|The Week That Was
July 2, 2005
New on the Web: Dutch economist Hans Labohm
writes perceptively about the Kyoto Protocol, European politics, and
the philosophical basis of "new-millennium" thinking. A must-read
We are learning that the much-hyped "consensus" of the G-8
(plus 3) Science Academies is not solid. In a Letter to The Scientist
(SFS/7/1/2005) I pointed out that the press release from the Royal Society
(London) gives the impression of unanimity about need for action to stem
global warming. But on July 1 a group of Russian academicians with climate
expertise called on the president of the Russian Academy of Science to
withdraw his unauthorized signature from a Climate Statement that had
been initiated by the Royal Society.
"Russian scientists said they still considered the Kyoto protocol was scientifically ungrounded and would be an ineffective way to try to achieve the aim of the UN convention on climate change."
The "Joint Science Academies Statement" had been engineered by Lord Robert May, president of the Royal Society. He tried this maneuver a couple of years ago, but then the US-National Academy of Sciences did not go along. I don't know why NAS president Bruce Albert went along with it this time, but his term just expired on June 30. We do have e-mail from him in which he states:
"But we definitely did not approve the Royal Society press release, and I have sent a letter to Bob May expressing my dismay at his misleading and political statements there."
Indeed, I was quoted in The Guardian (UK) (June 30, 2005) as follows:
"The single most important statement to come out of the [July 2005] G-8 meeting should be: The science of global warming is not settled, not as long as different methods of measuring temperatures give conflicting answers, not as long as weather satellites and weather balloons show little if any warming in the past 25 years, not as long as computer models used to predict future temperatures and other climate effects remain unvalidated. It would be foolhardy to base far-reaching decisions affecting national economies on insubstantial evidence."
Among other quotes there, Lord May wants mandatory targets and emission
cuts while Lord Oxburgh sounds more reasonable. None are skeptical.
Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson has written a remarkable op-ed "Greenhouse Hypocrisy." (Item #2) My Letter to Editor, Wash Post says:
I applaud Robert Samuelson (WP 6/29/2005) for exposing political hypocrisy, both here and in countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. They are unlikely to meet their targets and there are no real sanctions against cheating.. Besides, trading schemes, which use up unused emission rights, amount to legalized cheating; they don't reduce actual emissions. As Samuelson correctly points out, it's mostly sham, exploiting unreasonable fears of hyped climate catastrophes. But there is no scientific consensus about warming; a respectable minority argues that there will be less than one-degF rise by 2100. And credible economists have concluded that the consequences of even a larger warming would be beneficial.
It would be foolhardy indeed to enter into mitigation schemes that are wildly expensive -- and most likely ineffective -- for some illusionary gains a century from now. Yet cost-effective energy conservation always makes eminent sense - not because of what it might do for climate but because cutting waste saves money. Just don't expect too much. Reducing oil consumption will only slow down the inevitable rise in prices -- as low-cost oil resources are inevitably depleted. Without the recent advances in automobile fuel efficiencies, oil imports would have been higher and prices would have risen much sooner. Of course, the main gainers from lower prices are all of the world's oil consumers, esp in China. There is only one world market for oil.
By the same token, reducing our oil consumption -- and imports from the Middle East -- has little if any impact on national security. If we don't buy Saudi or Iranian oil, someone else will. It's what these regimes do with their oil revenues that impacts on our security.
A word about the forthcoming G8 meeting in Scotland. It has two main themes: mitigating Global Warming and abolishing Poverty in Africa. The irony is that alleviating poverty will increase energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Just look at China. But cynics have already concluded that neither goal is realistic and mainly a diversion. Tony Blair's real concerns are reducing Britain's disproportionate contribution to the EU budget and paring down subsidies to French farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy. CAP now consumes 40% of the EU budget. Ah, but there is a French election coming up.
