|The Week That Was
January 4, 2003
1. NEW ON THE WEB: Annual Report of the Science & Environmental
Policy Project for 2002 presents highlights of SEPP activities,
2. A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEPP: a supplement to the Annual Report
3. SCIENCE EDITORIAL WEIGHS AGAINST FURTHER CLIMATE RESEARCH: But have they consulted the scientists?
4. WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ATMOSPHERIC CARBON DIOXIDE?
5. WIND TURBINES KILL BIRDS BUT REGULATORS BLINK
6. 2002's "MOST DUBIOUS NEWS STORIES "
Background on SEPP
Prof. Frederick Seitz, former president of Rockefeller University and of the US National Academy of Sciences, has served as chairman of the board since 1992 when SFS founded SEPP, in association with other scientists. The US scientists include Chauncey Starr (director emeritus of EPRI). Henry Linden (former director of the Gas Research Institute), Bruce Ames (biochemist, U of Cal, Berkeley), Wm. Nierenberg (deceased), and Aaron Wildavsky (deceased).
SEPP is unique. It is perhaps the only public-policy group that addresses its message not just to decision-makers and the general public but also to the scientific community, through technical publications, university seminars, professional society meetings, and conferences. We believe that we can amplify our voice if hundreds or even thousands of scientists and engineers can carry our message.
SEPP has been immensely successful in what it set out to do. It is small but lean. Neither I nor the other scientists, officers and board members draw salaries; they volunteer their services and expertise because they believe strongly in what they are doing. Overhead is minimal. Support comes from foundations and private individuals who agree with the purposes of SEPP and view SEPP as their voice to present sound, unbiased science for the sake of achieving rational environmental policies and regulations.
Almost the entire SEPP budget goes toward research and outreach. For example, we have been averaging some 30 talks per year (incl. debates) at colleges, at conferences, and to private groups. We normally assign all lecture fees to SEPP, a quite substantial contribution. Most of our efforts have been devoted to issues of climate change, as well as ozone depletion, acid rain, and urban smog. But we have also tried to deal rationally with energy policy and with questions of exposure to radiation and chemicals, with emphasis on asbestos, radon and nuclear power.
After SEPP was incorporated, we produced the 1992 "Statement of Atmospheric Scientists," signed by more than fifty professional climate experts, mainly from the US. This widely quoted document was designed to counteract some of the hype surrounding the 1992 Rio Earth Summit that produced the Global Climate Treaty (UN-FCCC - Framework Convention on Climate Change).
In 1995, and again in 1997, SEPP cosponsored international symposia on climate change in Leipzig and in Bonn, together with the European Academy for Environmental Affairs (Prof. Helmut Metzner). An outgrowth of the 1995 meeting was the so-called Leipzig Declaration with over 100 signers. It was the first document that made it clear to the media and the public that there is no scientific consensus on global warming. It was widely attacked by Greens and thereby achieved great notoriety. A Danish TV special was specifically dedicated to discredit the Declaration - which gained it even more signers. Its effectiveness can be judged from the fact that the promoters of global-warming scares are still attacking it.
Publications and Outreach: There have been literally dozens of publications, newspaper articles, and radio-TV interviews every year. In 1992, a group of SEPP scientists published a critical analysis of the 1990 and 1992 IPCC reports on Global Warming: "The Greenhouse Debate Continued: An Analysis and Critique of the IPCC Climate Assessment" (edited by S. Fred Singer, ICS Press, San Francisco, CA, 1992)
In 1998, 1999, and 2000, we distributed several hundred copies of our 40-page booklet, "The Scientific Case against the Global Climate Treaty;" it has been translated into French, German, Spanish, and Chinese. It served us well at the 1998, 1999, and 2000 annual international meetings held by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Kyoto Protocol of the global climate treaty, organized by the UN Environmental Program.
In May 2000, SEPP convened an international workshop in Fairfax, VA, to critique the draft of the IPCC's Third Assessment Report (TAR). A well-attended briefing in the Capitol building followed. In May 2002, SEPP repeated this exercise, again with great success. For this last workshop SEPP produced a booklet entitled "The Kyoto Protocol is not Backed by Science." (May 2002)
On behalf of SEPP, the Independent Institute published Fred Singer's book "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate" in 1997 (and a second edition in 1999). In June 2000, the Hoover Institution published our "Climate Policy - From Rio to Kyoto: A Political Issue for 2000 -- and Beyond" in their series of Essays in Public Policy.
