|The Week That Was
May 7, 2005
New on the Web: The Sunday Telegraph (UK) reports the sad story of
the journal Science rejecting
a Letter from Dr Benny Peiser. His Letter corrected and contradicted an
essay by Prof Naomi Oreskes (published in Science on Dec 3, 2004) that
had claimed - erroneously - universal scientific consensus about anthropogenic
On April 18, I delivered my critique
of IPCC claims at a Coal Technology Conference in Clearwater, FL.
It was well received and is available as a PowerPoint presentation on
New on the Web.
Dr Henry Miller reviews the seminal book "The March of Unreason" by Lord Dick Taverne, a skeptic on global warming and participant in our APOCALYPSE-NO! Conference, held in London last January. (Item #1)
MTBE gasoline additive poses a water pollution problem and an even worse political problem (Item #2). As Joel Schwartz recounts, the American Lung Association, aided by EPA, finds it to their advantage to exaggerate the nation's air pollution problem. (Item #3)
Brief interview on the current energy debate (Item #4). Bill Steigerwald interviews Fred Singer about the global warming debate (Item #5).
A letter to Mother Jones (Item #6). The May issue of MoJo used a lot
of fevered imagination (and some slander) to picture a vast oil-financed
conspiracy to instill doubt about global warming. And according to McKibben,
the skeptics are winning. (Wish it were so!)
Now to climate science: Everyone seems to be jumping on poor Jim Hansen (GISS-NASA) who last week announced in Science-online the discovery of a "smoking gun" for manmade global warming in the depths of the ocean - while his climate models cannot explain what's happening in the atmosphere where the GH effect is supposed to originate. Well, we feel for Jim, doing his best to match Tim Barnett (Scripps UCSD) who announced his smoking gun based on ocean data at the AAAS meeting on Feb 18: Listen to Tim raving: "The debate over whether there is a global warming signal is over now, at least for rational people." And how does he deal with his inability to model the atmosphere: "The atmosphere is the worst place to look for a global warming signal." So there.
But the atmosphere - or what is in it - may be responsible for the
mysterious solar dimming (first noted by Gerald Stanhill some 20 years
ago) and now replaced by a global brightening (Item #7). If true, this
means that part of the slight warming trend (0.08 C per decade) reported
by satellites may not be caused by an increase in GH gases. This reduces
the value of climate sensitivity - and lowers the expected GH warming
by 2100 to below 0.5 C.
Finally, the Chicken Little Award: We now have Al Gore and Paul Ehrlich - almost unanimous choices. We invite a third nomination.
Here is further support for Mrs Brundtland (whose bio we printed last
"Drunk as a lord" hardly applies to Lord Taverne of Pimlico, the sober, polymathic and persuasive author of "The March of Unreason" (Oxford University Press). Although not a scientist himself, Taverne, a Queen's Counsel (an especially learned barrister appointed to advise Her Britannic Majesty), former member of the British Parliament and currently member of the House of Lords, offers a spirited defense of science and its evidence-based approach to public policy. He argues that "in the practice of medicine, popular approaches to farming and food, policies to reduce hunger and disease and many other practical issues, there is an undercurrent of irrationality that threatens the progress that depends on science and even [threatens] the civilized basis of our democracy," and that we ignore this trend at our peril. In making his case, Lord Taverne demolishes many modern foibles and myths, as well as the radical "eco-fundamentalists" who promulgate them.
He notes the paradox that as people live longer and safer lives, they seem to be increasingly obsessed with societal risks of all sorts, and that as society devises better prevention and treatment of disease and produces more nutritious and varied food more efficiently, more people turn to alternative medicine such as homeopathy and quack remedies, and denounce the most precise and predictable methods for advances in agriculture. Remorselessly and effectively, Lord Taverne skewers the mania for organic food, the popularity of astrology and other forms of mysticism, and the widespread but baseless bias that "nature knows best."
Lord Taverne is not averse to alternative medical treatments when there is evidence to support their use, but as Oxford University evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has pointed out, most often they "refuse to be tested, cannot be tested, or consistently fail tests." This is certainly true, for example, of the vast majority of herbal dietary supplements, which enjoy huge popularity in the United States and Europe. Many of these products, which are not very different from the infamous 19th century snake-oil preparations, are known to be toxic, carcinogenic or otherwise dangerous. Few have been shown to be effective for anything, and serious known side effects include blood-clotting abnormalities, high blood pressure, life-threatening allergic reactions, abnormal heart rhythms, exacerbation of autoimmune diseases, and interference with life-saving prescription drugs. The American Society of Anesthesiologists has warned patients to stop taking herbal supplements at least two weeks before any scheduled surgery in order to avoid dangerous interactions with the drugs used for anesthesia. And yet many people forego proven prescription drugs in favor of these nostrums.