S. FRED SINGER
Cracks in the Kyoto Consensus (Item #3) as economic issues take precedence
Climate report modified: Editing Controversy, as Lorne Gunter comments (Item #5)
The plot thickens in New Zealand (Item #6)
And finally, some thoughts for July 4th. (Item #7). Next week marks
the 229th return of this day;
RIA Novosti, 1 July 2005 http://en.rian.ru/science/20050701/40831419.html
MOSCOW, July 1 (RIA Novosti) - Russian academicians are still negative about the Kyoto protocol to the UN convention on climate change, a leading scientist told a Friday news conference.
Academician Yury Izrael, who chairs the Russian Academy of Sciences' council-seminar on the Kyoto protocol, said the council had confirmed its position on climate change remained the same.
Izrael said the council's statement had been issued after British scientists had said in a statement shortly prior to next week's G8 summit in Scotland that the world's eight leading industrialized nations should take responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and help developing countries resolve related problems.
The presidents of the academies of sciences of 11 countries - Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Britain, Japan, the United States, Canada and Russia - signed the British scientists' statement. Izrael said Russian Academy of Sciences President Yury Osipov's signature on the document was "a misunderstanding."
Izrael said the document had been discussed collectively only at today's seminar. Russian academicians asked Osipov to recall his signature. "The document has been passed to the Academy of Sciences' president," said Izrael, before adding that Osipov would now have to decide how to resolve the matter.
Russian scientists said they still considered the Kyoto protocol was scientifically ungrounded, and would be an ineffective way to try to achieve the aim of the UN convention on climate change. They also said it was harmful for the Russian economy.
Copyright 2005, RIA Novosti
Almost a decade ago I suggested that global warming would become a "gushing" source of political hypocrisy. So it has. Politicians and scientists constantly warn of the grim outlook, and the subject is on the agenda of the upcoming Group of Eight summit of world economic leaders. But all this sound and fury is mainly exhibitionism -- politicians pretending they're saving the planet. The truth is that, barring major technological advances, they can't (and won't) do much about global warming. It would be nice if they admitted that, though this seems unlikely.
Europe is the citadel of hypocrisy. Considering Europeans' contempt for the United States and George Bush for not embracing the Kyoto Protocol, you'd expect that they would have made major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions -- the purpose of Kyoto. Well, not exactly. From 1990 (Kyoto's base year for measuring changes) to 2002, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, increased 16.4 percent, reports the International Energy Agency. The U.S. increase was 16.7 percent, and most of Europe hasn't done much better.
Here are some IEA estimates of the increases: France, 6.9 percent; Italy, 8.3 percent; Greece, 28.2 percent; Ireland, 40.3 percent; the Netherlands, 13.2 percent; Portugal, 59 percent; Spain, 46.9 percent. It's true that Germany (down 13.3 percent) and Britain (a 5.5 percent decline) have made big reductions. But their cuts had nothing to do with Kyoto. After reunification in 1990, Germany closed many inefficient coal-fired plants in eastern Germany; that was a huge one-time saving. In Britain, the government had earlier decided to shift electric utilities from coal (high CO2 emissions) to plentiful natural gas (lower CO2 emissions).
On their present courses, many European countries will miss their Kyoto targets for 2008-2012. To reduce emissions significantly, Europeans would have to suppress driving and electricity use; that would depress economic growth and fan popular discontent. It won't happen. Political leaders everywhere deplore global warming -- and then do little. Except for Eastern European nations, where dirty factories have been shuttered, few countries have cut emissions. Since 1990 Canada's emissions are up 23.6 percent; Japan's, 18.9 percent.
We are seeing similar exhibitionism in the United States. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently endorsed Kyoto. California and New Mexico have adopted "targets" for emission cuts, reports the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. All this busywork won't much affect global warming, but who cares? The real purpose is for politicians to brandish their environmental credentials. Even if rich countries actually curbed their emissions, it wouldn't matter much. Poor countries would offset the reductions.
