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Vol. VII, No. 1

Cooler Heads Digest


Vol. VII, No. 1


Cap-and-Trade-It’s Baaack!


Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) plan to introduce a bill that would employ a cap-and-trade scheme to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.   On Wednesday, the Commerce Committee held hearings, chaired by McCain, at which Lieberman testified about the bill.


The draft bill’s targets and timetables are a little less onerous than those required under the Kyoto Protocol, but would still present a significant challenge.  It would require reductions in all greenhouse gases to 2000 levels by 2010 and to 1990 levels by 2016.  All sectors of the economy would be included.


Senator Lieberman testified that one of the major benefits of the bill would be to provide “regulatory certainty” for businesses that are in limbo on what Congress might do.  But the bill itself offers no comfort to businesses who think this will buy them certainty.  For example, the bill states that the tradable allowances that would be available to businesses are “not a property right, and nothing in this title or any other provision of the law limits the authority of the United States to terminate or limit a tradable allowance.”


The bill also requires the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere to re-evaluate the appropriateness of the allowances established under the bill every two years,  and to review the level of emissions reductions established by the bill in 2008 and 2012, and to submit a report to Congress along with legislative recommendations for modification of the level.  So much for regulatory certainty!


Lieberman claims that the bill is “the first realistic U.S. proposal to deal with the problem” of global warming.  But it is well known that even if the entire world complied with the Kyoto Protocol, it would have virtually no effect on the climate.  The McCain-Lieberman proposal is simply irrelevant.  Lieberman apparently thinks differently, however.  In a comment to the committee, he noted that the year 2002 was the second warmest in recorded history and probably would have been warmer had it not been for the fact that manufacturing output has dropped in the U.S. (see below).  Apparently Lieberman believes that an insignificant thing like a small drop in manufacturing output in one country has immediate effects on the climate.


Another witness at the hearing was Randy Overbey, President of Alcoa’s Energy Business.  His company wants greenhouse gas credits for reducing their emissions of perfluorocarbon, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas.  “These emissions usually occur when there is an interruption to the electrolytic smelting process, known as the ‘anode effect,’” said Overbey. 


Alcoa has reduced these emissions by 56 percent over the last decade.  But why should a company get valuable credits for something it would have done anyway?  Reducing interruptions to manufacturing processes saves the company money.  Alcoa is just one of many business enterprises that will be trying to double dip at taxpayer or consumer expense under McCain-Lieberman.


On a more positive note, Dr. James R. Mahoney, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, testified about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s strategic plan on climate research.  In response to questions about the need to move forward with policy, he pointed out that there are still major uncertainties in the science and that Congress should avoid leaping into policies that would inflict serious economic harm on U.S. citizens.  He also pointed out that the Kyoto Protocol would cost the U.S. as much as $400 billion per year.


Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Oreg.) attacked the administration’s emphasis on science and said that it looks bad for the U.S. to be dragging its feet when Europe and other allies are going forward with Kyoto.  Mahoney countered that it is much easier for Europe to comply with Kyoto.  Italy’s population, for instance, will fall over Kyoto’s compliance period and Germany’s population has leveled off, similar population trends are common throughout Europe.  The U.S. population on the other hand is still growing. 


Mahoney also explained to the Senator that the administration has a responsibility to weigh many concerns and issues, not just global warming and that those decisions must be made on the basis of good information, hence the strategic plan on global warming research.




EIA Releases U.S. Data on Greenhouse Gas Emissions


The U.S. experienced a significant decline in greenhouse gas emissions during 2001, according to data released by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.  Emissions totaled 1,883 million metric tons carbon equivalent in 2001, a fall of 1.2 percent from 2000.  This represents the largest percentage decrease in the U.S. during the 1990 to 2001 period.  The average growth rate of emissions since 1990 has been 1 percent per year, and 2001’s decline is the first since 1991, which saw emissions fall 0.6 percent.

EIA attributes the decline to a combination of factors:


·    A reduction in economic growth from 3.8 percent in 2000 to 0.3 percent in 2001.

·    A 4.4 percent reduction in manufacturing output that lowered industrial emissions.

·    Warmer winter weather that decreased demand for heating fuels.