Lord Taverne uses the saga of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to illustrate the social damage that can be wrought by the rejection of evidence-based medicine. In 1988, Dr. A.J. Wakefield and his colleagues described a case series of twelve patients at a referral clinic in England, all of whom presented with inflammatory bowel disease and autism. They hypothesized that in some children the MMR vaccine provokes inflammation of the intestine, which permits toxins to leak into the bloodstream, and thence into the brain, where they cause the damage that is manifested as autism. Panic ensued, with the anti-vaccination lunatic fringe - helped by undiscriminating media coverage -- orchestrating a campaign against MMR. Assurances by governments that the triple vaccine was safe were ignored in favor of heartbreaking anecdotes from distraught parents; and where vaccination rates have declined, there have been outbreaks.
Lord Taverne characterizes as "a monument to irrationality" the trend toward consumers' buying overpriced organic food, promoted by advocates whose "principles are founded on a scientific howler; it is governed by rules that have no rhyme or reason, and its propaganda could have an adverse effect on the health of poor people." In the United States, for example, the rules that define organic products are nonsensical, in that organic standards are process-based and have little to do with the actual characteristics of the product. Certifiers attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices that meet the requirements of highly arbitrary regulations. Paradoxically, the presence of a detectable residue of a banned chemical alone does not constitute a violation of these regulations, as long as an organic operation has not used excluded methods. Thus, regulators seem to reward effort and intent, whether or not the "integrity" (for lack of a better word) of the product is compromised. That's rather like saying that as long as your barber uses certain prescribed tools and lotions, your haircut is automatically of high quality.
Moreover, because organic farming is far less efficient than conventional farming, organic food costs more (to say nothing of requiring more and poorer-quality land put into farming), and the hype from markets like Whole Foods puts pressure on the less affluent to buy more expensive fruit and vegetables that may actually be of lower quality. Higher prices mean lower consumption, and consequently fewer of the benefits conferred by a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Finally, organic producers' insistence on avoiding gene-spliced varieties will prevent consumers of these products from benefiting from nutritional and safety improvements down the row -- er, road.
Lord Taverne argues compellingly that the conflict over gene-spliced crops is the most important battle of all between the forces of reason and unreason, both because of the consequences should the forces of darkness prevail, and also because their arguments are so perverse and so consistently and completely wrong. In fact, agricultural practices have been "unnatural" for 10,000 years, and with the exception of wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the grains, fruits and vegetables in our diets have been genetically modified in some way. Many of our foods (including potatoes, tomatoes, oats, rice and corn) come from plants created by "wide cross" hybridizations that transcend "natural breeding boundaries." Gene-splicing is no more than an extension, or refinement, of less precise, less predictable, older techniques, and gene-spliced plants, now grown in at least eighteen countries, have for a decade been cultivated worldwide on more than 100 million acres annually. They are ubiquitous in North American diets: More than 80 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves -- soft drinks, preserves, mayonnaise, salad dressings -- contain ingredients from gene-spliced plants, and Americans have consumed more than a trillion servings of these foods. From the dirt to the dinner plate, not a single ecosystem has been disrupted, or a person injured, by any gene-spliced product -- a record that is superior to that of conventional foods.
As Lord Taverne observes, the objection to gene-spliced foods is purely ideological, bordering on the religious. During a House of Lords Select Committee hearing in 1999, Lord Melchett, then director of Greenpeace, was asked "Your opposition to the release of [gene-spliced plants], that is an absolute" and definite opposition? It is not one that is dependent on further scientific research?" He replied: "It is a permanent and definite and complete opposition."
Lord Taverne deplores the "new kind of fundamentalism" that has infiltrated many environmentalist campaigns -- an undiscriminating "Back-To-Nature" movement that views science and technology as the enemy and as a manifestation of an exploitative, rapacious and reductionist attitude toward nature. It is no coincidence, he believes, that eco-fundamentalists are strongly represented in anti-globalization and anti-capitalism demonstrations around the world. In this, Lord Taverne echoes physician and writer Michael Crichton, who argues in his latest novel, the much-acclaimed "State of Fear," that eco-fundamentalists have reinterpreted traditional Judaeo-Christian beliefs and myths and made a religion of environmentalism, with its own Eden and paradise where mankind lived in a state of grace and unity with nature until the sampling of the forbidden fruit from tree of knowledge (that is, science) - and the inevitable fall from grace; and finally, a judgment day to come for us all in this polluted world, except for the enlightened vanguard of environmentalists who embrace and achieve sustainability. (Shades of Al Gore's apocalyptic "Earth in the Balance.") Crichton has one of his characters argue that since the end of the Cold War, environmental fears in Western nations have filled the void left by the disappearance of the terror of communism and nuclear holocaust, and that social control is now maintained by these fears. With the military-industrial complex no longer the primary driver of society, the politico-legal-media complex has replaced it.
