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Vol. IV, No.19

Cooler Heads Digest


Vol. IV, No.19

Europe’s Anti-Fuel Tax Protests


Truck and taxi drivers across Europe and Great Britain have staged demonstrations to protest high prices on gasoline.  The French government gave in to demands and promise a cut in gas taxes to ease the burden.  Britain suffered an almost total shutdown of business as protestors blockaded fuel refineries preventing fuel trucks from reaching their destinations.


Britain’s protesters were particularly determined, perhaps due to the fact that its citizens pay more for gasoline and diesel fuel than any other European country.  Diesel is 55 percent more expensive in Britain than in France, for example.  And even though the fuel blockade caused hardships throughout Britain, “Early opinion polls…suggested that most people endorsed the aims of the protestors,” reported The Economist (September 16, 2000).


Perhaps adding to the anger was the government’s planned Climate Change Levy, an additional tax on fuel.  British citizens may balk at future climate change policies after witnessing first hand the costs of lower fuel availability.  As The Economist noted, schools were forced to close down, hospitals canceled all non-emergency operations, and morgues filled up.  “There were the first signs of panic-buying of food in supermarkets across Britain, as it dawned on people that shops rely on deliveries by road.”



Some people were ecstatic, however.  Charles Secrett, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth wrote in The Mirror (September 14, 2000) that the slow down suited him just fine.  “I cycled to work today.  The streets were almost empty.  Air quality was better.  Pedestrians were breathing easier.  Children were safer.  Birds were singing.  I thought: ‘Crisis, what crisis?’. Fuel prices should be more expensive not less.”


Little Progress in Lyon


A meeting of the subsidiary bodies of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change ended with little progress being made on the major issues plaguing the global warming negotiations.  Indeed, “no major breakthroughs had been reached by nations seeking to implement the emission reduction treaty,” reported BNA Daily Environment Report (September 20, 2000). 


Despite the lack of success, Roger Ballentine, U.S. deputy assistant to the president, tried to put a positive spin on the negotiations.  “The atmospherics” were good, said Ballentine, and there was a “general sense of accomplishment” among U.S. negotiators.


Others were not so sanguine.  Another story in BNA (September 14, 2000) reports that Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, thinks that the amount of work remaining before COP-6 in the Hague is “daunting”.  There are several issues that must be worked out that are “totally beyond the scope” of

the Lyon and Hague agendas.  “She was confident,” said BNA, “that significant progress will be made going into the Hague talks, but the ‘more complicated, politically charged’ discussions have not happened yet in any country.”


European Hypocrisy


The ongoing controversy between the United States and the European Union over emissions trading reveals the hypocrisy of the global warming negotiations so far.  Slowing economic growth in the U.S. rather than global warming seems to be the primary goal of the EU negotiators. 


The U.S. wants “maximum flexibility” to meet its Kyoto targets.  The EU, on the other hand, wants to restrict the reductions achieved through international emission credit trading to 50 percent.  The remaining cuts would have to be achieved domestically.


David Wojick, writing for Electricity Daily (September 11, 2000), notes that electricity use in Britain, for instance, did not increase from 1990 to 1997 and in Germany it actually fell to 7 percent below 1990 levels during the same time.  In the U.S., on the other hand, electricity use increased 20 percent due to robust economic growth.


“None of the EU countries have grown appreciably since 1990, as far as electric power usage is concerned, while all of the non EU ‘umbrella group’ countries continue to develop rapidly,” says Wojick.  “The low growth EU is the big backer of Kyoto.  And the very slowest EU growers Germany and Britain are the loudest to demand that we (the U.S.) stop growing too.”




Benefits of CO2 Cuts Questioned


Scientific uncertainties about the effects of global warming bring into question the benefits of reducing CO2, said Kenneth Medlock III, a Rice University economist, at the James A. Baker III Institute conference, “Global Warming: Science & Policy.”


