|The Week That Was
April 17, 2004
1. New on the Web: Prospect,
the house journal of Blairism in the UK, has just published a ringing
defense of science against those who want to "democratize" it
(the idea of 'stakeholders' having say over any policy that affects them
is prevalent in the UK). In fact, THE ARTICLE IS A WELL-DESERVED CHARGE
AGAINST THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE.
2. IS AIR POLLUTION A PUBLIC HEALTH HAZARD TODAY?
3. EMISSION CUTS ARE RISKING BRITISH JOBS'
4. OECD COUNTRIES NOT MEETING GREENHOUSE GOALS
5. MORE ON THE GLOBAL WARMING HORROR FILM
6. AL GORE - STILL ALIVE AND KICKING: Tackles Climate Threats and
Admits He Didn't Vote For Bush
7. GORE LEGACY PERSISTS: GLOBAL WARMING WORSE THAN TERRORISM?
8. MARK TWAIN ON GLOBAL WARMING
2. Is Air Pollution a Public Health Hazard Today?
Ross McKitrick, Financial Post (Toronto), February 5, 2004
In a speech last week to the newly formed Health Council of Canada, Roy
Romanow urged an examination of the factors behind Canadians' health problems,
such as air pollution. It is understandable that he connects air quality
For years, we have heard from activists, academics and health boards
that thousands of people drop dead each year from air pollution. In 2000
the Ontario Medical Association estimated that more than 1,900 Ontarians
die annually from air pollution, making it a "public health crisis."
The same year, the Toronto Board of Health attributed 1,000 deaths in
the city to bad air quality. Last year Senator Colin Kenny wrote in The
Hill Times that air pollution from cars kills twice as many people as
traffic accidents. The David Suzuki Foundation claims that 16,000 deaths
-- about one out of every 15 -- in Canada are attributable to air pollution.
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency puts out comparable numbers,
scaled up ten-fold, to estimate the death toll from air pollution. These
numbers in turn motivate ever-tightening restrictions on air emissions,
including, here in Ontario, a precipitous scheme to shut down the province's
coal-fired power plants.
When pressed for a reason why such an ill-advised policy would be pursued,
at a time when Ontarians already face a serious and growing shortage of
generating capacity, the answer always comes back: Because air pollution
is killing thousands of people. Since blackouts and high energy prices
can, themselves, threaten public health, the cure might just be worse
than the disease, especially if the mortality threat of air pollution
has been overstated. There is reason to believe it has been. Air pollution
in Toronto is much lower today than it was in the mid-1960s. Sulphur dioxide
concentrations measured at an air monitoring station at the corner of
Bay and Wellesley fell by 95% between 1965 and 1997. Total suspended particulate
levels fell by three-quarters over the same period. Even ozone levels
trended downward over that interval. If pollution were killing thousands
of people today, back in 1965 there would have been corpses all down the
So if the new Health Council really wants to make itself useful, it should
indeed revisit the question of air quality and health, to figure out what
is really going on. And it will find no better place to start than with
a new, peer-reviewed paper just published in the respected Journal of
Environmental Economics and Management. The authors, economist Gary Koop
and environmental scientist Lise Tole, are both at the University of Leicester
in the U.K., but luckily for us, they used data from Toronto. The title
of their paper is the very model of British understatement: "Measuring
the Health Effects of Air Pollution: To What Extent Can We Really Say
that People are Dying from Bad Air?" If I'd found the results they
got, I'd have chosen a title like: "The Death Rate from Air Pollution
in Toronto is a Big Fat Zero." That, in a nutshell, is what they
found. But in reporting it they are going up against a large industry
of epidemiologists and environmental scientists who have for years asserted
that air pollution significantly increases mortality in industrial cities
like Toronto. So Koop and Tole had to explain not only why their conclusions
fit the data, but also why others so easily, frequently -- and incorrectly
-- come to the opposite conclusion.
