|The Week That Was
March 31, 2001
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NEW ON THE SEPP
First the big news:
BUSH TAKES STAND ON CO2
Swayed by science - or at least, by the fact that the science about "global warming" is by no means settled - President Bush has decided not to pursue mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) output, publicly distancing himself from comments to the contrary made by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman and some other Bush administration staffers.
Environmental activists have tried for several years to portray carbon dioxide - an inert gas that comprises a great portion of the Earth's atmosphere - as a "pollutant" that must be regulated to combat "global warming." Since C02 is, among other things, a byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels and industrial activity, significant reductions of man-made CO2 output would entail dramatic cutbacks in energy usage and industrial activity with potentially massive negative economic impacts. "If you attempt to regulate carbon dioxide, you will regulate us into a permanent energy crisis in this country," said Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, who along with a few other stalwart Republicans went to the mat on this issue, refusing to be cowed by political correctness or fear of being portrayed as "anti-environment." Said Mr. Craig: "I think they understand that at the White House now" - meaning, the practical consequences of appeasing radical environmentalists.
Indeed, it appears that Mr. Bush has come to the altogether reasonable conclusion that the so-called "precautionary principle" is not a sound basis for establishing public policy that could affect the well-being of millions of people for the worse. Simply put, the precautionary principle posits that steps be taken proactively to address a given risk, even if the risk is no more than theoretical. Environmentalists have basically been arguing that drastic precautionary steps be taken to deal with the purely theoretical bogeyman of human-caused catastrophic global warming. Mr. Bush has properly stepped back from this precipice.
Among the problems with global warming theory are the troubling incongruities between satellite data and measurements of temperature taken at ground-based stations. They contradict one another. The satellite data indicate an overall cooling trend while some ground monitoring stations suggest a slight warming is taking place. Further complicating matters is the fact that most of the warming trend observed by scientists occurred in the early part of the last century, or well before mass industrialization worldwide. In any event, the entire theory of global warming that forms the basis of the argument for "wrenching changes" (former Vice President Al Gore's words) in our use of energy is based on vague computer models whose predictive value is dubious. There are simply too many variables. Add to all of this the facts that many scientists believe we are just now emerging from a period of abnormally cool planetary temperatures (the so-called "Little Ice Age") and that natural sources of CO2 production far eclipse humanity's contribution, and you have, at minimum, ample reason to proceed with caution.
Reducing U.S. output of CO2 to below 1990 levels - as advocated by such as Mr. Gore and enshrined in the Clinton administration's "Kyoto Protocol" global warming treaty - would likely precipitate major economic dislocations, perhaps even a worldwide depression. That's a stiff price to pay for a threat that may not even exist - or, if it does, may be caused by factors entirely beyond our control.
KYOTO MAY BE DEAD, BUT EU COURT APPROVES GERMAN GREEN POWER SUBSIDIES
----and allows Germany to do itself in
Germany's law on subsidizing power derived from renewable energies is in line with European Union law, the European Court of Justice said on March 13. The landmark ruling secures renewable energy producers generous prices set by the state, but payable by utilities and their customers. The court ruled that mandatory minimum charges payable by power distributors for green power did not represent state aid and therefore did not violate EU law.
The court also said that the protection of the environment was one of the EU's paramount goals in order to meet its international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore renewable energy sources could be favored over alternative import offers (nuclear?) even if certain free trade principles were being violated. While this practice "potentially distorted power trade in the EU," it was deemed necessary in order to achieve commonly shared environmental goals.
The pro-environment Greens group in the European Parliament welcomed the decision, saying it was a "slap in the face" for EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti. Greens spokesman Claude Turmes said big German energy suppliers had tried to destroy the renewable energy law by claiming it was state aid. "Thankfully they did not succeed," he said in a statement. German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin in a statement said while the ruling secured plans to expand wind power, it now helped move the focus on expanding the promotion of power from biomass.