“If we decide to abate,” said Medlock, “there are costs to doing so, and by and large these costs are unrecoverable with some irreversibility.”  We’re not even sure whether CO2 reductions would affect the climate, said Medlock.  “If we abate CO2 to an optimum level, how much are we going to save ourselves,” he said.  “We have some flexibility in timing in this investment…you don’t have to do it now…you can do it tomorrow.  We can weigh the benefits and costs against one another” (BNA Daily Environment Report, September 13, 2000).


Also speaking at the conference was Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).  Hagel told the audience, “Implementing the Kyoto Protocol will give us an increase in the price of gasoline by over 70 cents a gallon to start with.  These increases would be permanent and continue to grow and grow” (BNA Daily Environment Report, September 11, 2000).   


Cold Deadlier than Heat


A study published in Technology (September 2000) tested whether extreme temperatures affect trends in U.S. death rates.  The study found that there is no trend in death rates due to either extreme cold temperatures or extreme warm temperatures even in the 65 and older, 75 and older, and 85 and older populations.


The study also found that there are more deaths attributed to extreme cold than to extreme heat.  This observation “suggests that adaptation and technological change may be just as important determinants of such trends as more obvious meteorological and demographic factors.”  It also suggests that a rise in global temperatures could lead to fewer deaths in the long run. 




Models Fail to Predict ENSO


The prediction of the 1997-98 El Niño was hailed as a great success for computer climate models and seemed to validate their usefulness in forecasting future climate change.  One article in Science (1998) proclaimed, “Models win big in forecasting El Niño.”  A study published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (September 2000) tests this claim.


The study found that, “the current answer to the question posed in this article’s title [‘How much skill was there in forecasting the very strong 1997-98 El Niño?’] is that there was essentially no skill in forecasting the very strong 1997-98 El Niño at lead times ranging from 0 to 8 months.”  Indeed, no models were “able to anticipate even one-half of the actual amplitude of the El Niño’s peak at medium range (6-11 months) lead.” And, “since no models were able to provide useful predictions at the medium and long ranges, there were no models that provided both useful and skillful forecasts for the entirety of the 1997-98 El Niño” [emphasis in original].


The authors are disturbed “that others are using the supposed success in dynamical El Niño forecasting to support other agendas,” citing the American Geophysical Union’s Position Statement on Climate Change as an example.  “The bottom line is that the successes in ENSO forecasting have been overstated (sometimes drastically) and misapplied in other arenas,” according to the study.  There should be even “less confidence in anthropogenic global warming studies because of the lack of skill in predicting El Niño.”


Malaria Won’t Spread


One of the predicted consequences of global warming is the northward spread of infectious disease vectors.  The ranges of the mosquitoes that carry malaria and yellow and dengue fever, it is claimed, will move northward as temperatures in the cooler northern regions warm up.  These predictions are based on computer models that are driven by temperature changes only.


A new study in Science (September 8, 2000) tests these models against real world data for the global spread of malaria and has found them lacking in their ability to make accurate predictions.  In other words, these approaches do not give accurate descriptions of the current distribution of global malaria.


According to the study, “The fit of these predictions to the current global malaria situation shows noticeable mismatches in certain places; false predictions of presence (e.g., over the eastern half of the United States) are accounted for by past control measures or by peculiar vector biogeography,’ whereas false predictions of absence are dismissed as model errors.”


The authors of the study take a multivariate approach to modeling the spread of malaria, taking into account various climatic variables including temperature, humidity and rainfall.  The new approach, which gives a better representation of the current situation, “predicted remarkably few future changes, even under the most extreme scenarios of climate change,” according to the study.


Website for New Climate Oscillation


A new website tracks the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, which “is a long-lived El Niño-like pattern of Pacific climate variability.”  The difference between the two oscillations is that El Niño persists from 6 to 18 months, whereas the PDO persists for 20 to 30 years.  


Moreover, the PDO coincides perfectly with global temperature changes.  From 1947-1976 the PDO cool phase coincided with falling global temperatures.  From 1977 to the present the warm phase coincided with rising temperatures. See,



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