|The Week That Was
December 23 , 2006
WASHINGTON – On Nov 29, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on carbon-dioxide emissions, blamed by some for global warming. Joined by environmental groups, Massachusetts and 11 other states have urged that the administration regulate CO2 as a pollutant. [Read the case docket in Massachusetts v. EPA, courtesy of FindLaw.] The administration, reversing a Clinton administration opinion, argued that such emissions don't fall under the Clean Air Act's definition of pollutants -- adding that even if they did, the EPA need not regulate them because of uncertainty and a preference for international action over a unilateral approach.
Lord Monckton challenges Senators Rockefeller and Snowe: 'Uphold Free Speech or Resign' (ITEM #2)
Automakers ask court to dismiss CO2 lawsuit by California (ITEM #3)
Energy security is a hot topic. See ITEM #4 for the latest task force report and critical comments. We hope to discuss the Council on Foreign Relations (Schlesinger-Deutch) report in a future issue of TWTW
We now that DDT fights malaria – if allowed to be used. It may also reduce the incidence of AIDS (ITEM # 5)
Richard Rahn reviews “Unstoppable Global Warming—Every 1500 Years” (ITEM #6). Also a review by Howard “Cork” Hayden, publisher of The Energy Advocate (highly recommended newsletter) and author of “The Solar Fraud”
Uncontrolled coal fires contribute to global CO2 emissions (ITEM #7). France proposes a European Union carbon tax on imports from industrialized countries that won't commit to a post-2012 Kyoto Protocol (ITEM #8).
Peter Zimmerman discusses “smoky” polonium bomb and recommends countermeasures (ITEM #9).
An interview with John Dingell, incoming chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Note his surprisingly moderate views on global warming (ITEM # 10).
Under Kyoto, China has been an enthusiastic seller of carbon credits since 2005, accounting for about two-thirds of a fledgling US$2.5 billion market, but it has drawn the ire of the rest of the world by imposing a tax on the deals, effectively making what is meant to be an environmentally supportive system into a subsidy for the Chinese government
Finally, I want to share this lovely Christmas letter from reader Malcolm Ross (Annandale, VA). Explore the website for other charming greeting cards. I particularly recommend the SNOW DOG for children and grandchildren. [FOR YR ENJOYMENT ONLY; NOT TO BE USED COMMERCIALLY]
1. SUPREME COURT NEEDS MORE CLIMATE SCIENCE
The US Supreme Court is currently addressing a question of crucial importance to the US economy: Is carbon dioxide (CO2), from fossil-fuel burning for energy production, a “pollutant” that requires regulation? The petitioners, led by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, demand regulation -- interpreting the Clean Air Act differently than the respondent, the US-EPA.
CO2 is non-toxic and naturally present in the atmosphere -- but also a greenhouse (GH) gas and therefore a potential cause of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). The oral arguments and scientific Amicus Curiae briefs, pro and con, never addressed the basic issue: Is CO2 the principal cause of current warming? The plaintiff’s amici included two Nobelists in Chemistry – although this tactic may backfire when law clerks discover that the two have little demonstrated competence in disciplines relevant to the issue.
Absence of good science is evident in the arcane legal dispute about “standing.” To buttress his claim that AGW would injure Massachusetts, its Assistant Attorney General James Milkey invoked sea-level rise and loss of coastal lands, relying on a previous affidavit but suggesting the Court not inquire into its merits. Indeed, his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, did not challenge him. Yet Milkey’s argument is seriously flawed.
All available data show that global sea levels have risen 400 feet since the peak of the most recent ice age 18,000 years ago. In recent millennia, the rate has been 18 cm (7 inches) per century -- and there is good argument for this rate to continue until the next ice age. Tidal gauges around the world show no acceleration during the 20th century but only a steady rise – in spite of strong global warming before 1940. How can this be? Evidently, the rise expected from melting glaciers and a warmer, expanding ocean is largely offset by loss of water from increased ocean evaporation and consequent more ice accumulation on the Antarctic continent. Hence a short-lived warm period (lasting decades or even centuries) would not accelerate the ongoing sea-level rise of 18 cm per century. In other words, no harm to Massachusetts from AGW.
This idea, discussed in my book Hot Talk Cold Science, seems to be penetrating to more climate scientists. For example, in 1990, the UN-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated a “best-value” rise of 66 cm by 2100; IPCC-1996 reported 49 cm (with a range of 13-94 cm); IPCC-2001 gave 9-88 cm, while the 2007 report estimates a more reasonable range of 14-43 cm. By contrast, the affidavit Milkey relies on gives 58 –and as much as 130 cm. Incidentally, James Hansen, an amicus for the Petitioners, claims up to 600 cm by 2100. Evidently, Hansen – and Al Gore, who listens to him – are climate contrarians.
It is strange that both briefs ignore the only relevant evidence, published in May 2006 by the federal Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). Instead, the petitioners give undue weight to a hurriedly assembled National Academy report of June 2001. They are 90 percent sure that current warming is anthropogenic but don’t explain why. By contrast, the CCSP report shows quite clearly that GH models cannot explain the observed patterns of warming. [See esp. Fig. 5.4G at <www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap1-1/finalreport/default.htm>] This disparity leads to the inescapable conclusion that most of the warming is of non-greenhouse origin and therefore part of a natural climate cycle. In other words, models exaggerate the effects of CO2, and even drastic efforts to control emissions are unlikely to affect global climate.
