|The Week That Was
March 4, 2006
If you think the Abramoff lobbying on behalf of Native-Indian-owned gambling casinos is bad, it's really just small change compared to the multibillion-dollar synfuels-tax-credit scandal (Item #1). Sold as a means towards "energy independence," it soon acquired a life of its own. Wind energy and ethanol are not far behind in fleecing the US taxpayer.
Russian president VLADIMIR V. PUTIN has an interesting WSJ Commentary
(Feb 28, 2006) on energy: "Energy Egotism Is a Road to Nowhere: Energy
is an engine of social and economic progress." http://www.wsj.com/wsjgate?source=jopinaowsj&URI=/article/0,,SB114109695150485008,00.html%3Fmod%3Dopinion%26ojcontent%3Dotep
An AEI- Brookings study concludes that Global Warming is good for agriculture (Item #2). It would have looked even better if they had figured in the fertilizing effects of increased CO2 and the ability of farmers to make long-term adjustments to temperature increases.
Is it a good idea to advance nuclear energy by raising fears about
Global Warming? John Dendahl, writing in the Albuquerque Journal doesn't
think so (Item #3). And climate scientists pen a letter to New Mexico
senators opposing their plan to impose unilateral mandatory carbon limits
While the spotlight has been on Global Warming, there are still chemical pollution problems - some real, some imaginary (Item #5). A prime example of the latter is DDT. Cyril Boynes, director of international affairs for the Congress of Racial Equality, and Paul Driessen, COREs senior policy advisor, write:
Launched with great fanfare by the World Bank and World Health Organization, the "Roll Back Malaria" program promised to cut global malaria disease and death rates in half by 2010. Instead, as best anyone can determine, the rates have increased by as much as 15 percent. A principal reason is that malaria control programs at the Bank, WHO and RBM remain mired in political correctitude and environmental misconceptions about the alleged dangers of insecticides.
Even Scientific American has now come out in favor of the limited
use of DDT.
Fears about melting polar ice are back, together with scares about rising sea levels. To their credit, AP and Die Welt report on scientific results that introduce some sanity into this madness (Item #6). Not so ABC News:
If we can believe their report (Item #7), Jim Hansen (director of NASA-GISS) predicts as much as 80-foot (!) rise in sea levels by 2050 - unless we act now. That's just shy of two foot per year -- and complete bunk. Apparently, Jim Hansen now feels he can get away with making any kind of reckless statement -- never mind the underlying science.
[I have predicted about 3.2 inches by 2050, based on published work,
or about 0.07 inches per year -- about 0.3% of the quoted Hansen value.]
Greenland has a "small overall mass gain" corresponding
to a lowering of sea level of --0.03 mm per year. Antarctica shows a "combined
[negative] net change" corresponding to a sea level rise of + 0.05
+/- 0.03 mm per year.
Zwally's results get a brief mention in Science (24 Feb issue, page
1073). Definitely not PC, the item must have slipped past editor-in-chief
Finally, the BBC and Oxford University are conducting a grand Climate Experiment using the spare capacity of thousands of home computers. You too can participate in this magnificent exercise in which they will investigate how varying input parameters (of which there are some 200) to a model affect the calculated climate sensitivity.
The previous test (reported by Stainforth et al in Nature of Jan 27, 2005) achieved sensitivity values as high as 11.5 degC (for a doubling of CO2). The present exercise will no doubt achieve even higher values, which the BBC will then duly trumpet. Of course, all it really tells you that the result depends on how you choose your input values. It cannot tell you what the best set of values really is.
The wording is so bland and buried so deep within a 324-page budget document that almost no one would notice that a multibillion-dollar scam is going on. Not the members of Congress voting for it -- and certainly not the taxpayers who will get fleeced by it. And that is exactly the idea.
With Washington reeling from the Abramoff lobbying scandal and Republicans and Democrats alike pledging to crack down on influence peddling, with one lawmaker already gone from Capitol Hill because he traded favors for cash, you're probably guessing this isn't the best time for members of Congress to dispense a fortune in favors to their friends.
Buried in the huge budget-reconciliation bill, on which House and Senate conferees are putting the final touches right now, are a few paragraphs that accomplish an extraordinary feat. They roll back the price of a barrel of crude oil to what it sold for two years ago. They create this pretend price for the benefit of a small group of the politically well-connected.