The key problem: Many researchers report results from their statistical
models without properly accounting for the uncertainty in the specification
of the model itself. To address the uncertainty issue, Koop and Tole applied
a technique called Bayesian Model Averaging. Understanding how it works
is important to understanding the power of their argument. Regression
analysis involves taking a variable -- in this case the number of people
who die each day in Toronto -- and explaining observed changes in it as
a weighted sum of changes in other, independent variables thought to be
causal factors -- in this case types of air pollution. The weighting factors
are called regression coefficients. Regression allows a researcher to
quantify the coefficients between, say, the number of daily deaths and
the daily average ozone levels. But factors that drive both variables
may create an illusory correlation. For instance, a winter cold snap might
cause power plants to ramp up production (increasing pollution) and also
cause a flu outbreak that kills a dozen people. In that case, to avoid
attributing the deaths to the pollution, the researcher has to control
for the effect of the weather. Regression analysis allows a researcher
to control for multiple potential independent factors and thereby isolate
the relevant information. Regression analysis also yields an estimate
of the margin of error around the coefficients. If this margin is so large
as to include the possibility that the coefficient is zero, the relationship
is said to be insignificant. Sometimes a coefficient is only significant
when a particular list of independent factors is tested. So a researcher
should try a variety of combinations, including time lags, trends and
so forth. If many variables are involved, researchers could spend forever
trying out different combinations. So most of the time they only try a
few. This, however, may lead to "data mining." Journals are
more likely to publish significant results. This may create a selection
bias if you only hear about the models that yielded significant results.
Bayesian model averaging tackles this problem by considering every feasible
combination, and weighting the results of each one according to how well
the model fits the data. The researcher then reports the probability-weighted
results from all the combinations. In most of the studies of air pollution
and mortality, the researcher tries out only one or a few combinations.
In the case of the Koop and Tole paper, they went a bit further, computing
just over 567 trillion combinations -- and even that required some simplifying
assumptions to get the number that low. Since they chose Toronto data
to study -- daily mortality rates, daily air pollution levels and daily
weather conditions over the period 1992 to 1997 -- they directly, and
exhaustively, tested the claims being put forward by the Canadian air-pollution
alarmists. Armed with their results, they were able to state conclusions
that will not easily be challenged. They conclude that "the most
probable model includes only weather variables." They find no significant
effects of air pollution on mortality. The regression coefficients are
very small and the model uncertainties are so large as to make the air
pollution effects statistically indistinguishable from zero. This points
to the need to beware of studies that only report on a small number of
specifications. When Koop and Tole account for possible interaction effects
(i.e. maybe pollution only matters in hot weather) they still find nothing
but a Table "composed of zeroes (to three decimal places)."
Being cautious academics, they take pains to explain that they are not
dismissing any possibility of a relationship between air pollution and
health, only that "our results indicate that there is no reliable
statistical evidence for a link between air pollution and mortality"
in the particular data set they studied. They also caution that "if,
for no other reason than the adequate design of air-quality standards
that carry immense economic costs, it is important that researchers use
appropriate statistical methods to estimate air-pollution impacts."
Indeed. And we should be very grateful that two independent British researchers
not only did so, but also used local data. Before the Ontario government
condemns the province to higher electricity prices and more frequent blackouts
on the basis of an obsolete air scare, they should take a careful look
at what the evidence really says.
SEPP Comment: Prof McKitrick is an expert econometrician. His article
is a must-read for Congress, the White House, and all concerned with air
quality standards and pollution control.
3. Emission Cuts Are Risking British Jobs'
Telegraph, March 21, 2004
Furious executives warn that the UK will pay the price of going green
in lost jobs, rising power prices and lack of competitiveness. Sylvia
British industry is once again on the warpath. The Government's ambitious
proposal to combat global warming by cutting carbon-dioxide emissions
by up to 20 per cent by 2010 has precipitated widespread anger among executives
who have warned that Britain's international competitiveness is at risk.
Formal responses to the draft plan - part of Britain's contribution to
a European Union carbon emissions-trading scheme to take effect next year
- were submitted by industry bodies earlier this month and are making
uncomfortable reading for ministers.
