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.





6. AL GORE - STILL ALIVE AND KICKING: Tackles Climate Threats and Admits He Didn't Vote For Bush



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 with health.

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 street.

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 Pfeifer reports:

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 Protocol.

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 carbon-dioxide cuts.

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 certificates.

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 levy.

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," he says.

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, (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 Change

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 Summer 2000):

"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 than 9/11.

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 of fact.


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