The Week That Was
September 25, 1999


Another attack on our April 20 article in Eos (Transactions of the American Geophysical Union) -- and our reply. Again, our message goes to 35,000 geophysicists.


The 1.5-cent per kilowatt-hour subsidy to green power in California is depleting the $75 million fund set up by the Legislature. The lower price lured customers, which grew from 40,000 a year ago to 100,000 today. The suppliers of green power are very upset, telling the San Jose Mercury News that its not the money they’re after but “making the world a more ecologically sound place to live” But for most people, green-power advocates admit, money is the issue.

By the way the $75 million is financed by customers of the major utilities and they are none too happy. Maybe that’s why the Legislature is balking at extending the credits.


At last, a clear statement why the precautionary principle (PP) is morally suspect. A letter to the editor of Nature criticizes the PP as an impediment to technological development. According to Soren Holm and John Harris of the University of Manchester, the PP cannot be valid because it gives more importance to evidence pointing in one direction than to evidence pointing in the opposite direction -- even in cases when the evidence on both sides has the same degree of believability. “The PP will block the development of any technology if there is the slightest theoretical possibility of harm. So it cannot be a valid rule for rational decisions.”

Well said. But who will listen?


With all the noise and commotion about GW, one would think that the issue is uppermost in everyone’s mind. Not so. GW is being blamed for every conceivable disaster: floods, droughts, heat waves, rising sea levels, a coming ice age and falling sea levels, disappearing glaciers, corals, and frogs; hurricanes and El Ninos; famine, pestilence and even wars (started by desperate environmental refugees).

Our former Secretary of State assured his audience in a Stanford speech that GW was the single greatest challenge facing the United States in the next century. You heard right. A new cold war, with China as the chief opponent? Nuclear missiles launched by rogue nations? Islamic fundamentalism? Terrorists releasing fearful new biological weapons? Cyber-warfare against the nation’s banks, air-traffic control systems, and other economic targets? No, it’s --- GLOBAL WARMING. But the scare tactics don’t seem to be working.

There have been a number of public opinion polls on the GW issue. Those commissioned by either green activists or industry have little credibility, but even polls commissioned by the news media and government agencies show little public support for the Kyoto Protocol or public concern about global warming. Environment/global warming just does not seem to be a voting issue.

Here's a summary of a few recent surveys:

In late 1997, a single-issue CNN poll showed that just 24 percent of Americans were concerned about global warming, down from 35 percent in 1989.

A New York Times poll released November 28, 1997 showed that, when asked to prioritize the issues, just 1 percent of Americans thought environmental issues were the most important problem facing the United States (most said crime). When asked to specifically address environmental concerns, just 7 percent said global warming, 48 percent said air and water pollution.

Following the ABC News-Peter Jennings segment "Global Warming: Al Gore and the Apocalypse," which aired April 11, 1998, the ABC News website posted the full transcript backed by additional material promoting the global warming theory. ABC then included a survey asking people how concerned they were about global warming and to indicate their choices about what should be done about it. Despite ABC's obvious promotion, two-thirds of those responding said the government should wait for more conclusive scientific evidence before moving ahead with any federal policies. This same number also refused to consider any personal sacrifices, either higher taxes or cutbacks in driving, heating/air-conditioning, etc.

Time magazine's website began conducting a poll on July 28, 1999 on the following question: “Do you think this summer's heat wave is the result of global warming?” As of September 11, the results were: Yes 31 percent; No 65 percent; Not sure 4 percent.

Beyond the U.S., a survey commissioned by Environment Canada (Canada's EPA) in June 1998, found that just 6 percent of Canadians felt that environment was the most important national issue. Canadians were more concerned with unemployment, national unity, and the economy. As with the NY Times survey, when Canadians were asked to focus solely on environmental issues, global warming came in near the bottom, after air and water pollution, clear-cutting, ozone depletion, and fisheries. We are hearing that public support for environmental issues, including global warming, is also taking a nose-dive in Europe.

So we are announcing a CONTEST. Why is the Administration hyping the subject? We solicit your suggestions and will publish the most original or outrageous ones.


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