|The Week That Was
March 10, 2001
The Week That Was March 10, 2001 brought to you by SEPP
All bets are off this week as we face a real possibility that the Bush White House, as part of its energy policy proposal, will try to impose caps on the emission of CO2 from electric utilities.
1. A GLOBAL WARNING TO MR. BUSH
2. Our response: THE SNOW-JOB OF KILIMANJARO (see TWTW
of March 3).
3. G-8 ENVIRONMENTAL MINISTERS MEET IN TRIESTE
4. Our letter to EPA Administrator Whitman of March 2. As part of our effort to inform the debate within the Bush Administration, we try to alert EPA Administrator Whitman that global warming science is not a done deal. We hope she will consent to a briefing showing that the Kyoto Protocol lacks a scientific basis.
5. ADMINISTRATION IN THE BALANCE
6. Our Letter to the WSJ, proposing a public debate on the science
of global warming
1. A GLOBAL WARNING TO MR. BUSH
New York Times editorial, February 26, 2001
Scientists meeting in San Francisco a week ago heard a startling prediction: the seemingly indestructible snows of Kilimanjaro that inspired Ernest Hemingway's famous short story may well disappear in the next 15 years. To most mainstream scientists, the rapid erosion of Kilimanjaro's majestic ice cap, along with the steady retreat of mountaintop glaciers elsewhere, is further dramatic evidence of a relentless warming of the earth's atmosphere that cannot be explained by normal climate shifts and is at least partly traceable to the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.
This depressing news might also inspire President Bush to pay attention to an issue he has lately avoided. Mr. Bush has asked Vice President Dick Cheney and a blue-ribbon team to devise an energy strategy, which will almost certainly recommend a more aggressive search for oil and gas. Yet so far as is known, he has not asked anyone to figure out how the country should deal with the consequences of burning those fuels.
To be sure, the Bush team is new on the job. For that reason, the United Nations has agreed to delay until May the next round of formal negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol, the draft treaty on global warming negotiated in 1997. It is also true that this is the sort of issue that generates no enthusiasm in Congress and disappears from public consciousness at the first cold snap - meaning that it is precisely the kind of issue that requires presidential leadership.
Mr. Bush cannot afford to wait forever to provide that leadership. Each month seems to bring new and stronger evidence that warming is occurring, that human activities are behind it and that the consequences for future generations could be catastrophic. In January, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most authoritative voice on the issue, warned that warming over the next century would increase more than originally thought, from a minimum of 2.7 degrees to a truly unnerving 10.4 degrees. It also concluded that human actions were largely responsible. In a follow-up report released last week, the panel identified short-term consequences like shrinking glaciers, vanishing coral reefs and changing seasons, and it warned of much bigger problems down the road - rising oceans, violent floods and the spread of diseases like cholera and malaria, especially in poorer countries that are least able to defend themselves.
President Clinton got nowhere in his efforts to persuade an indifferent Congress to institute the efficiency and anti-pollution measures necessary to curb the nation's appetite for fossil fuels. But he did leave behind the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement among industrialized nations to cut combined emissions of greenhouse gases to about 5 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012. Many details need to be worked out, but if the protocol is ever to become a binding treaty, the United States will have to take the lead, not least because it produces one-fourth of the world's greenhouse emissions with only 5 percent of its population.
For much the same reason, of course, this country will also bear the biggest costs in terms of investing in cleaner fuels and cleaner plants. Mr. Bush opposes the Kyoto agreement, partly because he thinks it unfairly burdens the United States. But if he reads the treaty carefully, he will find that it explicitly favors this country because it includes various mechanisms, like emissions trading, that would enable the United States to meet its targets without crippling investments at the source.
Mr. Bush has in fact been less dismissive of the problem than some of
his aides. He has endorsed the idea of regulating carbon dioxide, the
main global- warming gas and one of the few pollutants not covered by
the Clean Air Act. And in a policy paper provided to the New York Academy
of Sciences before the election, he promised to work for a "comprehensive,
fair and effective agreement." There are even a few hopeful environmentalists
who think that Mr. Bush, given his credibility with American industry,
will have a better chance than Al Gore would have had of getting something
done on an issue that needs bipartisan support. But so far he has not
even made a start.