·    A drop in electricity demand and coal-fired power generation.


Greenhouse gas emissions were still well above 1990 levels (11.9 percent), which is the baseline from which the U.S. would have to reduce its emissions by seven percent under the Kyoto Protocol. The report notes, however, that emissions rose more slowly in the 1990s than the average annual growth rate of the population (1.2 percent), primary energy consumption (1.2 percent), electric power generation (1.9 percent), or gross domestic product (2.9 percent).


Carbon dioxide, which accounts for 84 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, fell 1.1 percent to 1,579 million metric tons in 2001, according to EIA.  The report is available at




Antarctic Ice Sheet not in Danger from Global Warming


Fears that the Western Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) is experiencing accelerated declines due to global warming are unfounded, according to a new study in the Jan. 3 issue of Science.  A team of scientists, led by John O. Stone with the Quaternary Research Center and Department of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, found that deglaciation of the WAIS began at least 10,000 years ago and that the rate of melting has remained constant until the present time.


Robert P. Ackert, Jr., of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, notes in a perspective on the research that only recently have scientists been able to determine conclusively that, “In large and critical areas, the ice sheet surface is lowering and ice volume is decreasing.”  This has caused concern because even a 1 percent decrease in ice volume would raise sea level by 5 centimeters and could eventually raise sea level by as much as 5 meters.


“Are we witnessing the early stages of rapid ice sheet collapse, with potential near-term impacts on the world’s coastlines?” asks Ackert.  “To answer this question, we must view the new short term measurements in the context of recent ice sheet history and ask whether the observed changes are unusual compared with those of the last 10,000 years.  Stone et al. provide a partial answer by reconstructing the recent history of a previously largely unexamined sector of the WAIS.”


Stone et al. found that, “Surface exposure ages of glacial deposits in the Ford Ranges of western Marie Byrd Land indicate continuous thinning of the West Antarctic ice sheet by more than 700 meters near the coast throughout the past 10,000 years.  Deglaciation lagged the disappearance of ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere by thousands of years and may still be under way. These results provide further evidence that parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet are on a long term trajectory of decline. West Antarctic melting contributed water to the oceans in the late Holocene and may continue to do so in the future.”


Ackert notes that, “Recent ice sheet dynamics appear to be dominated by the ongoing response to deglacial forcing thousands of years ago, rather than by recent anthropogenic warming or sea level rise.”  On the whole, the WAIS has thinned at a consistent rate of 2.5 to 9 cm/year over the last 9300 years.  Ackert also points out that contrary to prior assumptions, “The results suggest that the WAIS is not in equilibrium with present environmental conditions and has been thinning for the last 10,000 years.”


This means that predicting the future behavior of the ice sheet is significantly more difficult than simply building “quasi-steady state models that reproduce the current ice sheet and then perturb them with possible climate or sea-level forcing.”  Instead, scientists must use “dynamic models that reproduce the deglacial history…as a baseline.”


New Findings Lead to New Predictions


What happens when you feed real world data into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s climate models?  That is the question answered in a new study in the most recent issue of Climate Research.  The researchers, led by Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist at the University of Virginia, found that if the IPCC’s model is applied to scientific findings that have appeared since the release of its Third Assessment Report, the resulting predictions are significantly less frightening.


The researchers used the IPCC’s six major storylines, or projections about population and economic growth, and energy use, and incorporated assumptions that agree with recent scientific developments:


·    Research showing that black carbon aerosols offset the cooling affect of sulfate aerosols that scientists had assumed was masking anthropogenic warming.


·    The iris effect, where high-level tropical cloudiness diminishes in response to temperature increases, allowing the surface to cool, thereby offsetting anthropogenic warming.


·    Adjustments to the rate of increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, from a previously assumed exponential increase, to a constant increase as has been observed for the last 25 years.


·    Research showing that the carbon cycle does not intensify in response to higher temperatures.


Plugging this new empirical data into the models, the researchers found that projected warming over the next 100 years falls in the range of 1.0 to 1.6 degrees C, instead of the IPCC’s projection of 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C.