"We expect CO2 emissions growth in China between now and 2030 will equal the growth of the United States, Canada, all of Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Korea combined," says Fatih Birol, the IEA's chief economist. In India, he says, about 500 million people lack electricity; worldwide, the figure is 1.6 billion. Naturally, poor countries haven't signed Kyoto; they won't sacrifice economic gains -- poverty reduction, bigger middle classes -- to combat global warming. By 2030, the IEA predicts, world energy demand and greenhouse gases will increase by roughly 60 percent; poor countries will account for about two-thirds of the growth. China's coal use is projected almost to double; its vehicle fleet could go from 24 million to 130 million.
Like most forecasts, these won't come true. But unless they're wildly unreliable, they demonstrate that greenhouse emissions will still rise. Facing this prospect, we ought to align rhetoric and reality.
First, we should tackle some energy problems. We need to reduce our use of oil, which increasingly comes from unstable or hostile regions (the Middle East, Russia, Central Asia, Africa). This is mainly a security issue, though it would modestly limit greenhouse gases. What should we do? Even with today's high gasoline prices, we ought to adopt a stiff oil tax and tougher fuel economy standards, both to be introduced gradually. We can shift toward smaller vehicles, with more efficient hybrid engines. Unfortunately, Congress's energy bills lack these measures.
Second, we should acknowledge that global warming is an iffy proposition. Yes, it's happening; but, no, we don't know the consequences -- how much warming will occur, what the effects (good or bad) will be or where. If we can't predict the stock market and next year's weather, why does anyone think we can predict the global climate in 75 years? Global warming is not an automatic doomsday. In some regions, warmer weather may be a boon.
Third, we should recognize that improved technology is the only practical way of curbing greenhouse gases. About 80 percent of CO2 emissions originate outside the transportation sector -- from power generation and from fuels for industrial, commercial and residential use. Any technology solution would probably involve some acceptable form of nuclear power or an economic way of removing CO2 from burned fossil fuels. "Renewable" energy (wind, solar, biomass) won't suffice. Without technology gains, adapting to global warming makes more sense than trying to prevent it. Either way, the Bush administration rightly emphasizes research and development.
What we have now is a respectable charade. Politicians and advocates
make speeches, convene conferences and formulate plans. They pose as warriors
against global warming. The media participate in the resulting deception
by treating their gestures seriously. One danger is that some of these
measures will harm the economy without producing significant environmental
benefits. Policies motivated by political gain will inflict public pain.
Why should anyone applaud?
Call it a "modified, limited hang-out." Climate researcher Kevin Trenberth, writing a "Perspective" article in today's issue of Science, acknowledges that there is no proof that global warming is responsible for increased Atlantic hurricane activity, but insists that he thinks it is.
Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., is implicitly -- but decidedly not explicitly -- responding to heated criticism from one of the world's leading hurricane experts, Chris Landsea, who figuratively stomped out of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in January, charging that Trenberth, among others, was politicizing the issue of hurricane origins (Electricity Daily, Jan. 19).
Landsea, who is the major domo of the Enso-Clipper hurricane model and The Atlantic Hurricane Reanalysis Project for NOAA's laboratory in Miami, objected to Trenberth's organizing a press conference at Harvard that asserted a link between hurricanes and man-made global warming. Landsea said, tellingly, "To my knowledge, none of the participants in that press conference had performed any research on hurricane variability, nor were they reporting on any new work in the field."
Landsea said specifically that "the evidence is quite strong and supported by the most recent credible studies that any impact in the future from global warming upon hurricanes will likely be quite small. The latest results from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory suggest that by around 2080, hurricanes may have winds and rainfall about 5 percent more intense than today."
Trenberth's Science article -- which was not part of the peer-reviewed section of the magazine -- simply ignores this challenge. Landsea called Trenberth out, and Trenberth answers with an artful waffle. Trenberth's Perspective includes no references to Landsea or the research Landsea cites, although it does include several references to Trenberth's own work.
Trenberth notes, "In statistics, a null hypothesis -- such as there is no trend in hurricane activity -- may be formed, and it is common to reject the null hypothesis based on a 5 percent significance level. But accepting the null hypothesis does not mean there is no trend, only that it cannot be proven from the particular sample and that more data may be required." Translation: Just because there's no evidence doesn't mean it's not true.
