The Week That Was
May 11-17, 1998

It's getting to where you can't tell the players without a program. Big corporations (foreign-based British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, and Toyota, plus several U.S. firms) have lined up behind former State Department official Eileen Claussen and her $5 million "war chest" to promote global warming. Green activist groups are finding that old line about industry conspiracies a tougher and tougher sell, especially since Claussen's war chest was donated by Pew Charitable Trusts, solidly founded on Sun Oil profits.

Most of these corporations are counting on solar/wind subsidies and carbon-trading schemes to keep them in the black, and U.S. firms especially are going to need it. In Europe and Australia, fortuitous events will enable local companies to largely avoid emissions restrictions like those imposed on the United States. In the early 1990s, the Germans' shutting down the ancient and inefficient energy facilities in East Germany, and the Brits' phaseout of local coal in favor of natural gas have already produced large cuts in CO2 emissions for the two nations. As several pundits have noted, Germany and Britain would be less enamored of the Kyoto Accord if the base year for emissions were changed from 1990 to 1997.

Australia cut a deal which allows it to increase CO2 emissions by 8 percent over 1990 levels by the year 2012. Australian politicians shake their heads and say compliance is going to be tough, but, as they are certainly aware, massive clearing of land in Australia accounted for one-quarter of greenhouse emissions in 1990. Now that this clearing has been curtailed, Australian industry has effectively been handed a credit, allowing it to increase emissions 25 percent by 2012. In other words, the Australians can ignore the Kyoto Accord, at least for the next 15 years.

In the heartland of the former Soviet Union, officials with the Russian Higher School of Economics estimate that Russia could earn $3-$10 billion a year by selling its emission rights to the United States and other OECD nations. The Russians have already demonstrated that the easy way to reduce energy use is to collapse your economy. (Of course, that also works the other way around. )

Foratom, the European nuclear industry trade association, is hoping to score a few points by boosting the global-warming friendliness of emission-free atomic energy. Nuclear is a good idea, global warming or no, and has been gaining ground in Europe. Belgium now gets 60 percent of its electricity from nuclear power; France 70 percent. Overall, nuclear accounts for nearly a third of European electric power, compared to about 20 percent in the United States. In spite of pressure from Green politicians, the Europeans seem to know something the Americans don't.

In the U.S., Greens shudder at the thought of anything but windpower, solar power, biomass, etc., prompting "renewable" energy industrialists into shameless displays of self-interested lobbying. Beginning with their recent "Sun" Day campaign, these CEOs have begun pressuring the White House Task Force on Climate Change to immediately send its curiously named "sustainable energy tax package" to Capitol Hill for approval. But get this straight: the tax is not on "sustainable" energy. It's on U.S. taxpayers, those greedy consumers of cheap energy. Anxious to tilt the playing field before any more of them go bankrupt, the sustainable energy guys also want a bigger chunk of the $6.3 billion global warming set-aside, already in the Clinton budget.

To put it delicately, renewables are not universally loved, however, which brings to mind the Danish wind turbine industry. Last week, the English-language version of the Danish television production, "The Earth at Stake," a promotion of Danish wind power, thinly disguised as an attack on the Leipzig Declaration and The Science & Environmental Policy Project, was playing in Australia on public access SBS-TV. We thought something was up when Aussie visits to our web site suddenly tripled. (A "thank you" to our colleague down under for clueing us in, and to Danish TV for the publicity.)

The Danish propeller folks have been on the dole to the Danish government for 15 years and, despite notable advances in wind turbine technology, are not exactly a shining example of what works. An item in the April issue of Vann & Energi (Water & Energy), a publication of the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Administration (NVE), underscores this point. Having sent a delegation to Denmark to study the wind energy experience, the NVE concluded in its report that it was energy "dearly bought."

The Danish windpower initiative, according to the NVE, has suffered from "inadequate controls" and "massive and unrestrained funding," leading to "serious environmental effects, insufficient energy production, high production costs," and to wind installations built at insufficiently windy locations. For Danish taxpayers, the main result of their windpower "investment" was simply the founding "of an industry producing windmills." Not surprisingly, Danish planning and energy authorities warned the Norwegians to "take strong state control" before embarking on their own venture into windpower.

Meanwhile, grousing of another sort about windpower, this time from Britain's Prince Philip, who thinks the eyesore effect is a somewhat of a drawback. In Darwin, Australia, last month to address a conference of the Royal Agriculture Society of the Commonwealth, he was urged to publicly endorse renewables by the director of an energy advocacy group, but proved, shall we say, a less than ideal advertisement.

"For some reason our authorities in the UK think [windmills] become invisible if painted white," grumbled Prince Philip, adding that "they do inevitably get put where they are very visible." He also scoffed at efforts to generate electricity from sea waves. "The problem with wave power is that a lot of those people who are doing work on it have never been to the sea and have not the slightest idea what the sea can do. It's a great deal more powerful than most scientists imagine." The energy activist probably wished he hadn't asked.

In Vermont and Minnesota, state legislators in the throes of druidic fervor are pushing ahead with their own carbon taxes of $50 to $100 a ton, vowing to do their part to lick global warming, even if China won't. We suppose this is the kind of rapture that prompted the 13th century Children's Crusade, although here the promoters also promise a miracle. Rather than be seen as opportunistically grabbing at any excuse to raise taxes, they promise to lower other taxes, like income and property taxes, commensurately. We can imagine their hands shaking when they vote on that one.

Finally, will the real Sir Robert May please stand up? Last week we identified Sir Robert, the UK's chief scientific adviser, as a zoologist, having seen him so described in a recent publication. Several colleagues, however, took issue with that, claiming variously that he was a population biologist, mathematical ecologist, or a plasma physicist. Given May's views on global warming, physicist would be the toughest to swallow. Sheesh.

Next week an update of Clinton Administration attempts to downplay the Oregon Petition Project.

This issue of TW^2 was compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall

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