The court case goes back to 1998 when Hanover-based distributor PreussenElektra complained about excessive prices of wind power it had to buy from its north German subsidiary Schleswag. The association of German electricity suppliers VDEW in a statement put additional power purchasing costs arising from the German law last year at two billion marks.
A source in the power generating industry said that the EU Court ruling "allowed the state to subsidise companies across the whole spectrum of renewable energies without parliamentary control and without spending public money."
An industrial consumer source said the ruling potentially subsidized
inefficient projects and could drive competitive power producers out of
Germany. At the same time, the country's consumers could become the paymasters
of European renewable industries, as the high prices attracted wind and
solar power imports into Germany.
How do you suppose this will impact on international competitiveness? For a domestic example, watch what is happening in California as industry abandons the state for places where electric power is truly deregulated.
Letter to Wash Post Sent to 3/26/01 (but will they print it?)
Well before President Bush' decision to forego controls on carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, many supporters of the Global Climate Treaty had expressed doubts about the targets and timetables of the Kyoto Protocol. Critics included Resources for the Future, the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, and other mainstream environmental organizations. While European politicians were lambasting the United States last week, David Victor of the Council of Foreign Relations termed the Protocol "hopelessly unrealistic."
We agree; cutting energy consumption by 30 to 40 percent within a decade is practically unachievable. But beyond this, Kyoto is also ineffective. Enforcing its targets would reduce global temperature in 2050 by only 0.05 degrees C, a virtually undetectable amount. Finally, Kyoto is politically unacceptable. President Bush, in opposing Kyoto as unfair to the United States and economically destructive -- especially to low-income groups -- is merely echoing the bipartisan Byrd-Hagel resolution that passed the Senate in 1997 by a vote of 95:0.
However, these same critics of Kyoto still believe that there is a "scientific consensus" on global warming. But a National Academy report last year reaffirmed that, contrary to theory, weather satellite data show little if any current warming of the global atmosphere. Further, the unspoken assumption -- that a (hypothetical) global warming would be damaging -- is not supported by competent economists. Their published studies conclude that GNP would increase, with agriculture and forestry benefiting the most. The real threat comes from a possible global cooling.
In any case, it does not require a major government program to wean us away from fossil fuels. As these become depleted and scarce, their price is bound to rise, thereby making other forms of energy more competitive. Market forces will eventually phase out fuels at least cost to society.
S. Fred Singer
EUROPEAN UNION VOICES CONCERN FOR CLIMATE PACT
BRUSSELS, March 28 - The European Union expressed dismay today at the latest confirmation by the Bush administration that it opposed a treaty to combat global climate change. On Tuesday, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Whitman, said that because Congress was unlikely to ratify it, the Bush administration had no interest in carrying out the so-called Kyoto Protocol. The accord, reached in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, would reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide by 5.2 percent by 2012 from 1990 levels.
Today, the European Union's environment official, Margot Wallstrom, said the Bush administration's continuing opposition to the treaty was worrying. While the 15-nation European Union is willing to discuss details of the treaty and problems, Ms. Wallstrom said, it is not willing to scrap the whole protocol.
The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, reconfirmed today that President Bush opposed the pact, in part because it did not bind developing nations to curb emissions.
Ms. Wallstrom's comments came a day before Mr. Bush is to hold his first meeting in Washington with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany. Last week, Mr. Schröder reportedly sent a letter to Mr. Bush asking him to abide by the agreement. "We hope the Americans will change their mind, because we Europeans think we have the better arguments," a German government official said.
Other European heads of state have voiced concern at the United States stance.
Prime Minister Wim Kok of the Netherlands said at a European summit meeting in Stockholm last week that there was no point in the European Union striking a climate agreement only with Japan, Australia, Canada and other developed nations. "If others behave irresponsibly, we can try to show a sense of responsibility," Mr. Kok said, "but we need to focus on involving all those who started down the road to Kyoto."
And Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel of Austria told reporters, "We need to insist that the United States fulfills its duty."
