Vol. VII, No. 14



Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate Environment


The Democratic contenders for the White House focused on health issues at an environmental debate in Los Angeles hosted by the League of Conservation Voters on June 26.


Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) argued that environmental issues are tied to jobs, health, and national security.  In a written statement he claimed that increasing use of renewables to 20% by 2020 would create 500,000 new jobs.  He also announced that he would force the oil and gas industry to fund technology intended to put them out of business, increase fuel efficiency, and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.  Sen. Kerry has yet to comment on the Cape Cod wind farm.


Former Gov. Howard Dean (Vt.) spoke of his experience as a doctor, and linked airborn pollutants to asthma.  He has written that oil is tied to national security because it is the lifeline of terrorists, but opposes drilling in ANWR and instead plans for higher CAFE standards on SUVs.


Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) recommended the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on the logic that following Europe’s lead will, “restore us as the moral leader of the world.”  He also has a “Declaration of Energy Independence,” which focuses on reducing foreign oil consumption by two thirds within ten years and eliminating it completely within twenty years.


Former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun criticized the President at the debate as being in the pocket of energy lobbyists.


According to Rev. Al Sharpton, the President’s Clear Skies proposal, “is nothing but a gift to his friends in big business.”  He also believes that because protecting the environment is labor intensive, pro-environmental policies will create jobs instead of eliminating them.


Other Candidates’ Stances


Four Democratic candidates did not appear at the debate.  However, they have already all gone on record in regard to their environmental policies.


Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) blames our nation’s vulnerability to terrorism on our dependence on Mideast oil.  He wants to support alternative transportation power schemes (including other technologies than fuel cells) and higher CAFE standards.  He also opposes any revision to the Clean Air Act saying, “It’s going to give more children asthma attacks and more seniors heart problems.”


Rep. Dick Gephardt (Mo.) accuses the White House of refusing to enforce the Clean Air Act and allowing more arsenic in drinking water.  He also opposes increasing energy resources stating, “I will continue to fight against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” instead outlining an ‘Apollo’ project to free the US from Persian Gulf Oil in ten years.  His plan includes one million hybrid cars by 2010 and 2.5 million fuel cell cars by 2020.


Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) highlights his experience as governor of Florida when discussing environmental issues.  He writes, “I brought more environmentally endangered lands into public ownership than any other state in the nation during that time.”  He wants to increase government investment in renewable energy, including ethanol, wind, and solar.


Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) believes that technological advances in renewables have broken down old barriers to development.  He seeks to spur research and development in hydrogen, solar, wind, and ocean energy sources, and to expand public ownership and control of utilities.  In addition, he wants to initiate a ‘Global Green Deal’ for renewable energy both at home and in developing countries.  On other environmental fronts, he has opposed advances in biotechnology in the food supply and claims to have thwarted nuclear waste dumping.


Maine Governor Signs Climate Law


On June 26, Maine Governor John Baldacci signed a bill into law that aims at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.  It requires Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection to convene a group of stakeholders, including environmentalist groups and at least 50 businesses that will agree to an emissions reduction plan by 2006.  The law also includes a carbon sequestration program allowing credit for carbon taken up by vegetation.  The cost of the law has not been estimated. 


The new act had its origins in the 2001 compact between New England governors and premiers of Canada’s eastern provinces.  Its sponsor, Rep. Ted Koffman (D-Bar Harbor) told the Bangor Daily News that immediate action was needed for Maine to do its part in protecting the world from the effects of climate change.  The Daily News outlined the dangers supposedly threatening Maine:  “Here in New England, the temperature and sea level are on the rise, according to scientists.  Climate models predict that much of the state’s famous coastline could be lost.  Rising temperatures and more frequent storms will bring increased disease.  Because Maine is located at an ecological boundary, a shift of just a few degrees could mean the loss of the spruce-fir forests that support the state’s paper industry, the famed Maine moose and even the lobster fishery.”  (Bangor Daily News, June 26)


Russia: Kyoto Ratification Latest


While the members of Russia’s parliament, the Duma, appears broadly in favor of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears less enthusiastic about the idea.  There have been increased efforts by European governments to persuade Russia to ratify the document, as it cannot come into effect without ratification by either Russia or the United States.


Most Russian parliamentarians support the protocol, Robert Nigmatulin, chairman of a parliamentary committee that advises on ecological issues, told Reuters.  He said, “I am in favour of it, and I think most deputies are in favour of it.  The treaty has to be ratified by the Duma, but it is the president that will decide.”


Putin himself appears less than impressed by the protocol’s effectiveness, telling a group of students, “If everything that was written in the Kyoto Protocol came into effect, it would not solve the problem. (But) it is true, as my European colleagues say, that it is a step in the right direction.”


A major conference on climate change science is scheduled to take place in Moscow in the fall.  Russian scientists and economists have recently expressed skepticism about whether global warming is occurring at all (see the May 28 issue).  The news that this June was Moscow’s coldest since 1941 will not have helped make the case for climate change.  Moscow’s normal average temperature for June is 17.5° C.  This year’s was a mere 13°.  (Reuters, July 7/ Moscow Times, July 1).




EIA Puts Cost of McCain-Lieberman at $507 Billion


The Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U. S. Department of Energy released its analysis last month of S.139, the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Az.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.).  The bill may be offered as an amendment to S. 14, the comprehensive energy bill, which the Senate is scheduled to take up again later this month.  It would introduce a “cap and trade” program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The EIA found the economic effects would be far-reaching.  As a result of energy price increases, the average household’s energy bill would increase by $444 per year by 2025, although a new bureaucracy set up by the bill called the Climate Change Credit Corporation would issue rebates, assistance and other payments in a form of energy welfare to offset much of this cost.