You still won't be able to buy gasoline for $1.73 per gal. as you did then, instead of today's $2.28. You still won't be able to buy home heating oil for $1.60 per gal., in place of today's $2.39. But a select group of investors and companies will walk away with billions of dollars in tax subsidies, not from oil, but from the marketing of a dubious concoction of synthetic fuel produced from coal and dependent on government tax credits tied to the price of oil.
From 2003 through 2005, TIME estimates, the synfuel industry raked in $9 billion in tax credits. That means the lucky few collectively cut their tax bills by that amount, which would be enough to cover a year's worth of federal taxes for 20 million Americans who make less than $20,000 a year and pay income taxes.
How important is the tax credit to synfuel producers? In its latest annual report, Headwaters Inc., a Utah-based purveyor of synfuel processes and substances, says flatly, "Headwaters does not believe that production of synthetic fuel will be profitable absent the tax credits."
To understand why Washington wants to backdate the price of oil for its friends, it's necessary to return to the oil shocks of the 1970s, when long lines formed at gas stations and people dialed down the thermostats in homes and apartments so they could afford to pay their utility bills. In 1980, Congress enacted tax incentives that were designed to spur the development of a synthetic-fuel industry. The goal was to build huge plants using new technologies that would transform raw coal, which the U.S. has in abundance, into synthetic natural gas and oil to heat homes and factories, power cars and--here comes the ever popular bromide--reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. As then House majority leader Jim Wright, a Texas Democrat, put it at the time, "[This] will show Americans the nation is moving ahead. We are going to declare our energy independence."
When oil prices fell, Washington lost interest in creating a real synfuel industry, and the grand projects to promote energy independence came to nothing. But the synfuel credit remained on the books, dormant, until a group of enterprising entrepreneurs came across it in the 1990s and saw a way to transform coal into gold.
The coal can look and burn like regular coal. The IRS rule for transforming coal into synfuel--and getting the tax credit--requires only that the substance be chemically altered in some way. The alchemy that satisfies the IRS is a simple process: some plants spray newly mined coal with diesel fuel, pine-tar resin, limestone, acid or other substances--a practice that industry critics call "spray and pray." Other operators mix coal-mining waste with chemicals, coat it with latex and blend it with untreated coal to form briquettes. (For an earlier story on the scheme, see "The Great Energy Scam," TIME, Oct. 13, 2003.)
Once a few pioneers started reaping the tax credits, it wasn't long before plants using various techniques sprouted next to coal-burning power plants, which buy the so-called synfuel and use it as they would any other coal. Those synfuel operations were a far cry from the state-of-the-art plants that Congress had envisioned as performing a more radical transformation. Instead, they were flimsy facilities that could be easily dismantled and moved to other locations.
Today about 55 such plants around the U.S. process 125 million tons of coal or, in many cases, coal waste from an earlier mining era. For owners and operators, the whole point isn't creating a profitable new energy resource for the U.S.; it's about collecting the tax subsidy. Progress Energy Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., which owns electric utilities that serve portions of the Carolinas and Florida, reported in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that in 2002-04 its synfuel-production losses added up to $400 million. No problem: the company claimed $852 million in tax credits, magically transforming a money-losing operation into a money-making business with $452 million in profits--courtesy of the American taxpayer. And that's not all. Like other synfuel producers, Progress Energy can't immediately use all the tax credits it mines because of tax-law limitations. As of Dec. 31, 2004, it was sitting on $745 million in deferred credits that it can write off against future earnings for years to come. And Progress Energy is not alone. Plants run by DTE Energy Co. of Detroit generated $1.2 billion in tax credits during the same years.
This was not what Congress had in mind in 1980 when it enacted the subsidy. The idea was to stimulate the birth of a new industry that would make synthetic fuel competitive with the price of conventional oil and gas. To achieve that end, lawmakers pegged the value of the credit to the price of crude oil. If oil prices were to rise above a certain level, the synfuel industry would no longer need the credit to make a profit and the subsidy would be phased out. As long as oil prices were below $50 per bbl., synfuel producers could claim the full value of the credit. But in the past year, as prices have risen to as much as $66 per bbl., anxiety has spread through the synfuel ranks that their boondoggle is imperiled.
Tax experts differ on how high oil prices would have to go to wipe out the full value of the credit, but most agree that if oil were to remain at recent peak levels, or climb even higher, few synfuel operators could claim the full credit. Citing that uncertainty, the Marriott Corp., which has invested in four synfuel plants, temporarily suspended production in January. Before the shutdown, Marriott had racked up $370 million in synfuel profits.
