but one thing is certain, the models used by the IPCC are not up to the task of forecasting future carbon levels. Most predictions “assume that the biology and circulation of the oceans do not change.” This is very unlikely, say Tans and White. “Biological productivity in the high latitude oceans plays an enormous role in setting atmospheric CO2 concentrations,” according to the researchers. “Any climate driven change in ocean circulation is nearly certain to affect the uptake rate of fossil fuel CO2.”
- The Cooler Heads Coalition is hosting the fifth in its series of science briefings for congressional staff and media on August 7, 1998. The briefing will feature Dr. Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who will discuss the role of sun variability in climate change. The briefing will be held from 12:00 Noon – 1:30 p.m. at room 311 in the Cannon House Office Building.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Policy will hold a two-day conference on October 7 and 8, 1998 at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, on the impacts of global warming on wildlife.
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
Americans for Tax ReformAmerican Policy CenterCenter for Security PolicyCitizens Against Government WasteCitizens for a Sound EconomyCommittee for a Constructive TomorrowCompetitive Enterprise InstituteConsumer AlertFrontiers of FreedomGeorge C. Marshall InstituteIndependent InstituteNational Center for Policy AnalysisNational Center for Public Policy ResearchPacific Research InstituteReason Public Policy InstituteSeniors Coalition60 PlusSmall Business Survival CommitteeThe Advancement of Sound Science CoalitionThe Heritage Foundation