At stake are the Government's hopes of reducing carbon dioxide by almost
twice as much as its internationally agreed targets under the 1997 Kyoto
Under Kyoto, the UK agreed to cut all greenhouse gases (of which carbon
dioxide is the main one) by just 12.5 per cent between 1990 and 2008-2012.
By contrast, under the UK's draft national plan, industry will have to
cut its emissions by 16.3 per cent on 1990 levels by 2010; a second phase
of the scheme, running from 2008, will be designed to achieve the Government's
target of 20 per cent.
The plans - set out on a sector-by-sector basis - have already prompted
the CBI, the employers' group, to complain that the Government is "risking
the sacrifice of UK jobs on the altar of green credentials".
There are also warnings that electricity prices could rise by up to 80
per cent and that coal-fired power stations - which account for 35 per
cent of British power generation - could be made redundant. What is clear
is that the power industry will be expected to bear the brunt of the extra
Since the plan was published in January, a raft of lobby groups have trooped
in to plead their cause to ministers, who include Patricia Hewitt, the
trade and industry secretary, and Stephen Timms, the energy minister.
So just how sympathetic has the Government been? John Cridland, the deputy
director-general of the CBI, who met both Hewitt and Timms before submissions
to the Government's consultation were due on March 12, is at pains to
stress that this "is not an issue of business against the green lobby"
but concedes that industry is "concerned".
"The question is about moving forward multilaterally rather than
unilaterally. A degree of pain for UK business is only acceptable if it
is consistent with the rest of the European Union," he says.
But the signals coming from the rest of the EU have been less than reassuring
in recent weeks. None of the other EU countries that have announced their
emissions allocation plans ahead of the European Commission's March 31
deadline have yet demonstrated how these will meet their Kyoto commitments.
Denmark and Austria, for example, will fail to hit the targets, with Austria
actually increasing emissions.
Under the scheme (officially: the Emissions Allowance Trading Directive)
a cap will be put on carbon-dioxide emissions.
The system will work by issuing allowances, or emissions trading certificates,
which will be divided among companies that need to be covered. Companies
will be allowed to emit only a certain tonnage of harmful gases, but they
will be able to buy additional certificates if they want to break these
allowances. Conversely, if they emit less, they can sell their surplus
The scheme is restricted to key sectors such as electricity generation,
cement manufacture, papermaking, refineries and steel manufacture, affecting
some 1,500 plants responsible for half of Britain's CO2 emissions.
According to the Government, the proposed cuts for most industries would
be in line with existing carbon emission reduction agreements under which
businesses received rebates of up to 80 per cent on the climate change
Electricity generators, however, will be expected to cut emissions by
13 per cent by 2007 and coal-fired power stations by about 23 per cent.
Jeremy Nicholson, the director of the Energy Intensive Users Group, says:
"We are far from pleased with the trajectory for reducing emissions"
[envisaged under the draft proposal].
"It means cutting twice as much CO2 out of the economy as required
by the Kyoto Protocol whilst competing with developing countries that
don't need to cut and developed countries like the US that have decided
not to adhere at all. The concern is one of preserving competitiveness,"
North Sea oil and gas producers are among those that would be hit hardest.
The UK Offshore Operators' Association has warned that 95 platforms could
be forced to close earlier than planned if the proposed cuts are agreed.
Up to 40 per cent of installations could face cuts of up to 40 per cent,
according to the association.
Tom Delay, the chief executive of the Carbon Trust - the government-funded
independent research company - is one shareholder who argues that the
draft target is achievable. But he notes that at the end of the day, the
key issues to consider are things such as the likely price of carbon and
the impact the scheme will have on electricity prices.
It is an issue that industry executives such as Philippe Varin, the chief
executive of the steelmaker Corus, have recently begun to highlight. In
a speech last month, Varin warned that the draft plan "is too restrictive
and will significantly affect the price of electricity".