2. Our response
Mount Kilimanjaro is not a thermometer
Before putting pressure on the White House to act ("A Global Warning to Mr. Bush," Feb 26 editorial), shouldn't we be asking whether global warming is really happening? The Kilimanjaro ice cap is not a thermometer. It may well be melting, but this is simply a delayed consequence of a natural climate warming during the early part of the 20th century. Moreover, it will continue to melt as long as the climate doesn't return to the temperatures of the Little Ice Age of past centuries.
The National Academy of Sciences published a report* last year that defines
the geographic regions of warming and cooling during the last 20 years.
Surface measurements of East Africa show no warming trend (Fig. 6.2, p.
34). Weather satellites show a pronounced cooling trend of the atmosphere
there (Fig. 7.1, p.43). No one has questioned these data.
3. G-8 ENVIRONMENTAL MINISTERS MEET IN TRIESTE
Is the Kyoto Protocol dead?
And so, despite the election of a Republican to the presidency of the United States, and even after Bill Clinton's presumably more-pliable negotiators deadlocked the last climate talks in The Hague, it may be too early to sound the reveille for Kyoto.
Christie Todd Whitman, the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, could have dealt the deal a deathblow over the weekend at a meeting of G8 environment ministers in Trieste, but she declined to do so. Instead, she insisted that the U.S.'s position on the climate-change protocol was "under review," but that the administration remained "supportive of the goal of Kyoto."
It is too early to tell where that "review" will lead, but those hoping for a muscular rejection of Kyoto will certainly be disappointed. For it is precisely the goals of the Kyoto Protocol that are questionable. That Kyoto is about more than simply reducing carbon-dioxide emissions--itself a goal with questionable scientific underpinnings--can be seen both in the details of the protocol itself and in the ideological way in which its supporters have pushed for implementation.
Binding the 38 most developed nations to costly emissions reductions of dubious scientific value while leaving nine of the top 20 polluters in the world off the list on the grounds that they are "developing nations" belies the stated aim of reducing greenhouse-gas levels. Meanwhile, the protocol's supporters have argued vociferously against the use of both tradable emissions credits and carbon "sinks," such as forests and wildlands, as ways of meeting the protocol's emissions requirements.
On the one hand, it is said by detractors that the science on carbon sinks is too uncertain to be relied upon; it's too bad this logic isn't applied to the evidence for human-caused global warming. As for credits, the idea that "rich" countries could buy their way out of reducing emissions provokes outrage. But since tradable credits would not increase or decrease the amount of carbon dioxide allowed under the treaty, this outrage can only amount to visceral anticapitalism, not any sort of genuine concern for the environment.
In other words, there are good reasons to be skeptical of both the means and the ends of the Kyoto Protocol. George Bush's stated opinion on the campaign trail--that the science was inconclusive but bears monitoring, while the treaty was flawed and unworkable--seems sounder to us than Ms. Whitman's more conciliatory statements this weekend.
Given the dominance by the Greens of Europe's environment ministries, and the state of siege in which the meeting in Trieste took place, it is possible that the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was merely making friendly gestures while stalling for time. It's possible too that Ms. Whitman is the victim of either bad advice (most of her top-level staff are still holdovers from the previous administration) or a lack of information (Ms. Whitman made headlines in January when she mistakenly conflated the hole in the ozone and global warming). But her remarks certainly had the effect of breathing new life into the Kyoto project and emboldening the treaty's most ardent supporters.
Willer Bordon, Italy's environment minister and host of the summit this weekend, insisted there would be "no backtracking" from Kyoto's goals. The World Wildlife Fund issued a statement asserting, "the only feasible option for Bush is to accept the Kyoto Protocol as written." This strikes us more as a devout wish than a statement of fact.
It is a wish, furthermore, that is shared by the Green parties in Europe,
whose agendas dominate the environment ministries here. Which is why it
falls to the Bush administration to look at the whole framework of the
treaty afresh, rather than accept Kyoto as a fait accompli. Once that's
done, we hope that the new president of the United States and his EPA
chief will strike up the band and lay Kyoto to rest once and for all.
4. Our letter to Mrs Whitman
LETTER TO EPA ADMINISTRATOR CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN
Your recent testimony and subsequent statements would indicate that you accept as established scientific fact the existence of a warming trend as a result of an increase in greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide.