Yet the EIA found that the impact on the economy as a whole would not be made up by hand-outs from government.  The economy would be severely affected, resulting in job and output losses in the short-run.  Because of this shock, national real disposable income would drop by almost 1 percent by 2011, and would take fifteen years to return to the amount reached in 2000.  By 2025, the average person would have lost almost $2,500 as a result of McCain-Lieberman.  The effect on GDP would be even more startling, with the nation losing $507 billion (in real terms using 1996 dollars) over the next twenty-two years.  By 2025, the country’s GDP would be $106 billion lower in real terms than it is today.


The analysis also found that nuclear power generation would expand by 50 percent and that oil import dependence would drop from 67.8 percent to 64.7 percent of the total US oil supply.  Total greenhouse gas emissions would drop to 2000 levels by 2025, but this does not reflect any increases in carbon sequestration or the purchase of emissions reductions abroad.  The price of emissions allowances would grow from $79 per metric ton of carbon equivalent in 2010 to $221 in 2025.  (Report available for download at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/ml/pdf/summary.pdf).


Oil Drilling Protects Rainforests


A new study by an Indonesian-based organization, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) suggests that exploitation of oil resources in tropical areas can help preserve the rainforests.  Income from oil drilling, for instance, strengthens countries’ currencies, thereby making it less profitable for foreign companies to invest in logging operations.  Governments also tend to invest their new wealth in cities, attracting people away from the forests, where they would otherwise engage in “slash-and-burn” agriculture and hunt for bushmeat.  By contrast, slumps in earnings associated with cutbacks in oil production lead to jobless people returning to the forests and resuming these activities.


The report’s author, Sven Wunder, told the BBC, “The key lesson is not that [oil and minerals] are good for forests, but rather that changes in commodity prices, exchange rates and wage rates frequently have a much greater impact on the environment than most people realize.”


Gabon in West Africa is cited as a prime example.  As the oil boom there took hold, the report found that most Gabonese stopped farming and relied on imports, leading to an exodus from rural areas. The researchers conclude that “Gabon has probably seen marginal net reforestation since 1970.  CIFOR told the BBC that it receives no funding from the oil industry. (BBC News Online, June 26).




Cosmic Influence on Climate


In new research published in GSA Today, a publication of the Geological Society of America, researchers Nir Shahiv and Jan Veizer conclude that cosmic rays emanating from dying stars account for 75 percent of the change in the Earth’s climate over the past 500 million years.  This means that carbon dioxide accounts for much less of the recent mild warming trend than commonly postulated.


The theory is that cosmic rays increase the number of charged particles in the atmosphere, which then leads to the formation of more low-level clouds that cool the atmosphere.  Shaviv and Veizer have put together a model that looks at the interaction of cosmic rays with historical climate data.


The researchers were able to place an upper limit on the role of CO2 that translates to a temperature increase of about 0.75° C. associated with a doubling of CO2.  This is about one-third the amount of radiative forcing assumed in most general circulation models.  The findings are also consistent with the suggestion that much of the warming seen over the last century is associated with increased solar activity rather than greenhouse gases.  (Nature, July 8).


Mann Reacts to Paleoclimate Study


Michael Mann of the University of Virginia and a group of other paleoclimatologists have responded to the recent study by Wille Soon et al on the evidence that the Medieval Warm Period and subsequent Little Ice Age were worldwide phenomena.  The Soon study refutes the “hockey stick” graph contained in the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, which appears to show that the 20th Century experienced unusual warming.


The critique by Mann et al appears in the July 8 issue of the American Geophysical Union publication Eos.  It alleges three main flaws in Soon et al’s work.  First, that it misinterprets proxy data indicative of drought or excess moisture as evidence of temperature. 


Second, that the specific time periods of warmth or coolness in the two alleged climate eras varied from place to place, meaning that applying the labels “medieval warm period” or “little ice age” to them reflected Eurocentrism.  The claim of Eurocentrism, at least concerning the Little Ice Age, was demolished in a book, The Little Ice Age, published in 2001 by archeologist Gale Christensen, which finds evidence for that climatic event all over the world. 


Finally, Mann alleges that using the entire twentieth century as the temperature base with which to compare previous periods is inappropriate.  Soon and his colleagues are preparing a scientific response to the criticisms, which they hope will be published in Eos.


Scientific American Charge Refuted


In a sidebar to an article also criticizing the Soon study in the June 24 issue, Scientific American repeated allegations that the publication of the study in the journal Climate Research was influenced by politics.  The sidebar suggested that peer review had failed in this instance.


However, as Ross McKittrick pointed out in a July 10 article on Tech Central Station, “Prof. Otto Kinne, the Director of Inter-Research (the publisher of Climate Research) personally reviewed the file, including the four referee reports and the process leading up to the publication decision.  He dismissed the misconduct accusation, finding that the article was properly reviewed and that the editor, Prof. Chris de Freitas, did ‘a good and correct job as editor.’”


Urban Heat Islands Mean Fewer Ice Storms


A new study in the Journal of Applied Meteorology adds more details about the urban heat island effect.  Researchers from the University of Illinois found that large cities such as New York or Chicago experience significantly fewer days of freezing rain and ice storms than surrounding rural areas.  Smaller cities experience less of an effect, although it is still noticeable.


Hashem Akbari of the Heat Island Group at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California told Nature that studies of this type, “help us understand how heat islands generate their own weather patterns, change wind direction and modify air quality.”  As the magazine pointed out, “Some cities are up to 11 ºC warmer than the surrounding suburbs.  Traffic, buildings, and air-conditioning units all release heat.  Tarred roofs and roads soak up solar energy which they give up at night, when the largest temperature differences between city and country occur.”  (Nature, July 1)




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