According to Varin, based on forward electricity prices, Corus expects
the EU trading scheme to increase the delivered price of steel by 25 per
cent, adding more than £25m a year to Corus's UK electricity bill.
Having just emerged from a major restructuring, it is a price increase
Corus can ill afford.
Whether these and other messages have been getting through to the Government
will become apparent in the next few weeks. For industry, it's a life
or death issue.
The CBI's Cridland says: "The UK is putting itself on the line, expecting
others to follow but it is increasingly clear that they are not going
to. For this small but important gain, the Government risks driving jobs
abroad to countries where conditions are less onerous."
SEPP Comment: A lesson here for US industry and the White House
4. OECD Countries Not Meeting Greenhouse Goals
Financial Times April 6, 2004
OECD environment ministers will meet later this month in Paris. The absolute
levels of CO2 continue to grow but at a lower rate than economic growth.
SEPP Comment: In other words, they seem to be following the Bush
White House plan.
5. More On The Global Warming Horror Film
As we warned in previous TWTWs, there's a new disaster movie coming out
May 28, called "The Day After Tomorrow." The disaster isn't
asteroids or aliens or Godzilla -- it's cataclysmic global climate change,
as evidenced in tidal waves hitting New York City, tornadoes in Los Angeles,
grapefruit-sized hail in Tokyo, snowstorms in New Delhi, and so on.
It's all science fiction point, however. In a huge blow to the movie's
credibility, the screenplay is by Whitley Streiber http://beyondcommunion.com/dayaftertomorrow.html),
(the man who claimed to have been abducted by aliens in Communion).
Environmental groups fear the $125-million epic is so exaggerated and
preposterous that people will perceive it as unlikely as an attack by
aliens. In fact , the movie is directed by Roland Emmerich, the director
of Independence Day, which depicted alien attacks against the United States.
The movie¹s website says, In this special-effects-packed, highly
anticipated event motion picture, an abrupt climate change has cataclysmic
consequences for the entire planet. One photo shows New Yorkers running
from a wall of water with the caption: A city defined by creations of
mankind is reduced to a stage on which Nature's dominance is fully realized.
A second shows a tidal wave roaring through Manhattan. The caption says,
All hope is abandoned. The city is later devoured by a glacier!
This is too much even for rabid climatologists. Stefan Rahmstorf of the
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, whose
own models say the Gulf Stream could shut down within a century, told
the New Scientist (April 15): "The scenario is extreme and highly
unlikely." But in the journal Science this week, Andrew Weaver of
the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, surveys the current
research and concludes "it is safe to say that global warming will
not lead to the onset of a new ice age".
No SEPP comment required. We can now turn straight to Al Gore
6. Al Gore - Still Alive And Kicking: Tackles Threats Due To Climate
BY SARAH MARBERG, Staff Reporter , April 14, 2004
Former Vice President Al Gore spoke to a full audience at Battell Chapel
[Yale] on Tuesday afternoon, warning of the dangers of global warming.
The lecture, titled "The Climate Emergency," was supplemented
by photographs of the earth, its environment, as well as graphs documenting
climate change and its impacts.
"When I use the phrase 'climate emergency,' I have partly in mind
the fact that this is happening right now," Gore said. "Unless
we do something, there will be catastrophic consequences for all of civilization."
The speech was cosponsored by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental
Studies and the seminar entitled "Politics and the Environment in
the 2004 Election Cycle." In his introduction, environment school
Dean Gustave Speth '64 LAW '69, described Gore's 1992 book "Earth
in the Balance" as the "Silent Spring" of their generation
and called Gore an "extraordinary leader."
Focusing on the imminent threat due to climate change, Gore described
melting ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels, and increasing concentrations
of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as symptomatic of an alarming problem.
Gore explained that these concerns are the result of the deteriorating
relationship people have with Nature.
"The underlying cause is a collision between our civilization and
the earth," Gore said. "It can be prevented, and it can be changed,
but the relationship between the human species and our planet has been
completely changed." Gore said the new relationship was due to the
confluence of population growth, new technology, and humanity's way of
thinking. The exponential population growth in the past 50 years has caused
resource scarcities and other environmental problems.