With so much at stake, the synfuelers have pumped money into a campaign to preserve their tax break. At the center of the synfuel lobby in Washington is a consortium called the Council for Energy Independence. It's a name worthy of the most successful Washington lobbies, in which private interests camouflage their mission under the banner of a worthy-sounding cause. The Council is directed by one of Washington's premier tax lobbyists, Kenneth J. Kies, managing director of the Clark Consulting Federal Policy Group. A former chief of staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the congressional panel that oversees the drafting of tax laws, Kies is well situated to guide legislation that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars a word.
Since 2002, the Council for Energy Independence has spent $2 million lobbying Congress to preserve the tax credit, according to reports filed with the Senate Office of Public Records. Overall, TIME estimates, the synfuel lobby has spent more than $5 million during that same period. The effort has got results. In recent years, the lobby has successfully turned aside efforts to revoke the IRS rulings on which the tax credits are calculated. It beat back an effort in the House Ways and Means Committee last year to send a bill to the House floor that would have virtually eliminated the tax credit. The bill's sponsor, Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, called the tax credit "one of the worst tax loopholes on the books" and described the synfuel industry as "basically a sham." Nevertheless, because of industry lobbying, Doggett's bill has never made it out of committee.
Last November the lobby scored a remarkable coup. Buried deep in a bill called the Tax Relief Act of 2005, passed by the Senate on Nov. 18, was Section 559, titled "Modification of Credit for Producing Fuel from a Nonconventional Source." Section 559 begins on page 317 of the bill and is written in the obscure jargon of all special-interest tax breaks--almost impossible to decipher, so bewildering is its language. At first glance, it looks like nothing more than a technical amendment to clarify some arcane section of tax law. But one clause offers a clue. It says the synfuel credit will be based not on current oil prices--the yardstick used in the past--but on "the amount which was in effect for sales in calendar year 2004."
In 2004 oil prices were safely below the line to allow synfuel producers to claim the maximum credit. The stealth amendment would roll back the calendar. (Sort of like your missing the deadline for your mortgage payment, then backdating your check to avoid a late charge. But much more lucrative.) The backdating clause was in a larger bill introduced in the Senate by Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the Senate Finance Committee. It was inserted in the Tax Relief Act, which provides aid for Hurricane Katrina victims and sets new policies for tax-exempt groups. With so many higher-profile issues at stake, the clause on synfuels sailed right through with no discussion. Many lawmakers, if not most, don't even know it's there.
When asked about the provision's origins, Senate Finance Committee aides at first said they did not know, only that it did not "originate" with Grassley. One aide noted that the Senator "ultimately is responsible for everything in [the bill], but routinely with such bills, other committee members propose certain ideas, and he accepts them or rejects them as he sees fit."
Asked again by TIME to identify the author, the Senate Finance aide later wrote in an e-mail, "the provision originated as an amendment from Sen. [Rick] Santorum. Sen. [Gordon] Smith [an Oregon Republican] had a similar amendment co-sponsored by several other Senators, Republicans and Democrats. Chairman Grassley accepted the Santorum amendment ... It's routine for him to accept non-controversial provisions that way rather than have the committee vote on each amendment ... So now the Santorum amendment is in the bill." When contacted by TIME, Santorum's staff had no comment.
The bill is now part of Congress's budget-reconciliation process. But there is no synfuel amendment in the House bill, meaning that it cannot become law unless the House conferees agree to the Senate provision. Bill Thomas, the California Republican who heads the House Ways and Means Committee, by some accounts is not in favor of the synfuel provision, but whether he will actively oppose it remains to be seen. There are already major differences between the House and Senate reconciliation bills on much larger issues like Medicare, so the odds are that synfuel may slip through again.
Another Senate supporter of the credit is Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee. An aide said Hatch believes the new provision in the Senate bill "helps make the current credit work better." Utah-based Headwaters Inc., one of the synfuel industry's most active companies, licenses its technology as well as sells materials to synfuel producers. "If the tax credits under Section 29 of the Internal Revenue Code are repealed or adversely modified," the company said in its latest annual report, "Headwaters Energy Services' profitability will be severely affected."
The synfuel lobby contends that the exemption from the run-up in oil prices is necessary to create stability in the industry. "We think it is very fair legislation," Gordon Gillette, chief financial officer of Teco Energy Inc., a utility based in Tampa, Fla., told investment analysts last month. "It eliminates the uncertainty that we have right now and are dealing with right now on oil prices."
And the synfuel lobby expects to carry the day too, largely because Congress has bigger issues to deal with. Kirk Benson, the chairman and CEO of Headwaters, told analysts that "in the world of Washington, D.C., what we want to do isn't material ... It's an afterthought."
