The Week That Was
February 1, 2003

1. New on the Web: THE VIEW OF AN ENERGY "EXPERT" ABOUT EMISSION TRADING FOR CARBON DIOXIDE. Anyone who reads this critically will soon discover what's wrong with his analysis and with the cap-and-trade approach (see also TWTW of Jan 25, 2003)


2. The case against CO2 emission trading

1) The most basic reason: CO2 is not a pollutant and not harmful to humans. It is the basic plant food and therefore good for agriculture and forestry. As population grows and good farmland becomes scarce in many parts of the world, we need higher crop productivity.

2) The increase in greenhouse gases in the past 100 years has had little influence on climate as far as we can tell. Further increases will likely lead to a minor amount of warming -and economists tell us that this would have positive consequences overall.

3) Finally, efforts to control emissions may only slow down slightly the rate of growth and be costly to boot. Any kind of cap amounts to rationing --- and that will raise the cost of energy to consumers; it will hit low-income groups hardest.

4) If consumers lose, who will gain financially? Those companies that buy emission rights early but then proceed to influence the political process to cap emissions. Without caps, their rights would not have any value. Companies, like AEP, DuPont, etc. then become lobbyists for emission caps. Remember ENRON? So the whole scheme is really a giant income transfer with only a problematic environmental value.

3. Terrorism and nuclear safety: SEPP Comments

Three Letters in Science (10 Jan. 2003) by F.N. von Hippel, by D.J. Brenner, and by E.S. Lyman take exception to the Policy Forum article by Chapin et al (20 Sept. 2002), which analyzed the (non)danger from a terrorist attack (specifically from the impact of airliners) on nuclear reactors and nearby storage of spent nuclear fuel. Chapin et al reply adequately to these three letters. Bur here are additional comments:

1. von Hippel raises some sensible points but ignores the simple remedies that are available. The possible danger of penetration by an aircraft comes from the massive jet engines rather than from the fragile structure itself. Strategically placed steel towers would break up an aircraft well before it could hit a reactor or fuel storage. The latter presents a small target in any case and contains no internal energy that could disperse the radioactivity, much of which will have decayed away. [We note that central underground storage at Yucca Mountain would not solve the problem since storage for several years in pools adjacent to reactors would still be required to cool the spent fuel.]

2. Brenner ignores all evidence against the linear-non-threshold (LNT) hypothesis and then proceeds to construct a large number of cancer cases. He even predicts a yet-to-come increase in solid cancers from Chernobyl but gives no estimate how this could be demonstrated with any degree of confidence.

Finally, he suggests that the "possible theft of a spent-fuel rod for use in a dirty bomb seem[s] more relevant than an attack on a nuclear reactor core." No suggestion, however, on just how such a theft might be carried out without killing the thief.

3. Lyman never addresses the issue of an impacting airliner but instead discusses the possible takeover and sabotage of a nuclear plant by terrorists. After describing fanciful scenarios , he cavalierly recommends a higher level of security but offers no specific proposals.

A common feature of these letters is that they seem motivated by anti-nuclear rather than anti-terrorist sentiments. They concentrate on nuclear facilities but ignore the much easier terrorist targets of chemical plants, refineries, pipelines, etc. The Bhopal accident was certainly more destructive of human lives and health than Chernobyl.

[For evidence against LNT, consult this treasure house of information on the health effects of low-dose radiation:]


4. Burn, Baby Bjorn, Burn!
The Report From the Committees on Saying McCarthyism in Danish
By Charles Paul Freund (Jan. 10, 2003)

Did you see where the Greens in Denmark have burned Bjorn Lomborg at the stake? A Danish institution with a deeply impressive (even pluralized!) name stenciled on its door, The Committees on Scientific Dishonesty, has reviewed Lomborg's book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, a statistical inquiry into the claims of Wild Environmentalism, and has made its pronouncement. Having examined the complaints against Lomborg, the Committees placed the Wig of Judiciousness on its head and lit the straw at the Danish statistician's feet.

"Objectively speaking," the Committees intoned, "the publication of the work under consideration is deemed to fall within the concept of scientific dishonesty."

It's interesting to observe how impressively Denmark resolves issues of science that arise within its borders: by pronouncement. This saves a lot of time that is otherwise wasted on observation, experiment, analysis, and debate. The "pronouncement" business has a long and distinguished history, of course, having served the Counter-Reformation Church so well in its own battle against heresy, and Stalinist science so effectively in its campaign in support of Lysenkoism. Nor is there any reason to question the disinterestedness of such Committees, since their own witness to their own objectivity is so conveniently placed within their own pronouncement.

Most impressive of all, however, is the manner with which this process has approached the question of evidence. What instances of Lomborg's dishonesty have the Committees cited in support of their pronouncement? This is where they've covered themselves with glory. Evidence is beneath the Committees' contempt; they've cited none. That would have opened the door to a rebuttal on the merits. Why be bothered?

The Economist calls this process Orwellian, incompetent, and shameful, while Tech Central Station says it's a smear. Even so, Lomborg says it makes him uncomfortable, and who can blame him? Lomborg may have the statistical case on his side (the Danish Committees sure didn't put a dent in it), but that can be small comfort when one is up against a well-publicized charge from a body with an impressive name.

What Lomborg needs are other sorts of pronouncements from other self-important bodies located in appropriate nations. That is why I'm so pleased today to report the findings of the Committees on Discovering Moral Fraudulence Masquerading as Something Else. These Committees do business in Freedonia, a nation established decades ago by the Marx Brothers and therefore bringing exactly the desired sensibility to the campaign against Lomborg. Why should these Committees' pronouncements be taken seriously? Because its members are in possession of an impressive set of judicial wigs. Having placed those wigs askew on their heads, the Freedonian Ministers of Pronouncements have denounced the Danish Committees as a collection of "schnorrers," have refused to lend them any more money, and are even refusing to return the Danes' door stencils, deposited in Freedonia as collateral.

Additionally, the Committees on Saying McCarthyism in Danish have weighed in. This group is based in Ruritania, a ludicrous monarchy that figures prominently in the forgotten novels of Arthur Hope. Ruritania is an excellent location to debate Lomborg's critics, because it is a place best known for the extravagance of its military epaulettes. Consistent with their national reputation for impenetrable intrigue, the Ruritanian Committees have dressed up to look exactly like the Danish Committees in question, and have issued a counter-statement in the Danish language that pretends to be the work of the Danish Committees itself. That document demands that Denmark's royal family wear more epaulette braids while riding their bicycles. The smirk on the faces of the Ruritanian imposters at their press conference suggests that there is a good deal more to their conspiracy, but that by the time we turn the last page of the story it will be next to impossible to reconstruct what actually happened.
Finally, the Committees on Pronouncing Pronouncements, based in Pyongyang, North Korea, reports that it intends to buy yet another two-page spread of The New York Times. There, they will print, in 6-point type, the text of a speech begun several days ago by their unique head of state, and still going on. The ad will, as usual, declare socialism's inevitable victory, and cite as evidence the Danish Committees' appropriation of North Korea's scientific methods.

Perhaps none of these developments will reduce Bjorn Lomborg's understandable unhappiness, but it will at least place the Danish Committees' pronouncements in a context befitting their seriousness.

Charles Paul Freund is a Reason senior editor.



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