|The Week That Was
July 15, 2000
There is little question that making energy more costly (by taxes, emission charges, or by rationing) would cause a slowing of economic growth and a loss of jobs. And it is always the poor who suffer most. And since minorities have lower incomes on average, they would be hurt more than the general population. So it comes as no great surprise that the Kyoto Protocol, which would raise energy costs sky-high, and thereby the cost of living, would hurt the economically disadvantaged most of all. This fact seems to be slowly gaining recognition as minority groups study and publicize the issue.
A startling hypothesis has been advanced by two researchers from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at La Jolla, CA. Charles David Keeling and Timothy P. Whorf propose that abrupt millennial climate changes, such as observed in ice and sedimentary core records, were produced in part by periodic variations of global oceanic tide-raising forces caused by resonances in the periodic motions of the Earth and Moon. (They identify an 1,800-year tidal cycle associated with gradually shifting lunar declination.) They propose that strong tidal forcing causes cooling at the sea surface by increasing the vertical mixing in the surface layers of the ocean. They put forward supporting observations from sedimentary records of ice-rafting debris. Their proposal identifies the Little Ice Age (around 1400 to 1800 AD) as a global phenomenon, "a lesser cooling episode in a series of such episodes." They identify also other events during the Holocene (the present interglacial that started around 12,000 years ago) with the 1,800-year cycle.
Looking ahead, they support the prediction by W. S. Broecker of "pronounced global warming" over the new few decades, presumed by him to be triggered by the warm phase of an 80-year climate cycle of unidentified origin. They would reinterpret it as the continuation of natural warming that began at the end of the LIA, and will continue in spurts for several hundred years. "This natural warming at its greatest intensity will be expected to exceed any that has occurred since the first millennium AD, as the 1800-year tidal cycle progresses from climatic cooling during the 15th century to the next such episode in the 32nd century."
Source: Keeling, C.D. and T.P. Whorf: 2000. "The 1,800-year oceanic tidal cycle: A possible cause of rapid climate change." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 97, 3814-19.
Enviros have fought the oil industry since the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. But records of seeps go back to early Spanish explorers who noticed oil slicks in the water. Seeps are also responsible for tar balls found on the beaches.
Contrary to popular expectations, offshore wells do not exacerbate the problem but may actually decrease the problem of hydrocarbon leakage from the sea floor. The results were published in the November 1999 issue of Geology and reported in Science News on November 20, 1999. Since 1990, the emission rate of oil and gas from the sea floor has dropped to about half its peak value of the 1980s. The authors, Bruce Luyendyk et al., suggest plausibly that removal of oil and gas over the years has decreased pressure in the subsea formation. Oil and gas companies were quick to take credit for reducing smog in Santa Barbara (Journal of Geophysical Research, September 15, 1999) where Luyendyk et al. report that smog-forming reactive hydrocarbons from the seeps are double those emitted from automobiles in Santa Barbara County. They also suggest that the companies could take part of the credit for reducing the rate of increase of atmospheric methane.
As reported by David Wojick in Electricity Daily, carbon sequestration in developing countries is emerging as one of the most contentious issues in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations. The focus of debate is inclusion of forest and farming "sinks" in the so-called Clean Development Mechanism, whereby greenhouse gas emissions can be offset by third world projects. The issue had been on hold, pending a report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on land use, land use change, and forests (LULUCF), which was just issued last May.
The US, Bolivia, Columbia, Iran, Honduras and Norway have announced support for the inclusion of sink projects in the CDM on the grounds that "nearly one-fifth of global emissions comes from deforestation and almost 90% of emissions from tropical countries are from LULUCF activities." The European Union and Switzerland oppose sinks projects in the CDM, as it "raises questions of methodological uncertainty, non-permanence and leakage." (Leakage means emitting activities, such as deforestation, merely shift from one place to another.) Canada and Russia say unofficially that inclusion of forest sinks may be make or break ratification for them.
In related news, Saudi Arabia and the Alliance of Small Island States announced opposition to including nuclear power projects under CDM. Canada says inclusion is a top priority for them. So far this issue has not been formally debated. Maybe they are saving it for COP-6 at The Hague in November. In the meantime, the underlying science is becoming even less supportive of the Kyoto Protocol; but who cares? The international bureaucratic locomotive is merrily rolling along since the science has already been judged as "compelling" (meaning, of course, "irrelevant").
The latest meeting of governmental parties to the Montreal Protocol took further measures to restrict CFCs as well as HCFCs (developed as a replacement for CFCs). At the meeting held in Beijing in December 1999, the parties agreed to provide $440 million to the Multilateral Fund to encourage adopting ozone-friendly chemicals and technologies. The Fund has spent more than $1 billion since 1991. The Executive Committee of the Fund approved $82 million to phase out CFC production in India, the world's second largest producer. (And we know what happens to the money.) In March 1999, they approved $150 million to close down CFC production in China over the next ten years.
In the meantime, CFC smuggling in black markets has become a thriving world business second only to illegal drugs.
The fear of ozone depletion continues unabated, fanned by media propaganda. It is therefore encouraging to learn that the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) in Townsville has developed a new sunscreen for humans based on a substance used by corals to protect from UV. As reported in Science (March 10, 2000), corals derive the substance from symbiotic algae living in their tissue; a commercial product based on this compound is now being developed in Australia.
The Administration is trying to introduce a back-door BTU tax after the stinging defeat by Congress in 1993. Its "Comprehensive Electricity Competition Act" incorporates a national Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and a renewable trading scheme. The RPS mandates that a certain percentage of all electricity must come from non-hydro renewable energy sources. The minimum would be 2.4% in the next four years, increasing to 7.5% by 2010. Electricity suppliers would buy from organizations that used such sources, buy "tradable credits" from producers of such energy sources, or from the DOE at 1.5 cents per kWh.
Electricity sellers would thus incur a higher cost, which will be passed on to their customers. Effectively, this becomes a tax on electricity produced from fossil fuels, nuclear energy, and hydropower. While this cost would be initially quite small, it could of course grow with time. (Source: EMPAInc@aol.com)
In their eagerness to fulfill the mandate of the Kyoto Protocol and eliminate the use of coal for electric power generation (now more than half of US capacity), the EPA has just won a victory of sorts. The US Court of Appeals for DC has allowed an EPA plan to reduce NOx emissions from 19 Midwestern and Southern states, ostensibly to reduce smog in Eastern states. The decision may be appealed to the Supreme Court. Michigan was lead plaintiff in the case. Ken Silfven of its Department of Environmental Quality remarked: "I think it's a shame that a policy that is not based on science should be allowed to become the law of the land."
You can be sure that ratepayers and industries in the affected states will learn about the additional cost that will make their cheap electric power less competitive with Eastern electricity. Maybe they'll even learn about it before the November election...