An effective way of communicating with a wide audience at low cost is through the SEPP web page <www.sepp.org>; a typical week will draw more than a 2500 visitors. In addition, SEPP prepares a weekly news report TWTW that goes to nearly 2000 persons and groups.
We have not neglected the international aspects of global warming and other scientific issues. The latest conference, co-organized by SEPP, was held at the University of Munich, Germany, in June 2002. The next workshop/conference will be held in 2003 and will again result in a conference report that is widely distributed here and in Europe.
SEPP was represented at the UN-COP climate meetings in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, in Buenos Aires in 1998, in The Hague in 1999, and in Bonn in 2000 and 2001. In all cases, SEPP people conducted briefings for the press, distributed literature and gave interviews. In Bonn (2001) we organized a group of some 40 students who demonstrated vociferously in favor of the US position against the Kyoto Protocol. [This may have been the only instance in which American students held demonstrations abroad to support the US government.]
In May 2001, we participated in a workshop organized by the Italian government to help it develop a policy position on Global Warming and the Kyoto Protocol.
We have lectured in Chile and Argentina, debated against Kyoto in Sweden and Finland and in the Austrian Parliament, and also participated in a press briefing on the Kyoto Protocol (Nov. 2002) in Ottawa, Canada.
It is clear that SEPP's strength lies in organizing international workshops dealing with the critical examination of topics in climate science. In some ways we are similar to the IPCC, although not nearly as well supported. Our unique mission might be to act as a counterweight to the ideologically oriented IPCC leadership. By drawing on the same body of basic scientific results published in refereed journals we can develop conclusions that are independent and quite different from the politically inspired Summary for Policymakers (SPM) published by the IPCC leadership. [We might call it a "Team-B" approach, similar in spirit to the Team-B set up by the Reagan DOD to analyze intelligence data about the Soviet Union in competition with the CIA analysis of the same or similar data.]
In addition, the SEPP scientific team will also provide an important resource of independent advice to the US government (and other governments that request such advice -as the Italian government did in May 2001). We participated actively in the planning of the US Climate Change Science Program by submitting a Position Paper and by preparing a presentation at the CCSP workshop held in Dec 2002 in Washington, DC.
SEPP now has a group of some 100 climate scientists, mostly in the US and Europe, that exchange information actively by e-mail and meet informally whenever possible. We visualize a core group of a dozen scientists, with other specialists added as problems change. We would meet once or twice a year and issue an Annual Report on the status of climate science, as we perceive it.
The coming years are going to be intensely political, as pressures, both
domestic and international, mount on the White House to adopt the Kyoto
Protocol. These pressures take various forms but also use scientific distortion
to achieve their goal. It therefore becomes more important than ever to
make sure that decision-makers, the media, and the public receive sound
scientific information based on solid facts and not scare stories.
In his editorial of Dec 20, 2002, editor Donald Kennedy, pal of Paul Ehrlich and Stephen Schneider, takes out after the administration's Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), now in the process of formulation. Kennedy asks rhetorically why this issue needs more study when glaciers are melting faster than university endowments (horror upon horrors!).
Well, part of the answer can be found only a few pages later (Science
298, 2298, 2002) where Science editors "prognosticate next year's
hot research topics." Such as: What s happening to the world's store
of ice? What exactly is the sun-climate connection, now that "researchers
are grudgingly taking the sun seriously as a factor in climate change"
and in "triggering droughts and cold snaps." They could have
added a whole bunch more, such as: Why is the atmosphere not warming appreciably-in
contrast to all model predictions? Why the disparity between temperature
trends of the atmosphere and surface? What's happening to CO2?
A new Energy Department report states emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases fell 1.2 percent last year -- the largest annual decline in more than a decade.
But they traced the drop to last year's unseasonably warm winter and reduced burning of fossil fuels due to the economic slowdown. They said they didn't detect the start of any long-term trend.
o Greenhouse gas emissions totaled 1.883 billion metric tons of carbon equivalent last year -- compared with a record 1.907 billion in 2000.
o Overall emissions are 11.9 percent above the 1990 level.