This politico-legal-media complex , peddling fear in the guise of promoting safety, has enjoyed some "successes." It has effectively banished agricultural biotechnology from Europe and Africa, has the chemical industry on the run, and the pharmaceutical industry in its crosshairs.
These are ominous trends. Not only do they retard technologies which, applied responsibly, could dramatically improve and extend many lives and protect the environment, but they could eventually strangle scientific creativity and technological innovation. By limiting citizens' and businesses' ability to engage in voluntary transactions, irrational practices born of eco-fundamentalism undermine the health of civilized society and of democracy. Defend science and reason, argues Taverne, and you defend democracy itself. Well said, Milord.
Henry I. Miller, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Competitive
Enterprise Institute, is the author (with Gregory Conko) of "The
Frankenfood Myth: How Protest and Politics Threaten the Biotech Revolution,"
chosen by Barron's as one of the 25 Best Books of 2004.
By Ken Silverstein
Gasoline additive provisions in the current energy bill have come full circle from the early debates of the 1970s. Many in Congress fought for the inclusion of the additives back then, arguing that such policy would cut air pollution. But the remedies employed by oil companies in 1979 are now at the center of controversy-and may once again derail a comprehensive energy bill.
One of the most heated provisions in the broader bill has been over granting liability protection to makers of a gasoline additive called methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. It's been blamed for contaminating the drinking water supply throughout the country-causing some jurisdictions to sue the manufacturers of MTBE. Most Republicans want to protect those businesses, and the legislation just passed by the U.S. House would be retroactive to the time the lawsuits were originally filed.
Supporters of the provision have tried to placate Democrats by offering a deal to phase-out MTBE by 2015. Such supporters include House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Many Democrats are adamant about the allowance of suits over the ill-effects of MTBE but have yet to form a legislative strategy. Therefore, it's unclear as to whether any compromises are on the table-ones that could prevent delay tactics in the Senate.
While the House just recently passed a huge energy package after a failed effort to have the MTBE protections withdrawn, the Senate has yet to take up the bill and the prospective measure..
So, the highly tense debate over MTBE has resurfaced once more in 2005. House Republicans passed a provision that would include a general fund to pay for the clean-up of MTBE sites. They argue that such an escrow account could expedite clean-ups. Not only would this avoid years of litigation, they add, but it also is fundamentally unfair for oil companies to be charged for something that was required of them by federal law.
"The MTBE liability protection is aimed at product defect claims only," says Scott Segal, lawyer for Bracewell Giuliani that represents MTBE interests. "No lawsuits will be 'thrown out,' 'wiped away' or 'off the hook.'" He furthermore says that the $29 billion now being attributed to the costs to clean up MTBE sites is inaccurate. That number refers to the price of cleaning up all types of contaminated sites, he says, suggesting the number for MTBE is around $15 billion.
Senate Democrats have promised to filibuster any bill that has MTBE liability protections in it. They call it a special-interest give-away and say that it is the oil industry that must pay the costs to clean contaminated sites-not the taxpayers. Opponents of MTBE relief say that furthermore it is unjust that oil companies-under the pending bill-would be paid to phase-out MTBE while avoiding suits at the same time.
If not MTBE, then what fuel additive is appropriate and practical? Farmers want to see more corn-based ethanol. Supporters of the idea say that it produces net benefits to the environment and to the economy while opponents say that it is still too expensive and would drive gasoline prices even higher.
Today, 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol are consumed each year, although that is not mandated. By comparison, the United States consumes about 130 billion gallons of gasoline annually. Certainly, the use of ethanol would go up if MTBE is phased out, with some estimating as much as 5 billion gallons each year by 2012. Nationwide, at least 73 ethanol plants are in existence and can produce 2.85 billion gallons of ethanol a year. A handful of other plants are under construction.
According to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, authors of the May 2003 report, the key variable is that the ethanol must yield more energy than the fossil energy used to produce it. Further, ethanol produced from corn in the United States reduces full fuel cycle greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent compared to gasoline. That corresponds with similar findings from the National Center for Vehicle Emissions Control and Safety at Colorado State University.