In fact, there is good reason to consider rising CO2 levels a blessing –a thesis supported by published economic studies. Agronomists agree that, as the essential plant food, more CO2 would enhance growth of crops and forests. Longer growing seasons and fewer frosts would benefit agriculture. Further, ocean warming inevitably increases evaporation and therefore precipitation, raising global supplies of fresh water. In addition, most warming would occur mainly at night in winter at high latitudes. Such warming may delay or even cancel the next ice age, expected to follow the present warm interglacial period.
Thus the drive to regulate CO2 -- and effectively control energy -- appears to be based on ideology rather than science or any real concern about climate. Quoting Lenin: “The establishment of socialism in capitalist nations requires only targeting their supply of energy.”
Atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia and former director of the US Weather Satellite Service. His most recent book “Unstoppable Global Warming – Every 1500 Years” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007) presents the evidence for natural climate cycles of warming and cooling.
2. LORD MONCKTON CHALLENGES SENATORS
WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 /PRNewswire/ -- Lord Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley, has sent an open letter to Senators Rockefeller (D-WV) and Snowe (R-Maine) in response to their recent open letter telling the CEO of ExxonMobil to cease funding climate-skeptic scientists.
Lord Monckton, former policy adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, writes: "You defy every tenet of democracy when you invite ExxonMobil to deny itself the right to provide information to 'senior elected and appointed government officials' who disagree with your opinion."
In what The Charleston (WV) Daily Mail has called "an intemperate attempt to squelch debate with a hint of political consequences," Senators Rockefeller and Snowe released an open letter dated October 30 to ExxonMobil CEO, Rex Tillerson, insisting he end Exxon's funding of a "climate change denial campaign." The Senators labeled scientists with whom they disagree as "deniers," a term usually directed at "Holocaust deniers." Some voices on the political left have called for the arrest and prosecution of skeptical scientists. The British Foreign Secretary has said skeptics should be treated like advocates of Islamic terror and must be denied access to the media.
Responds Lord Monckton, "Sceptics and those who have the courage to support them are actually helpful in getting the science right. They do not, as you improperly suggest, 'obfuscate' the issue: they assist in clarifying it by challenging weaknesses in the 'consensus' argument and they compel necessary corrections ... "
Lord Monckton's Churchillian reproof continues, "You acknowledge the effectiveness of the climate sceptics. In so doing, you pay a compliment to the courage of those free-thinking scientists who continue to research climate change independently -- despite the likelihood of refusal of publication in journals that have taken preconceived positions; the hate mail and vilification from ignorant environmentalists; and the threat of loss of tenure in institutions of learning which no longer make any pretence to uphold or cherish academic freedom."
Of Britain's Royal Society, a State-funded scientific body which, like the Senators, has publicly leaned on ExxonMobil, Lord Monckton said, "The Society's long-standing funding by taxpayers does not ensure any greater purity of motive or rigour of thought than industrial funding of scientists who dare to question whether 'climate change' will do any harm."
To the Senators' comparison of ExxonMobil's funding of climate sceptics with tobacco-industry funding of research denying the link between smoking and lung cancer, Lord Monckton counters, "Your comparison of Exxon's funding of sceptical scientists and groups with the former antics of the tobacco industry is unjustifiable and unworthy of any credible elected representatives. Either withdraw that monstrous comparison forthwith, or resign so as not to pollute the office you hold."
Concludes Lord Monckton, "I challenge you to withdraw or resign because your letter is the latest in what appears to be an internationally-coordinated series of maladroit and malevolent attempts to silence the voices of scientists and others who have sound grounds, rooted firmly in the peer- reviewed scientific literature, to question what you would have us believe is the unanimous agreement of scientists worldwide that global warming will lead to what you excitedly but unjustifiably call 'disastrous' and 'calamitous' consequences."
SOURCE Center for Science and Public Policy (http://ff.org/centers/csspp/pdf/20061212_monckton.pdf)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: WHAT GREEN ACTIVISTS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW
As chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for the past four years, I have held several hearings examining the fears of manmade catastrophic global warming, and I have spoken publicly on this issue more than any other senator. Those who wish to quell opposing viewpoints on manmade global warming do so because of a number of inconvenient facts about both the science of climate change and the economic harm their proposed "solutions" would cause the American people.
3. AUTOMAKERS RESPOND TO CALIF. SUIT
David Shepardson / The Detroit News, December 16, 2006
WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for the largest U.S. and Japanese automakers Friday asked a federal judge to throw out a suit filed by California that claims vehicle carbon-dioxide emissions are harming the health of Californians and damaging the environment in the Golden State.
The suit, filed by Attorney General Bill Lockyer in September, argues that General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Corp. and DaimlerChrysler A.G.'s Chrysler Group have violated public nuisance laws by contributing to global warming. The lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages. It's the latest front in a multi-pronged legal battle to force the automakers and the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In a 35-page motion to dismiss filed late Friday, the automakers responded to the latest fight in California.
The lawsuit "has no legitimate origins in federal or state law, no jurisprudential stopping point and the potential to wreak incalculable damage on the nation's carefully regulated transportation industry and the national economy. The lawsuit is frivolous, meritless and must be dismissed," the automakers wrote. "California, in particular, fosters a culture and identity that affirmatively encourages the use of the very product that it now seeks to brand as a nuisance," the automakers said.