Source: Eric Pianin, "Greenhouse Gases Decrease," Washington
But the rate had varied drastically from year to year; within the past decade it has been as low as 1.5 Pg and as high as 6 Pg. [P. Quay. Science 298, 2344, 2002; N. Gruber, C.D. Keeling, N.R. Bates, Science 298, 2374, 2002]. The cause is believed to be variability in CO2 absorption in the North Atlantic, which varies because of the North Atlantic Oscillation.
The provision, apparently the first in the nation, tries to balance the interests of wildlife advocates and wind-power developers, who are racing to build the plants by Dec 31, 2003, when a federal tax incentive expires.
One project of 25 turbines, agreed to shut down for a maximum of 18 hours within one year if the kill rate exceeds more than 200 birds or bats in any 24-hour period. The other project of 67 turbines agreed to similar limits. Regulators are willing to permit the projects and then monitor bird-kills. But the Sierra wants more studies before the projects are approved.
"In a year when Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein made the bogeyman look like the Tooth Fairy," says Alan Caruba, "the 'enviromaniacs' kept telling anyone who would listen that the Earth was doomed and everything you ate, drank or breathed would kill you."
In his 12th annual review of "The Most Dubious News Stories of the Year", the National Anxiety Center has announced Caruba's selection of claims given media coverage in 2002. A clearinghouse for information about scare campaigns, it was founded by Caruba in 1990.
The Obesity "Epidemic." In a campaign similar to that leveled against the tobacco industry, the drumbeat of news about an "obesity" epidemic stayed in the news much of the year, noted the Center. "This attack on the fast-food industry was greeted with joy by trial lawyers, the only people to actually benefit from idiotic lawsuits," said Caruba. In July, the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine warned against trans-fatty acids thus putting vegetable shortening, dairy products, pastries, crackers, and fried foods off limits. That same month, a New York City lawyer filed a suit against four fast-food corporations on behalf of an obese client.
Beware of Chocolate. In May, a California group, the American Environmental Safety Institute, launched a lawsuit against major chocolate makers for failing to warn consumers against the alleged danger of infinitesimal amounts of lead and cadmium. "Trace amounts of minerals, including arsenic, exist in everything we eat without any demonstration of harm," noted Caruba.
EPA says toxic sludge is good for fish. In June, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers defended the dumping of toxic sludge into the Potomac River saying that it may "actually protect the fish." Despite the Clean Water and Endangered Species Act, the EPA continues to ignore the threat its toxic sludge policy poses to both animals and humans.
Attacking Plastic. Despite four decades of safe use, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in July about plastic intravenous (IV) bags and tubes based totally on a hypothetical harm. Environmentalists have been attacking the use of plastic for decades, claiming a "carcinogenic" threat that even the World Health Organization has refused to confirm.
Declaring the oceans to be "wilderness." An environmental group, the Ocean Conservancy, in July, launched a campaign claiming that recreational fisherman were threatening the "biodiversity" of fish, seeking to put major portions of the ocean off limits to sport fishing in Alaska, Hawaii and Florida.
End-of-the-world claims. The British, who thrive on claims the Earth will be destroyed at any moment, were treated to yet another in July when the BBC warned that a space rock that could hit the Earth on February 1, 2019.
Hot or cold? Which is it? In October, Dr. Robert Gagosian, president of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, predicted that "The earth's climate could switch gears and jump very rapidly", thus plunging everyone into a new Ice Age instead of the predicted global warming. "Predictions are fun, they get headlines, and they scare anyone silly enough to pay attention," says Caruba.
"Light" and "noise" pollution. In July, the International Dark-Sky Association launched an effort in a Washington, DC suburb to reduce nighttime lighting to "save the night skies." In August, a group called Noise Free America announced that "noise pollution" was a growing epidemic that would lead to "social deterioration and chaos."
Cities under water. Greenpeace, one of the most absurd of the many environmental organizations, claimed in August that Manhattan and Shanghai, among other coastal cities could be underwater and worldwide starvation would occur because of the rise in water levels. Scientists have long known the oceans rise about seven inches or less every hundred years.
"All this is going on," said Caruba, "despite the fact that life expectancy in America is the highest it has ever been and the ample evidence that life on Earth continues to improve for people throughout the world. The Earth is not running out of food or natural resources. The claims of environmentalists and others have nothing to do with scientific and economic data that clearly demonstrates the improvement of life for people everywhere."
In February, Merrill Press of Bellevue, Washington, will publish "Warning