Ethanol is a liquid alcohol fuel produced from biomass, which consists of trees, grasses and wastes. It also comes from grain or agricultural waste. While ethanol creates fewer ozone-forming compounds and toxic air pollutants, it reduces mileage per gallon because of its lower energy content than pure gasoline. There's also fierce debate as to whether the energy ultimately produced from using ethanol is more or less than the actual energy needed to create it.
While many would argue the emphasis ought to be on fueling the hydrogen economy or on hybrid vehicles that can run on batteries, others say that such a tack sidesteps the immediate issue. Stated differently, cars will be dependent on gasoline for some time.
Clearly, there's no perfect solution to burning gasoline in a cleaner fashion. Ethanol is not a panacea but it appears to be in the batter's box and ready to replace MTBE as the leading fuel additive to cut air pollution. Only time will tell whether this solution is optimal and whether policymakers will have to revisit the matter to accommodate both foreseen and unforeseen circumstances.
Reporting on air quality has improved, but not by nearly as much as air quality itself. The American Lung Association's annual State of the Air report has also improved, but not by nearly as much as air quality reporting. Despite unprecedented gains in air quality during the last two years, State of the Air continues to exaggerate air pollution levels and health risks. And despite a few positive headlines about air pollution trends, journalists continue to parrot ALA's claims with little or no critical review of their veracity. We still have a long way to go before activists' and journalists' claims match air quality reality.
Smog Hits a Record Low
Recent air quality improvements are extraordinary. Days exceeding EPA's tough new 8-hour ozone standard dropped more than 50 percent nationwide between 2003 and 2004, even though 2003 was itself a record year. Forty-four percent of ozone monitoring locations violated the standard as of the end of 2003, but only 31 percent as of the end of 2004. Both are huge improvements over the 1970s, when 80 percent of monitors violated the 8-hour standard.
The 2003 and 2004 ozone improvements were partially due to cool, wet weather. Nevertheless, other years have had weather unfavorable to ozone formation, but none have had ozone levels anywhere near as low as 2004. Ongoing declines in ozone-forming pollution are the main reason for the long-term downward trend. Four of the last five years were the four lowest ozone years since national monitoring began in the mid 1970s, suggesting that something more than random weather variations explains recent air quality improvements.
Levels of fine particulates (PM2.5) are also at record lows. Annual-average PM2.5 levels declined more than 14 percent between 1999 and 2004, and 45 percent between 1981 and 2004. Thirty-three percent of U.S. monitoring locations violated federal PM2.5 standards in 2001, but only 15 percent as of the end of 2004. Once again, both are huge improvements over the 80 percent violation rate during the early 1980s.
Readers of State of the Air don't learn any of this. The report doesn't say a word about 2004's pollution levels. Air quality progress receives a quick mention, but without any of the specific or quantitative details that would show the extraordinary magnitude of the improvements. Providing these details would undermine much of the impact of ALA's report, which likely explains the omission.
These air pollution improvements occurred despite large increases energy use and a doubling of total miles driven by motor vehicles since 1980. The story of the last hundred years has been more people, more highways, more cars, more energy, more wealth, and less air pollution. Ever improving technology has allowed us to have far cleaner air without the need to restrict people's choices about where and how to live, work, and travel.
Exaggerating Air Pollution Levels
ALA also exaggerates the amount of pollution in the air. State of the Air claims 152 million Americans, more than half the population, lives in areas that violate federal air pollution standards. In reality, fewer than half this number of people live in areas that violate federal pollution standards. Here's how ALA fudges the numbers:
First, if even one pollution monitor in a county violates a pollution standard, ALA counts everyone in the county as breathing air that violates the standard. For example, 99 percent of San Diegans live in areas that comply with EPA's 8-hour ozone standard. Only one rural area violates the standard, but ALA counts all 3 million people in the county as breathing air that violates the standard. This is not an isolated example. More than 90 percent of people in Cook (Chicago) and Maricopa (Phoenix) counties live in areas that comply with the 8-hour ozone standard, and even in Los Angeles County 60 percent of people live in areas that comply with the standard. These four counties alone are home to more than 21 million people, and ALA wrongly counts more than 16 million of them as breathing air that violates EPA's ozone standards. A similar over count can happen for particulate levels. Only one of Allegheny (Pittsburgh) County's dozen PM2.5 monitors violates EPA's 24-hour PM2.5 standard.