Theodore J. Boutros, a Los Angeles lawyer representing the automakers, said the global warming debate belongs in Congress, not in the courts. "These products are lawful, they are expressly allowed by federal and state law and California encourages their use," Boutros said in an interview Friday.
The suit notes that California has more than 37,000 government owned vehicles, builds highways and actively encourages people to drive. There are 500,000 state, federal and locally owned vehicles in California. California residents own 32.5 million vehicles -- or 13.5 percent of all U.S. vehicles, according to Transportation Department statistics released this week.
In its lawsuit, California officials claimed "global warming has already injured California, its environment, its economy and the health and well-being of its citizens," including reducing fresh water supplies.
In September, Lockyer said he filed the suit because the automakers and the federal government have failed to address global warming. "We can't wait another 10 years," he said. "It is time to hold these companies responsible for their contribution to this crisis."
To date, no other states have joined the suit -- as they have in several other environmental lawsuits filed by California.
California contends in the lawsuit that the top six automakers produce vehicles that emit a total of 289 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the United States each year -- accounting for 92 percent of all auto emissions. Those emissions represent almost 20 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. and more than 30 percent of emissions in California, the suit said.
4. ARE WE READY FOR THE NEXT OIL SHOCK?
The Washington Post, August 11, 2006
Could a mere 4 percent shortfall in daily oil supply propel the price of a barrel to more than $120 in a matter of days? That's what some oil market experts are saying, and if they're correct, we face the very real possibility of an oil shock wave that could send our economy reeling. Such a rapid rise in fuel costs would have profound effects that could severely threaten the foundation of America's economic prosperity.
The global oil trends now at work -- rising consumption, reduced spare production capacity and high levels of instability in key oil-producing countries -- all increase the likelihood of a supply shock. But unfortunately energy debates in this country often suggest a profound misunderstanding of these international economic dynamics. Calls for "energy independence" notwithstanding, oil is a fungible global commodity, which means that events affecting supply or demand anywhere will affect oil consumers everywhere. A country's exposure to world price shocks is thus a function of the amount of oil it consumes and is not significantly affected by the ratio of domestic to imported petroleum.
The magnitude of our dependence on oil puts stress on our military, strengthens our strategic adversaries and undermines our efforts to support democratic allies. Each year the United States expends enormous military resources protecting the chronically vulnerable oil production and distribution network while also preparing to guarantee international access to key oil-producing regions. This allocation of forces and dollars diminishes the military's capability for dealing with the war on terrorism and other defense priorities.
Considering the potentially devastating impact of an oil crisis, the time has come for new voices, especially those of business leaders and retired national security officials, to join the call for meaningful government action to reduce projected U.S. oil consumption. Our respective personal experiences -- running a global transportation and logistics company and spearheading the establishment of an independent U.S. Central Command in the Middle East -- convince us that America's extreme dependence on oil is an unacceptable threat to national security and prosperity. During the coming months, we will be co-chairing the Energy Security Leadership Council, a new and intensive effort by business executives and retired military officers to advance a national energy strategy for reducing U.S. oil dependence. Although drawn from very different backgrounds, the members of the council are united in the belief that a fundamental shift in energy policy can prevent an unprecedented economic and national security calamity.
As President Bush and members of Congress construct a strategy for energy security, several central principles should guide them:
· The most substantial, rapid and cost-effective gains are almost certain to be achieved by making our transportation system more fuel-efficient. To be sure, the search for increased oil, natural gas and alternative energy supplies merits support, as do strategies for controlling industrial demand. But the transportation sector relies on oil for 97 percent of its energy needs and accounts for 68 percent of total U.S. oil consumption. With the right incentives, America's engineers and businesses could soon provide better vehicle technologies, a more efficient movement of goods and many other smart solutions. Substantially reducing demand in the transportation sector would help ensure availability of affordable supplies for critical industrial, commercial and consumer needs.
· Pure market economics will never solve this problem. Markets do not account for the hidden and indirect costs of oil dependence. Businesses focused on the highest return on investment are not always in a position to implement new solutions, many of which depend on technologies and fuels that cannot currently compete with the marginal cost of producing a barrel of oil. Most important of all, the marketplace alone will not act preemptively to mitigate the enormous damage that would be inflicted by a sudden, serious and sustained price increase.
· Government leadership is absolutely necessary. Many of the most promising solutions on both the demand and supply sides will require decades to mature. Government proposals should align the interests of businesses and individuals with society's goals; for example, tax credits and similar incentives must allow businesses to recover investments and engage in essential long-range planning, and they must account for the high implicit discount rates that consumers apply to future savings. While recent legislation has pointed us in the right direction, bolder action must be taken.
Whatever the eventual shape of a credible energy security plan, significant public and private resources will be required to put policy into practice. The government needs to do more than just provide funds, though; it must sustain a strategic energy policy even if oil prices drop in the medium term. This is only fitting given the size and nature of the threat. Indeed, if it means condemning the country to another decade of energy dependence, the possible return of $50 oil should be no less frightening than the prospect of an oil shock wave.
GROUP OF BUSINESS CEOS AND GENERALS URGES LESS DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN OIL
When a worldwide ban led by the United States on the use of the insecticide DDT began in the early 1970s, it may have contributed not only to a resurgence of an old killer, malaria, but also to the spread of a new and deadly plague, AIDS, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).