This is indeed the claim of the UN-controlled Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as expressed in their Summary released in January of this year. However, in spite of being touted as a "scientific consensus," it is a political document. The Summary does not accord with the facts or indeed with the full IPCC report itself.
The overwhelming balance of evidence shows no appreciable warming trend in the past 20 years, nor indeed since about 1940. While some surface readings in far-away locations (mainly Eastern Siberia and the tropical oceans) show a warming trend, the well-maintained stations in the United States do not. According to official US government publications, the warmest years occurred around 1940.
Weather satellite data, the only true global measurements we have, show no warming. Neither do the independent data from weather balloons, which confirm the satellites in all respects. In addition, so-called proxy data, i.e., non-thermometer records from tree rings, ice cores, etc., show no warming.
Taken together therefore, the balance of evidence suggests that manmade warming is of minor importance and that projections for the future are based purely on speculative theoretical models not validated by observations.
For further detail, I invite your attention to the enclosed testimony, delivered to the Senate Commerce Committee. Also enclosed is a Letter to the NY Times that explains why melting glaciers cannot be used as an indication of current warming.
At your convenience, I will be pleased to brief you further on any aspect of this issue.
5. ADMINISTRATION IN THE BALANCE,
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill is fond of telling the story of meeting Jane Fonda a few years ago. While CEO of Alcoa, he was invited to a White House briefing on global warming and found himself seated next to the actress and peace protester. She turned to him and said, "I'm a friend of the greens. What in the world are you doing here?"
Mr. O'Neill was startled and offended by the remark. "The assumption," he said later, "is you must not be a friend of the environment or the children if you are an industrialist."
At the first meeting of the president's cabinet, Mr. O'Neill passed out copies of a speech he gave, at a trade association meeting in 1998 in which he said that there were two issues that transcend all others: "One is nuclear holocaust.... The second is environmental: specifically, the issue of global climate change and the potential of global warming."
In the speech, Mr. O'Neill criticized Kyoto-not because it's too tough but because it's too timid. "I believe the real danger to civilization," he said, "is that, as a consequence of this 'brilliant' political process, we don't do anything for 10 years. That would not be a good idea."
Don't feel too relieved that climate change is outside Mr. O'Neill's ambit. Listen to what Christine Todd Whitman, the new chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, has been saying lately. Last week, she said the administration is considering putting limits on carbon-dioxide emissions as part of a "multi-pollutant strategy." In other words, the Clean Air Act would be amended to add restrictions on carbon dioxide, the most prominent of the greenhouse gases, to a list of chemicals that now includes sulfur dioxide and lead. Even though Al Gore liked the idea of calling carbon dioxide a pollutant, not even the Clinton administration had the nerve to push it this way.
A multi-pollutant strategy would help realize the objective of many greens. As the late Aaron Wildavsky, professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley, wrote, "Warming (and warming alone), through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist's dream of an egalitarian society based on the rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population's eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally."
In an interview on CNN's "Crossfire," Robert Novak asked Ms. Whitman, "So, governor, the poor deluded voters who voted for George Bush thinking that he was different from Al Gore on the question of global warming, they made a sorry mistake?"
"Well," Ms. Whitman replied, "maybe they didn't listen closely enough, but he was very clear about that during the campaign." But, she added, "there are ways, that we can get to a multi-pollutant strategy on energy that would allow for energy and still meet some of these demands and, the needs we need to meet on global warming."
Actually, during the campaign, Mr. Bush had sensible things to say about global warming. He said that he opposed any policies that "would drastically increase the cost of gasoline, home heating oil, natural gas and electricity" and that any climate-related actions by the U.S. would have to include "market-based mechanisms."
The U.S. desire for extensive use of those mechanisms-such as trading pollution credits or establishing carbon "sinks" (forests and farms that suck carbon dioxide out of the air)-was the issue on which the post-Kyoto talks last November in The Hague foundered.
Follow-up talks are being scheduled in Bonn for June or July, and the administration urgently needs a clear policy. It's hard to see what the U.S. has to gain from ratifying the treaty, and accepting the Kyoto regime would cancel the benefits of any imaginable tax cuts.
