|The Week That Was
June 23, 2001
The global warming report of the National Academy of Sciences is not what it appears to be. Its summary distorts the sense of the report and hides uncertainties.
KYOTO: GREAT BENEFITS AT LITTLE OR NO COST?
The UN's Annan attacked the assertion that cutting emissions and other extreme conservation measures would hurt economies. ``In fact, the opposite is true: unless we protect resources and the earth's natural capital, we shall not be able to sustain economic growth,'' he said. ``It is also said that conservation, while admirable, has only limited potential. But economists now broadly agree that improved energy efficiency and other 'no regrets' strategies could bring great benefits at little or no costs,'' Annan said in what appeared to be a rejection of remarks by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney that conservation was a personal virtue but not the basis of a sound energy policy.
Gee, then why isn't it being done?
Annan also dismissed arguments that global warming is an unproved phenomenon and that more studies should be undertaken to be sure it a real threat.
No more studies? Eliminate all the research programs? The 15 national academies that promulgated the recent scare message in Science should take note!
"With its low per-capita fossil energy use, Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest emissions of the greenhouse gases that are the major cause of climate change. Yet Sub-Saharan Africa (along with low- lying small island states) is the most vulnerable to climate change because widespread poverty limits its capabilities to adapt to a continuing changing climate," IPCC chairman Robert Watson said. "Particularly at risk are the arid and semi-arid regions and the grassland areas of eastern and southern Africa, and the areas already threatened by land degradation and desertification."
Dear Bob: That's exactly the point. Low energy use and poverty go hand in hand. The Kyoto Protocol will keep them poor and make them poorer.
Environmentalists said our planet was doomed to die. Now one man says
they are wrong.
It hardly needed explanation. 'Everyone knows the planet is in bad shape,' thundered a Time magazine article last year. The seas are being polluted, the forests devastated, species are being driven to extinction at record rates, the rain is acid, the ozone layer vaporising, and the rivers are so poisonous fish are floating on the surface, dead.
As Al Gore, former US vice-president, put it in his book Earth in the Balance : 'Modern industrial civilisation is colliding violently with our planet's ecological system.' We inherited Eden and are leaving our children a depleted rubbish tip.
But there's a growing belief that what everyone takes for granted is wrong: things are actually getting better. A new book is about to overturn our most basic assumptions about the world's environment. Far from going to hell in a handcart, it is improving by almost all measures. Those things not getting better are getting worse at a slower rate.
Rivers, seas, rain and the atmosphere are all getting cleaner. The total amount of forests in the world is not declining, few species are being made extinct, and many of those that were endangered are thriving again. The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg, professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, is a scathing attack on the misleading claims of environmental groups, and the 'bad news' culture that makes people believe everything is getting worse, when by almost all indicators, things are getting better.
When it was first published in Scandinavia, it caused a deafening storm of protest, and transformed the nature of the debate. The book is part of a growing backlash against green groups, and potentially the most dangerous. Most previous criticisms have come from right-wing think-tanks hostile to the environment agenda.
Now the attacks are increasingly coming from left-wing environmentalists such as Lomborg, a former member of Greenpeace. The accusation is that, although the environment is improving, green groups - with revenues of hundreds of millions of pounds a year - are using increasingly desperate scaremongering tactics to sustain donations.
Lomborg's book, to be published in September by Cambridge University Press, doesn't deny global warming - probably the biggest environmental threat - but demolishes almost every other environmental claim with a barrage of official statistics.
Many of his arguments were given added credibility last week by the European Environment Agency's annual report, which pointed out just how much things were improving across the continent.
In 1997, the WWF's international president Claude Martin made a desperate plea: 'I implore the leaders of the world to pledge to save their remaining forests now - at the eleventh hour for the world's forests.' The Worldwatch Institute claims that 'deforestation has been accelerating over the last 30 years'.
But Lomborg says that is simply rubbish. Since the dawn of agriculture the world has lost about 20 per cent of its forest cover, but in recent decades depletion has come to a halt. According to UN figures, the area of forests has remained almost steady, at about 30 per cent of total land area, since the Second World War. Temperate forests in developing countries such as the US, UK and Canada have actually been expanding over the past 40 years.
Britain has more forest now than 200 years ago, and the growth is all broadleaf natural woodlands, not pine plantations. Tropical forests in developing countries are being cut down or burnt, but at a slow rate; and despite all the dire warnings the Amazon rainforest has only shrunk by about 15 per cent. Lomborg concludes: 'Basically, our forests are not under threat.'
Nor are all our species dying out. In the 1979 book The Sinking Ark , campaigner Norman Myers claimed that each year 40,000 species were being made extinct. Others have suggested a figure of 250,000, and claimed that 50 per cent of all species will have died out within 50 years.
But Lomborg cites other studies that show only 0.08 per cent of species are dying out each year. The IUCN - the world conservation union that officially recognises which species are endangered - said recently that 'actual extinctions remain low'.
