The Week That Was
May 13, 2006

New on Web: Mark Steyn discourses about climate alarmism, Al Gore, and more.
Comedian Andy Borowitz continues in a lighter vein (Item #1)
Fretting about rising gasoline prices and wondering whom to blame? Wonder no more: It's Congress: the requirements for unneeded oxidants, the MTBE flap, "reformulated" gasoline, and anti-refinery legislation. Read

Ethanol? Don't count on it. Read the authoritative discussion of biofuels by John Deutch (Item#2):
And besides: A gallon of ethanol furnishes fewer BTUs (and less miles) than gasoline. But if we must have ethanol, let's do it sensibly (Item #3).

Holman Jenkins reports why gasoline will remain the dominant transportation fuel (Item #4):

Adding to woes of motorists: Regulation of hydrofluorocarbons looms in Europe -- and may be copied by California. Will CO2 keep us cool instead? (Item #5). Why not just make car airconditioners illegal in Cal? That'll teach them.

The market for the EU's carbon-emission permits collapses (Item #6). Might they be moving away from Kyoto soon? (Item #7).

Meanwhile, an old menace re-appears: "The curse of the mobile phone age: around your home there are countless gadgets whose electrical fields, scientists now warn, are linked to depression, miscarriage and cancer." Yes, and probably acne and bad breath too (Item#8). Read the full horror story

A closer look at hurricanes: Ocean temperatures are not the whole story (Item #9).
Worthwhile references on current issues of climate change:
and on Solar influences on climate
Finally, [science journalist (NY Times)] Andy Revkin's Third Law -- or is it Lament?
"For every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD"

1. Gore Offers Himself As Alternative To Hillary, Ambien
Former Veep Offers Voters Quality Sleep With No Side Effects

Contemplating a run for the White House in 2008, former Vice President Al Gore is positioning himself as an alternative to both Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and the sleeping pill Ambien, aides to Mr. Gore confirmed today.
With a growing number of Democrats concerned about the possible candidacy of Sen. Clinton and an increasing segment of the population worried about side effects from the popular sleeping pill, Mr. Gore's aides believe that their candidate is uniquely qualified to offer himself as an alternative to both.
"Al Gore can say, 'I am not Hillary, but I have the experience to be president,'" one Gore aide said. "Additionally, he can say, 'I am not Ambien, but I will put you to sleep.'"
In an effort to show that he is a safe, effective alternative to Ambien, the former vice president is touring the country with a documentary he made about global warming entitled "An Inconvenient Truth."
"Unlike Ambien, Al Gore is giving audiences hours of satisfying, restful sleep with no side effects," his aide said.
But according to pollster Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, Ambien may prove a tough opponent for Mr. Gore to beat.
"According to our polling, a race between Al Gore and Ambien is a dead heat, with Gore narrowly defeating Ambien," he said. "But the whole thing would wind up being thrown into the Supreme Court, where Ambien would defeat Gore."
Waste Someone's Time: Forward to a Friend:

2. Biomass Movement
JOHN DEUTCH , WSJ May 10, 2006

President Bush has made the welcome point that the U.S. needs "to move beyond a petroleum-based economy," and has lent his support to the need to develop energy from biomass, which refers to all bulk plant material. This is popular with the public and also enjoys significant support in Congress. Unfortunately, congressional subsidies for biomass are driven by farm-state politics rather than by a technology-development effort that might offer a practical liquid fuel alternative to oil. Meanwhile, major oil and chemical companies are evaluating biomass and investors are chasing biomass investment opportunities. But how much of this is practicable?

Biomass can be divided into two classes: food-crop and cellulosic. Natural enzymes can easily break down food-crop biomass such as corn to simple sugars, and ferment these sugars to ethanol. Cellulosic biomass -- which includes agricultural residues from food crops, wood and crops such as switch grass -- cannot easily be "digested" by natural enzymes.

Today, we use corn to produce ethanol in an automobile fuel known as "gasohol" -- 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. Generous federal and state subsidies, largely in the form of exemption from gasoline taxes for gasohol, explain the growth of its use; in 2005, over four billion gallons of ethanol were used in gasohol out of a total gasoline pool of 120 billion gallons. Politicians from corn-states and other proponents of renewable energy support this federal subsidy, but most energy experts believe using corn to make ethanol is not effective in the long run because the net amount of oil saved by gasohol use is minimal.