As recently as December, Ms. Whitman didn't have a clue about climate change. When asked about the "state of the science" on global warming, she replied, "Clearly, there's a hole in the ozone, but I saw a study the other day that showed that that was closing." Whoops. The ozone hole is another matter entirely, and besides that issue is so '80s!
Mr. O'Neill is actually more promising. While his rhetoric sounds alarmist, he also expresses an admirable skepticism. In his 1998 speech, he said we really have just "one-and-a-half facts"-that carbon dioxide concentrations have risen and that global temperatures seem to be up over the past century by half a degree Celsius. Beyond that, "we really need to do much more on R&D."
We do. But advocates of drastic action are pumping up the hysteria. An ideologically slanted summary recently distorted serious work by scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), contending that global warming will soon be causing malaria epidemics and floods. The latest is that-even though the past November and December were the coldest such months in U.S. history-the snowcap on Mount Kilimanjaro is melting (glaciers have been melting since the last ice age) and a professor at Iowa State University has concluded that global warming "could yield up to 24,000 more homicides and assaults in the United States."
In fact, says John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama and one of the lead authors of the IPCC report, "Hurricanes are not increasing. Tornadoes are not increasing. Storms and droughts do not show any pattern of increasing or decreasing Variations of climate have always occurred, even when humans could not have had any impact."
Beyond Mr. O'Neill's one-and-a-half facts, Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at MIT, told me, "'there is very little consensus" among experts in the field. We don't know whether temperatures will continue to rise, whether human intervention has anything to do with the increase, and whether cutting greenhouse emissions will significantly cut temperatures.
What We Know
Since we know so little, Mr. Lindzen says, "the Kyoto Treaty is absurd.... The U.S. has signed on to something that agrees to the precautionary principle" -- the idea that, "even if you don't have the data, if you don't have the science, if somebody proposes a problem, you're supposed to act on it."
Ms. Whitman says that "the president is very sensitive to the issue of global warming." Sensitivity is fine, but getting the facts is even better. Adopting Kyoto or branding carbon dioxide a pollutant would be disastrous to the world economy. Sorry, but sometimes Jane Fonda needs to be grossed out.
Mr. Glassman is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and host of TechCentralstation.com
6. Our Letter to the WSJ (March 9)
Trial Proposed on Global Warming
The article ("Administration in the Balance," WSJ, March 8) identifies Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman as aggressive advocates for action on global warming. Whitman would support the unilateral imposition of caps on the emission of carbon dioxide, even in advance of any international agreement. However, in July 1997 the US Senate voted 95:0 for the Byrd-Hagel Resolution, against any such economically damaging policies. Moreover, during the election campaign, George W. Bush came out unequivocally against the Kyoto Protocol.
Carbon dioxide does not affect human health and is not a "criteria pollutant" as defined by Clean-Air legislation. A cap on CO2 would raise electricity prices and wipe out economic benefits of the Bush tax cut. Congress would likely fight this backhanded way to bring back the regressive BTU energy tax that was soundly defeated a few years ago. Consumer advocates who are truly concerned about low-income groups would, or should, therefore oppose a CO2 cap.
O'Neill and Whitman are basing their advocacy on nothing more than second-hand and, more likely, third-hand information, carefully filtered by acolytes of Al Gore. [And here we thought he lost the election!] These people are literally grasping at straws to make the "threat" of global warming credible. Last summer, the New York Times breathlessly reported on puddles of open water at the North Pole as evidence for climate change, only to retract the claim a few days later when the Wall Street Journal and others described it as a common occurrence. Last month, the NY Times cited the melting of the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro as proof, only to learn that it too was a "snow job."
The evidence against a warming trend is overwhelming: Weather satellite observations, the only truly global measurements, independently confirmed by weather balloon data, show little if any rise in mean temperature. The well-maintained network of US stations, after removal of urban heat-island effects, shows no appreciable rise since about 1940! Non-thermometer data from various "proxies", like tree rings, ice cores, ocean sediments, etc., all show no warming trend in the past 60 years.
Isn't it timely and prudent therefore to hold an adversary hearing, a
trial that permits cross examination, to examine the conflicting evidence,
including also the validity of the theoretical models on which all forecasts
of future warming are based? Promoters of global warming have opposed
such a confrontation; those who are concerned about the economic impact
of controls should insist on it.