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.
It's actually worse. If the EU buys unused emission rights from Russia, there may in fact be no emission reduction overall and Kyoto would have zero effect. I call this legalized cheating. Further, a provision in the Kyoto Protocol permits nations that fail to meet their 2012 target to postpone their obligation to the post-Kyoto follow-on. But will there be a "Son of Kyoto"? Not if you listen to Tony Blair's pronouncements of Sept 15 at the Clinton bash in NY. So all the fuss raised about the White House refusal to ratify the Treaty is just a charade.

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.
A Mini-Editorial on GW Mitigation

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 [2001]: "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
Mercury in dental amalgams is a more important source of methyl mercury than consumption of fish. So why the fish scares? Part of the ideological war against coal-fired power plants. (Item #3)
Environmental scares follow a predictable time pattern (Item #4). Have you heard anything recently about the threat of Acid Rain? Or about "Waldsterben"?
Dioxin in Michigan river not harmful to wildlife (Item #5). Will PCBs in the Hudson river be next? Don't bet on it.
Chemical release study using inert perfluorocarbon and sulfur hexafluoride set for NYC to test dispersion of a possible chemical attack gas (Item #6). Tsk, tsk; aren't those GH gases?
Following Washington, DC, other cities consider a ban on transportation of hazardous materials (Hazmat) (Item #7). It is being fought in court; would also set a bad precedent for transport of spent nuclear fuel.
And finally, interplanetary mitigation against NEO (Near-Earth Objects) gets off the ground (Item #8).


1. Mitigation of Carbon Emissions

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.

--International deployment of cleaner, more efficient generating technologies is critical, but the focus needs to be on market barriers to technology transfer in the developing countries. Because developing countries are far more energy-intensive (per $ of economic output) than the US or other developed countries, the greatest short term, and lowest cost reductions, should come from deploying technologies to developing countries.

--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).

2. Letter to Editor, The American Interest

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 best response.
Atmospheric physicist S FRED SINGER is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and former director of the US Weather Satellite Service (now NESDIS-NOAA). He has authored several books and research papers on climate science. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

by Gerald and Natalie Sirkin

Mercury poisoning is in the news again. A controversy simmers over whether dentists are allowed to use fillings containing mercury. Environmentalists charge that a Connecticut law that prohibits the addition of mercury to products, bans the use of dental amalgams made with mercury.

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.

4. Will you believe the next one?
The Economist Dec 20th, 1997

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).

5. Dioxin in River Not Harmful to Wildlife:
Levels of dioxin found in Michigan's Tittabawassee River do not appear to be harming birds and mammals in the area, according to a new study by Michigan State University. While the researchers cannot rule out subtle effects, the results are "encouraging signs" that dioxin in the river bottom and floodplain are not producing toxic effects, as reported in The Detroit Free Press. The presence of dioxin is the focus of a "continuous and sometimes-contentious struggle" between state regulators and The Dow Chemical Company. In July, the Michigan State Supreme Court rejected claims by plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit, who sought to make Dow responsible for the costs of monitoring the health of residents along the Tittabawassee River.

6. Chemical Release Study Set for NYC:

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."

8. ESA selects targets for asteroid-deflecting mission Don Quijote
European Space Agency Press Release No. 41-2005
Paris, France 26 September 2005

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.



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