In the U.S., cultivation of corn is highly energy-intensive and a significant amount of oil and natural gas is used in growing, fertilizing and harvesting it. Moreover, there is a substantial energy requirement -- much of it supplied by diesel or natural gas -- for the fermentation and distillation process that converts corn to ethanol. These petroleum inputs must be subtracted when calculating the net amount of oil that is displaced by the use of ethanol in gasohol. While there is some quarreling among experts, it is clear that it takes two-thirds of a gallon of oil to make a gallon equivalent of ethanol from corn. Thus one gallon of ethanol used in gasohol displaces perhaps one-third of a gallon of oil or less.

A federal tax credit of 10 cents per gallon on gasohol, therefore, costs the taxpayer a hefty $120 per barrel of oil displaced cost. Surely it is worthwhile to look for cheaper ways to eliminate oil.
The economics are not the same in other countries. Brazil is a well-known example, where sugarcane grows in the tropical climate and conventional fermentation and distillation readily yields ethanol. Ethanol is said to provide 40% of automobile fuel in Brazil and compete with gasoline without government subsidy. Depending on the future world price of sugar and the lessening of trade restrictions on both sugar and sugar-derived ethanol, Brazil could become a net exporter of this biofuel.
* * *
The situation in the U.S. is quite different for cellulosic biomass, because much less petroleum is used in its cultivation. There are two paths to convert this material to liquid fuel. In the chemical approach the cellulosic feedstock is gasified with oxygen to produce synthesis gas -- a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This "syngas" can be converted by conventional chemical techniques into liquid fuel suitable for transportation use. The cost, although uncertain and dependent upon local production conditions, is in the range of $50 to $70 per barrel of oil, which explains why, until now, it has not attracted a great deal of attention.

The biotech approach, by contrast, seeks to produce new enzymes that will break down the difficult-to-digest cellulosic feedstock into simple sugars that can be fermented into ethanol or other liquid biofuels products. This approach merits genuine enthusiasm, especially as one can imagine engineering an organism to produce enzymes that (a) break down the cellulosic material, as well as (b) more efficiently ferment the sugars into ethanol. Realizing this exciting prospect will not be easy. Many hurdles must be overcome: Biotech experts need to assemble the gene "cassette" and the organisms, and talented engineers need to demonstrate a cost-effective process. Most importantly, an integrated bioengineering effort is required to develop a process that: reduces the harsh pretreatment required to dissolve the solid cellulosic feedstock; increases the concentration of ethanol that is tolerated by the enzymes; and achieves an efficient process to separate the ethanol from the product liquor.

Success will require a sustained research effort; it is too early to estimate the production costs of this method, because process conditions are unknown. However, the expected fossil energy inputs for cellulosic biomass will be much less than that of gasohol, because the energy cost for cultivation is less, and because the portion of the cellulosic material not converted to ethanol can be burned to provide process heat -- thus substantially lowering the implied cost of federal tax subsidies per barrel of oil displaced.

I will be astonished, but delighted, if the cost of ethanol or other biomass-derived chemicals proves to be less than $40 per barrel of its oil equivalent, and if large-scale production can be accomplished in six years.
* * *
Critics of biomass argue that the conversion of sunlight into plant material is "inefficient," and that impractically large amounts of land would be required to produce significant amounts of transportation fuel. Both arguments are overstated. We should be humble about calling natural photosynthesis "inefficient" -- especially since we clever chemists cannot accomplish any artificial photosynthesis in the lab. At present, artificial photosynthesis is not an option, but it is an important basic research goal.

As for the land required to support significant biofuel production from a dedicated energy crop, switch grass offers a basis for estimation. It grows rapidly, with an expected harvest one or two years after planting. Ignoring crop rotation, an acre under cultivation will produce five to 10 tons of switch grass annually, which in turn provides 50 to 100 gallons of ethanol per ton of biomass. Thus the land requirement needed to displace one million barrels of oil per day (about 10% of U.S. oil imports projected by 2025), is 25 million acres (or 39,000 square miles). This is roughly 3% of the crop, range and pasture land that the Department of Agriculture classifies as available in the U.S. I conclude that we can produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass sufficient to displace one to two million barrels of oil per day in the next couple of decades, but not much more. This is a significant contribution, but not a long-term solution to our oil problem.