A study by researchers at the University of Washington's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and published in the journal Science documents how malaria and HIV have a deadly symbiotic relationship, one helping to spread the other, making both more deadly.
o Scientists at the Center have discovered that when someone with HIV has a bout of malaria, it can cause the virus levels to surge as much as sevenfold, an increase that lasts after the malaria ends; because HIV affects the immune system, the likelihood of getting malaria increases.
o In regions where both diseases are common, malaria may be responsible for almost 5 percent of HIV infections, and HIV may be behind 10 percent of malaria episodes, said lead researcher Laith Abu-Raddad.
The group paid particular attention to Kisumu, Kenya, where both diseases are prevalent and good tracking data are available. In Kisumu, the relationship between the diseases resulted in about 8,500 extra HIV infections and 980,000 additional cases of malaria over several decades.
o Malaria sickens about 500 million people each year, killing more than a million, mostly children, and mostly in Africa.
o Sub-Saharan Africa has about 24.7 million HIV-infected people -- with the U.N. putting 2005 deaths from AIDS in Africa at 2 million.
It would be a double tragedy if millions of people died needlessly over the past three decades from both AIDS and malaria due to environmental hysteria over DDT, says IBD.
6. GLOBAL WARMING: RELAX AND ENJOY
By Richard Rahn
ANTIDOTE TO CO2 MIND-POISONING
Howard “Cork” Hayden in The Energy Advocate, Dec. 2006
In the present environment, global-warming skeptics are called deniers, in an attempt to make them (us) sound like Holocaust deniers. Never mind that global warming alarmists deny the existence of the medieval warming period, deny the existence of the Roman warming period, and deny the existence of the Holocene Climatic Optimum, as it has been called by generations of geologists. If those periods existed, then the present can’t be called the hottest time ever.
If we scrap all the cars, SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks in America, greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by maybe 2 percent. What if we could realize a similar reduction without the economic impact, asks Investor's Business Daily (IBD)?
Surely this would be preferable to consumers, businesses and environmentalists alike. So why not try to extinguish the fires that continue to burn unchecked at dozens of coal deposits around the world? This, it is estimated, could cut global emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuel by 2 percent to 3 percent, says IBD.
o Coal fires can occur in natural settings or in or near abandoned and active mines; they can be ignited by lightning strikes, spontaneous combustion, even sunlight.
o But they're mostly a man-made problem and have been around as long as man himself; left alone, they "can burn for hundreds or even thousand of years," according to Environmental Health Perspectives.
According to Andries Rosema, director of Environmental Analysis and Remote Sensing Co.:
o They are particularly messy in China, where about 120 million tons of coal are consumed in uncontrolled fires each year.
o In addition to emitting CO2 -- which is not a pollutant -- coal fires throw off noxious gases, sulfur and soot.
If coal fires produced some economic benefit, there might be a reasonable trade-off to letting them burn. But they create neither jobs nor wealth, let alone energy, says IBD.
8. A GREEN TAX
France's recent foray into international environmental policy has the whiff of blackmail about it, says the Wall Street Journal. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin last month proposed a European Union carbon tax on imports from industrialized countries that won't commit to a post-2012 Kyoto Protocol.
In other words, sign the treaty or else .... "We have decided to reinforce the principle that the polluter pays," he said. As long as the "polluter" is from the United States or Australia, that is, the two developed economies that rejected Kyoto and aren't in any mood to approve a successor treaty:
o France and the rest of the European Union signed up to Kyoto and proceeded to emit greenhouse gases at a faster clip than America.
o Only two of the 15 old EU members are on track to meet their emissions commitments by 2010 -- France is not one of them.
Someone in Brussels is willing to stand up to Paris for a change. Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson yesterday pointed out practical and legal problems, such as how to choose what goods to target? The Villepin plan also probably runs afoul of the WTO, Mandelson said. After all, "not participating in the Kyoto process is not illegal. Nor is it a subsidy under WTO rules."
Externalizing externalities is an old French habit, says the Journal. For decades Paris preferred to test its nuclear bombs off Australia's coast rather than in Provence. So Aussies know when Paris tries to pull another fast one. "That is a thoroughly silly proposal and utterly out of touch with reality," Prime Minister John Howard said last month. Now that Mandelson agrees, let's hope this is the end of the "Green Tax."
Source: Editorial, "A Green Tax," Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2006. Courtesy NCPA
9. THE SMOKY BOMB THREAT
LONDON: THE exotic murder-by-polonium of the former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko has embroiled Russia, Britain and Germany in a diplomatic scuffle and a hunt for more traces of the lethal substance. But it also throws into question most of the previous analyses of “dirty bombs,” terrorist attacks using radioactive isotopes wrapped in explosives (or using other dispersion techniques) to spread radioactive material in crowded areas.
Essentially all analysts, myself included, played down the possibility of using alpha radiation — fast-moving helium nuclei ejected during the radioactive decay of certain isotopes, such as of polonium 210, the substance that killed Mr. Litvinenko — as a source of dirty bombs. We concentrated instead on isotopes that emit penetrating gamma rays, which are basically super-powered packets of light, hard to shield and effective at a yard or more.
The alpha radiation from polonium can be easily shielded — by a layer of aluminum foil, a sheet or two of paper, or the dead outer layer of skin. And so, the reasoning went, alpha radiation could not hurt you as long as the source stayed outside your body. Exactly. Mr. Litvinenko was apparently killed by polonium that he ate or drank or inhaled. That source was so physically small that it was hard to see, perhaps the size of a couple of grains of salt and weighing just a few millionths of a gram.