Whatever the outcome, the battle over the provision is little more than
a warm-up for the legislative fight that will take place in 2007. That's
when the tax credit is set to expire and the industry will seek to make
it permanent. As Headwaters' Benson has told analysts, with a touch of
understatement: "It will become an intense topic in '07."
This paper measures the economic impact of climate change on US agricultural land by estimating the effect of the presumably random year-to-year variation in temperature and precipitation on agricultural profits. Using long-run climate change predictions from the Hadley-2 Model, the preferred estimates indicate that climate change will lead to a $1.1 billion (2002$) or 3.4% increase in annual profits. The 95% confidence interval ranges from -$1.8 billion to $4.0 billion and the impact is robust to a wide variety of specification checks, so large negative or positive effects are unlikely.
There is considerable heterogeneity in the effect across the country, with California's predicted impact equal to -$2.4 billion (or nearly 50% of state agricultural profits). Further, the analysis indicates that the predicted increases in temperature and precipitation will have virtually no effect on yields among the most important crops. These crop-yield findings suggest that the small effect on profits is not due to short-run price increases.
The paper also implements the hedonic approach that is predominant in
the previous literature. We conclude that this approach may be unreliable,
because it produces estimates of the effect of climate change that are
very sensitive to seemingly minor decisions about the appropriate control
variables, sample and weighting. Overall, the findings contradict the
popular view that climate change will have substantial negative welfare
consequences for the US agricultural sector.
The ugly head of the Kyoto Protocol is rearing again. Some in the U.S. Senate are trying to accomplish by statute what they know would not be approved by treaty.
The "Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change" was negotiated in December, 1997 at Kyoto, Japan. Despite his sidekick Al Gores frantic urging, President Clinton never submitted the treaty for ratification by the U.S. Senate. Nor has President Bush, who reportedly called it "a form of international fraud."
The Kyoto Protocol purportedly addresses global warming by limiting emissions of greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is among those and is produced by activities like generating much of our electricity, heating buildings and operating motor vehicles.
Most Kyoto signatories among the world's major economies are nowhere close to meeting their obligations to reduce emissions. Emerging giants China and India agreed to no controls. Russia has an especially favorable position from anomalies of the USSR's dissolution after the treaty's baseline year, 1990.
There is no dispute among scientists that Earth has gone through long periods with warming or cooling trends. That it may currently be in a warming trend is likely. Politicized science aside, it isn't clear that this is uniformly bad, nor is it established that human activity is more than a trivial contributor.
One thing is nearly certain, though: Kyoto compliance would have very bad economic consequences. Last summer, Bush wisely led the G8 nations to begin stepping away from this economic sabotage.
My interest in public policy began more than 30 years ago, advocating nuclear-electric generating plants. Nukes do not emit greenhouse gases. (In fact, they emit just about nothing.) Because Al Gore and his "environmentalist" fellow travelers are nuclear-power opponents almost without exception, I have always believed their support for things like Kyoto had little to do with global warming and much to do with another agenda.
With just a touch of cynicism, however, a nuclear power advocate, say, in Congress could support statutory limits on CO2 emissions, in part because extremists have made them popular but also with an eye to creating a greater sense of urgency for nuclear power plant construction.
Faustian Bargains like this are not strangers to lawmaking. For instance, I have been told that the Alaska delegation in Congress will support a special government for native Hawaiians in exchange for the Hawaii delegation's votes to approve oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I support drilling ANWR, but not at that insane, Balkanizing cost.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is leading the end run to Kyoto. He knows the Senate won't ratify the Kyoto treaty, so he chooses statutory limits on CO2 emissions.
But this is exactly opposite to the economic interests of our state,
whose public coffers now receive a billion dollars a year or more in taxes
and royalties from oil, natural gas and coal production. It is also a
near-certain step down the slippery slope to international economic disaster.
The Science & Environmental Policy Project
Dear Senators Domenici and Bingaman
We applaud your openness in calling for comments, but as active climate scientists we must oppose any plan to mandate restrictions on CO2 emissions, such as outlined in your White Paper of February 2006. Fearing economic damage, the Senate has already rejected three times any such attempt to impose a Kyoto-like scheme on the United States. Our opposition, however, is based on the underlying science.
We assert that the basis of the White Paper -- the statement of greenhouse-gas policy adopted by the Senate on June 22 in its version of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 -- is no longer in accord with recent results of the CCSP, the $2-billion-a-year federal program monitored by the National Academy of Sciences.