Rising real prices of oil and natural gas reflect in part the progressive decline in low-cost reserves, and signal the wisdom of preparing now for a long transition from our petroleum-based economy. Almost certainly, future economies will exploit all possible technology options for replacing petroleum-based liquid fuels, especially technologies that do not produce net carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas. Biomass should, properly, be considered along with nuclear power and coal conversion with carbon capture and sequestration as important options for future energy supply.

Mr. Deutch, director of energy research and undersecretary of Energy in the Carter administration, and director of the CIA and deputy secretary of Defense in the first Clinton administration, is a professor of chemistry at MIT.

3. A Good Gas Idea

Arizona Congressman John Shadegg is the first politician of note to propose a good idea in response to increased energy costs: the suspension of outrageously high tariffs on imported ethanol, says the Wall Street Journal.

The intent is to offset some of the gas price hikes that Congress has caused via the ethanol mandate it passed last year. That requirement -- that drivers use 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol annually by 2012 -- is currently helping to increase the cost of gas, since ethanol is in short supply.
Compounding the problem are the taxes and tariffs placed on ethanol imports, including:
o A 2.5 percent tariff on imported ethanol.
o A second duty of 54-cents-a-gallon placed on all ethanol.

Shadegg's bill would suspend the taxes on imported ethanol until 2007. Not only would this result in a new flow of ethanol in a tight market, it would give the gas industry time to prepare its infrastructure to handle new domestic ethanol requirements, explains the Journal.

One irony of the current gas panic is that big oil companies are being pilloried for their profits, but domestic ethanol producers get a pass. Yet the ethanol makers receive more government subsidies and are responsible for far more of the current gasoline price spike. Congress doesn't have to bash ethanol makers; all it has to do is allow more foreign supply, which will do more to reduce gasoline prices more quickly than any other single idea, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "A Good Gas Idea," Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2006

4. On Gasoline, Voters Get the Politicians They Deserve
Holman Jenkins, WSJ May 10, 2006;

Few are the subjects on which you can exhibit in public an abject, sub-protozoan stupidity without fear of damage to your reputation. Gasoline is surely a miracle commodity. Yet it should be bracing for politicians, the American people and the press that the only sensible opinion they're hearing on $3 gasoline is coming from a reviled, overpaid energy executive, namely Exxon's Rex Tillerson.
No, he explained to NBC's Matt Lauer, the company won't voluntarily surrender its profits to make Americans feel better about rising fuel prices. He works for stockholders. "We're in business to make money."

Yes, he tells audience after audience, the world will depend on hydrocarbons as a primary energy source for decades to come. "It is true that the age of 'easy oil' is over. What many fail to realize is that it has been over for decades. Our industry constantly operates at the edge of technical possibility, constantly developing and applying new technologies to make those possibilities a reality," he told a group in Washington last week.

Doubters might consult a new book by energy economist Mark Jaccard, entitled "Sustainable Fossil Fuels," winner of Canada's Donner Prize. He argues that hydrocarbons, in the form of oil, gas and coal, exist in such abundance, the challenge of technology is how to burn them more cleanly, not how to survive without them.

The closest Mr. Tillerson comes to a prediction is that, with all these fossil hydrocarbons in stock, technology will allow the world to consume a growing, rather than shrinking, volume of fuel at a price users are willing to pay. This puts him at odds with the "peak oil" theorists, but rests on the defensible proposition that the future will be much like the past. What the future price will be, Mr. Tillerson doesn't vouchsafe. Exxon is sticking to its corporate discipline of investing in oil projects only if they'll pay an adequate return at an oil price much lower than today's. And since the company handsomely leads its peers on return on capital, its analysis of industry economics must be pretty good.
Politicians, in contrast, have made themselves conspicuous by rushing to propose "solutions" to $3 gas that are absurd if not deliberately conceived to cause harm. President Bush would force Americans to save gasoline by mandating higher fuel efficiency for auto makers, never mind that any American who cares to save money on gas already has plenty of high-mileage vehicles to choose from. But if Americans were entitled to choose comfort, convenience and safety over fuel economy when gas was $2, why not when gas is $3? Don't ask, because there's no sensible answer.
Floating through all this is an inexplicable, indefensible assumption that gasoline consumption is a sin (or "addiction"), and penance is in order. To the question of how much gasoline Americans should consume, the answer is always intransitively "less." And unmentionable in front of the children is any notion of simply letting the price be the guide to how much gas we use, though the price mechanism has served humanity well enough for several millennia.