Conservation efforts have been spectacularly successful. Whales are no longer threatened with extinction, elephants are being culled because their numbers are so high, and the bald eagle is off the endangered list. Never has so much of the habitat of the developed world been protected - the number of officially protected areas in Europe has risen from a handful 20 years ago to more than 2,000 now.
But the most dramatic improvements are elimination of most of the main forms of pollution. Cleaner fuels and clampdowns on emissions mean the last time sulphur dioxide emissions in London were so low was in the sixteenth century. Getting rid of lead from petrol means that in the US lead concentrations in the air have dropped 97 per cent.
The same is true of almost all other main forms of pollution, including soot, ozone, nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide. According to Lomborg: 'Air pollution is not a new phenomenon that has been getting worse and worse, but an old phenomenon that has been getting better and better, leaving London cleaner than it has been since the Middle Ages.'
The oceans have also been getting cleaner. According to the European Environment Agency, in seas around Europe in the past 10 years the amount of cadmium, mercury and lindane has fallen by around 80 per cent.
Many environmental scares have simply failed to happen. Despite repeated fears about a looming 'energy gap', the world now has more energy than ever. In 1980, it was predicted we only had 30 years of oil left but, 20 years on, we know we have at least 40 years left. Improvements in exploration techniques mean the known oil reserves are at record levels.
In the Eighties, there was alarm that acid rain would destroy Europe's forests. Ten years later the fears had evaporated: studies showed acid rain rarely affected trees. It did, however, affect life in lakes, and emissions of acid-making gases were curbed.
'Acid rain does not kill the forests, and the air and water around us are becoming less and less polluted,' says Lomborg. The UN said in 1997 that 'the widespread death of European forests due to air pollution which was predicted by many in the Eighties did not occur.'
'Mankind's lot has improved in terms of practically every measurable indicator,' concludes Lomborg. A recent study by the right-wing Institute of Economic Affairs backed the claim. It produced indicators for most forms of environmental damage and concluded: 'Contrary to public opinion, in most instances, objectives for protecting human health and the environment are being met.'
Environmental groups claim, with justification, that many of the improvements are the results of the success of their campaigns. Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: 'There are important examples, such as acid rain and ozone, where things weren't as bad as predicted, and that's because behaviour changed.
'The ozone layer is beginning to recover because ozone depleters are being very rapidly phased out. It's a tri umph of the environmental movement.' Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth UK, insisted that the environment was facing new threats: 'The more obvious and simple environmental issues have by and large been tackled. But we have replaced smelly pollutants you can see with invisible, sneaky pollutants that affect you over the long term.'
But this change of emphasis comes under heavy fire. Patrick Moore, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace who fell out with the organisation over its radical tactics, said that having been victorious in its early battles the environmental movement had invented new ones.
He said: 'At the beginning, the environmental movement had reason to say that the end of the world is nigh, but most of the really serious problems have been dealt with. Now it's almost as though the environmental movement has to invent doom and gloom scenarios.'
Environmentalists admit that there has been a change in emphasis - from problems that have actually occurred to warnings about those that might, such as genetically modified foods. 'It is not scare-mongering to draw attention to a risk that could have very serious consequences if it comes to pass,' said Tindale.
Indeed, some potential risks - such as climate change - end up becoming reality if nothing is done. Secrett said: 'Very few environmental groups are doom and gloom merchants. What we say is based on science.'
Critics such as Moore claim that environmental groups have a vested interest in exaggerating problems, because alarming people helps to raise funds. But Lomborg warns it can have serious consequences: 'It makes us scared and it makes us more likely to spend our resources and attention solving phantom problems while ignoring real and pressing, possibly non-environmental, issues.'
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001
KYOTO CLIMATE TREATY IS A WASTE OF MONEY
THE Kyoto climate change treaty is an ill-judged response to global warming that will cost millions of lives and do the developing world more harm than good, according to a book due out this summer.
The cost of limiting carbon dioxide emissions far outweighs the damage that global warming will eventually do to the world and merely postpones the problem for six years, Bjorn Lomborg, an environmental statistician, has calculated. As a result, he argues, trillions of pounds that might otherwise be spent on fighting poverty and malnutrition and improving infrastructure in developing countries will be wasted.
In The Sceptical Environmentalist, to be published in August, he says that millions of lives will be lost that could otherwise be saved and the eventual impact of climate change on the Third World will be much worse as countries will be less equipped to adapt.
The findings are based on a four-year audit of a massive set of official environmental indicators by Dr Lomborg, associate professor of statistics at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, who is also an environmentalist and a former member of Greenpeace.
Details of the research have been made public as President Bush prepares for his first summit meeting with the EU in Sweden this week. Mr Bush will come under renewed pressure there over his decision to reject the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which aims to cut the developed world's carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels. Renewed international talks on climate change control are also due to begin in Bonn next month, after the collapse of last year's summit on the issue at The Hague.