Talks on carrying out the Kyoto agreement broke down last November at a meeting of developed nations in The Hague. The talks are scheduled to resume on July 16 in Bonn. The treaty has been signed by more than 100 countries but has not yet been ratified by any industrial country.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
WILL EUROPE GO IT ALONE? and be the first to commit economic suicide?
Here is a defiant essay that echoes what many European statesmen say privately
"Just now, necessity dictates that the climate regime be protected from the Americans. And it's possible, just possible, that the Europeans are ready to give it a try. Not, to be sure, that this is a time for optimism. If the Bush administration forces the issue of developing country participation, all hell is going to break loose. If the Europeans and the Japanese want to save Kyoto, they're going to have to move fast, and just now the Japanese don't seem ready for decisive action of any sort. The South, for its part, will go along with anything reasonable, anything that gets the first phase of the treaty in place and sets the stage, finally, for the big event--the North/South deal that will finally determine if we can get the global climate onto a "soft landing corridor." Or if we should just give it up.
I could be wrong, but it looks to me like it's going to come down, this time, to the Europeans. And I'm hoping that they're as pissed off as they sound."
Tom Athanasiou <email@example.com>is the author of Divided Planet: The
Ecology of Rich and Poor, and, more recently, the cofounder of EcoEquity,
which advocates (and anticipates!) a phased transition to a second-generation
climate treaty based on per-capita carbon emission rights. To subscribe
to EcoEquity's Climate Equity Observer, write to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The Worldwatch Institute responds:
The U.S. administration's decision to abandon America's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol has created the most serious international environmental policy crisis in years, says President of the Worldwatch Institute, Christopher Flavin. Today's development puts at risk a decade of efforts to craft an agreement to protect the world from climate change.
"The world cannot afford to wait for another climate protocol to be drafted," said Flavin. "The Kyoto Protocol isn't perfect - largely because of loopholes insisted on by the previous U.S. administration - but it's all that's standing between us and a future of more severe storms and rising sea levels. It is time for Europe and Japan to call the U.S. bluff and adopt the Kyoto Protocol, perhaps abandoning some of the problematic elements insisted on by the United States"
.the best way to bring the U.S. into the climate treaty process at this point is for other countries to proceed with Kyoto, with the U.S. joining later when political circumstances have changed.
Comment: Yes, we can't wait for Al Gore to return
IS FEAR OF GLOBAL WARMING PART OF A GENERAL MALAISE?
Mad cow disease is a real threat and has helped stoke the fear gripping
the continent. But Europeans are now so timorous, they cannot contemplate
any risk without panicking, says Carl Honoré writing in the National
At least that is what Europeans are told. These days, hardly a week goes by without another health scare sweeping the continent. Never mind that many of the warnings are absurd, or based on flimsy science. Europeans are now so jittery, so convinced that modern life is a minefield, that the merest whiff of risk sends them scurrying for cover.
Even as incomes rise and lifespans lengthen, the continent is gripped by a wave of Euro-fear, a shared continental cringe.
MUCH ADO ABOUT GREENHOUSE EFFECT
Here's a scientific article that made all the newspapers; which predictably misinterpreted the result:
A comparison of satellite data from 1970 and 1997 has yielded what some scientists (and most of the media) say is the first direct evidence that so- called greenhouse gases are building up in Earth's atmosphere and allowing less heat to escape into space. [The researchers compared data from the Japanese ADEOS satellite, which produced about nine months of data starting in 1996, and NASA's Nimbus 4 satellite between April 1970 and January 1971. Only clear-sky readings of the atmosphere over the central Pacific were compared. ]
The study (in Nature of March 8) contains no evidence on whether Earth's surface temperature is actually increasing. In fact, whether this greenhouse effect will lead to global warming or global cooling is unclear, the authors said. That is because the greenhouse effect could start a cycle in which more clouds are formed, stopping the sun's energy from reaching Earth's surface in the first place, said John Harries, who led the study. "The effect of clouds on the planet is very complex, and frankly we don't understand it."
Comment: But what does the author know? The "consensus" has already decided that it MUST be warming because the theory calls for it.