The Week That Was
September 18, 1999


The first of the critical comments on our EOS article of April 20 has now appeared. It is somewhat long-winded but easily countered. Our Reply (August 17) also gives us another opportunity to carry the message to 35,000-plus geophysicists.


Recently we spoke about the environmental fund administered by UNEP. The World Bank's Global Environmental Facility (GEF) also has an aid program, for which the Administration has requested $143 million for FY2000. The Senate draft appropriation provides only $25 million to the GEF, and the House may reduce the sum further. Jim Sheehan and Paul Georgia, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, call the GEF a "giant protection racket in which environmental activists shake down the World Bank in exchange for their silence and even their support." As a result, the Greenies have ended their campaign to abolish the World Bank, whose projects they consider to be Earth-unfriendly. Instead, the Green NGOs lobby Congress for GEF funding and the GEF picks NGOs as the "Executive Agencies" or "Collaborative Organizations" to run the programs for restricting energy and land use in poor countries. As Sheehan and Georgia report, to date at least $390 million of GEF funds have been channeled through the NGOs on the receiving end of this green pork. Funding of the GEF also allows the Administration to claim that developing countries are participating in implementing the Kyoto Protocol---by accepting money from the American taxpayer.

Sheehan and Georgia report that China was recently awarded $420 million to provide its people with affordable air conditioners, with Beijing claiming it will need $860 million to complete the job. Chinese bureaucrats, NGOs, and a bevy of consultants will teach hundreds of millions of poverty-stricken Chinese how to buy expensive substitutes for Freons. But will they? If you believe that, the tooth fairy will bring you a nice present.
[See also India]


Resources for the Future, considered by some an environmentally oriented think-tank, has just published a book critical of the EPA. "Science at EPA: Information in the Regulatory Process" by Mark Powell presents eight case studies to demonstrate how science fits into EPA's policy decisions. It fits rather poorly; EPA is not science-oriented, and its decisions are the result of a mix of legal and political factors, with economics playing a quite subsidiary role. It is surprising to learn that EPA commands only 15% of the federal environmental research budget and is far outspent by NASA, the Dept of Energy, and the Department of Defense. More telling perhaps, the research portion of EPA's budget is only about 8%.

What to do about it? Don't follow Powell's recommendation to double EPA's science budget; we think it should be zeroed out. You may agree. We will bring you the full story soon.


It's a big mystery why scientific journals publish rather trivial results as big news. A case in point: The Sept 10 issue of Science features a paper claiming much and delivering little. [R. McKenzie et al. Increased Summertime UV Radiation in New Zealand in Response to Ozone Loss. Science, 285, 1709-1711, 1999]. There are three things wrong here:
First, they claim "strong evidence of human-induced increases in UV radiation" but present NONE. They simply measure a decreasing trend in total ozone at one location in New Zealand. But they don't explain why satellite measurements in the same latitude band show NO decreasing trend after 1991 [see Fig 4.16, p.4-27 of the latest (1999) WMO "Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion"]. Finally, they claim an increasing trend of UV from 1979 to 1999. But a close reading of their paper shows how that's done: By careful selection of data and by means of a circular argument. They only use noon data in summer months on cloud-free days "when UV radiation was a maximum value" and reject all others. In other words, they eliminate all possibilities of UV absorption except ozone. But they measure ozone by detecting UV absorption, "both derived from the [same] UV spectroradiometer." No wonder then that they see this beautiful inverse relation between total ozone and surface UV.


Environmental "illnesses" are often based on mass hysteria writes Dr. Glen Swogger Jr. former director of the Menninger Center in Topeka, Kansas, and an advisor to the American Council on Science and Health. His article gives many recent examples, mostly affecting young girls. But mass hysteria is not rare nor is it new. It occurred in ancient Greece, Rome and the Orient, and was often reported in the Middle Ages. A recent example of environmental phobia occurred in June 1999 when more than a hundred Belgian school children became ill after drinking Coca-Cola. The July 3, 1999 issue of The Lancet reports that "mass sociogenic illness" sparked by the dioxin uproar is the likeliest explanation. An advisory panel of Belgian physicians explains it as a "mass psychosomatic reaction."

Mass murder in Colorado. A rural electric company was fined $100,000 when a federal judge held it criminally responsible of the electrocution of 17 protected eagles, hawks, and owls. As reported in the Denver Post, the birds were electrocuted when their outstretched wings touched high-voltage power lines. The Moon Lake Electric Association, a cooperative based in Utah, agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor violations of federal laws that protect predatory birds. The federal prosecutor in Denver was quite upbeat about the conviction. We wonder though when he will go after the wind-power companies, which operate the "cuisinards of the air" that are chopping up protected birds into little pieces.

And now for the latest on the disappearance of frogs: The New Scientist reports that mosquito fish, introduced to eat disease-carrying mosquito larvae, have developed a taste for - you guessed it - tadpoles. This maybe the leading cause for the disappearance of amphibians round the world, they speculate.


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