Thus, argues Trenberth, without clear empirical evidence, "trends associated with human influences are evident in the environment in which hurricanes form, and our physical understanding suggests that the intensity of and rainfalls from hurricanes are probably increasing, even if this increase cannot be proven with a formal statistical test."
When I studied logic in undergraduate school, this was known as the post
hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy (A implies B, or increased hurricanes implies
manmade climate warming). Trenberth's penultimate two sentences are classic:
"Trends in human-influenced environmental changes are now evident
in hurricane regions. These changes are expected to affect hurricane intensity
and rainfall, but the effect on hurricane numbers remains unclear."
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that "a White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming."
Oh, my god, no! Someone at the White House edited reports before they were made public!? What an outrage!
And he edited them in such a way that passages that spoke with certainty about the coming climate disaster ended up with a few doubts sprinkled in!? Double outrage!
As I blogged here, the alleged consensus among the world's scientists that global warming is upon us, that it is manmade and it is going to be bad is no consensus at all. Indeed, the impression that it is a consensus may be being perpetuated by deliberate and unconscious obstructions at peer-reviewed journals that serve to keep alternate points of view from seeing the light of day.
One guy suggested a nip here and a tuck there to make some reports consistent with the scientific principle that nothing is ever certain, and consistent with stated White House policy that more understanding of climate change is needed before the world's policy-makers rush off making laws and regulations that may have no impact on the environment, but could easily damage economies and kill jobs.
This is hardly a controversy.
But since the GW lines on consensus and disaster are scripture to environmentalists and their media buddies, tampering with even one word -- no matter how unsupportable or hysterical -- is sacrilege.
This scandal is a sort of Koran-flushing for the greenie movement -- not real, and no big deal even if it were, but worthy of shrill protests nonetheless.
President Peter Berg has confirmed that the association has suggested to its members that they not allow such entry to their forests until far more substantial consultation has taken place. He says the decision has been taken in response to members concerns that it has been taken lightly, and that it is not a preferred course of action.
The plots will provide baseline data to measure what the real levels of carbon are in New Zealand forests. This information will be required for determining how many credits are available and who may be facing liabilities and taxes associated with land-use change.
Mr Berg says the government, by their estimate, has nationalised around $2.5 billion worth of privately-owned carbon credits. Government estimated that half of this was surplus to meeting NZs emissions target, representing a very large windfall for them, in the ministers own words. It is therefore particularly galling that they have also made forest owners liable for the loss of nationalised carbon credits if they don't replant pre-1990 forests harvested after 2007.
The tax forms part of a package of government Kyoto policies which the association says is scaring forest investors away and encouraging owners of older forests to convert to them to dairy farms after harvest. For the first time in 100 years, the area of New Zealand in plantation forest is likely to fall.
The association - along with many other industry groups - advised the
government to delay ratification of the Kyoto Protocol until the true
costs to New Zealand had been established, and until the country's major
trading competitors had made their move.
This is very unfortunate for New Zealand. But unless there is a change of approach, the collapse in new plantings is likely to continue.
The result of this will be a massive increase in New Zealand's carbon liability, which will need to be funded by higher taxes and possibly reduced spending on social services.
Mr Berg says forest owners want climate change minister Pete Hodgson to agree that positive changes to the governments Kyoto policies are needed, so that further tree plantings are encouraged for the benefit of the environment and the economy.
Minister Hodgson's refusal to even discuss the need for a policy change
demonstrates an extremely cavalier attitude and a lack of commercial understanding.
At the end of the 18th century there flowered in America a remarkable
new social order that altered centuries of conventional wisdom about how
societies should be governed. Thomas Jefferson said it best in the very
last letter that he wrote. Jefferson had been invited to attend the 50th
anniversary celebration of American Independence, but he declined due
to poor health. He died ten days later on July 4, 1826, on the same day
as his long-time friend and sometime political opponent throughout the
age of revolutions and constitutions, John Adams, and precisely 50 years
after the signing of his momentous Declaration of Independence, which
forever redefined the Rights of Man. In his last letter Jefferson wrote,