|The Week That Was
September 11, 1999
"Human Contribution on Climate Change Remains Questionable" is a comprehensive scientific summary of where things stand on the global warming front. It was published in the April 20, 1999 issue of EOS (Transactions of the American Geophysical Union), and was seen (and perhaps read) by over 35,000 geophysicists. Lots of favorable comments from AGU members, ranging from atmospheric scientists to volcanologists. EOS is publishing several critiques, but permits responses - which we shall feature here.
They can't show any benefits from the Kyoto Protocol; they know it won't be effective in lowering CO2 levels. Nevertheless, Kyoto promoters in the White House keep claiming that trading of emission rights would lower the cost of compliance drastically - as if this alone could justify Kyoto. They point to the fact that permits for SO2 emission by U.S. electric power companies are trading for just a fraction of the price (~$100 per ton ) that was forecast by industry a few years ago (~$1000). Therefore, they argue, the cost of CO2 permits has been similarly exaggerated. Not so! Paul Georgia has exposed the sloppy reasoning in a report (No. 41) published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The $1000 figure, he points out, refers to the marginal cost of lowering SO2 emissions using smokestack scrubbers. The $100 figure refers to the average cost, which was lowered substantially by the use of Western low-sulfur coal. Allowing the companies to find the cheapest way to meet the SO2 standard, they opted to avoid the installation of expensive smokestack scrubbers. But what really brought down the cost was the deregulation of railroad freight rates, which made Western coal more competitive. Indeed, as US-EIA statistics show, Western coal production has begun to exceed Eastern production in 1999.
Concern about possible health effects from electromagnetic fields has been rampant for years, spurred no doubt by esthetic opposition to electric power lines intruding on nature. But evidence has been hard to come by and no sensible mechanism has ever been proposed. In 1992, however, biochemist Robert Liburdy published two research papers providing a possible link between EMF and cancer. Now, $3.3 million in federal grants later, the federal Office of Research Integrity has accused him of intentionally falsifying data (Science 285, p. 23, 2 July 1999), forcing Liburdy to retract his papers and not to receive federal funds for three years. He just resigned his research position at the Livermore National Laboratory. How did ORI get wise to him? Not through peer-review, it seems, but through a whistleblower. Jealousy does have its uses.
ALARMING NEWS FROM THE UN
Plans are underway in Geneva to ban DDT worldwide, 27 years after the EPA banned its use in the United States, mostly for the sake of public relations and against the advice of its own scintists. There is real doubt (according to the researches of Prof. Gordon Edwards and others) that DDT is responsible for the thinning of eggshells of raptors, and there is certainly no evidence of human health effects. According to the World Health Organization, however, there are 300 - 500 million new cases of malaria every year, with 2.7 million deaths, mostly children. [The New York Times story of Aug 29 quotes Dr. Dyann Wirth of the Harvard School of Public Health.] A child dies of malaria every 12 seconds, and that rate will rise sharply if DDT use is banned globally. In much of Africa, DDT sellers are hounded and forced to go out of business, while malaria is more deadly even than AIDS. In Ecuador, DDT use since 1993 has led to a decline of 60%, while rising by 90% in Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru, where DDT spraying stopped because of pressure from enviro-lobby groups.
The battle pits public health professionals, such as 370 of the Malaria Foundation International, against the World Wildlife Fund (which considers people to be of little importance) and the New England-based "Physicians for Social Responsibility" (how ironic!). The UN-WHO is not supporting prevention, instead promotes the use of drugs and the development of a vaccine, both expensive and hard to attain. By the time you read this, a decision may have been reached at the Geneva meeting of UN diplomats.
Just in (9/8/99): New York City is battling an outbreak of mosquito-borne encephalitis. So far: two dead, 37 infected. In response, helicopters sprayed a 4-square-mile area in Queens and Bronx over the Labor Day weekend with the pesticide malathion (that EPA wants to ban). Officials assure residents that only one mosquito in 1000 carries the virus, but advised wearing long sleeves and long pants. No mention yet of global warming; but don't hold your breath.
BIOMASS FOR ENERGY? WHAT AGAIN?
Its back to biomass, for at least the third time in as many decades .and there is no reason to think that it will work any better now. Yes, wood does burn and can keep you warm - sort of. Cow dung is a popular fuel in India. Chicken manure is a dandy source of - manure. President Clinton's just-issued Executive Order calls for increased use of trees, crops, and agricultural waste as "environmentally friendly" sources of energy. The President said that the use of biomass energy will decrease the need for foreign-based oil. Where have we heard this one before? Shades of Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter! Spouting palpable nonsense, the Order calls for tripling the percentage of bioenergy in the US energy supply by 2010. Officials are claiming, rather incongruously, that emissions would be reduced by the equivalent of taking 70 million cars off the road. Unfortunately, they tend to ignore the fertilizer, the harvesting, the energy required to transport the materials to the distillation plant, and the energy needed for the distilling process itself. Traffic congestion would still be with us, and the pollution would smell of formaldehyde. In fact, the whole matter smells -- of politics. By some strange coincidence, Mr. Clinton's Order coincided with Vice President Al Gore's campaign visit to farming communities in Iowa.
Let's look at the numbers. Renewable sources account for 12% of US electricity: Of this, hydro supplies 83%, biomass 13% (mostly waste sawdust for lumber and paper company operations), geothermal 3%, and all of solar/wind about 1% of renewable electricity. As Howard Hayden points out in "The Energy Advocate" (Sept. 1999), that's less than 0.13% of US supply.
But never mind: "With biomass, we are making gold out of what has historically been billed as waste," said EPA administrator Carol Browner, (in a statement meant for consumers). But she also said (to farmers) that biomass development would add $15 to 20 billion a year in new income for rural areas by 2010. Isn't it wonderful how waste can suddenly become so valuable? Of course, farmers know full well that she will not be using waste but good feed corn. Consumers are the ones who will then pay the higher prices for meat. To add insult to injury, Mr. Clinton's FY2000 budget requests $242 million but promises that most of the additional funding would come from the business community, which would also be getting tax incentives. Therefore, it looks like a win-win situation for everyone but the taxpayer/consumer, who gets billed twice over.
Speaking of the consumer, the magazine Brill's Content reports that Consumers Union, the parent company of Consumer Reports (CR), receives large amounts of money from the Natural Resources Defense Council and other advocacy groups that target everything from pesticides to global warming as a threat to humanity. Perhaps this explains why CR has been running scary articles about climate change, while claiming that their funding doesn't matter. In their words, it is wrong to assume that "because a foundation has an agenda everybody they fund is enslaved by that agenda." We'll try to remember this bit of wisdom and put it on our bulletin board.