Second, for PM2.5 the problems with ALA's report go much deeper than merely counting clean areas as dirty. ALA bases its results on a much tougher 24-hour PM2.5 standard than EPA. The federal standard for maximum daily PM2.5 is 65 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3), but ALA uses a standard of 40 ug/m3 to count daily exceedances. More than 99.6 percent of the country complies with EPA's 24-hour PM2.5 standard. Yet by using a much tougher standard, ALA was able to claim 26 percent of Americans, more than 76 million people, live in areas with unhealthful short-term PM2.5 levels.
ALA can't take all of the blame for exaggerating PM2.5 levels. EPA helped by setting its Air Quality Index warning level at 40 ug/m3, departing from past practice with all other pollution standards of issuing an AQI warning only when pollution levels exceed the level of the federal standard. EPA thus created a much tougher "shadow" PM2.5 standard without going through the more rigorous review process required for legally binding air pollution standards. But having the shadow standard allows regulators and activists to create the public appearance of frequent dangerous PM2.5 levels even as virtually the entire nation actually complies with EPA's health standard.
Third, ALA used data for 2001-2003 for its estimates. But pollution levels were much lower in 2004. Using data for 2002-2004 would lower still further the number of Americans living in areas that violate EPA's health standards.
ALA also exaggerates the frequency with which any given area exceeds EPA's air pollution standards. State of the Air counts a pollution exceedance day for an entire county if even one pollution monitor in the county exceeds a pollution standard. For example, ALA claims Harris (Houston) County, Texas averaged 33 days per year exceeding the 8-hour ozone standard during 2001-2003. Yet the worst location in the county averaged just 15 exceedances -- less than half of what ALA claims -- while the average county location had seven exceedances. ALA claims to be reporting on Americans' risk from air pollution. Yet the report's numbers have nothing to do with any real person's actual air pollution exposure.
What's Health Got to Do with It?
Despite ALA's exaggerations, tens of millions of Americans really do live in areas that exceed EPA's health standards for ozone, PM2.5 or both. ALA creates the impression that everyone living in areas that exceed EPA's standards is suffering serious health damage or even death. In reality, EPA's pollution standards have become so stringent that exceeding them has few implications for people's health.
For example, EPA estimates that even large ozone reductions will result in tiny health improvements. In a recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, EPA researchers estimated that reducing ozone from levels during 2000-2002 down to the 8-hour standard would reduce asthma emergency room visits by only 0.02 percent and respiratory hospital admissions by 0.04 percent. EPA derived these results under the assumption that no health improvements result when ozone is reduced from levels already below EPA's standard. After adding in these additional benefits, the reduction in emergency room visits and hospital admissions would rise to about 0.1 and 0.2 percent, respectively, which is still an imperceptible improvement. Whatever public health benefits are available from lowering ozone, virtually all of them have already been achieved.
The California Air Resources Board's Children's Health Study followed more than 1,000 children from ages 10 to 18 during the 1990s and reported no relationship between ozone levels and lung function. The CHS also reported that asthma incidence was 30 percent lower in areas with the highest ozone levels. The CHS included areas of California that have by far the highest ozone levels in the country -- including areas that at the time averaged more than 100 days per year exceeding the 8-hour ozone standard and more than 50 days per year exceeding the much higher ozone levels of the old 1-hour standard. No area outside California has ever had ozone levels anywhere near this high, and even the worst California areas no longer approach these levels.
ALA wants people to believe that current ozone levels around the U.S. are permanently damaging people's lungs. But the CHS concluded that even ozone levels much higher than ever occur today have no effect on children's lung development or function.
Both ALA and EPA claim that current, historically low PM2.5 levels are killing tens of thousands of Americans each year, but they ignore weaknesses in the studies EPA used to set its PM2.5 standards, and contrary evidence from other studies. For example, the American Cancer Society study, which provides the main support for EPA's annual PM2.5 standard and the mortality claims, reported that PM2.5 kills men, but not women; those with no more than a high school education, but not those with at least some college; former smokers, but not current or never smokers; and people who say they are moderately active, but not those who say they are sedentary or very active. These biologically implausible results suggest that the claimed harm from PM2.5 is really the result of statistical confounding, rather than a real cause-effect relationship. EPA and ALA have also ignored a study of 50,000 veterans with high blood pressure that reported no relationship between PM2.5 levels and risk of death. Researchers have reported related problems with studies of short-term PM2.5 health effects, also ignored by ALA and EPA.
Even activists' own studies sometimes suggest air pollution is having a small effect on people's health. A study commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force estimated that a 75 percent reduction in U.S. power plant pollution would reduce the incidence of serious respiratory and cardiovascular health effects by 0.4 to 1.6 percent. And even this study ignores the fact that high concentrations of ammonium sulfate, the type of particulate matter from power plants, have been shown to have no health effects in studies with human volunteers, including studies with elderly asthmatics.