Dirty bombs based on gamma emitters, analysts have learned, can’t kill very many people. Mr. Litvinenko’s death tells us that “smoky bombs” based on alpha emitters very well could.
Polonium 210 is surprisingly common. It is used by industry in devices that eliminate static electricity, in low-powered brushes used to ionize the air next to photographic film so dust can be swept off easily, and in quite large machines placed end-to-end across a web of fabric moving over rollers in a textile mill. It is even used to control dust in clean rooms where computer chips and hard drives are made.
It may be difficult to get people to eat polonium; it isn’t hard to force them to breathe it. The problem for a radiological terrorist is to get his “hot” material inside people’s bodies where it will do the most harm. If the terrorist can solve that problem, then alpha radiation is the most devastating choice he can make. Precisely because alpha particles stop in such a short distance, they deposit all of their energy in a relatively small number of cells, killing them or causing them to mutate, increasing the long-term risk of cancer.
The terrorist’s solution lies in getting very finely divided polonium into the air where people can breathe it. Without giving away any information damaging to national security, I see several fairly simple ways to accomplish this: burn the material, blow it up, dissolve it in a lot of water or pulverize it to a size so small that the particles can float in the air and lodge in the lungs.
It would be unwise for me to dwell on the details of just how one goes about getting a hot enough fire or breaking polonium into extremely fine “dust.” In the end, however, the radioactive material will appear like the dust from an explosion, or the smoke from a fire. My point is to demonstrate the urgent need for new thinking in the regulatory arena, not to give away important information.
Air containing such radioactive debris would appear smoky or dusty, and be dangerous to breathe. A few breaths might easily be enough to sicken a victim, and in some cases to kill. A smoky bomb exploded in a packed arena or on a crowded street could kill dozens or hundreds. It would set off a radiological emergency of a kind not seen before in the United States, and the number of people requiring life support or palliative care until death would overwhelm the number of beds now available for treating victims of radiation. First responders dashing unprotected into the cloud from a smoky bomb might be among the worst wounded. Fire and police departments around the country will need alpha radiation detectors, since the counters they carry now cannot see alphas.
Some of the steps involved with making a good smoky bomb from polonium would be dangerous for the terrorists involved, and might cost them their lives. That, unfortunately, no longer seems like a very high barrier.
What can we do to stop them? We must make it far less easy for them to acquiring polonium in deadly amounts. Polonium sources with about 10 percent of a lethal dose are readily available — even in a product sold on Amazon.com. Only modest restraints inhibit purchase of significantly larger amounts of polonium: as of next year, anyone purchasing more than 16 curies of polonium 210 — enough to make up 5,000 lethal doses — must register it with a tracking system run by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But this is vastly too high — almost no purchases on that scale are made by any industry.
The commission (and the International Atomic Energy Agency as well) is said to be considering tighter regulations to make a repeat of the Litvinenko affair less probable. There is talk that it might tighten the polonium reporting requirement by a factor of 10, to 1.6 curies. That’s better, but still not strict enough.
The biggest problem is that the regulatory commission’s regulations do not restrict the quantity of polonium used in industry. This may make it quite easy for terrorists to purchase large amounts of one of the earth’s deadliest substances. A near-term goal should to require specific licensing of any person or company seeking to purchase alpha sources stronger than one millicurie, about a third of a lethal dose. A longer-term goal ought to be eliminating nearly all use of polonium in industry through other technologies.
That is a technical challenge and would cost some money, but it would certainly be less expensive than coping with the devastation of a smoky bomb.
10. DINGELL MINDED
The formidable Democrat from Michigan, now 80, has served 51 years in the House of Representatives -- the second-longest of any congressional career in history. During that time, he played a key role in pushing through many of America's cornerstone environmental laws, including the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the original Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) system that has defined America's automotive energy-efficiency strategy since 1975. "I've been a busy little boy," Dingell says in describing his own environmental record.
But despite these achievements, environmentalists are not uniformly overjoyed that Dingell will soon take the helm of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees most energy-related bills. As they see it, his record has a sizeable hitch: as representative for a district that includes suburban Detroit, Dingell is a dogged defender of the U.S. auto industry. Though he helped author CAFE rules 30 years ago, in the midst of the Arab oil embargo, he has since staunchly opposed ratcheting up fuel-economy standards, on the grounds that it could imperil the American economy.
That's why some environmentalists see Dingell as the single biggest roadblock on the path toward meaningful climate policy in the 110th Congress, while others are busy crafting Detroit-friendly climate plans that they hope will win Dingell's support.
Dingell spoke with Grist from his office in Washington, D.C., giving insight into what the climate-policy landscape may -- or may not -- look like over the next two years.
What major environmental breakthroughs do you see on the horizon for the 110th Congress, in an ideal world?
Oh, you're a smart girl, because that's a nasty question. You know, this is going to be very difficult. There's still harvesting of the ill will that's been sown over the last dozen years. We've got a Republican president, and we've got to bring the Republicans in and establish some cooperation, of which there's been relatively little of late. I'd rather tell you on what we're going to work than tell you what we're going to do, because I don't like to look foolish by having promised something that I don't deliver.
What are your environmental priorities for the 110th Congress, particularly for the Energy and Commerce Committee?
