The Week That Was
August 16, 2003



3. CALIFORNIA EYES CHEMICAL REGULATIONS BASED ON EU MODEL: As if they don't have enough troubles







2. Big Acrylamide News; Another cancer scare
By Debra Korn, July 24, 2003

Think back to last year when acrylamide made its debut as a cancer scare, under the auspices of Swedish scientists. It's not hard to recall, since almost every newspaper, radio station, and TV news show reported the study suggesting that our old friend the French fry may be contributing to cancer development in humans. The "probable carcinogen" is found in high-carbohydrate foods that are cooked at high temperatures, including French fries, crackers, and even cereals. The reports started a scare that spread like wildfire and will probably continue for some time.

What's worse, though, is that new research, suggesting that banning French fries is pointless, is not making any headlines at all. In the study, conducted by Dr. Claudio Pelucchi of the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche in Milan, Italy, the diets of 7,000 cancer patients were examined. The study found no evidence for an interaction between fried and/or baked potato consumption and cancer. While it is quite possible that a southern-European diet differs from an American diet in its effects on cancer, this study is still newsworthy considering the publicity acrylamide received last year.

Another study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute recently found that while acrylamide may interfere with the DNA replication process, possibly leading to mutations and tumor growth, this information cannot be applied to humans or even to grown animals since it was produced in test tube studies. Two researchers from Sweden pointed out, in an accompanying editorial, that the average concentration of acrylamide in human blood is five times lower than the lowest concentration used in the study. Test tube studies often use very high levels of substances, resulting in data that are not entirely applicable to living humans. The scientists also said that the risk from dietary acrylamide is small and that they would not recommend changing dietary guidelines.

Dr. Claudio Pelucchi's study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, is of great importance to those who value responsible research. The initial study last year grabbed headlines because it was a new scare, something else for Americans to be concerned about, which journalists and newscasters love. Less frightening follow-up studies like this one don't usually garner as much attention. The study was reported over a holiday weekend, this past July 4, and was not mentioned again in any articles during the following week.

An argument can presumably be made that since the study was done in Italy, its ramifications for Americans were not immediately recognized, and so it did not make it to our media. Yet the initial study last year was done in Sweden and was widely reported. As long as there is conflicting research regarding acrylamide, consumers should have access to all research in order to make informed decisions.

Public-health officials and media alike prefer to err on the side of sounding the alarm when faced with ambiguous risks, but this "precautionary principle" does more to protect them - ensuring that they get attention and that they can't be accused of complacency in the face of danger - than to protect a vulnerable and bewildered public. What the public truly needs is a responsible, balanced view of scientific research. If the public health community continues to let out cries that are not rooted in scientific principles, there may come a day when a real crisis arises and they find that no one is listening.


3. California Eyes Chemical Regulations Based on EU Model:

California may be assuming a new role as the nation's port of entry for tough European environmental laws. According to Chemical Policy Alert, legislative aides in the state are looking to draft a proposal - using the European Union's (EU) proposed REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) system as a model - to overhaul California's chemical regulatory system. The proposal could be introduced in a bill as early as the beginning of next year.

The legislation would be the first of this kind in the U.S. and could give the "precautionary principle" a toehold in American regulatory policies. The state's $38 billion budget deficit may support this change because the state does not have the funds for exhaustive regulatory reviews of chemical substances. The draft legislation, if fully modeled on that of the EU, would require chemical companies that import or manufacture chemicals in California to conduct onerous toxicity tests demonstrating safety before allowing commercial sale in the state.


4. Eastern States Propose Action on Global Warming

Governor George Pataki along with support from ten Eastern states -- Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York -- will spend the next two years developing a regional market-based system aimed at limiting carbon emissions. The goal is to create a "cap-and-trade" program that will allow power plants that reduce carbon emissions to profit by selling pollution credits to other companies. This regional effort initiated by Pataki's Greenhouse Gas Task Force believe that global warming threatens the New England climate conditions that influence fall foliage, maple-syrup production, and ski conditions.

SEPP Comment: Is there no way to stop this madness? It will make electric power in the Northeast even more expensive - without any benefits whatsoever. Don't they know that CO2 is global? NY needs a recall provision for governors!


5. Tropopause Rising: But is this global warming

Elsewhere on the climate-science front, a study by Santer et al. ( in the 25 July 2003 Science suggested that the observed increase in height of the tropopause -- the boundary between the troposphere and stratosphere -- is the result of human-induced climate warming. The troposphere is the lowest layer of the atmosphere, rich in water vapor, clouds, and dynamic weather systems. The stratosphere above is far less turbulent, but is sensitive to airflow and energy changes in the underlying troposphere. Caught between these layers, the tropopause is thus marked by large changes in thermal and chemical structure.