These are just a few among many examples of how the evidence for harm from current air pollution levels is far weaker than ALA claims. ALA wants Americans to believe that almost all respiratory disease and distress is due to air pollution. In reality, air pollution affects far fewer people, far less often, and with far less severity than environmental activists or government regulators would care to admit.
Even as air pollution continues to decline, activists' claims about air pollution levels and risks have become ever more urgent and extreme. ALA and other activists depend on public fear and outrage over air pollution to maintain their political power and keep the donations flowing. State of the Air's phony portrait of air pollution levels and risks helps to maintain this unwarranted climate of fear.
A Free Ride from the Press
Journalists bear much of the blame for State of the Air's undeserved public credibility. Each year dozens of newspapers around the country parrot the report's fake pollution claims without any critical review. Nevertheless, a few papers improved modestly this year, headlining their ALA stories with recent air quality improvements. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution began "Bad-air report skips over city; Atlanta drops off ozone list," and an Associated Press story led with "Advocacy group reports less air pollution." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted that despite ALA giving a failing grade to Pittsburgh, many of the region's pollution monitors actually meet federal health standards. And the Los Angeles Daily News cited L.A.'s air pollution progress with "L.A. air graded as clearly bad; Pollution way down, but not far enough." Some of these stories still endorsed ALA's false claims about health and pollution levels, but at least they told readers that air quality was improving.
Despite this modest progress, most reporters are still merely a pass-through for ALA's misleading gloom and doom. This year's most egregious entry was the Oakland Tribune's "Air pollution still abysmal in Bay Area." It would be hard to make a more ridiculous statement about the San Francisco Bay Area's air quality. The entire region complies with all of EPA's air pollution health standards and has some of the cleanest air of any large metropolitan area in the entire world.
State of the Air is now in its sixth year, and not a single journalist has set out to independently verify ALA's quantitative claims about air pollution levels, trends, or health burdens.
Facts, Not Fear
Polls continue to show that most Americans believe air pollution has stayed the same or worsened over the last decade, will worsen in the future, and is a widespread and serious threat to health even at current, historically low levels. All of these beliefs are false. We can't expect ALA to make State of the Air correspond with reality, for reality is too benign to meet ALA's needs. But we should expect more from journalists and editors. It's time for the Fourth Estate to treat environmental activists with the same skepticism appropriate for other interested parties in environmental debates.
The author is Visiting Fellow, American Enterprise Institute.
 Data on air pollution levels and trends in this column come from EPA's AirData database, except for California data, which come from the California Air Resources Board.
 B. J. Hubbell, A. Hallberg, D. R. McCubbin et al., "Health-Related Benefits of Attaining the 8-Hr Ozone Standard," Environmental Health Perspectives 113 (2005): 73-82.
 W. J. Gauderman, E. Avol, F. Gilliland et al., "The Effect of Air Pollution on Lung Development from 10 to 18 Years of Age," New England Journal of Medicine 351 (2004): 1057-67.
 McConnell, R., K. T. Berhane, F. Gilliland, et al. (2002). Asthma in Exercising Children Exposed to Ozone: A Cohort Study. Lancet 359: 386-391.
 There is one exception. Arvin, a small town outside Bakersfield, averages more than 100 8-hour exceedance days each year and around 10 to 25 1-hour exceedances.
 C. A. Pope, 3rd, R. T. Burnett, M. J. Thun et al., "Lung Cancer, Cardiopulmonary Mortality, and Long-Term Exposure to Fine Particulate Air Pollution," Journal of the American Medical Association 287 (2002): 1132-41.
 F. W. Lipfert, H. M. Perry, J. P. Miller et al., "The Washington University-EPRI Veterans' Cohort Mortality Study," Inhalation Toxicology 12 (suppl. 4) (2000): 41-73.
 G. Koop and L. Tole, "Measuring the Health Effects of Air Pollution: To What Extent Can We Really Say That People Are Dying from Bad Air?" Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 47 (2004): 30-54. For a review of this problem, also see S. H. Moolgavkar, "A Review and Critique of the EPA's Rationale for a Fine Particle Standard," Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology in press: doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2005.02.003 (2005).
 Abt Associates. The Particulate-Related Health Benefits of Reducing Power Plant Emissions, (Bethesda, MD: Clean Air Task Force, October 2000), http://cta.policy.net/fact/mortality/mortalityabt.pdf.
