|The Week That Was
February 1, 2003
1. New on the Web: THE VIEW OF AN ENERGY "EXPERT" ABOUT
EMISSION TRADING FOR CARBON DIOXIDE. Anyone who reads this critically
will soon discover what's wrong with his analysis and with the cap-and-trade
approach (see also TWTW of Jan 25, 2003)
2. The case against CO2 emission trading
1) The most basic reason: CO2 is not a pollutant and not harmful to humans. It is the basic plant food and therefore good for agriculture and forestry. As population grows and good farmland becomes scarce in many parts of the world, we need higher crop productivity.
2) The increase in greenhouse gases in the past 100 years has had little influence on climate as far as we can tell. Further increases will likely lead to a minor amount of warming -and economists tell us that this would have positive consequences overall.
3) Finally, efforts to control emissions may only slow down slightly the rate of growth and be costly to boot. Any kind of cap amounts to rationing --- and that will raise the cost of energy to consumers; it will hit low-income groups hardest.
4) If consumers lose, who will gain financially? Those companies that
buy emission rights early but then proceed to influence the political
process to cap emissions. Without caps, their rights would not have any
value. Companies, like AEP, DuPont, etc. then become lobbyists for emission
caps. Remember ENRON? So the whole scheme is really a giant income transfer
with only a problematic environmental value.
Three Letters in Science (10 Jan. 2003) by F.N. von Hippel, by D.J. Brenner, and by E.S. Lyman take exception to the Policy Forum article by Chapin et al (20 Sept. 2002), which analyzed the (non)danger from a terrorist attack (specifically from the impact of airliners) on nuclear reactors and nearby storage of spent nuclear fuel. Chapin et al reply adequately to these three letters. Bur here are additional comments:
1. von Hippel raises some sensible points but ignores the simple remedies that are available. The possible danger of penetration by an aircraft comes from the massive jet engines rather than from the fragile structure itself. Strategically placed steel towers would break up an aircraft well before it could hit a reactor or fuel storage. The latter presents a small target in any case and contains no internal energy that could disperse the radioactivity, much of which will have decayed away. [We note that central underground storage at Yucca Mountain would not solve the problem since storage for several years in pools adjacent to reactors would still be required to cool the spent fuel.]
2. Brenner ignores all evidence against the linear-non-threshold (LNT) hypothesis and then proceeds to construct a large number of cancer cases. He even predicts a yet-to-come increase in solid cancers from Chernobyl but gives no estimate how this could be demonstrated with any degree of confidence.
Finally, he suggests that the "possible theft of a spent-fuel rod for use in a dirty bomb seem[s] more relevant than an attack on a nuclear reactor core." No suggestion, however, on just how such a theft might be carried out without killing the thief.
3. Lyman never addresses the issue of an impacting airliner but instead discusses the possible takeover and sabotage of a nuclear plant by terrorists. After describing fanciful scenarios , he cavalierly recommends a higher level of security but offers no specific proposals.
A common feature of these letters is that they seem motivated by anti-nuclear rather than anti-terrorist sentiments. They concentrate on nuclear facilities but ignore the much easier terrorist targets of chemical plants, refineries, pipelines, etc. The Bhopal accident was certainly more destructive of human lives and health than Chernobyl.
[For evidence against LNT, consult this treasure house of information on the health effects of low-dose radiation: http://cnts.wpi.edu/rsh/docs]
"Objectively speaking," the Committees intoned, "the publication
of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of
It's interesting to observe how impressively Denmark resolves issues
of science that arise within its borders: by pronouncement. This saves
a lot of time that is otherwise wasted on observation, experiment, analysis,
and debate. The "pronouncement" business has a long and distinguished
history, of course, having served the Counter-Reformation Church so well
in its own battle against heresy, and Stalinist science so effectively
in its campaign in support of Lysenkoism. Nor is there any reason to question
the disinterestedness of such Committees, since their own witness to their
own objectivity is so conveniently placed within their own pronouncement.
Most impressive of all, however, is the manner with which this process
has approached the question of evidence. What instances of Lomborg's dishonesty
have the Committees cited in support of their pronouncement? This is where
they've covered themselves with glory. Evidence is beneath the Committees'
contempt; they've cited none. That would have opened the door to a rebuttal
on the merits. Why be bothered?
The Economist calls this process Orwellian, incompetent, and shameful,
while Tech Central Station says it's a smear. Even so, Lomborg says it
makes him uncomfortable, and who can blame him? Lomborg may have the statistical
case on his side (the Danish Committees sure didn't put a dent in it),
but that can be small comfort when one is up against a well-publicized
charge from a body with an impressive name.
What Lomborg needs are other sorts of pronouncements from other self-important
bodies located in appropriate nations. That is why I'm so pleased today
to report the findings of the Committees on Discovering Moral Fraudulence
Masquerading as Something Else. These Committees do business in Freedonia,
a nation established decades ago by the Marx Brothers and therefore bringing
exactly the desired sensibility to the campaign against Lomborg. Why should
these Committees' pronouncements be taken seriously? Because its members
are in possession of an impressive set of judicial wigs. Having placed
those wigs askew on their heads, the Freedonian Ministers of Pronouncements
have denounced the Danish Committees as a collection of "schnorrers,"
have refused to lend them any more money, and are even refusing to return
the Danes' door stencils, deposited in Freedonia as collateral.
Additionally, the Committees on Saying McCarthyism in Danish have weighed
in. This group is based in Ruritania, a ludicrous monarchy that figures
prominently in the forgotten novels of Arthur Hope. Ruritania is an excellent
location to debate Lomborg's critics, because it is a place best known
for the extravagance of its military epaulettes. Consistent with their
national reputation for impenetrable intrigue, the Ruritanian Committees
have dressed up to look exactly like the Danish Committees in question,
and have issued a counter-statement in the Danish language that pretends
to be the work of the Danish Committees itself. That document demands
that Denmark's royal family wear more epaulette braids while riding their
bicycles. The smirk on the faces of the Ruritanian imposters at their
press conference suggests that there is a good deal more to their conspiracy,
but that by the time we turn the last page of the story it will be next
to impossible to reconstruct what actually happened.
Perhaps none of these developments will reduce Bjorn Lomborg's understandable
unhappiness, but it will at least place the Danish Committees' pronouncements
in a context befitting their seriousness.