Although Dr Lomborg accepts that human-induced global warming is a reality, he is critical of the treaty because independent scientific models suggest that it will have little impact on the scale of global warming and offers very poor value for money.
"What happens with the Kyoto protocol, according to the most-accepted model, is that by 2100, global temperatures will rise by 1.9C rather than by 2.1C if nothing is done," Dr Lomborg says. "Another way of looking at it is that a temperature rise of 2C, which would otherwise have been reached in 2094, is postponed to 2100."
Instead of wasting money on implementing Kyoto, he says, the world would
do better to invest much more than at present in research into renewable
forms of energy, such as solar power and nuclear fusion. Should solar
power become an economic way of generating energy by the middle of the
century, carbon dioxide emissions would decline very steeply.
New Scientist editor in "hydroxyl holocaust" scare
OZONE HOLE REPAIRS COULD SEE 'LIFE EXPECTANCY DROP TO 30'
Repairing the hole in the ozone layer could trigger an environmental catastrophe that would reduce life expectancy to 30 years, says the editor-in-chief of one of the world's leading science magazines, New Scientist.
Dr Alun Anderson predicted that by 2070 rich people could be forced to live in city-sized domes to escape air pollution. Elsewhere, smog would make asthma the leading killer of young people, and countries such as Russia would be devastated by famine as poisoned crops failed.
He said the cause would be a "hydroxyl holocaust" - plummeting levels of a molecule in the atmosphere that few people have yet heard of, called a hydroxyl radical, which has a vital role mopping up pollutants.
Hydroxyl levels began to drop as the world produced more smog, but they rose again during the 1980s. The growing hole in the ozone layer allowed in more UV light, which stimulated the production of more hydroxyl.
Dr Anderson said that if the ozone hole was repaired, hydroxyl levels would be expected to decline dramatically, and the world would choke in smog.
Comment: So there you have it, folks. We need more CFCs to keep the ozone hole open so we can survive the deadly smog catastrophe. Next disaster, please.
Theodore W. Kheel, the eminent lawyer and labor mediator, will moderate a new Web site on climate change and global warming. The site, http://www.climatewarming.com, will be operational later this week. (Earth Times)
Everyone getting into the act , it seems
Bush's ethanol gas plan attacked -- Scientists, environmentalists, oil company officials and state leaders predicted Tuesday that the Bush administration's decision to force ethanol into California's vast gasoline supply will not only raise prices at the pump but will increase the state's smog levels during hot summer months. (Mercury News)
Don't blame Bush. The Clean Air Act and EPA require oxygenated fuels.
EPA adds 10 sites to Superfund list -- With these latest actions, announced in the Federal Register, the EPA'9s Superfund program has 1,236 sites and 67 proposed for agency action. The combined 1,303 includes 166 federal facilities. (Associated Press)
No commeent required
All stories on the web at: http://www.envirolink.org/environews
The air pollution from cutting grass for an hour with a gasoline-powered lawn mower is about the same as that from a 100-mile automobile ride, according to a new study from Sweden, which recommends using catalytic converters on mowers. The report is the first to compare lawn mower pollution with auto mileage, according to the researchers.
From the June 1 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed
journal of the American Chemical Society.
LAS VEGAS, June 1 (AP)- A plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, long opposed by Nevada, has become a casuality of the change in control of the Senate. Senator Tom Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat who will become the majority leader, said on Thursday of the plan, "As long as we're in the majority, it's dead."
Since 1987, Yucca Mountain has been the only site studied to become the graveyard for 77,000 tons of the nation's spent nuclear fuel and high- level radioactive research waste. The Energy Department is more than a decade behind schedule in accepting such waste from utilities. The department is scheduled to forward its recommendation next year to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who will make a recommendation to President Bush. The earliest the site could open is 2010.
The dump site, 90 miles from Las Vegas, is opposed by members of both parties in Nevada's Congressional delegation; Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican; state and city leaders and the gambling industry. The State Senate on Wednesday approved $4 million for a legal and public relations fight against the dump.
Mr. Daschle, in town for a fund- raiser for Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, will become the Senate's majority leader next week and Mr. Reid the majority whip, the No. 2 man in the Senate. Mr. Daschle said the change in leadership "will allow us to put Nevada's agenda on the national agenda."
The $1,000-a-person fund-raiser at the Bali Hai Golf Club was expected to bring in $500,000 for Mr. Reid's 2004 re-election campaign.
From John Robson in the Ottawa (CA) Citizen
When cornered on science, zealots invoke the ``precautionary principle''
which, as former Reform MP Lee Morrison just wrote, also justifies burning
witches. Sure, we don't have hard evidence witches cause crop failure,
or that this person is one. But let's send the hag up in flames just to