The two major Senate findings had been:
(1) Greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere are causing average
temperatures to rise at a rate outside the range of natural variability
While there has never been much doubt about the second finding, current scientific results do not support the first finding. Specifically, the observed patterns of warming do not match those predicted by theoretical greenhouse models.
It follows therefore that natural climate fluctuations dominate and that the anthropogenic greenhouse effect has been greatly exaggerated. Since the observational evidence does not validate existing climate models, there is little reason to trust model predictions of future Global Warming or to use them for policy decisions that can have severe impacts on the national economy.
The country - and indeed the world --face real and pressing problems: poverty, disease, terrorism. Compared to these, Global Warming is a minor problem. Most forms of mitigation therefore are dangerous diversions of scarce resources that should not be wasted.
We would appreciate the opportunity to furnish the details to you in testimony and provide an update and much-needed balance to the science testimony presented in your hearings of July 21, 2005.
[Our signatures and those of other signers are on file]
US Congress to Hold Hearings on International Chemical Treaties: Inside EPA reports a hearing scheduled for March 2, 2006 on legislation to implement three international treaties related to chemicals: The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the POPs Protocol to the UN Economic Commission for Europe's Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP), and the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC). The hearing, by the House Energy & Commerce Committees environment subcommittee, will focus on a bill introduced last year by the subcommittee's chairman, Paul Gilmor (R-OH), and a competing Democratic bill introduced last week by the subcommittee's ranking member, Hilda Solis (CA).
EU Gets Tougher on Mercury: A new draft resolution of the European Union (EU) Parliament's environment committee increases demands for curbs on mercury beyond those proposed in an EU strategy last year. The resolution adopted February 22 calls for the shutting down of all mercury-cell chlor-alkali manufacturing plants in the EU by 2010, consistent with a decision made under the Ospar convention. According to ENDS, Environment Daily, the committee declared waste mercury should not be put back into circulation and that industry should help finance mercury storage. The resolution also calls for a proposed EU ban on ! mercury exports to take effect in 2010, a year earlier than first planned. The resolution next goes to the parliament's plenary body for approval.
Three-Year Study of Environmental Toxins in Bald Eagles Launched: A research team headed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting a study of bald eagles to determine the levels of environmental toxins in their systems and to gain a better understanding of the overall health of America's national symbol, reports The Associated Press. The researchers are in the first year of a three-year project to test the livers of 15 eagles a year throughout the state of Maine. A lab will measure levels of PCBs, dioxins, pesticides such as DDT, plus mercury and other heavy metals. Contact: Todd Abel, (703) 741-5856.
Tap Water Purity Measures Up When Compared to Bottled Water: A
microbiologist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University
Center for Water and Health tells The New York Times that bottled water
is not necessarily safer than tap water and that he personally prefers
to drink water that has been processed as much as possible. "Reverse
osmosis, UV, chlorine, deionization? It all tastes good to me," said
Dr. Kellogg J. Schwab. His comments came after The Times submitted six
bottled waters and one sample of New York City tap water for laboratory
analysis. A bacteriological examination showed that six of the seven samples
came back with results well within the parameters defined by the Environmental
Protection Agency, and were labeled "good sanitary quality."
But one bottled spring water showed much higher levels of unspecified
bacteria and was labeled "substandard for drinking water" by
the analytical laboratory.
Associated Press, 18 January 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) New measurements show the ice in West Antarctica is thickening, reversing some earlier estimates that the sheet was melting. Scientists concerned about global warming have worried that higher temperatures could melt the massive ice sheet, causing a rise in sea levels worldwide.
But new flow measurements for the Ross ice streams, using special satellite-based radars, indicate that movement of some of the ice streams has slowed or halted, allowing the ice to thicken, according to a paper in the Jan. 18 issue of the journal Science.
If the thickening is not merely part of some short-term fluctuation, it represents a reversal of the long retreat of the ice, say researchers Ian Joughin of the California Institute of Technology and Slawek Tulaczyk of the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Their finding comes less than a week after a separate paper in Nature reported that Antarctica's harsh desert valleys - long considered a bellwether for global climate change - have grown noticeably cooler since the mid-1980s. Air temperatures recorded continuously over a 14-year period ending in 1999 declined by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the polar deserts and across the White Continent, that paper said.
The cooling defies a trend spanning more than 100 years in which average land surface temperatures have increased worldwide by about 1 degree Fahrenheit. The scientists said Antarctica is the only continent that is cooling. They can not say why.