To raise the most discordant question of all: Why is $3 gasoline a "crisis" anyway? The fluctuations of gasoline are in line with normal experience, which is that commodity prices are volatile. The price chart for gasoline over any number of years doesn't look much different from the price chart for corn, aluminum, orange juice, etc.

An even better question right now is: How can the forces that require Mr. Tillerson not to speak idiocy on the subject of gas prices be harnessed to our political culture, where the opposite incentive is sadly evident?

Look to a non-phony crisis, that of the welfare state. With their usual dourness, the Social Security and Medicare trustees came out with their annual report last week, and no demographic and fiscal miracles have transpired since last year. These programs would have to consume three-quarters of all projected federal taxes by 2040, up from 40% today, to keep their promises to beneficiaries.
One way or another, future Americans will be saving for their own retirement, rather than continuing to pass the bill to the younger person to their left. This is not as big a financial change as it might seem: There was never anybody to pick up the bill but ourselves. What will change is behavioral incentives -- to plan, to adjust individual consumption and savings to take account of the future. Savings foster growth. Taxes (the current way of financing retirement) retard and discourage growth. In 1992, the median retiree over 70 had just $8,659 in financial assets -- less than if he had put away $1.70 a week during his working life.

Mr. Tillerson has the stock market looking over his shoulder at every moment, forcing him to adopt the intensive realism that usually prevails when people have their own money on the line. When Americans finally must look daily to the stock market rather than the government as guardian of their retirement, their appetite for fantasies and demagoguery on bread-and-butter issues like gas prices will decline too. The single biggest advance for self-government since the invention of literacy will be liberating voters from the infantilizing illusion that somebody else can provide for their old age.
Let's face it, our politicians aren't as stupid as they strive to appear. They talk to us as if we're idiots because we've shown them we want to be talked to like idiots. When we change, they will change.

5. Automotive AC Makers Are Sweating
By Peter Fairley, May 08, 2006

Automotive equipment maker Delphi will opt for this trial-tested carbon dioxide air-conditioning system, if more experimental hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants don't pan out. (Photo courtesy of Delphi.)

In the 1990s, air conditioning suppliers switched from the chlorofluorocarbon Freon to an equally troublesome hydrofluorocarbon called R-134a; while easy on the ozone, R-134a is a greenhouse gas that's 1,300 times more potent than CO2.

The impact has been most acute in automotive applications, where refrigerants often leak out. Indeed, by 2010, such leakage will contribute more than 4 percent of the total climate change impact from motor vehicles. Add in the extra fuel consumption to run the AC, and AC's share rises to 7 percent.

Little surprise, then, that the European Union decided this January 31 to begin phasing out the use of R-134a in new-model cars beginning in 2011, and that regulators in California are preparing to follow suit. Until this spring, the most likely replacement looked to be novel high-pressure systems employing, ironically, CO2 as the refrigerant. Behr GmbH -- Europe's leading AC supplier for cars -- announced last month that they would begin selling CO2-based systems ahead of the EU's 2011 deadline.

But Behr's competitors, such as Troy, MI-based Delphi and Germany's Robert Bosch GmbH, have been backing away from CO2 since February, when DuPont and Honeywell unveiled new hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants that may be clean enough to squeak by the regulators. According to the chemical companies, the new kinds of hydrofluorocarbons are no more than 150 more potent as greenhouse gases than CO2 -- the limit set by the EU for auto refrigerants after 2011. What's more, these refrigerants can be dropped into existing AC equipment. "The prospect of having a new drop-in refrigerant that would satisfy the 2011 legislation is incredible -- it's enormous," says Stefan Glober, director of engineering for Delphi's thermal and interior division.

Many questions remain for both options, however. The new hydrofluorocarbon-based refrigerants offered by DuPont and Honeywell must complete a host of long-term tests, including for the stability of the compounds under heavy use and for toxicity. That could take at least three years. And it's unknown how much the new refrigerants will cost to manufacture. This means that AC manufacturers must also continue to develop their new CO2 systems. "These alternatives have appeared relatively late. That's the dilemma we're in right now," says Glober.

The CO2 systems have their own hurdles. One is detecting leaks: cheap, effective CO2 sensors don't exist yet. Another is cost. And it's here that Behr and its competitors part ways. Glober says the industry consensus is that the first CO2 systems will sell for €150-200 more than conventional AC systems, doubling their costs. Behr, in contrast, says it will be able to keep down the added cost to less than €100 in the first-generation system and half that by 2015 -- sums that the firm predicts will be justified by higher performance.