The new model indicates that increased greenhouse-gas concentrations and depletion of ozone (which comprises the upper layer of the stratosphere and is primarily responsible for absorbing UV radiation from the Sun), have altered the atmospheric temperature profile and account for more than 80% of the 200-meter rise in tropopause height recorded over the past 20 years.

SEPP Comment: Another misguided modeling effort? There is still no published evidence for any appreciable warming of the troposphere. And stratospheric ozone stopped depleting back in 1992, with no depletion at all in the tropical zone. But the "global warmers" keep hoping…and trusting in models


6. Lucrative incentives send power groups in a windward direction

Like it or not, the UK now has 1,000 wind turbines dotted across the countryside, and campaigners for wind energy say the number could quickly double. Windy outlook: the number of turbines in Scotland is expected to rise 80pc over the next two years. The landscape across the north of England and Scotland is likely to change dramatically over the next five years as huge incentives to build wind farms - already referred to as "dough for blow" - persuade power companies to erect turbines.

"It took us 11 years to get to 1,000 turbines, but we are now predicting that the 2,000th turbine is likely to be commissioned within two years," said Nick Goodall, chief executive of the British Wind Energy Association. He added: "The next 450 onshore turbines already have planning permission, as do the first 90 offshore turbines."

Areas such as Moray, with a population of 85,000, will see their skyline dominated by 330ft-high turbines, and locals are not pleased. The debate about whether to build wind farms has created nearly 40 action groups, including Stop Windfarms in Moray, to lobby local government.

The attractiveness of wind power is mostly thanks to the Government's decision to award valuable certificates to providers of green energy. Wind farms are entitled to a Renewable Obligation Certificate (ROC). This allows them to sell electricity to suppliers for the market price plus a standard fee of £30 per megawatt-hour (~$50).

Suppliers, meanwhile, have to buy 3pc of their power from renewable sources, or pay fines which are redistributed among those holding ROCs. At the moment, the UK only has enough renewable energy to produce half of what suppliers need. Consequently, wind power is worth roughly £50 per megawatt hour, compared with market prices for other energy sources of roughly £15 per megawatt hour. Those prices led to a spate of company collapses last year, including British Energy and TXU Energi.

With such riches on offer, it's no surprise that consultant Ernst & Young decided that the UK has the best climate for wind in the world, thanks to the "attractive tariffs" and "improved planning attitude". Its report shows that wind power is "protected from the deregulated UK market by ROCs, with renewable energy obtaining prices typically three times those for conventional energy".

But many in the industry feel that the "wheeze for breeze" is pushing Britain's already muddled energy policy down the wrong route.

There are several problems with wind. The first is location. The windiest parts of the UK, Scotland and the North, are also the two areas with the highest ratio of power plants to people. Updating the grid so that Scotland can power London will cost the National Grid more than £1 billion, and the Scottish power companies about the same.

The next problem is that sometimes there is no wind. The Royal Academy of Engineers estimated that the UK was becalmed for at least two days a year thanks to anticyclones. Electricity can't be stored, so a huge backup of conventional power stations has to be kept on line. At a cost.

The final and most divisive problem is that the market is being fundamentally altered by the ROCs.


7. Russia moves ahead on atomic energy

The Russian ministry for atomic energy has decided to build a production facility for MOX fuel elements (mixture of uranium and plutonium oxides). The Siberian plant will be in operation by 2008 and absorb 68 tonnes of weapons-grade Pu (34 t from Russia and 34 t from US). The total amount of such Pu is estimated as 270 t , of which more than half is in Russia.

[Meanwhile, a nearly completed MOX facility in Hanau, Germany never went into operation, thanks to bureaucratic interference by Socialist foreign minister Joschka Fischer.]

Russia operates 6 atomic icebreakers with operating times of 60,000 to 95,000 hours; the 7th "Arktik" has already 145,000 hours. Refueling takes place every 4-5 years (versus Diesel-electric every 3-7 months).

Also: China is building a sea-water desalination plant in Shandong province delivering 52 million tons per day planned with a 200MW nuclear reactor. To be in operation in 2007.


8. Environmental debate in US Senate: Was 20th century unusually warm? David Wojick reports:

A central scientific issue in the debate over the sources of changes in the Earth's climate rose to the level of a Senate hearing last month. The July 29 hearing was called in an attempt to help determine the answers to some important questions: Was 20th Century warming unusual? Could it have been natural? Was it due to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and if so how can we know?

The debate -- and the hearing -- was prompted by two academic studies that have come to differing conclusions about the nature of global climate change. One study, quite recent, was led by Harvard astrophysicist Willie Soon. The other, from 1998, was by University of Virginia climate statistician Michael Mann. These two studies are the key flashpoints in a larger debate raging within the field called paleoclimatology.

[Paleoclimatologists study the history of the Earth's climate and climate changes by using what are called proxy records. Since no thermometers existed for most of human history, paleoclimatologists use proxies, like tree rings or ice cores, to determine what the historical climate record was like.]

