Vol. IV, No. 11
House Rejects CAFE Increases
The annual fight over whether U.S. auto companies should be forced to increase the average fuel efficiency of their fleets is once again underway. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (CAFE) currently require an average of 27.5 mile per gallon for cars and 20.7 miles per gallon for trucks, but environmental activists have been pushing for higher standards for several years now.
On May 19, House supporters of higher CAFE standards realized they didn’t have the votes and dropped their bid to end the freeze, according to the Detroit Free Press (May 20, 2000). The debate will now move to the Senate. “The Senate is where the real fight will be,” said Diane Steed, president of the Coalition for Vehicle Choice. “We’re glad reason prevailed and the House is listening to consumers and constituents rather than special-interest groups.”
Environmental groups were upset by the outcome. “The Sierra Club is outraged that the Republican leadership has yet again prevented action to cut auto pollution. We are profoundly disappointed that the Democratic leadership didn’t fight back,” said Daniel Becker, director of the club’s Global Warming and Energy Program. “With fuel economy at its lowest level since 1980, action is clearly needed.”
Emerson Amendment Survives House Appropriations Committee
On May 11, the House Appropriations Committee approved the agriculture-funding bill for fiscal 2001. Contained within the bill is an amendment, written by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), prohibiting implementation of the Kyoto Protocol prior to Senate ratification. The Amendment strengthens the original prohibition against backdoor implementation formulated by Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-MI).
The amendment prohibits the use of funds “for the Kyoto Protocol, including such Kyoto mechanisms as carbon emissions trading schemes and the Clean Development Mechanism that are found solely in the Kyoto Protocol and nowhere in the laws of the United States.” It also bars funds to “propose or issue rules, regulations, decrees or orders for implementation” of the Kyoto Protocol.
The committee report notes “with disapproval that the administration exhibited disdain for the will of the Senate” when it signed a protocol that did not meet the conditions of the Byrd-Hagel Resolution that set conditions on what it would accept. The Byrd-Hagel resolution, which passed the Senate by a 95-0 vote, stated that it would not ratify any agreement that would cause economic harm in the U.S. and that did not require commitments from developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Green Sheets, May 11, 2000).
Has China Really Agreed to Cut Energy Emissions?
A high level meeting in Beijing between officials of the United States’ Ambassador Joseph Prueher and China’s minister of science and technology, Madame Zhu Lilan, resulted in a joint statement on cooperation on environment and development. The agreement, signed on May 18 has been touted by the White House as “an important step forward” in China’s “new willingness to work with us in the international effort to address climate change” (AP Online, May 19, 2000).
The joint statement, however, says nothing about a commitment from China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It does state that the two countries “commit to further their cooperation in the fields of clean energy, environmental protection, science and technology and commercial cooperation.”
A clue to what this may mean is found in the next item. “The United States and China recognize the potential of Chinese accession to the WTO (World Trade Organization) to broaden and accelerate the transfer of environmentally-sound technologies, goods and services, thereby advancing clean energy and environmental protection of goals.” In other words, the U.S. agrees to give and China agrees to take. This is the idea behind the Clean Development Mechanism in the Kyoto Protocol, which the joint statement claims, “could offer opportunity for mutually beneficial cooperation between developed and developing countries.”
SUVs: Popular as Ever
An article by Greg Easterbrook in the New Republic (May 15, 2000), with the subtitle, “Hooray for expensive oil!” joins a chorus of environmental activists hoping that high gasoline prices may be the signal Congress needs to begin weaning us of our dangerous addiction to oil. If you’re hoping that the current gas prices will force Americans out of their gas guzzling SUVs and into tiny Metros, or even better, electric cars you are going to be disappointed.
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times (May 18, 2000), there has been no let up in demand for gasoline, even though prices have increased significantly over the last several months. According to the article, “Drivers’ thirst for fuel was such last year that the growth in demand nationwide was the size of Virginia’s entire consumption for 1999 at nearly 10 million gallons a day.” The AAA forecasts that “record numbers of Americans will hit the highways this summer.”
This is quite different from what economists were predicting ten years ago. They were claiming that “gasoline consumption would be shrinking right about now because of improvements in fuel efficiency,” noted the Times. This hasn’t happened, according to David Cole, director of the University of Michigan Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation, because, “People are feeling pretty affluent these days.”
Unless there’s a major recession or large gasoline shortages, people are unlikely to change their fuel consumption and driving patterns, said Cole. He doesn’t consider either scenario to be likely.