 Koenig, J. Q., K. Dumler, V. Rebolledo, et al. (1993). Respiratory Effects of Inhaled Sulfuric Acid on Senior Asthmatics and Nonasthmatics. Archives of Environmental Health 48: 171-5.
Copyright © 2005 Tech Central Station - www.techcentralstation.com
"Both sides are partly right and partly wrong. The federal government should be actively leasing, not only in Alaska but also offshore and on vast land holdings onshore that have been arbitrarily put out of bounds for oil and gas exploration. We should at least find out what's there.
On the other hand, industry doesn't need any special tax breaks -- especially with current high oil prices. Domestic producers do need protection for their capital investments in case OPEC manipulates the price downward for short periods.
Government needs to remove environmental and other restrictions against
the building of refineries -- where we have a real security problem --
but abolish subsidies for ethanol and other oil/gas substitutes that cannot
meet the test of a free market."
Global warming is, shall we say, a hot topic in liberal media circles.
The New Yorker is running a series on how the Arctic's sea ice, permafrost and glaciers all are melting because of man-caused global warming. Mother Jones has a cover story essentially saying that ExxonMobil has bought and paid for virtually every scientist who's skeptical of global warming. Even The Weather Channel is doing weather-docs on Arctic thawing.
For a little balance, we called up Fred Singer, an expert on global climate change and a pioneer in the development of rocket and satellite technology. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton and happens to be the guy who devised the basic instrument for measuring stratospheric ozone. Now president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project research group (sepp.org), his dozen books include "Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate." I talked to him by telephone from his offices in Arlington, VA.:
Q: Here's a line from the Mother Jones article: "There is overwhelming scientific consensus that greenhouse gases emitted by human activity are causing global average temperatures to rise." Is that true?
A: It's completely unsupported by any observation, but it's supported by (computer) climate models. In other words, the models would indicate this. The observations do not.
Q: What's the best argument or proof that global warming is not happening?
A: The best proof are data taken of atmospheric temperature by two completely different methods. One is from instruments carried in satellites that look down on the atmosphere. The other is from instruments carried in balloons that ascend through the atmosphere and take readings as they go up. These measurements show that the atmospheric warming, such as it is, is extremely slight -- a great deal less than what any of the models predicts, and in conflict also with observations of the surface.
Q: What is the most dangerous untrue "fact" about global warming?
A: The rise in sea level. Again, the observations show that sea level has risen in the last 18,000 years by about 400 feet and is continuing to rise at a uniform rate, and is not accelerating, irrespective of warming or cooling. In fact, sea level will continue to rise at a slow rate of 8 inches per century, as it has been for the last few thousand years.
Q: If you had a 12-year-old grandkid who was worried about global warming, what would you tell him?
A: I would tell them that there are many more important problems in the world to worry about, such as diseases, pandemics, nuclear war, and terrorism. The least important of these is global warming produced by humans, because it will be insignificant compared to natural fluctuations of climate.
Q: How did you become what Mother Jones says you are -- "the godfather of global warming denial"?
A: That's easy: Age. I organized my first conference on global warming in 1968. At that time I had no position. It was a conference called "The global effects of environmental pollution." I remember some of the experts we had speaking thought the climate was going to warm and some thought it was going to cool. That was the situation in 1968.
Q: Climate is extremely complicated -- is that a true statement?
A: Immensely complicated. Which is a reason why the models will never be able to adequately simulate the atmosphere.
Q: Give me a sample of how complicated just one little thing can be.
A: The most complicated thing about the atmosphere that the models cannot capture is clouds. First of all, clouds are small. The resolution of the models is about 200 miles; clouds are much smaller than that. Secondly, they don't know when clouds form. They have to guess what humidity is necessary for a cloud to form. And of course, humidity is not the only factor. You have to have nuclei -- little particles -- on which the water vapor can condense to form cloud droplets. They don't know that either. And they don't know at what point the cloud begins to rain out. And they don't know at what point -- it goes on like this.
Q: Is this debate a scientific fight or a political fight?
A: Both. I much support a scientific fight, because I'm pretty sure we'll win that -- because the data support us; they don't support the climate models. Basically it's a fight of people who believe in data, who believe in the real atmosphere, versus people who believe in atmosphere models.
Q: Is it not true that CO2 levels have gone up by about a third in the last 100 years?
A: A little more than a third, yes. I accept that.
Q: Do you say that's irrelevant?
A: It's relevant, but the effects cannot be clearly seen. The models predict huge effects from this, but we don't see them.
Q: Why is it important that global warming be studied in a balanced, scientific, depoliticized way?
A: It's a scientific problem. The climate is something we live with,
and we need to know what effect human activities are having on climate.