6. Volatility the only certainty in EU carbon market
Datamonitor , May 08, 2006 News Provided By

Carbon prices crashed in late April after it emerged that five EU states had emitted less carbon in 2005 than they had been allocated under the EU emissions trading scheme. Still in its infancy, the only certainty for Europe's fledgling carbon market is that short-term price volatility will continue, as Datamonitor's Paul Stewart explains...

EU carbon credits collapsed from record highs of over E30 to around E11 per metric tonne in just one week after the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, the Netherlands and Sweden all reported lower than anticipated emissions in 2005.

The EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS) is the key mechanism with which Brussels intends to get Europe on track to meet its Kyoto target. The extreme price volatility witnessed in April 2006 has, however, prompted a skeptical review of the robustness of the original phase-I emission quotas, raising concerns that countries over-allocated in their national allocation plans for the period 2005 to 2007.

In reality, the market has reacted violently to a limited amount of data with only 28% of the total volume included in the scheme having verified against actual 2005 emission levels. The trigger for massive carbon price losses was the fact that countries such as the Czech Republic, France and the Netherlands had emitted far less than traders had anticipated. Conversely, news that Spain had emitted 10 million tonnes more than it had been allocated also failed to stem heavy losses purely because the market had expected a larger deficit from one of Europe's fastest-growing energy consumers.

The European Commission (EC) is rightly concerned that large price swings can undermine the effectiveness of the scheme in financing carbon abatement investment - reportedly emailing all member states to request they withhold their verified emissions data until a complete 25-country assessment is released on May 15, 2006. On this date the market will also see the 2005 emissions of Germany, Italy and the UK, who combined account for around 44% of the EU's ETS quota.
German emissions will be the key fundamental market driver in the short-term. The largest emitter in Europe and reliant on coal-fired output for half its electricity generation, Germany has just emerged from its coldest winter in two decades. Anecdotal rumors that German firms may still have a surplus of 2005 credits would not only depress the market further, but also undermine those who argue the mechanism is delivering genuine emissions savings.

In the short-term, Europe's carbon market remains an immature and volatile trading environment with traders inconsistently shifting their focus from fuel market fundamentals to regulatory drivers. Longer-term, however, the EU-ETS must be in deficit if Europe is to meet its collective UN-mandated Kyoto target. Ultimately, a potential excess of allowances in phase I will only heighten pressure on the EC to be more stringent with its phase II allocations.

7. Getting Warmer: Europe Considers Move Away From Kyoto?
By Hans H.J. Labohm| 11 May 2006

True, it needs close reading; and true, it comes from an obscure and mostly powerless institution. But it's possible to detect subtle shifts in the EU's position on the Kyoto Protocol.

In an 'Opinion' of 28 April 2006, on the effects of international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the industrial change processes in Europe, the European Economic and Social Committee timidly opens the door for an overhaul of Europe's climate policy, especially its CO2 emission trading system.

The opening sentence is still funny: "Climate change is a unique problem that humanity has never before encountered in modern times." I always figured that climate change is of all times. It is the norm, not the exception. And mankind has coped with it pretty successfully so far.
But then the 'Opinion' becomes more serious:

"Further policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must take into account all the economic parameters. If not, those states which have ratified the Kyoto protocol run the risk of having some of their manufacturing move to developed economies which are still hesitating to sign the protocol or to developing countries which are not yet subject to any quota obligations under it. This could result in economic losses and weakened competitiveness, without producing the desired global reduction in emissions."

So true. One can only wonder why nobody thought of it before.

And then another pinch of realism:
"There also needs to be a realistic assessment of the will of the Member States of the EU itself to achieve far more ambitious goals of obligatory emissions reductions after 2012 with a view to the Lisbon Strategy and the results so far of measures adopted and implemented."

Surprise, surprise! Is this the beginning of the recognition that there is a gap between the greenhouse gas reduction rhetoric of EU member countries and actual results?

It also seems that the EU has finally woken up to the outcome of the G-8 Gleneagles Summit and the Montreal Climate Conference. There it became clear that the major economic powers in the world were not willing to follow the EU's climate policy of cap-and-trade. Nevertheless, the 'Opinion' still makes an obligatory reference to "future negotiations":

"These negotiations must lead in the future to an acceptable way of continuing the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions after 2012 - one that involves all the economically developed countries and the prime producers of emissions in the developing countries as a whole and especially those where development is rapid."