An Independent Review of the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report
A dozen climate experts briefed a large audience in the U. S. Capitol on May 30 on flaws and problems in the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report. The briefing, “What’s Wrong with UN Climate Science?” was sponsored by the Cooler Heads Coalition and the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP).
The speakers, many of whom are technical reviewers of the IPCC report, challenged key areas of the 1000-page draft report and the main conclusions of the seven-page Summary for Policy Makers.
Vincent Gray, an atmospheric scientist from New Zealand, criticized the IPCC's reliance on the surface temperature record, which Gray has concluded is unreliable. Large urban areas consistently show warming over the last 100 years, whereas rural areas show no temperature increases, which suggests that cars, heated buildings, air traffic and other human factors have skewed the ground data upward. Moreover, Gray argued, even rural areas are not free of increased human activity that can corrupt temperature readings.
Hugh Ellsaesser, a climatologist now retired from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said that the water vapor feedback effect, which the IPCC claims is magnifying global warming, is actually causing cooler temperatures over the tropics and subtropics.
S. Fred Singer, president of SEPP and organizer of the briefing, contradicted the often-repeated claim that the past century was the warmest in 1000 years. Singer summarized the findings of Wibjorn Karlen, a paleoclimatologist from the University of Stockholm, who had been scheduled to speak. The “warmest in a thousand years” claim is based on a highly selective use of tree ring data, which is contradicted by much other data, including recent bore holes in the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps.
Norwegian Paal Brekke of the European Space Agency showed how the IPCC report underestimates the effects of solar fluctuations on temperature variability.
Peter Dietze, a consulting engineer from Germany, argued that “The IPCC assumes carbon dioxide concentrations that are at least 50 percent too high, and effects for CO2 that are at least three times too high.” He asked, “If the actual CO2 increase is just 0.4 percent annually, why does the IPCC assume a 1 percent increase and then expect us to accept its computer model conclusions as valid?”
Gerd-Rainer Weber, a climatologist from Germany, concluded that relying on the predictive capability of computer models was a “wild gamble.”
Tom Segalstad, a geochemist at the University of Oslo, showed that the preindustrial level of carbon dioxide of 280 parts per million was not the natural level, but was very low compared to most past eras. And plant and animal life has prospered at much higher CO2 levels.
Keith Idso of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change in Arizona argued that hundreds of agricultural and biological experiments have confirmed that increased levels of carbon dioxide lead to much higher levels of plant growth and food production and increasing biodiversity.
Finally, Ross McKitrick, an economist at the University of Guelph in Canada, pointed out that the Kyoto Protocol would not reduce global warming measurably, yet would impose tremendous costs on society. This makes no sense because it wastes money on relatively benign global warming concerns that could be spent on real environmental problems. His solution would be to create a global warming fund of $1 billion. Assuming average earnings from investments, by 2050 the amount would increase to about $30 billion and by 2100 to nearly $900 billion. Anyone who could prove damages from global warming could then seek compensation from the fund.
National Assessment Under Fire
The U.S. National Assessment on the Impacts of Climate Change, to be released this summer, is coming under increasing criticism. An article in the Detroit News (May 28, 2000) gives a good overview of the report’s fundamental weakness – the attempt to predict regional and local impacts of global warming.
According to the article, the report attempts to show “the effects of global warming in the United States, predicting droughts, floods and extreme weather region by region.” Critics argue that we don’t know enough to make such predictions, however.
A draft of the forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that, “Despite recent improvements and developments, regionalization research is still a maturing process and the related uncertainties are poorly known…. Therefore, a coherent picture of regional climate change via available regionalization techniques cannot yet be drawn.”
“We simply can’t forecast well enough on a continental or smaller scale to say that we know what will happen,” said William Gutowski, a meteorologist at Iowa State University and a contributing author of the UN report. “Policy should not be made based on predictions that Iowa will have heat waves or floods.”
Linda Mearns, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and a participant in the National Assessment process, defended the report: “Sure, uncertainties increase as you go to a finer scale, but I don't think the report is on any shakier ground than any other analysis.” Good point.
Sinks: A Short-term Fix?
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) has recently released a report that claims that the United States, Canada, and Russia could meet 90 percent of the total developed country Kyoto targets through unlimited use of plant and soil sequestration. “A total of 260 million tons of CO2 would be absorbed per year by the use of sinks in the three countries, thereby achieving about 90 percent of the targets imposed on the world’s industrialized countries,” notes the Japan Weekly Monitor (May 22, 2000).
