|The Week That Was
Oct. 8, 2005
New on the Web: Antonio Martino,
a noted economist and currently serving as Italy's defense minister, summarizes
some of the problems with the Kyoto Protocol in a WSJ op-ed. He quotes
my estimate of the ineffectiveness of Kyoto -- an undetectable reduction
of calculated temperatures of 0.02 degC by 2050. It was based on the assumption
that the US would not ratify Kyoto but that OECD nations would all meet
their agreed-to targets and not cheat.
The saddest story (for me at least) is the shaky science underlying
Kyoto. In a lecture in Erice, Sicily a few weeks ago, I pointed out that
the greenhouse effect on the ocean might be much reduced - or even zero.
The undisputed physics facts are that infrared radiation (and this would
include GH radiation) cannot perpetrate water beyond about one-hundredth
of a millimeter. This optics result is confirmed by actual measurements.
So far, the climatology community has not taken any notice of this phenomenon.
When Lord Lawson (former Chancellor of the Exchequer) and Dr David
Henderson (former chief economist of OECD) spoke here recently about problems
with IPCC and Kyoto, there ensued also a discussion about the best way
to mitigate Global Warming: Carbon taxes, Cap & Trade schemes (a la
McCain-Lieberman bill), or mandated technology goals.
But why search for "solutions" if there is no problem? We need to look more closely at how and why the climate warmed in the 20th century. The strong warming trend before 1940 is generally considered of natural origin - even by the IPCC. It was followed by a 35-year long cooling trend - not compatible with the strong increase in GH gases after World War II.
The modest warming observed in the past 25 years does not correspond
with what climate models and GH theory predict. So what is the evidence
for an anthropogenic cause? We will quote here the IPCC Summary for Policymakers
: "The warming over the past 100 years is very unlikely to
be due to internal variability alone, as estimated by current models."
[Note my emphasis: not data but models]. And what do current models show?
Minute variations in assumed parameters for cloud microphysics entering
into the models can vary the warming between 1.9 and 11.5 degC (!) [Stainforth
et al, Nature 27 Jan. 2005]. Model results are not evidence!
On carbon taxes, see the Senate testimony of Anne Smith (Item #1);
on emission trading, see my Letter to The American Interest (Item
#2). On technology forcing, the best one can say is that research alone
(but no more than that) may be justified. CO2 sequestration is a thoroughly
bad idea because it assumes -without proof -- that CO2 is a pollutant.
Now a just released IPCC report confirms its high cost: "between
1 and 5 cents per kilowatt-hour" [Science 309, p. 2145, 30
Sept 2005]. It would double the electric bills of US households.
The French Academies of Science and of Medicine have produces a joint
report that strongly disagrees with the common assumption of a linear,
no-threshold (LNT) response. We learn that the fears of low-level nuclear
radiation are vastly overblown. See
At a recent Senate Energy Committee hearing on climate change, Dr. Anne Smith of Charles River Associates gave important testimony that outlines why hard cap and trade programs or cap and trade with a safety valve price are far less desirable than a simpler carbon tax, if one wants to send a market signal on the price of carbon..
The key points made by Dr. Smith are:
--Short-term (as contemplated in NCEP-Bingaman) reductions have a non-existent impact on climate risk unless the reductions (and costs) are very, very high, the opposite of what is contemplated in NCEP. Further, the NCEP (or even McCain-Lieberman) will NOT stimulate needed NEW technologies. The focus of these bills is subsidizing existing technology rather than R&D for new technologies. Any rational climate program would have to focus on long-term, high-cost basic research and development to produce radically new GH-gas-free energy sources. IGCC with carbon sequestration cannot achieve long-term stated goals of stabilization and ultimately zero emissions of CO2.
--Hard caps are the costliest and least desirable option while a cap with a safety valve price or carbon taxes are a lower cost option that can provide revenues for government R and D. A cap with safety valve price brings unneeded baggage as the carbon tax would provide all the same benefits while a cap and trade with safety valve brings far greater complexity and political complication, government intrusion into the economy, bureaucracy and the need to devise allowance allocation formulas which do nothing to alleviate the final costs but only redistribute wealth amongst corporate entities. Even if you get allowance allocation correct between sectors, you can never devise a program that will be equitable within sectors.
--There is no allocation design that can make all affected parties better
off under either cap and trade or carbon taxes. Any type of cap leads
to ever more costly controls as the economy and population grow. The intensity-based
cap in Sen. Bingaman's bill is STILL a hard cap that only lowers the level
of cost risk. Once the safety valve kicks in, the control costs and environmental
outcomes are the same as a carbon tax except that a carbon tax is less
costly and avoids creating the bureaucracy, administration and enforcement
associated with a cap and trade program. An auction of allowances can
provide compensation to companies just as allowances do - auction revenues
could be returned to companies by the same formula as would have been
used by allocation.
--Mandatory programs include a hard cap (M-L), cap with safety valve (Bingaman-NCEP) and carbon taxes. In terms of sending a market price signal, the latter is by far the best. Anne Smith observes, "I have concluded that commitments to support technology development and bring about change in the rate of growth of emissions from developing countries are a more effective and appropriate focus for current action on climate policy."