But subsequently reality sets in:
"Failing this, it will have to be accepted that in 2012 the Kyoto Protocol in its present form will only cover a quarter of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. As it stands now, the Protocol cannot be an effective instrument for addressing the question of global climate in the future and an approach will have to be sought which can seamlessly follow on from it. This must, however, include a rethink [!] of instruments for reducing greenhouse gases, including the EU ETS, both in terms of their real impact on the global volume of greenhouse gas emissions and their cost effectiveness and administrative burden. Steps should be taken immediately to compare the proposals and plans of various groups of countries for long-term reductions in greenhouse gases so that the right decisions can be taken in time. The global community must be involved in solving global problems by political means. It has to be openly admitted, however, that such involvement is not necessarily in the interest of all the big polluters and that, because of their size and geographical location (USA, China), they prefer a unilateral approach. If there is political failure, the EU's continued leading role in climate change issues could weaken the ability to adapt without having any tangible effect on climate change itself."

Again, so true! Again, why did nobody think of it before?

And finally another surprise. How often have we heard "the science is settled" and "all scientists agree"? Apparently the EESC is not so sure any more, because it concludes:
"These problems cannot be solved without a far better understanding of both the causes of the phenomenon and the possibilities of reducing the man-made influences involved. Only adequate investment in science and research, monitoring and systematic observation will enable the necessary acceleration in scientific understanding of the real causes of climate change."
The "real causes of climate change"? And we have always been told that .....? Oh my gosh! Is this the beginning of the end?
The author, an international economist, is a TCS contributing writer living in Europe.
Comments by Alister McFarquhar:

More likely the steep fall in price of carbon credits, from a peak of €31 to 11 and maybe soon to zero, means no more money in the Kyoto Scam. Much more gain in the huge subsidies for Wind farms and construction of a Grid for Europe.

The big Energy Companies[BEC] cannot jump on this bandwagon quick enough. And Climate Alarmists think BECs are financing climate sceptics. Why do they get everything so wrong?

Meanwhile, Eurobusiness is finding it hard to compete in a global market. Since cheap energy facilitates growth, punitive fuel taxes in Europe may be the last straw.

But global competitors need not worry. This will take decades to percolate down the layers of Eco-Freak bureaucracy dominant in EU, National, Regional and Local government -- never mind the caring, moralizing Media.

8. Electronic smog?
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor, The Independent (London)
Published: 07 May 2006

Invisible "smog", created by the electricity that powers our civilisation, is giving children cancer, causing miscarriages and suicides, and making some people allergic to modern life, new scientific evidence reveals.

The evidence - which is being taken seriously by national and international bodies and authorities - suggests that almost everyone is being exposed to a new form of pollution with countless sources in daily use in every home.

Two official Department of Health reports on the smog are to be presented to ministers next month, and the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has recently held the first meeting of an expert group charged with developing advice to the public on the threat.

The UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) calls the electronic smog "one of the most common and fastest growing environmental influences" and stresses that it "takes seriously" concerns about the health effects. It adds that "everyone in the world" is exposed to it and that "levels will continue to increase as technology advances".

Wiring creates electrical fields, one component of the smog, even when nothing is turned on. And all electrical equipment - from TVs to toasters - give off another one, magnetic fields. The fields rapidly decrease with distance but appliances such as hair dryers and electric shavers, used close to the head, can give high exposures. Electric blankets and clock radios near to beds produce even higher doses because people are exposed to them for many hours while sleeping.

Radio frequency fields - yet another component - are emitted by microwave ovens, TV and radio transmitters, mobile phone masts and phones themselves, also used close to the head.

The WHO says that the smog could interfere with the tiny natural electrical currents that help to drive the human body. Nerves relay signals by transmitting electric impulses, for example, while the use of electrocardiograms testify to the electrical activity of the heart.

Campaigners have long been worried about exposure to fields from lines carried by electric pylons but, until recently, their concerns were dismissed, even ridiculed, by the authorities.