WWF spokesmen have reservations about the use of sinks, however. “While preventing the emission of carbon dioxide is permanent, sequestering carbon pollution is a cheap, short-term fix that fails to address a long-term problem,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of WWF’s Climate Change Program. “The scientific uncertainty of sequestration makes sinks unreliable and dependence on them for meeting Kyoto targets unsound.”
According to three new studies in Nature (April 20, 2000), carbon sequestration may not just be a short-term fix after all. Trees, for example, both absorb and release CO2. The absorbed CO2 is stored in the tree’s tissues. Expiration mainly occurs with the bacterial decomposition of organic matter in soil, notes the World Climate Report (May 22, 2000).
Currently, forests are net sinks of CO2. But it is thought that increasing temperatures would accelerate respiration to the point where forests actually become net contributors to the greenhouse effect, a positive feedback that would accelerate global warming.
One of the Nature studies found that, “Decomposition rates were remarkably constant across a global-scale gradient in mean annual temperature, [that] decomposition rates for forest soils are not controlled by temperature limitations to microbial activity, and that increased temperature alone will not stimulate the decomposition of forest-derived carbon in mineral soil.”
Another study found, “For single sites our data…show a significant relationship between temperature and ecosystem respiration for both short and annual time series. However, when a plot of [respiration] versus temperature is drawn across all sites the relationship is not significant, indicating that mean annual air temperature may not be an important contributing factor to forest ecosystem respiration on a broader scale.”
The third study uses an ecosystem model for coniferous forests to conclude that under a scenario where there is no long-term effect of temperature on respiration, forests may become more effective CO2 sinks in the future. The study asks, “Does this [new research] mean that the doomsday view of runaway global warming now seems unlikely? We hope so.”
CBS Hot Air Watch
CBS EVENING NEWS
May 31, 200
Dan Rather, anchor: Tonight’s Eye on America is a hard-news look at a global corporate giant in fossil fuels. Protesters – including some stockholders – are accusing ExxonMobil of a corporate dinosaur attitude about the dangers of global warming that may be linked to fuel emissions. CBS’ Jim Axelrod has been sorting the facts from the smoke on this.
Protesters: (In unison) No planet, no dividends!
Jim Axelrod reporting: In Dallas this morning, a couple of dozen protesters tried to get the ear of one of the biggest and most powerful corporations on earth.
Unidentified Man: When should ExxonMobil stop global warming?
Protesters: (In unison) Now!
Axelrod: If there’s a growing consensus that greenhouse gases are raising global temperatures, these people say executives at ExxonMobil are not about to embrace it. Is ExxonMobil any different on the issue of global warming than any other of the big oil companies?
Sister Pat Daly (ExxonMobil Shareholder and Activist): They’re incredibly different. They have absolutely isolated themselves on this.
Axelrod: Pat Daly’s not a tree-hugger. She’s a shareholder and a nun who represents clergy-based pension funds with a $ 15 million stake in ExxonMobil.
Sister Daly: Global warming is happening.
Axelrod: Today, she and a small chorus of critics asked ExxonMobil to join the growing number of companies saying global warming is here, it’s real and we need to act now.
Sister Daly: They’re saying that there’s not enough science. They will tell you, “We’re concerned about global warming,” but they’re not going to admit that it’s actually happening.
Mr. Lee Raymond (CEO, ExxonMobil): We’re going to follow the science. We’re not going to follow what is politically correct.
Axelrod: Other oil giants like Shell and BP Amoco have pledged to operate more efficiently and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below their 1990 levels. Dupont Chemicals has gone even further, promising a 65 percent reduction. ExxonMobil, on the other hand, has no such targets.
Professor Michael McElroy (Harvard University): They simply leave the public with the view that, “Gee, we don't know enough to do anything.”
Axelrod: Mike McElroy isn’t an activist. He’s an academic and a Harvard professor of environmental studies.
Prof. McElroy: In terms of honest assessment of the science, yeah, this is a serious problem, time to act. Exxon is leaning to the side of inaction.
Mr. Frank Sprow (Vice President, ExxonMobil): This is complicated. Don’t believe statements that say it’s clear that things are warming. It’s not clear.
Axelrod: The company is taking this idea to the public in a series of ads, saying views on warming are, quote, “just as changeable as your local weather forecast.”
Your assessment of the threat, the credibility of the threat, has that evolved?
Mr. Sprow: I’d say that’s unchanged over the last several years.
Axelrod: Today’s attempts to change the company’s views on global warming were turned back, leaving a small band of critics with little to do but shout. In Dallas, I’m Jim Axelrod for Eye on America.
THE COOLER HEADS COALITION
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