Jason Grumet of the NCEP commented that there needed to be recognition
that "actions in the developing world will inevitably follow those
of the United States" and that this should provide impetus to take
action now so we can encourage similar actions overseas. This gets it
precisely wrong. The "Group of 70" developing countries have
stated publicly they have no intention of signing on to any mandatory
emissions reductions program either for 50 years or ever. China has been
the leader of this group. Rather, two of the most important developing
nations, from the perspective of GHG emissions -China and India- have
agreed to work with the US in an Asian initiative that focuses on technology
transfer. This is the future, reinforced by the fact that Tony Blair has
added his name to that of other Kyoto countries that have declared there
will be no second Kyoto period after the first (2008-2012).
If my goal were simply to limit the emission of the greenhouse gas CO2 in the least costly way, I might choose the cap-and-trade scheme of the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act (TAI, Autumn 2005). (There are problems with this particular approach, which I return to later.) But surely the most important and fundamental questions are: Why do it? Why impose such a costly constraint on our economy -And, how effective is it?
In his opening paragraph, Senator Lieberman alludes to "the debate whether carbon-dioxide emissions can warm the earth" and "whether [warming and more CO2] would be a good thing, leading to greater agricultural productivity." Indeed. While the atmosphere has warmed by about 0.3 degC in the past 25 years - after nearly four decades of cooling -- there is no scientific agreement on whether and how much of the warming is manmade or part of a natural cycle. Further, reputable economists have concluded that such modest warming would on the whole produce net benefits, raising GNP and average incomes.
But while there may be legitimate debate about the exact amount of warming and its impacts, there is no debate whatsoever about the effectiveness of various schemes proposed -- be they the Kyoto Protocol or McLieberman. Their impact on climate would not be detectable but they would raise the cost of energy substantially to consumers, and create yet another bureaucracy.
It is significant that Mr. Tony Blair, one of Kyoto's most vocal proponents and drafter of the Gleneagles Communiqué as recently as July 8, has changed his mind. In New York City on September 15, at a Global Initiative conference organized by former President Clinton, the Prime Minister said "no country is going to cut its growth or consumption" despite environmental fears. Mr. Blair's comments, which he said were "brutally honest," mark a big environmental U-turn and have dismayed environmental activists.
It may be superfluous to comment on detailed shortcomings of cap-and-trade. It does nothing to limit growing emissions from vehicles and airplanes, or from home heating with oil or gas. It raises costs on certain electric utilities that must pass them along to ratepayers. It penalizes the use of domestic coal in favor of ever scarcer and costlier natural gas. It may favor construction of nuclear plants - although that is in no way assured. One thing is certain however. Energy costs will rise rapidly as energy consumption and CO2 emission bump up against the cap.
Senator Lieberman rightly rejects the solution offered up by the self-styled "National" Commission on Energy Policy: Emitters would be permitted to pay an "escape" fee if the incremental cost of reduction exceeds a certain level. But if the trade scheme works, as it should, economic theory dictates that all emitters will face the same incremental cost. "Escape" therefore is equivalent to relaxing and raising the cap - a political act not dictated by economics.
It is clear from recent experience that when facing costly natural disasters
and possible even more costly terrorist acts, we should not waste our
finite resources on minor "problems" like a putative global
warming. Instead, preparation and adaptation, as necessary, may be our
The law is the Mercury Education and Reduction Act of 2002. Following two public hearings, Gina McCarthy, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, concluded in a Declarative Ruling in May that the Mercury Act does not ban mercury in dentistry.
Why did the Connecticut General Assembly, worried about the use of mercury, exempt dental use? Considering that at the public hearing before the Environment Committee, not a single witness testified against dental mercury amalgams, one can reasonably guess that the legislature knew nothing about it.
The law spurred Attorney General Blumenthal into threatening to sue Kellogg over a toy with a tiny battery containing mercury, a promotion put in boxes of Rice Krispies. The law bans "promotional" use of mercury. Mr. Blumenthal gave no evidence that any child ever ate or was likely to eat the battery.
A leading authority on amalgams and mercury, Professor Boyd Haley, biochemist, of the University of Kentucky, submitted a statement to the DEP hearing on his own research and numerous published studies.
Dental amalgams are an alloy of approximately 50 percent mercury with silver, copper, tin, or zinc. Contrary to the claims of dental organizations, the alloy is not stable. It continuously releases mercury vapors, which are transformed by body processes into methylmercury, a nasty toxic form. In addition, the presence of the other heavy metals has a synergistic effect that greatly enhances the toxicity.
"Amalgams release mercury at a toxic rate that would contaminate liters of drinking water each day that would be in excess of the EPA standard for acceptable mercury levels," testified Professor Haley. He enclosed a photo "visualization" of mercury still emitting from a dental amalgam filling. The filling is 50 years old. The tooth was extracted 15 years ago.
Clearly, American children have been getting heavy doses of mercury from vaccines and from mothers' dental amalgams and medical injections. But, strangely, the source of mercury presently getting the most attention is mercury in fish, the least significant source. Such studies as we have on mercury in seafood are almost entirely from fishing communities that eat unusually large quantities of seafood. Even among them, there is no clear evidence of neuro-developmental harm to children.