We'll have to see first what is ready, what is ripe, and what is doable. We've got a bunch of things. Proper funding for brownfields and for Superfund, administration of the Clean Air Act and other acts under the jurisdiction of the EPA. We're going to take a look at global warming and see what has to be done there.
Barbara Boxer [incoming chair of the Senate Environment Committee] has said repeatedly that she sees global warming as the single biggest environmental threat on the horizon. Do you agree with her?
I don't agree and I don't disagree. I don't know what the biggest one is. Certainly if there is environmental warming, it is a very major environmental problem and it should be addressed. So you don't believe the scientific consensus on global warming is established at this point? This country, this world, the [human] race of which you and I are a part, is great at having consensuses that are in great error. And so I want to get the scientific facts, and find out what the situation is, and find out what is the cure, and find out what is the cure that is acceptable to the country that I represent and serve.
You mentioned in our last conversation that you want to call for climate hearings. Is your hope to get a clearer idea of the science and the potential solutions?
Yes, yes. We need to hold hearings to gather the facts on questions of both science and policy solutions. Let's talk global warming. If you remember, Kyoto was, in an anticipatory fashion, rejected 95 to nothing in the U.S. Senate, on the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which said that the Senate would not ratify any agreement which imposed burdens on the United States which were disproportionate to the burdens that everybody else was going to get. And so Kyoto never got ratified by the Senate. That's a serious matter. So if we're going to deal with this problem, you have to recognize we're not the only people that burn coal, emit carbon dioxide or pollutants of any kind. New Zealand, which has relatively little industry, is an enormous emitter of CO2. They've got a bunch of sheep over there that do it. The methane. The methane. So, we are not alone in this problem, and we should not be alone in the solution. Would it not be wise to introduce domestic solutions in the meantime, even if we don't yet have an international agreement? Is that going to solve the problem? China has an exemption from the Kyoto agreement because it's classified as a developing country. The Indians are, too. In a meeting about the Kyoto agreement, I asked the Chinese, "How long are you going to be a developing country, before we can expect you to participate in cleaning up?" They looked me in the eye and said, "Dingell, we're always going to be developing. We aren't ever going to be a stable, staid, complete society. So we're never going to be covered by it. We're just going to go ahead and burn all the damn coal, emit all the carbon dioxide that we want to emit." And they will very shortly be the biggest emitter in the world. Far bigger than we. Now you ask, if we were to terminate all of the burning of coal and all of the production of CO2 in this country, and China and India and Europe and everybody else in the developing world keeps going, I don't think you're going to be looking for much in the way of a resolution. This is an international problem.
So you believe the emphasis needs to be on how we're going to rally the world to address climate change, not how we're going to rally ourselves to address it?
Well, we have to do all of the above. We've got to begin to find out what we can do, and how we can do it without destituting the American society. But by the same token, we're going to have to help others to do the same thing and persuade them to be participants in that undertaking. In terms of diplomacy, that's probably one of the single biggest problems this country's got. But you've got a lot of [Americans] saying, "We're going to solve the problem. We're going to make these cars." Well, we could all be riding around in kiddie cars and we wouldn't solve the problem. And we'd have an awful lot of angry Americans. You're not going to solve [the climate] problem yourself any more than you're going to solve Iraq by yourself.
What's a kiddie car?
Don't you know what a kiddie car is? It's one of those three-wheel things that kids get when they start out, they sit on and it's got a little handlebar, and they sort of pad around on this little three-wheeled tricycle.
Got it. What type of climate legislation should we be talking about domestically?
If I knew that, I'd be glad to tell you, but I don't. We're going to try to find out what we need to do and proceed in a responsible fashion.
You were one of the authors of legislation establishing CAFE standards in the 1970s, but you've since opposed raising the standards. Do you still oppose raising them?
The law says that the government has the authority to fix fuel efficiency at the maximum technologically feasible [miles-per-gallon] number. It has raised this a little bit, but it's not been able to make any radical changes from the numbers we wrote back in the 1970s. I will probably be asking if there is greater efficiency that can be achieved, and if so, how. We'll also ask how this can all be done without destituting American industry.
What do you mean by "destituting American industry"?
One job in 10 in this country is in the auto industry. Most people don't know that. The auto industry is the biggest user of carpets produced in the Carolinas. The auto industry is the biggest user of glass produced in Pittsburgh. The autos are the biggest consumer of steel. The autos are tremendous users of plastic. And they've got, I think, about four computers in an automobile. Now, you can be quite calm about destituting Detroit, but do you want to shut down Silicon Valley and North Carolina and the Gulf Coast and Pittsburgh and other places that are heavily dependent on this? Plus the transportation industry that moves these cars around?
What would CAFE 2.0 -- the next generation of CAFE standards -- look like?
If I knew that, I would think I was a very smart fellow.
In the next two years will you try to work on it? Perhaps it could be part of your legacy -- that you not only helped write CAFE, but also its sequel.
Well, we'll be hacking away at it. But I'm not getting ready to hang things up yet. I'm just getting into my middle years. Look, I'm going to be doing my best to get us there. Because it's in my interest just as it's in everybody else's to solve the problem. I'm an American. And I gotta help my country. But in a like fashion, I've gotta help my own constituents and people. Some argue that protecting Detroit from increased CAFE standards has actually made the U.S. less competitive. Today the most successful auto companies are the ones that are producing the most efficient cars. Now let me just tell you this. First of all, you know which auto company produces the most lines of fuel-efficient cars? General Motors. They produce more fuel-efficient models than does any foreign manufacturer. More than Toyota, more than Nissan or any of the brands. But the concern is that the total aggregate of their fuel efficiency ... Here's your problem. And you're a bright young woman. You don't have to have this explained to you. Look: Why do Americans buy SUVs? They buy them because they're big, because they're comfortable, because they feel safe, because they can haul six kids and a big load of groceries. Because the soccer mom can take the soccer team to a soccer game. Because they've got four-wheel drive if they run into a huge damn snowstorm. That's why they buy it.
