|The Week That Was
March 20, 2004
1. New on the Web: A
POST-MORTEM FOR THE KYOTO PROTOCOL. This is how matters appear to
be moving. But don't underestimate the staying power and resourcefulness
of the bureaucracies and other vested interests.
3. GLOBAL WARMING? SOME COMMON SENSE FROM A PIONEER RESEARCHER
4. CLIMATE CHANGE COULD BENEFIT CROPS
5. GERMANY: ICH BIN "BROKE"
6. GERMAN LABOR UNIONS SPEAK OUT - MISS THE MAIN POINT
7. A DEBATE ABOUT ENVIRONMENT. UTILITY POINT AND READER RESPONSES
8. WHY ADOPT CALIFORNIA'S VEHICLE CONTROLS ELSEWHERE?
9. And finally --- GLOBAL WARMING IS GOOD FOR BABIES
2. COP-10 in Buenos Aires may abandon Kyoto
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 17 (IPS) - In the past five international conferences on climate change, hopes have focused on attempts to get the United States and Russia to agree to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. But the wait has been in vain, and the global meetings flopped, one after another.
The strategy at the next conference, to be hosted by Argentina in BA on December 6-17, will be to change the central focus of the debate, on the premise that climate change is inevitable even if emissions are drastically cut, and that developing countries must start getting ready to deal with the damages.
Instead of preparing for yet another meeting concentrated on bringing the Kyoto Protocol into effect -- in which industrialised nations agree to meet binding targets for reducing emissions -- Argentina proposes discussing the creation of funds and mechanisms for ''adapting'' to the increasingly accelerated phenomenon of global warming.
The Argentine government's initiative, which has the backing of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), will focus on the question of drumming up funds that would enable developing countries to create the infrastructure -- like irrigation or canal systems -- needed to deal with the changes provoked by global warming.
The suggestion to discuss the creation of ''adaptation mechanisms'' came from the Argentine Foreign Ministry's director of environmental affairs, Raul Estrada Oyuela, who took part in the negotiations of the Convention on Climate Change in 1992, and chaired COP-3 in Kyoto in 1997 that led to the design of the Protocol.
In the years since the Convention on Climate Change went into effect, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, reflecting a ''collective failure'' on the part of the industrialised North, the U.S.-based Global Resources Institute (GRI) said this week. GRI researchers estimate that emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have increased 11 percent in the past decade, and they project another 50 percent rise by 2020.
Argentina will recommend that the goal of getting Russia and/or the United States to ratify the Protocol should not be put at the top of the agenda, even though it remains the key objective of the negotiations carried out since the Convention on Climate Change was adopted in 1992.
''If Russia ratifies the Protocol before COP-10, then we'll change our
plans. But the most reasonable route is to prepare for the worst,'' Estrada
Oyuela said at a Mar. 15 meeting of representatives of local NGOs, where
he announced the position to be taken by Buenos Aires in its preparations
for the conference.
3. Global Warming? Some common sense thoughts
By Reid A. Bryson Ph.D., D.Sc., D.Engr.1
The Built-in Nonsense Detector
Hardly a day goes by without a news article in the paper containing
a reference to someone's opinion about "Global Warming". A quick
search of the internet uncovers literally hundreds of items about "Global
Warming". Issues of atmospheric science journals will normally have
at least one article on climatic change, usually meaning "Global
Warming" or some aspect thereof. Whole generations of graduate students
have been trained to believe that we know the main answers about climate
change and only have to work out the details.
Some Common Fallacies
1. The atmospheric warming of the last century is unprecedented and unique. Wrong. There are literally thousands of papers in the scientific literature with data that shows that the climate has been changing one way or the other for millions of years.
2. It is a fact that the warming of the past century was anthropogenic in origin, i.e. man-made and due to carbon dioxide emission. Wrong. That is a theory for which there is no credible proof. There are a number of causes of climatic change, and until all causes other than carbon dioxide increase are ruled out, we cannot attribute the change to carbon dioxide alone.
3. The most important gas with a "greenhouse" effect is carbon dioxide. Wrong. Water vapor is at least 100 times as effective as carbon dioxide, so small variations in water vapor are more important than large changes in carbon dioxide.
4. One cannot argue with the computer models that predict the climate effects of a doubling of carbon dioxide or other "greenhouse gases". Wrong. To show this we must show that the computer models can at least duplicate the present-day climate. This they cannot do with what could be called accuracy by any stretch of the imagination. There are studies that show that the average error in modeling present precipitation is on the order of 100%, and the error in modeling present temperature is about the same size as the predicted change due to a doubling of carbon dioxide. For many areas, the precipitation error is 300-400 percent.
5. I am arguing that the carbon dioxide measurements are poorly done. Wrong. The measurements are well done, but the interpretation of them is often less than acceptably scientific.