Where the fish-autism relation has been studied, the conclusion has been, as Holmes et al write, "Maternal dietary consumption of fish was not significantly associated with autism."
The ruckus about mercury in fish is grounded not in science but in ideology.
It offers a chance to strike at coal-fired power plants, said to be responsible
for the mercury emissions that end up in the sea. It is part of the botch
that the medical authorities, dental authorities, and environmentalists
have made of the autism epidemic.
Environmental scare stories now follow such a predictable line that we can chart their course. Year 1 is the year of the scientist, who discovers some potential threat. Year 2 is the year of the journalist, who oversimplifies and exaggerates it. Only now, in year 3, do the environmentalists join the bandwagon (almost no green scare has been started by greens). They polarise the issue. Either you agree that the world is about to come to an end and are fired by righteous indignation, or you are a paid lackey of big business. Year 4 is the year of the bureaucrat. A conference is mooted, keeping public officials well supplied with club-class tickets and limelight. This diverts the argument from science to regulation. A totemic "target" is the key feature: 30% reductions in sulphur emissions; stabilisation of greenhouse gases at 1990 levels; 140,000 ritually slaughtered healthy British cows.
Year 5 is the time to pick a villain and gang up on him. It is usually America (global warming) or Britain (acid rain), but Russia (CFCs and ozone) or Brazil deforestation) have had their day.
Year 6 is the time for sceptics who say the scare is exaggerated. This drives greens into paroxysms of pious rage. "How dare you give space to fringe views?" cry these once-fringe people to newspaper editors. But by now the scientist who first gave the warning is often embarrassingly to be found among the sceptics. Roger Revelle, nickname "Dr Greenhouse", who fired Al Gore with global warming evangelism, wrote just before his death in 1991: "The scientific basis for greenhouse warming is too uncertain to justify drastic action at this time."
Year 7 is the year of the quiet climb-down. Without fanfare, the official
consensus estimate of the size of the problem is shrunk. Thus, when nobody
was looking, the population "explosion" became an asymptotic
rise to a maximum of just 15 billion; this was then downgraded to 12 billion,
then less than 10 billion. That means population will never double again.
Greenhouse warming was originally going to be "uncontrolled".
Then it was going to be 2.5-4 degrees in a century. Then it became 1.5-3
degrees (according to the United Nations). In two years, elephants went
from imminent danger of extinction to badly in need of contraception (the
facts did not change, the reporting did).
Throughout August Federal agencies are conducting a simulated release
of an industrial gas in New York City to help emergency responders prepare
for a possible terrorist attack or major accident in heavily populated
cities. The New York Urban Dispersion Program aims to track both the physical
movements of an airborne light gas, and the reaction by authorities and
the public. Under the test, the colorless, odorless, and nontoxic gases
perfluorocarbon and sulfur hexafluoride are released, while monitors measure
wind, temperature and other factors. According to Inside EPA, the exercise
will help emergency responders to better understand what areas to target
and what assistance to provide potential victims of contamination. The
program held tests last winter, and will continue testing in Spring 2006
to account for seasonal variations in dispersion and reaction. The project
is part of an Energy Department initiative and will involve officials
at EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the departments
of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security. Similar tests were conduced
in Salt Lake City in 2000 and in Oklahoma City in 2003..
7. Following D.C., Other Cities Consider Hazmat Bans:
Following in the footsteps of the District of Columbia, four major cities
Baltimore, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland have legislation pending that
would ban the rail transport of hazardous materials through metropolitan
areas, according to the Business Journal of Jacksonville. Sponsors and
supporters of these bills say they are proceeding regardless of the situation
in Washington, where a federal court has temporarily blocked a similar
D.C. law. CSX Transportation, whose lawsuit against the D.C. law is backed
by the Bush Administration, insists it has not intervened with the proposals
in the other cities. Everyone is watching for the result of the D.C. case,
CSX spokesman Gary Sease said. "It will certainly provide a clear
indication of the direction these ordinances will follow."
Based on the recommendations of asteroid experts, ESA has selected two target asteroids for its Near-Earth Object deflecting mission, Don Quijote.
Don Quijote is an asteroid-deflecting mission currently under study by ESA's Advanced Concepts Team (ACT). Earlier this year the NEO Mission Advisory Panel (NEOMAP), consisting of well-known experts in the field, delivered to ESA a target selection report for Europe's future asteroid mitigation missions, identifying the relevant criteria for selecting a target and picking up two objects that meet most of those criteria. The asteroids' temporary designations are 2002 AT4 and 1989 ML.
With this input and the support of ESA's Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) experts, the Advanced Concepts Team has now completed an extensive assessment of suitable mission architectures, launch strategies, propulsion system options and experiments.
The current scenario envisages two spacecraft in separate interplanetary trajectories. One spacecraft (Hidalgo) will impact an asteroid, the other (Sancho) will arrive earlier at the target asteroid, rendezvous and orbit the asteroid for several months, observing it before and after the impact to detect any changes in its orbit.