Right. And they could buy those same big cars with hybrid engines and more efficient designs.
Well, understand one thing. Everybody says, "Oh, hybrids are going to solve this problem." The simple fact of the matter is, if you drive a hybrid around the city, it's going to work. If you drive a hybrid on interstates, it isn't going to save you any fuel. Because what a hybrid does is, it retrieves the energy from the motion. From braking. From braking, yes. And this generated electricity from braking moves into batteries. But you've got a thousand pounds of bloody batteries in the car. And we haven't really resolved the battery technology. And there's a huge cost differential [between hybrids and traditional vehicles]. The cost differential can go around $3,000 or $4,000 a car. That ain't peanuts. So you don't believe these hybrid technologies are necessary? No, no, no. There is no one simple solution to our energy problems. Whether we're talking about transportation or generation of electricity, it's many things -- it's alternative fuels, it's conservation, it's nuclear, it's a whole wide array of things. And in automobiles, we're going to have to explore things like hybrids. We're going to have to go to diesels. I'm trying to push us going to diesels because we get a 20- to 25-percent fuel benefit.
What about biofuels?
If you used every nickel's worth of corn that this country produces, you could only have 70 percent of the fuel it takes to run the American transportation fleet. Do you want to eat corn bread and corn syrup and have your beef fed with corn, or do you want to ride around in a car? And let me give you another thing. Only recently have we gotten production of [ethanol] to the point where it isn't just about a one-to-one input of energy for output of energy. The president has wisely suggested we go to cellulosic fuels. That's a great idea, and I favor it. But right now that's not ready. And so we've got to push a lot of technologies
Do you think there's a way of developing a Detroit-friendly climate policy? For instance, some environmentalists have been outlining a proposal for a cap-and-trade program that offers special allowances to automakers that would help fund the industry's technological advances.
I'm willing to consider it. I don't know. You know, before you start making a bunch of wise-ass comments, you better know what you're talking about. And right now I don't. There's all types of people running around with solutions, but when you put these solutions to the test, sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. I would be willing to bet you that half don't.
What kind of car do you drive?
I drive a good, American-made car.
Your wife is head of the General Motors Foundation. Does she influence your thinking about ...
She doesn't lobby. And she won't even talk to me about these matters. In closing, what do you do in your own life to reduce your environmental impact? Well, I heat my house not above 70 degrees. I take a Navy shower. I carpool with my wife. I shut off the water when I'm cleaning my teeth. I recycle every damn thing I can recycle.
11. OUTSIZE PROFITS, AND QUESTIONS, IN EFFORT TO CUT WARMING GASES
By KEITH BRADSHER
QUZHOU, China — Foreign businesses have embraced an obscure United Nations-backed program as a favored approach to limiting global warming. But the early efforts have revealed some hidden problems. Under the program, businesses in wealthier nations of Europe and in Japan help pay to reduce pollution in poorer ones as a way of staying within government limits for emitting climate-changing gases like carbon dioxide, as part of the Kyoto Protocol.
Among their targets is a large rusting chemical factory here in southeastern China. Its emissions of just one waste gas contribute as much to global warming each year as the emissions from a million American cars, each driven 12,000 miles. Cleaning up this factory will require an incinerator that costs $5 million — far less than the cost of cleaning up so many cars, or other sources of pollution in Europe and Japan. Yet the foreign companies will pay roughly $500 million for the incinerator — 100 times what it cost.
The high price is set in a European-based market in carbon dioxide emissions. Because the waste gas has a far more powerful effect on global warming than carbon dioxide emissions, the foreign businesses must pay a premium far beyond the cost of the actual cleanup. The huge profits from that will be divided by the chemical factory’s owners, a Chinese government energy fund, and the consultants and bankers who put together the deal from a mansion in the wealthy Mayfair district of London.
Arrangements like this still make sense to the foreign companies financing them because they are a lot less expensive, despite the large profit for others, than cleaning up their own operations. Such efforts are being watched in the United States as an alternative -- more politically attractive than imposing taxes on fossil fuels like coal and oil that emit global-warming gases when burned.
But critics of the fast-growing program, through which European and Japanese companies are paying roughly $3 billion for credits this year, complain that it mostly enriches a few bankers, consultants and factory owners. With so much money flowing to a few particularly lucrative cleanup deals, the danger is that they will distract attention from the broader effort to curb global warming gases, and that the lure of quick profit will encourage short-term fixes at the expense of fundamental, long-run solutions, including developing renewable energy sources like solar power.
As word of deals like this has spread, everyone involved in the nascent business is searching for other such potential jackpots in developing countries. As for more modest deals, like small wind farms, “if you don’t have a humongous margin, it’s not worth it,” said Pedro Moura Costa, chief operating officer of EcoSecurities, an emissions-trading company in Oxford, England.
The financing of the chemical factory’s incinerator here and other deals like it are now drawing unfavorable attention. Canada’s environment minister, Rona Ambrose, announced in October that her government would withdraw from the trading program. “There is a lot of evidence now about the lack of accountability around these kinds of projects,” she said.