But last year a study by the official National Radiological Protection Board concluded that children living close to the lines are more likely to get leukaemia, and ministers are considering whether to stop any more homes being built near them. The discovery is causing a large-scale reappraisal of the hazards of the smog.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer - part of the WHO and the leading international organisation on the disease - classes the smog as a "possible human carcinogen". And Professor David Carpenter, dean of the School of Public Health at the State University of New York, told The Independent on Sunday last week that it was likely to cause up to 30 per cent of all childhood cancers. A report by the California Health Department concludes that it is also likely to cause adult leukaemia, brain cancers and possibly breast cancer and could be responsible for a 10th of all miscarriages.

Professor Denis Henshaw, professor of human radiation effects at Bristol University, says that "a huge and substantive body of evidence indicates a range of adverse health effects". He estimates that the smog causes some 9,000 cases of depression.

Perhaps strangest of all, there is increasing evidence that the smog causes some people to become allergic to electricity, leading to nausea, pain, dizziness, depression and difficulties in sleeping and concentrating when they use electrical appliances or go near mobile phone masts. Some are so badly affected that they have to change their lifestyles.

While not yet certain how it is caused, both the WHO and the HPA accept that the condition exists, and the UN body estimates that up to three in every 100 people are affected by it.

9. New Study Questions Linkage Between Major Hurricanes And Global Warming
AScribe Newswire, 9 May 2006

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., May 9 (AScribe Newswire) -- New research calls into question the linkage between major Atlantic hurricanes and global warming. That is one of the conclusions from a University of Virginia study to appear in the May 10, 2006 issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

In recent years, a large number of severe Atlantic hurricanes have fueled a debate as to whether global warming is responsible. Because high sea-surface temperatures fuel tropical cyclones, this linkage seems logical. In fact, within the past year, several hurricane researchers have correlated basin-wide warming trends with increasing hurricane severity and have implicated a greenhouse-warming cause.

But unlike these prior studies, the U.Va. climatologists specifically examined water temperatures along the path of each storm, providing a more precise picture of the tropical environment involved in each hurricane's development. They found that increasing water temperatures can account for only about half of the increase in strong hurricanes over the past 25 years; therefore the remaining storminess increase must be related to other factors.

"It is too simplistic to only implicate sea surface temperatures in the dramatic increase in the number of major hurricanes," said lead author Patrick Michaels, U.Va. professor of environmental sciences and director of the Virginia Climatology Office.

For a storm to reach the status of a major hurricane, a very specific set of atmospheric conditions must be met within the region of the storm's development, and only one of these factors is sufficiently high sea-surface temperatures. The authors found that the ultimate strength of a hurricane is not directly linked to the underlying water temperatures. Instead, they found that a temperature threshold, 89 degrees Fahrenheit, must be crossed before a weak tropical cyclone has the potential to become a monster hurricane. Once the threshold is crossed, water temperature is no longer an important factor. "At that point, other factors take over, such as the vertical wind profile, and atmospheric temperature and moisture gradients," Michaels said.

While there has been extensive recent discussion about whether or not human-induced global warming is currently playing a role in the increased frequency and intensity of Atlantic hurricanes, Michaels downplays this impact, at least for the current climate.
"The projected impacts of global warming on Atlantic hurricanes are minor compared with the major changes that we have observed over the past couple of years," Michaels said. He points instead to naturally varying components of the tropical environment as being the primary reason for the recent enhanced activity.

"Some aspects of the tropical environment have evolved much differently than they were expected to under the assumption that only increasing greenhouse gases were involved. This leads me to believe that natural oscillations have also been responsible for what we have seen," Michaels said.

But what if sea-surface temperatures continue to rise into the future, if the world continues to warm from an enhancing greenhouse effect? "In the future we may expect to see more major hurricanes," Michaels said, "but we don't expect the ones that do form to be any stronger than the ones that we have seen in the past."

Whereas there is a significant relationship between overall sea-surface temperature (SST) and tropical cyclone intensity, the relationship is much less clear in the upper range of SST normally associated with these storms. There, we find a step-like, rather than a continuous, influence of SST on cyclone strength, suggesting that there exists a SST threshold that must be exceeded before tropical cyclones develop into major hurricanes. Further, we show that the SST influence varies markedly over time, thereby indicating that other aspects of the tropical environment are also critically important for tropical cyclone intensification. These findings highlight the complex nature of hurricane development and weaken the notion of a simple cause-and-effect relationship between rising SST and stronger Atlantic hurricanes.

Reference: Michaels, P. J., P. C. Knappenberger, and R. E. Davis, 2006. Sea-surface temperatures and tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin. Geophysical Research Letters, 33, doi:10.1029/2006GL025757.



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