The study concludes that the upper bound of the new projection is the most likely outcome.  This is due to the fact that nearly all climate models show human-induced warming to be constant, and a simple linear extrapolation from those results leads to about 1.5 degrees warming over the next 100 years.  This is also borne out in the observed temperature data.


The study also notes that the lower range of its projection is also possible due to the well-known fact that the temperature response to carbon-forcing is logarithmic, or decreases as atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide increases.  Atmospheric carbon dioxide data “indicate that any exponential rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations is weak at best.  Consequently the current linear warming may in fact be the adjustment to exponential growth in CO2 that took place prior to 1975 [emphasis in original].”


Regardless of whether warming will continue to be linear or damp off in the next 100 years, the study concludes that there is little to fear from global warming.


No Flooding Trends in the U.S.


A new study in Geophysical Research Letters (December 24, 2002) finds that fears about an increased hydrological cycle (more flooding) from global warming may be overblown.  The researchers, Greg McCabe and David Wolock with the U.S. Geological Survey, analyzed the annual maximum, median and minimum streamflow values from 400 gauging stations throughout the United States from 1941 to 1999.  What they found was that after 1970 there is a clear trend of higher average streamflow across the U.S., which is more pronounced in the median and low flow cases than in the high flow case.


They also note, however, that there is a definite jump in 1970 in streamflow levels.  McCabe and Wolock then looked at all time periods of all possible durations with a minimum of 10 years and found that there were trends in all time periods that included 1970, but few trends in time periods that do not include that year.  In other words, trends in streamflow are rare before and after 1970.  The abrupt change in 1970 gives a false impression of a longterm upward trend in streamflow.


Finally, most of the trends are concentrated in the median and low flow categories.  Only 60 sites saw trends in the annual high flow category, while 202 showed increases in the low flow category.   What this means is that there has been an increase in rainfall during the times of year when water is in short supply, but that there has been no increase in flooding, a rather happy result.




·    Many parts of the world are gripped in some of the most frigid and snowy weather experienced in a long time or ever.  Beijing, China had 6 consecutive days of snowfall at Christmas time, the longest consecutive snowfall in that city in 128 years.  China’s largest desert, Taklimakan, received 14 centimeters of snow over several consecutive days. 


“Taklimakan has had snow every year since the Xinjiang Regional Meteorological Bureau set up a monitoring station in the desert in the 1990s, but the recorded precipitation has been light.  It is rare for the desert to have such a heavy snow,” said Lu Guoying, an expert at the regional meteorological bureau.  In northern India and Bangladesh, over 250 people have died from exposure to the cold, as temperatures plummeted to well below freezing.


Even more surprising, people are dying in traditionally cooler climates where a combination of record cold and inadequate energy supplies is taking their toll.  Record low temperatures in Norway have wreaked all sorts of havoc for its people.  Much of the transit system has been frozen out of service, and electricity prices have skyrocketed as demand for home heating is outstripping inadequate electricity supplies. 


Unfortunately, several elderly citizens had to be admitted to the hospital with dangerously low body temperatures.  At least three have died from the cold after being found in unheated apartments.  According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten (January 6, 2003), “Many thrifty, elderly residents have grown worried by reports of record high electricity prices. Too many have opted to turn their heat down to avoid expensive utility bills.”  Norway has not built a new power plant in ten years due to environmental politics, according to Still Waiting for Greenhouse (


Many places in Finland have also reached record lows this winter, and the Baltic Sea’s ice cover is more extensive than it has been in decades.  The ice is also 5 to 20 centimeters thicker than usual.  According to Helsingin Sanomat (January 8, 2002) “Experts say that the whole Baltic Sea could freeze over all the way to the Straits of Denmark, for the first time since 1948.”  Finland is also experiencing shortfalls in electricity supply and has had to import almost 2,000 MW of electricity from Russia and Sweden to keep the lights on and the heaters running.


Finally, 40 ships have been trapped in the ice in the Gulf of Finland in Russia.  Moscow reached temperatures as low as -37 degrees C, and as many as 23,000 people are without heat as antiquated systems have broken down.




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Association of Concerned Taxpayers

Center for Security Policy

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Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow

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Defenders of Property Rights

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National Center for Policy Analysis

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