Another concern is that the program can have unintended results. The waste gas to be incinerated here is emitted during the production of a refrigerant that will soon be banned in the United States and other industrial nations because it depletes the ozone layer that protects the earth from ultraviolet rays. Handsome payments to clean up the waste gas have helped chemical companies to expand existing factories that make the old refrigerant and even build new factories, said Michael Wara, a carbon-trading lawyer at Holland & Knight in San Francisco.
Moreover, air-conditioners using this Freon-like refrigerant are much less efficient users of electricity than newer models. The expansion of large middle classes in India and China has led to soaring sales of cheap, inefficient air-conditioners, along with the building of coal-fired plants to power them, further contributing to global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer.
The program is at the forefront of efforts to address the most intractable problem in climate change: how to limit soaring emissions from the largest developing countries. Sometime in 2009, China’s total emissions of carbon dioxide, the most important global warming gas, are expected to surpass those from the United States, according to the International Energy Agency.
Programs like the one the United Nations supports are increasingly common in Europe. In general, they allow companies to buy rights on the market to exceed their limits on global warming gases from other companies prepared to reduce emissions elsewhere at a lower cost. Many economists consider emissions-trading systems, which are driving participants to the cheapest cleanups with the biggest impact, as the most efficient way to address pollution.
But a study commissioned by the world organization has found that the profits are enormous in destroying trifluoromethane, or HFC-23, a very potent greenhouse gas that is produced at the factory here and several dozen other plants in developing countries. The study calculated that industrial nations could pay $800 million a year to buy credits, even though the cost of building and operating incinerators will be only $31 million a year.
The situation has set in motion a diplomatic struggle pitting China, the biggest beneficiary from payments, against advanced industrial nations, particularly in Europe. At a global climate conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in November, European delegates suggested that in the case of Freon factories now under construction in developing countries, any payments for the incineration of the waste gas should go only into an international fund to help factories retool for the production of more modern refrigerants that do not deplete the ozone layer. But the Chinese government blocked the initiative, insisting that money for Chinese factories go into the government’s own clean energy fund. Negotiators ended up setting up a group to study the issue.
Even as hundreds of millions of dollars from the program are devoted to the refrigerant industry, countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which were originally envisioned as big beneficiaries of emissions trading, are receiving almost nothing. Just four nations — China, India, Brazil and South Korea — are collecting four-fifths of the payments under the program, with China alone collecting almost half. Two-thirds of the payments are going to projects to eliminate HFC-23.
Those payments also illustrate conflicting goals under Kyoto and the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 agreement that requires the phasing out of ozone-depleting substances. The problem is that the trading program backed by the United Nations, known as the Clean Development Mechanism, is helping support an industry that another international organization is trying to phase out. And while ozone depletion is a separate problem from global warming, some gases, like HFC-23, make both worse.
The separate secretariats under the protocols have little legal authority to resolve this quandary. “It’s tricky in that we don’t have a mechanism other than the Security Council, and who cares there about HFC’s?” said Janos Pasztor, the acting coordinator of the organization that oversees the program. In the end, officials say, there should be more projects aimed at providing renewable energy and sustainable economic development for the world’s poorest people. “If people only do HFC-23 projects, then they miss the whole idea,” Mr. Pasztor said.
Richard Rosenzweig, chief operating officer of Natsource, a company in Washington arranging emissions deals between poor and rich countries, said it was not fair to look only at incineration costs and compare them with the size of payments from industrial nations. The administrative costs of the program are high, he said, and at least disposal of the waste gas is taking place. If the world tried to reduce emissions through an outright ban or regulation alone, as many environmentalists recommend, it might not happen at all, he said. The United Nations-favored program may have flaws, he added, but “it’s a pilot phase — this is a 100-year problem.”
Environmental groups say that governments in developing countries should either require factories to incinerate the waste gas as a cost of doing business, or receive aid from wealthier countries to cover the relatively modest cost of incinerators. “Couldn’t we pay for the cost, or even twice the cost, of abatement and spend the rest of the money in better ways?” Mr. Wara asked.
DuPont produces HFC-23 as part of its output of Teflon, but has routinely burned the colorless, odorless waste gas without compensation for many years, even though it is not required by law to do so, a DuPont spokeswoman said.
The secretariat of the Clean Development Mechanism estimates that a ton of HFC-23 in the atmosphere has the same effect as 11,700 tons of carbon dioxide. James Cameron, the vice chairman of Climate Change Capital, which organized the chemical factory deal here, said there were considerable costs and risks in setting up plans that required elaborate certification by consultants, acceptance by developing-country governments and approval by a United Nations secretariat.
For small projects involving less than $250,000 worth of credits, fees for deal makers, consultants and lawyers can far exceed the cost of installing equipment to clean up emissions.
Even the Chinese government, the main seller of carbon credits and a defender of the program, is expressing some misgivings. “We do not encourage more HFC projects,” a statement by Lu Xuedu, deputy director of the Office of Global Environment Affairs at the Ministry of Science and Technology, said. “We would prefer to have more energy efficiency and renewable-energy projects that could help alleviate poverty in the countryside.”
But for now, the projects involving industrial gases like HFC-23 are where most of the action is. “You can do those quickly,” Mr. Rosenzweig of Natsource said, “and it’s worth the investment.”