The fight is over the so-called "Medieval Warm Period" (MWP) and "Little Ice Age" (LIA). The MWP is thought to have occurred from roughly the year 800 to1300, and the LIA from 1300 to 1900. The debate turns on whether or not the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age existed and, if so, if they were global phenomena. If they were, then it's very likely that the 20th century warming may be simply the climate emerging from the Little Ice Age, a perfectly natural process -- not a human-induced one.

Advocates of the manmade warming theory, such as Mann and his colleagues, are really "climate-change skeptics" -- that is, they believe the historical record says climate has been relatively stable compared to today, and that the 20th century warming is anomalous, due to human influence, and deeply troubling. Their argument is that the local periods of warming and cooling, while large, were not synchronous, so they do not represent true "climate change." In the last ten years they have developed a number of statistical techniques to support their claims.

Mann's 1998 paper was the high point in this scientific movement. Mann claimed to find no vestige of the either the Little Ice Age or the Medieval Warm Period in the paleoclimate record. His sample of that record was very small, just 10 locations. Despite that shortcoming, their study was central to the 2001 Third Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), when the IPCC concluded that most of the late 20th century warming was probably due to human influence. There is no overstating how influential the Mann paper has been within climate-change science circles -- and in the public debate beyond.

Soon and colleagues published "Reconstructing Climatic and Environmental Changes of the Past 1000 Years: A Reappraisal" back in March in the British journal Energy and Environment. They reviewed about 250 paleoclimate studies and drew some interesting conclusions. They found that the MWP and LIA were both real and global, albeit with significant regional variations. They concluded that "the Medieval Warm Period of 800 to 1300 A.D. and the Little Ice Age of 1300 to 1900 A.D. were worldwide phenomena not limited to the European and North American continents. While 20th century temperatures are much higher than in the Little Ice Age period, many parts of the world show the medieval warmth to be greater than that of the 20th century." (Emphasis added.) In other words, the warming of the 20th century is not unprecedented. There have been earlier periods of warming, taking place long before the industrial revolution and the large emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In addition to the Soon study, there is abundant evidence for the existence of both the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age, from many parts of the world. A recent book on the subject, "Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change," by Gerhard et. al., says:
"That the current rate of temperature increase is not unusual, despite the human-induced addition of CO2, implies that it is not possible to detect a human imprint on earth temperatures."

As part of the Soon study, the researchers argue that Mann's statistical methods were flawed in such a way that they tended to hide variability, rather than to reveal it. The proxy records that paleoclimatologists use to recreate the climate record are termed "noisy" because the temperature signal is masked by a lot of other variables. Mann's method, according to Soon et al., tends to amplify this noise.

Mann has his entire professional reputation riding on his study of climate history. Assessments made by none other than the United Nations rely upon his work. It was unlikely that he would fail to respond in some way. Indeed, that's part of the nature of good scientific exchange and debate. Therefore, after the Soon study was published, Mann, along with twelve other prominent advocates of the theory of human-induced warming, published a pointed rejoinder in the July, 2003 issue of the journal EOS, setting the stage for the Senate hearing.

At the hearing, and in the pages of EOS, Mann lays great stress on the claim that the 20th century warming is "unprecedented in the last 1000 years" and that this is the consensus view in the scientific community. Indeed, this claim has often appeared in the press since the IPCC voiced it in 2001, based on Mann's paper. Mann's criticism in EOS and at the hearing prompted several misleading press accounts of the ongoing debate.

If the MWP and LIA, and the climate cycles before them, did not actually exist, then the recent warming is indeed unprecedented. But their non-existence is by no means settled, as the Soon study makes abundantly clear. As the Senate testimony from Soon's colleague, David Legates of the University of Delaware, puts it, "we chose… to… determine if the proxy records themselves indeed confirm the claim of the 1990s being the warmest decade of the last millennium. That claim is not borne out by the individual proxy records." So much for scientific consensus on the 20th century being the warmest.

There is a prominent group of climate modelers and statisticians who fervently believe that the recent observed warming is human induced. They simply assert that periods such as the Medieval Warm Period didn't happen. As the EOS group puts it, "modeling and statistical studies indicate that such anomalous warmth cannot be explained by natural factors but, instead, requires significant anthropogenic (that is, 'human') influences during the 20th century." The only conclusion to draw from such statements is that it matters not what the proxy record says - there can be no Medieval Warm Period.

But much of the broader scientific community, especially many geologists and paleoclimatologists, do not accept this argument. They argue that just because the modelers cannot explain natural climate variability, that does not mean it does not exist. They say they can see it clearly in the data. And they have a point.

David Wojick PhD is an independent science journalist and policy analyst.


9. The gloves are off in Germany. No decorum there.

Merely following the example set by minister Joschka Fischer, a public letter calls environment minister Jurgen Trittin (a former Communist and unreconstructed Green) an "assh*le. (It sounds much juicier in German.)



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