I don't deny that there's some effect of human activities on climate -
at least locally. We need to learn how important these are.
I am pleased to accept your invitation to comment on the three articles in your May-June 2005 issue "As the World Burns." I am labeled there "godfather of global warming denial' - a polite way of referring to my advanced age, I suppose. In a Note, editor in chief Russ Rymer refers to me and my colleagues as " crank scientists" and accuses us of "contesting the very [climate] science itself." Imagine that: scientists daring to dispute the science that Rymer and his cohorts have enshrined as gospel truth.
I may be cranky but not a crank - not when respectable science journals publish what I send them. Not when thousands of scientists agree with us. To suggest that all this is a vast right-wing conspiracy financed by ExxonMobil is laughable. How sad that Ross Gelbspan persists in peddling untruths, like calling me a spokesman for Western Fuels. They may well have spent a million dollars, but neither I nor my organization SEPP ever received one penny from these people.
Chris Mooney is more subtle. He does not lie but is "economical with the truth." For example, he does not reveal that the one-time $10,000 donation from the Exxon Foundation to SEPP was unsolicited and entirely unexpected. It represents but a tiny fraction of the SEPP budget for the past 15 years and an even tinier fraction of what Exxon gives to all kinds of tax-exempt institutions. Another example: Mooney claims that Exxon gave $140,000 to the Hoover Institution and implies that as a former fellow I benefited from this. Nice try, Chris. But I was the Wesson Fellow at Hoover; my stipend came from salad oil.
Bill McKibben is essentially correct. The skeptics are winning the global
warming debate. But not because of Exxon or of politics -- because of
the science. One by one, the pillars supporting the UN-IPCC and Kyoto
Protocol are falling: first the Hockeystick, now the claims of current
warming, and the claim that the models can explain what is being observed.
The much-vaunted "scientific consensus" that politicians, lawyers,
and diplomats so dearly love (because it relieves them of dealing with
the messy science) is turning out to be a fake. Yes - an out-and-out great
Reversing a decades-long trend toward "global dimming," the Earth's surface has become brighter over the last 15 years. For reasons still not well understood, the amount of sunshine reaching the ground from the late 1950's into the 1990's dropped 10 percent, or a rate of 2 to 3 percent per decade. But that has now changed.
"We see the dimming is no longer there," said Dr. Martin Wild, a climatologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the lead author of one of three papers analyzing sunlight since the 1990's that appear in the May-5 issue of the journal Science. "If anything, there is a brightening."
In some places, he said, the brightening has more than offset the dimming that was detected beginning in the late 1950's. In others, like Hong Kong, which lost more than a third of its sunlight, the dimming trend has leveled off, but previous levels of brightness have not yet returned. In a few places, like India, the dimming trend continues, he said.
The findings of Dr. Wild and his colleagues are based on a network of ground-based sensors that directly measure the amount of sunlight reaching them. But the sensors are not evenly distributed across the planet, with few in Africa and South America and none covering the 70 percent of the surface that is water.
A second team, led by Dr. Rachel T. Pinker, a professor of meteorology
at the University of Maryland, analyzed satellite data that covered the
entire globe. Their findings, however, rely on computer models to estimate
how much sunlight reaches the surface. A third team, led by Dr. Bruce
A. Wielicki of NASA's Langley Research Center, looked at satellite measurements
of the amount of light reflected off the top of the atmosphere.
Two possible causes are clouds and air pollution, and they are not necessarily unrelated. In addition to blocking out light, particles of air pollution can serve as seeds for water vapor to condense into cloud droplets. They may also darken clouds or make them last longer.
The Earth reflects back into space about 30 percent of the sunlight that hits it. Slight changes in reflectivity can have as much impact on the climate as greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide currently accumulating in the atmosphere.
"I think what could have happened is the dimming between the 60's and 80's counteracted the greenhouse effect," Dr. Wild said. "When the dimming faded, the effects of the greenhouse gases became more evident. There is no masking by the dimming any more."
Dr. Pinker, however, said the picture may not be that simple. More sunlight
could increase evaporation rates leading to more clouds, which might then
reflect more sunlight, limiting the warming effect. "It's dangerous
to look at dimming at one location and look at the implication for public
policy," she said. "I think that's a complex issue. There are
many feedbacks involved."
More sunlight - and thus heat - reaching the ground could partly explain the (purportedly) record-high global temperatures reported in the late 1990's, and it could accelerate the warming trend in the future. But the findings also highlight a major gap in understanding of climate. Scientists do not know what caused the dimming and subsequent brightening or how those changes affect the rest of the climate system.