In their paper, Joughin and Tulaczyk suggest the West Antarctic ice streams may be undergoing the same transition from shrinking to growing that appears to have occurred on a neighboring stream 150 years ago. The results, they add, suggest a reduced possibility of the feared massive collapse of the ice field.
"Perhaps, after 10,000 years of retreat from the ice-age maximum,
researchers turned on their instruments just in time to catch the stabilization
or re-advance of the ice sheet," Richard B. Alley of Pennsylvania
State University, wrote in a commentary accompanying the Science paper.
But he warned that coastal property owners should not become too optimistic
about the findings, since the instrumental record is short and coastal
ice streams have changed periodically over the centuries.
Antarctic Ice Sheets Are Growing
[...] The West Antarctic peninsula only covers one tenth of the South Pole's ice. There are rarely spectacular reports about the much larger parts of the continent. These do not provide a uniform scientific picture. In total, however, the ice masses of the continent, which hold about 70 per cent of the world's fresh water resources, seem to be growing. This conclusion was reported at the Earth Observation summit in Brussels in the middle of February by Antarctic researcher Duncan Wingham (University College London).
Wingham presented new satellite data which show that the Antarctic ice cover is getting thicker. "To claim that the ice sheets are melting is rather daring," Wingham said in an interview with Die Welt. Wingham presented radar measurements taken by the European satellites ERS-2 and Envisat, whose altimeter exactly measures elevations on the earth's surface down to two centimeters by means of electromagnetic wave pulses. This way, changes of the ice cover can be identified over many years. Soon, even more precise measurements will be possible once the European satellite CryoSat is going to be launched later in June.
Orbiting the Polar Regions, CryoSat will take exact measurements (at the millimeter level) for at least three years of the ice thicknesses on both the mainland and the sea at both poles. At a conference in Frascati next week, these operations are going to be prepared.
However, whether CryoSat's measurements will be able to clarify how the ice cover of the Antarctic (which is up to 4770 meters thick) will evolve in the future, remains questionable. Systematic climate research has been going on for some 30 years on the seventh continent - with contradictory findings: the climate of the Antarctic is complex.
A temperature rise over the western peninsula has coincided with a cooling
of the south part of the continent. And even in the west the ice cover
has been growing. Standard explanations claim that a slight warming will
lead to intensified snow which freezes. A global temperature rise could
possibly lead to the thickening of the Antarctic ice cover altogether.
In any case, the doomsday scenario of an Antarctic meltdown - and consequently
a rise in sea level of up to 60 meters - seems rather unrealistical.
(March 2) - For the first time, scientists have confirmed Earth is melting at both ends, which could have disastrous effects for coastal cities and villages.
Antarctica has been called "a slumbering giant" by a climate scientist who predicts that if all the ice melted, sea levels would rise by 200 feet. Other scientists believe that such a thing won't happen, but new studies show that the slumbering giant has started to stir.
Recent studies have confirmed that the North Pole and the South Pole have started melting. Experts have long predicted that global warming would start to melt Greenland's two-mile-thick ice sheet, but they also thought the more massive ice sheet covering Antarctica would increase in the 21st century.
It seems they were wrong.
Two new studies find that despite the increasing snowfall that comes with global warming as a result of the increased moisture in the air, Antarctica's ice sheets are losing far more than the snow is adding.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, Earth's surface temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last century, with accelerated warming during the last two decades. Most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities through the buildup of greenhouse gases - primarily carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. [SEPP comment: We disagree, but are simply reporting what ABC reports.] Although the heat-trapping property of these gases is undisputed, uncertainties exist about exactly how Earth's climate responds to them.
The melting rate of Greenland glaciers has doubled since 1996. "The warming ocean comes underneath the ice shelves and melts them from the bottom, and warmer air from the top melts them from the top," said NASA glaciologist Jay Zwally. "So they're thinning and eventually they get to a point where they go poof!"
Zwally explains that the ice shelves, which the Antarctic ice cap pushes out into the ocean, are responding more than expected to Earth's warming air and water. If the melting speeds up to a rapid runaway process called a "collapse," coastal cities and villages could be in danger. [That's not what he writes in scientific journals.]
James Hansen, director of NASA's Earth Science Research, said that disaster could probably be avoided, but that it would require dramatically cutting emission outputs. If the proper actions aren't taken, Hansen said, the sea level could rise as much as 80 feet by the time today's children reach middle age. [Wow!]
"We now must choose between a serious problem that we can probably
handle and, if we don't act soon, unmitigated disaster down the road,"