6. It is the consensus of scientists in general that carbon-dioxide-induced warming of the climate is a fact. Probably wrong. I know of no vote having been taken, and know that if such a vote were taken of those who are most vocal about the matter, it would include a significant fraction of people who do not know enough about climate to have a significant opinion. Taking a vote is a risky way to discover scientific truth.
So What Can We Say about Global Warming?
We can say that the Earth has most probably warmed in the past century.
We cannot say what part of that warming was due to mankind's addition
of "greenhouse gases" until we consider the other possible factors,
such as aerosols. The aerosol content of the atmosphere was measured during
the past century, but to my knowledge this data was never used.
2 AAAS Conference in Houston, TX, 1968, organized by SFS and published
as "Global Effects of Environmental Pollution" (S F Singer,
editor, published by Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht)
4. Climate Change Could Benefit Crops
Climate change could boost yields from one of America's most important crops, say plant biologists who have simulated the expected atmospheric conditions of 2050 in a U.S. field.
Andrew Leakey of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign exposed the plants to the increased levels of ozone and carbon dioxide (CO2) predicted by climate-change models. Atmospheric concentrations of both gases are increasing thanks to the burning of fossil fuels in cars and power plants, says Leakey.
According to Leakey:
o Increased amounts of ozone cut soybean production by around 20 percent; however, the beneficial effect of the carbon dioxide more than compensates for this effect.
o As a result, there could be an increase in soy yields of 13 percent by 2050 (U.S. farmers currently plant about 150 million acres of soybean a year).
Previous studies have shown that the effects of climate change on crops are complex. Although increased carbon dioxide -- a nutrient for plants -- generally stimulates growth, climate change is expected to alter everything from the amount of nitrogen in the soil to the amount of rain. All of these changes will have different impacts on plant growth, says Leakey.
Source: Jim Giles, "Climate Change Could Boost Cash Crops," Nature News Service, February 2004.
For text http://www.nature.com/nsu/040216/040216-8.html
5. Germany: ICH BIN "BROKE"
The reasons for its troubles are not hard to identify. Germany has a lavish welfare state that it can no longer afford. Also, it has a rigid labor market that, along with high labor costs, have forced many businesses to move elsewhere. The results to Germany's economy have been staggering:
o Last year, the German economy shrunk 0.1 percent and is projected to grow only slightly by 1.5 percent this year.
o As a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), social spending in Germany ranks second in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- in 2001, about 54 percent of all government spending was attributable to social welfare.
o Unemployment has reached 10.3 percent, up from an already worrisome 7.9 percent in 2001.
Though Germany realizes that large reforms are necessary, so far it has shown no willingness to accept the consequences necessary to bring them about. For instance, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had to step down as party leader due to the outcry arising from his call to charge a quarterly fee of 10 Euros to pay for health-care expenses -- not exactly major welfare reform.
The New York Times concludes that far broader reforms are required for
it to regain the economic vitality that created the postwar miracle of
years past. Ultimately, Germany's entire economic apparatus needs to be
overhauled, including the antiquated system of centralized wage-bargaining,
the Byzantine tax system, and the bloated budget.
Source: Editorial, "The Trouble With Germany," New York
Times, March 10, 2004.
6. German Labor Unions Speak Out - But Miss The Main Point
Labor unions of the four leading German electric utilities have finally issued a manifesto against CO2 emission trading. Of course, they are concerned about losing jobs but they miss the main point -- namely that CO2 is not a pollutant. But in this respect they are no worse than the Bush Administration, which still plays along with the Greens -- for political gain or out of ignorance?
CO2 Credits Policy Switch?
Letter to WSJ
The alleged policy switch on granting CO2 credits (WSJ 3/5) demonstrates the sad fact that the Bush Administration has been a bunch of wimps. Instead of trying to appease unscientific demands that aim for federal controls on energy use, the White House should forthrightly declare: (1) Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant; it does not harm human health. (2) The observed increase in atmospheric CO2 level has not shown the warming effects calculated by crude theories; evidently, the real atmosphere is a little more complicated. (3) And, in any case, CO2 is plant food; more CO2 means better growth of crops and forests.
So now companies, mainly electric utilities, which have made voluntary efforts to curb CO2 emissions want to be rewarded. Well, if they have become more fuel efficient, they and their customers have already benefited. But if they have been spending money to grow trees in Central America to soak up CO2 from the atmosphere, or on foolish schemes to sequester CO2 from stack gases, let them answer for this to their shareholders.
On second thought, I don't really blame the companies. The Administration
has never convincingly ruled out the possibility of eventual mandatory
emission curbs - with financial rewards going to those that took the lead.
The White House should do so now.
Mr. Singer, an atmospheric physicist, is emeritus professor of environmental
sciences at the University of Virginia and former director of the US Weather
Satellite Service. He authored Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's
Unfinished Debate (Independent Institute, Oakland, CA, 1999)
7. A Debate about Environment. Utility Point and Reader Responses
8. Why Adopt California's Vehicle Controls?
by Gerald and Natalie Sirkin (of Sherman, Connecticut)
Yet imitate California is what the Connecticut General Assembly is about to do. The Joint Environment Committee has held a public hearing on Senate Bill 119, An Act Concerning Clean Cars. The Act would impose upon Connecticut the California Low Emissions Vehicle Regulations.