"Global warming seems to be gradual, but it's actually sudden,"
Gore said. "There are others who assume that this problem is so big
that we can't solve it. And we can, if we put our minds to it."
Gore argued that global warming problems can be effectively tackled with
the right political leadership and collective will. Emphasizing the magnitude
of this challenge, he showed a picture of the earth taken by NASA from
3.7 billion miles away.
"Everything we've ever known is in one little pale dot, and if we
keep the right perspective and keep our eye on this problem we can solve
this problem; we must solve this problem; we will solve this problem,"
Gore said. "It's really up to you."
During the question-and-answer session, Gore responded to an audience
member's question about how the world would be different if he had been
the 43rd president.
"The underlying question that comes from that one is what do we together
do right now to choose the kind of future we would like to see,"
Gore said. "I am the most biased person in the world. I didn't vote
for Bush. I didn't come here to give a partisan speech, but I honestly
believe it is extremely important to have new leadership on January 20."
Gore also expressed his support for presidential candidate Senator John
Kerry '66, calling him one of his "strongest allies" on these
issues. "I don't think there is any senator who has a stronger record
on behalf of environmental protection," Gore said.
Gore's visit was organized by Heather Kaplan FES '04 and Kathleen Campbell
FES '04, who are enrolled in the environment-school seminar on politics
and the environment. Gore is one of 15 speakers invited to campus through
the course. "I was blown away by how charismatic he was, how engaging
he was. So many times climate issues are hard to grasp, and he made it
interesting," said Kaplan, who called Gore's comments inspiring.
"I think everyone was pretty blown away by it."
SEPP Comment: So that's the kind of mush Yalies are getting under
Dean Gus Speth, one-time head of World Resources Institute, of CEQ in
the White House, and of UNEP. It figures
7. Gore Legacy Persists: Global Warming Worse Than Terrorism
S.Fred Singer, Letter to Editor, WSJ 4/13/2004
The 9/11 Commission should take note of how environmental ideology can
blind decision-makers to the threat of terrorism. Here, for example, the
considered views of the highest-ranking foreign-policy official of the
Clinton-Gore administration (as related in an essay in American Outlook
"The greatest threat facing the United States in the 21st century
is probably something like a new cold war, with China as the chief opponent,
nuclear missiles launched by rogue nations, Islamic fundamentalism, terrorists
releasing appalling new biological weapons, or cyber-warfare against the
nation's banks, air-traffic control systems, and other economic targets.
But to the federal government, the greatest threat is something far different.
As [former Secretary of State] Warren Christopher assured his audience
in May 1996 at Stanford University, the main threat is climate change
produced by the burning of fuels [that keep us warm, light our homes,
and run our cars]."
Nor has this legacy of former Vice President Al Gore disappeared. As
recently as January 2004, Britain's chief science adviser Sir David King
wrote a scathing article in the journal Science attacking Washington for
failing to take climate change seriously. "In my view, climate change
is the most severe problem we are facing today, more serious even than
the threat of terrorism."
Support for Sir David's alarmist view has come from Hans Blix, the former
UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq, who told the BBC: "I think we
still overestimate the danger of terror. There are other things that are
of equal, if not greater, magnitude, like the environmental global risks."
And in a speech in Cambridge Union last month: "I for one am more
worried about global warming than WMD."
We should be thankful that this man is no longer in charge of alerting
and protecting us against possible terrorist attacks -- deadlier even
8. Mark Twain on Global Warming
No, he did not pontificate on GW. But remember the advice of Mark Twain
against projecting current trends too far into the future: In the space
of 176 years the Mississippi had shortened itself 242 miles. Therefore
in the Old Silurian Period the Mississippi River was upward of 1,300,000
miles long. 742 years from now the Mississippi will be only a mile and
three-quarters long. There is something fascinating about science. One
gets such wholesome returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment
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