The California regulations, which periodically grow stricter, require automobile manufacturers to decrease emissions and annually sell a certain fraction of low-emission and zero-emission vehicles, meaning electric, hybrid, and fuel-cell vehicles.
Los Angeles's unique topography and weather conditions create severe air pollution. There if anywhere the California regulations might make some sense -- or at least they might have, before pushed to extremes. But they make no sense in Connecticut, which has no such conditions.
The charge against vehicle emissions is they produce ozone-smog. It is composed of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) combined with nitrogen oxides (NOx) interacting with sunshine.
The EPA's national ambient air-quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone has been 120 parts per billion, averaged over one hour. When one of Connecticut's 11 monitors goes up by one ppb over the standard, it is declared an "exceedance" and DEP declares the air "unhealthy" for all Connecticut residents.
In 1997 EPA announced a radical tightening of the standard from 120 ppb to 80 ppb, averaged over eight hours. The American Lung Association lobbied for 70 ppb, which is lower than the background ozone in some national parks arising from the VOCs exuded by trees. To reach ALA's 70 ppb, the trees would have to be cut down.
Though the EPA periodically tightens its standards, the air is continually getting cleaner. A Connecticut resident may be exposed to an exceedance for an hour or two a day, a few days a year. It is hard to understand why anyone would want stricter regulations.
The American Lung Association, Environmental Defense, and other organizations allege that air pollution causes health problems. One would expect them to cite scientific studies. They cite no studies. The Connecticut Fund for the Environment in its written statement to the hearing, asserts, 'The average Connecticut resident's added cancer risk from hazardous air pollution is the ninth-highest in this country." How high is that? It is probably very low, but they give no figures and no sources.
People with respiratory problems, if exercising outdoors during periods of high ozone-smog, may experience discomforts that are temporary and soon reversed: wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and decreased lung function--the amount of air exhaled in one breath--not a disease. "The increases in resistance usually reported are of the order of ten percent of the increases found after one inhalation from a cigarette," according to Hugh W. Ellsaesser, atmospheric scientist.
No chronic illness associated with ozone-smog has been found. While asthma specialists believe that it is allergens, not pollutants, that are linked to asthma attacks, a recent study finds that children's strenuous physical activity in regions of high ozone-smog may induce asthma attacks. The Connecticut Hospital Association cites a study of decrease in asthma attacks when automobile transportation was decreased, during the Atlanta Olympic Games. Though not statistically significant in part, the study is suggestive.
Speaking of the substantial ozone exposures in Los Angeles, toxicologist Roger McClennan of the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee advised, "Yet, in spite of that, using today's technology and information, you really cannot tease out any clear effects of those exposures."
The EPA staff used hospital admissions as an indicator of health effects. However, a statistical correlation of ozone and asthmatics' hospital admissions predicted that the stiffer 80 ppb standard would reduce hospital admissions by only 0.06 percent, so close to zero as to suggest no health effects at all.
Ozone and the other five air pollutants have been steadily decreasing in concentration over many decades, even before the EPA began regulating them. Ozone reduction is at or near its limit because natural (biogenic) emissions of VOCs from trees and vegetation are an important source of ozone-precursors. Estimates indicate that during the peak ozone season in forested areas, biogenic emissions are about three times as large as man-made emissions.
The model for the San Francisco Bay Area predicted that it cannot comply with California state standards "even if every car is taken off the road," a finding that embarrassed the California Air Resources Board and was therefore covered up.
The pattern of decrease of ozone and increase of asthma attacks supports the medical specialists' view that ozone may have little to do with asthma.
California regulations in Connecticut will be costly, of no health benefit, and a waste. For the first ten years or more, the zero-emissions vehicles will be electric. Substantial investment will be needed in their development and in building recharging-stations. Since electric vehicles are inconvenient because of their short range between rechargings, the investment will be abandoned when a better zero-emissions vehicle, the fuel-cell car, is ready, in ten to fifteen years.
Meanwhile, the alternative to the California regulations, the EPA national Tier 2 regulation, will be achieving reductions in ozone-emissions. Heavy-duty engines (trucks and busses), not now regulated, will be subject to Tier 2 rules beginning with the 2007 models. Those engines are a major source of man-made emissions. As the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers testified, "Adopting the California program will result in no noticeable additional benefits."
Moreover, if Connecticut adopts the California program, the state will become subject to every additional change that California adopts whether it makes sense for Connecticut or not.
Eminent scientist Sir Richard Doll of Oxford University warned that if we focus our efforts and resources on eliminating small and uncertain risks caused by environmental contaminants, it will do more harm than good. It will divert resources that could be applied to eliminating real risks.
9. Benefits of Global Warming
According to a report in the Financial Times of March 12, 2004: