August 1997

UN Conference in Bonn

The United Nations recently ended a negotiating session in Bonn, Germany to lay the groundwork for the upcoming conference in Kyoto, Japan where countries will negotiate binding emission targets on greenhouse gases.

Unlike past conferences, all negotiations at Bonn were closed to the public. NGOs were allowed to address the delegates at the start of the conference, though the AFL-CIO was prohibited from speaking, since, according to UN officials, they are a U.S. interest group and do not represent an international constituency.

Judging from hallway conversations the mood of the conference was one of lowered expectations. What may come out of Kyoto is a fill-in-the-blank treaty with no targets and timetables but a mandate to fill them in within two years.

Greenhouse Deal Not Likely

Apparently climate change treaty negotiators are not confident of a deal being made before the Kyoto conference in December. According to an unnamed source close to the negotiations, participants are still “far apart” on many issues revolving around the climate change issue.

Most notable is the Byrd/Hagel resolution which passed the U.S. Senate 95-0. It calls for binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions on the developing countries. The U.S. gave copies of the resolution to representatives of the developing countries and, according to the source, “We made it very, very clear that we would have to see some kind of action by them that was consistent with the kind of action that we were taking. . . . We’re going to have to have binding targets and timetables out of them in time frames roughly consistent with our budget.”

With only two weeks of formal negotiating left, one in October and one in December, the source is not optimistic. “Do I think there’s going to be a deal? Probably not” (The White House Bulletin, August 11, 1997).

Linking Clean Air to Hot Air

The EPA will create a subcommittee of its Clean Air Act Advisory Committee to look at integrating Clean Air Act implementation with programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The subcommittee will:

  • “Consider a comprehensive strategy for meeting air quality standards that encompasses the interaction of clean air, energy and climate change;
  • Consider the interaction of clean air issues and state and federal restructuring initiatives;
  • Consider various options on climate change policy and negotiations, and provide advice on scientific, economic and policy issues that affect the administration’s positions in international negotiations over a new agreement to limit emissions of greenhouse gases” (The Electricity Daily, August 14, 1997).

Pressure on Australia

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has called for the government of Australia to convene a greenhouse summit to resolve the controversy over Australia’s position on greenhouse gas emission targets. Australia has been resistant to targets and timetables that would severely injure their energy industry. New projections show that greenhouse gas emissions from Australia’s energy sector will rise between 20 and 65 percent by 2010 under current policies.

Jim Downey, director of ACF, explained, “The principal purpose of a summit would be to achieve agreement by industry, government, and the community sector about the policies and measures necessary to achieve emission reductions” (AAP Newsfeed, August 19, 1997).

Climate Change in Perspective

The Washington Post with its publication of “The Little Ice Age: When Cooling Gripped the World” (August 13, 1997) has finally put climate change in perspective. Alan Cutler, visiting scientist at the National Museum of Natural History, portrays the history of climate change as a primarily natural phenomenon. The Little Ice Age, which began about 500 years ago, was a climate phenomenon which ended sometime between 1850 and 1900, before the industrial revolution. Indeed, most of the warming of the past century occurred before the industrial revolution and is most likely a recovery from the Little Ice Age.

More importantly, however, the article points out that climate change has occurred frequently and rapidly in the past before man began to burn fossil fuels. Throughout history, ecosystems as well as human communities migrated to compensate for climate changes. Between 1000 and 1300 AD, for example, grapes were grown in England 300 miles further north than they are today because of warmer temperatures. During the Little Ice Age, however, the British celebrated the freezing of the Thames river with “Frost Fairs,” while in the United States one could walk from Manhattan to Staten Island on the frozen New York harbor.

There are two possible explanations for the Little Ice Age. Researchers have found a correlation between sunspot activity and temperature. The Little Ice Age occurred during a time of low sunspot activity, known as the Maunder Minimum. The sun’s energy output was about one quarter of one percent dimmer during that period.

Other researchers have examined the possibility of volcanic eruptions as a cause of colder periods. The “Year Without Summer,” for example, followed the eruption of Tambora which put ten times as much ash into the atmosphere as the Krakatoa eruption. One thing is for certain: climate change is a common phenomenon and will occur again regardless of man’s actions. The question is should man raise his puny arm to avert such changes or should he make himself more able to adapt to the inevitable change?

A sidebar to the article begins; “Although it often is claimed that global air temperatures are the warmest ever and that a warming trend in the last 20 years is unprecedented, climatologists know better.”

The warming we have experienced is small compared to the warming after the Little Ice Age which began in 1850 and occurred entirely from natural causes. That warming trend was interrupted by a 35 year cooling between 1940 and 1975 which had some climatologists predicting another ice age. What scientists are trying to decide is whether current warming is a result of increased atmospheric CO2 or whether this is just “part of a natural climate change of the sort that has been routine for millennia.”

Warming May Thicken Ice Shelves

According to a study in Nature (“Predicted reduction in basal melt rates on an Antarctic ice shelf in a warmer climate,” July 31, 1997), “A moderate warming of the climate could . . . lead to a basal thickening of the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf, perhaps increasing longevity.”

Though smaller ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula may be shrinking from warming, the larger shelves further south may actually thicken as a result of warming. For now, conditions in the far south are so cold that any warming that has or may occur presents no threat in the immediate future.

Anomalous Heat Wave

Two years ago Chicago experienced an unprecedented heat surge which lead to many deaths. Environmentalists blamed global warming. And the Clinton administration, to this day, cites the heat wave as evidence of the potential impacts of climate change.

A study by Thomas Karl and Richard Knight (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78(6), 1997) counters this view. The researchers found an increasing trend in apparent temperature between the years 1948 and 1995 in Chicago. However, when they accounted for changes in temperature measuring devices (which measure higher maximum and minimum temperatures) they found the trend to be “essentially close to zero.” The urban heat island effect also played a role since the researchers found that Midwestern stations surrounding the Chicago area did not have the same apparent temperature trend.

CO2 Effects on Biomass

In an article for Nature (“CO2 increases oceanic primary production,” August 7, 1997), researchers have found that increases in CO2 concentrations spurs primary production of biomass in the Earth’s oceans, which constitutes 40 percent of total primary production on Earth.

By manipulating CO2 concentrations at 18 stations in the Atlantic Ocean the researchers found that at elevated levels primary production in surface waters was 115 percent of the ambient level, and 119 percent of ambient levels in deeper chlorophyll-rich waters. The levels of CO2 used correspond roughly to those predicted by the IPCC’s “business as usual” scenario.

Another article in the same issue of Nature (“The fate of carbon in grasslands under carbon dioxide enrichment”), researchers found that a doubling of CO2 increased carbon uptake in grasslands, though they warn that the sequestration potential of grasslands has been overestimated. This is due to the fact that elevated CO2 concentration “causes a greater increase in carbon cycling than in carbon storage in grasslands.”

Emission Reduction Proposals Will Be Ineffective

Research conducted at the University of Illinois has shown that of the many short-term targets proposed for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, none of the proposed reductions “will lead to stabilization of carbon dioxide concentrations.”

According to climate researcher Atul Jain, computer simulations “show that the projected rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from the year 1995 to 2010 is much larger than the projected effects of the proposed emission reductions. We also found that the effects of emission reductions on global-mean temperatures and sea level will not be measurable by the year 2010” (Agence France Presse, August 13, 1997).

High Costs Projected for Climate Treaty

According to a study by Resource Data International, Inc., the potential costs of reducing electricity use in the U.S. are very high. By examining how growth in the U.S. electricity supply affects economic growth as measured by GDP the study shows that a $100 carbon tax, required to reduce CO2 emissions to 1990 levels, would reduce GDP growth by $1.314 trillion, or 14 percent by 2010, and up to $16.823 trillion over a 10-year period.

The economic impact of a reduction in the growth of electricity use would fall most heavily on the Midwest. The Midwest lacks alternative electricity generating resources such as hydroelectric and nuclear power and rely on inexpensive coal which generates 72 percent of their energy, compared to only 35 percent in the Coastal regions.

Moreover, energy-intensive industries are more heavily concentrated in the U.S. interior, whereas seaboard economies are more service oriented. The Clinton administration has stated that the primary method to reduce CO2 emissions will be to reduce coal use. Finally, the study argues that a CO2 emission trading scheme would not be a panacea. The success of the SO2 trading scheme in the U.S. primarily results from switching from high to low sulfur coal. The study notes that there is no such thing as low carbon coal.

The study concludes that “no single alternative resource or combination of natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables such as solar or wind, can replace coal to generate electricity and sustain current levels of U.S. economic growth to meet even the most modest climate treaty proposal that would stabilize CO2 emissions at 1990 levels.” The study is available by calling (314) 342-7554 or via the internet at

Natural Gas to Reap Benefits from Climate Change Treaty?

At a Colorado Oil and Gas Association conference, Energy Secretary Frederico Pena promised natural gas producers to help “cut red tape that delays drilling and transportation of natural gas as part of a national effort to combat global warming.” Pena promised to convince Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to go ahead with a plan to reduce gas royalties by 1 to 2 percent in exchange for environmental improvements by gas firms. It is doubtful whether favorable treatment to natural gas interests will significantly reduce greenhouse gases, given that natural gas is also a fossil fuel which emits CO2 when burned (Greenwire, August 13, 1997).

Clinton’s Public “Education” Campaign

On July 24 President Clinton began his promised campaign to alert the American people to the dangers of climate change by bringing seven scientists to the White House to discuss the issue. Clinton stated that, “It is no longer a threat, but now a fact that global warming is for real,” warning that, “The longer you wait, the more disruptive the ultimate resolution will be.”

Though supposedly an educational exercise it became rapidly apparent that the meeting was a propaganda campaign meant to scare the American people. Clinton warned that failure to cut emissions could cause “widespread ecological disasters including killer heat waves, severe floods and droughts, and increase in infectious diseases and rising sea levels that could swamp thousands of miles of coastal Florida and Louisiana” (The Washington Post, July 25, 1997). Clinton urged the American people to look at the scientific evidence, advice he should follow himself, given that there is no scientific evidence for the disasters he predicts nor are they predicted by the computer models used by climate scientists.

When Al Gore asked biology professor, Stephen Schneider, if recent floods in the upper Midwest, Ohio, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Northwest could be due to climate change, he replied that this was consistent with climate change (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 25, 1997). What Schneider didn’t mention was that the spring runoff that caused the North Dakota, Red River flood (the upper Midwest), for example, was due to greater snowfall as a result of colder temperatures. In the middle latitudes colder temperatures are correlated with greater snowfall (World Climate Report, v. 2 no. 17).

Of course, Clinton didn’t promise to tell the facts, just to convince Americans to support an economically painful treaty.

Green McCarthyism

The following is a portion of a transcript from an interview with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt on the Diane Rehm Show (WAMU-FM, July 21, 1997):

Secretary Babbitt: “Let me suggest that we have a really big opportunity coming up this year, in 1997. Climate change is underway. We have already changed the atmosphere through fossil fuel emissions. That’s a scientific fact beyond denial. The effects are starting to show up. And there’s going to be a treaty negotiation in Kyoto, in Japan, at the end of this year to try to set national plans to control global warming.”

“But it’s an unhappy fact that the oil companies and the coal companies in the United States have joined in a conspiracy to hire pseudo scientists to deny the facts, and then begin raising political arguments that are essentially fraudulent, that we can’t do this without damaging the economy, the same kinds of arguments they used against acid rain, they used against the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act. This time I think it’s especially unfortunate, and I think that the energy companies need to be called to account because what they’re doing is un-American in the most basic sense. They are compromising our future by misrepresenting the facts by suborning scientists onto their payrolls and attempting to mislead the American people.”

Host Diane Rehm: “And keeping the issue alive. I mean keeping the question as to whether climate change is actually occurring, keeping the question in people’s minds [unclear] it’s supposed to, assuming that there is something happening.”

Babbitt: “That’s absolutely true. There was an article by the president of Chrysler Corporation in The Washington Post last week. It’s an outrageous distortion of existing science [note: the editorial (July 17, 1997) merely stated that the science is still uncertain, a statement wholly supported by statements made by IPCC scientists] that is reflective of what’s going on in the energy industry. And I don’t thinks it’s too strong to say that it is a deliberate attempt to distort the facts and to mislead and simply stall any kind of progress for their own short term advantage with possibly really catastrophic effects in the long run.”

Bruce Babbitt, the Joe McCarthy of the environmental movement.

The Climate Change Debate

In an article highlighting climate change skeptics, the New Scientist (“Greenhouse Wars,” July 19, 1997) shows that there is still significant uncertainty concerning the validity of global warming predictions. One of the most important issues currently debated is the role of water vapor in the atmosphere (see below). One thing that the satellite data have shown is that the temperatures of the surface and free troposphere move in different directions. Computer models have them moving in the same direction. According to David Parker of the British Meteorological Office, “The surface and mid-troposphere appear to be much less coupled than the models assume . . . . If the models don’t get tropospheric heating right, we are in trouble.”

If coupling of the surface and atmospheric temperatures is modeled incorrectly, then it is very likely that the models incorrectly handle the way water vapor moves between the surface and the free troposphere. This means that the positive feedback from water vapor – which turns “the greenhouse effect from a benign curiosity into a potential apocalypse. . .” – may not even exist. Simon Tett, a modeler and IPCC author, concedes, “the upper troposphere is probably drier than the models suggest.” Though there is, to date, little evidence for a negative feedback mechanism, things are moving in the direction of the skeptics.

The bottom line, though, is that the modelers and skeptics are not far apart. The skeptics concede that that a doubling of CO2 may raise temperatures by between 1 and 1.5 degrees C, the lower end of the modelers’ predictions. However, as Patrick Michaels, a climatologist with the University of Virginia, says, “You can’t make a case for a global apocalypse out of 1.5 degrees C warming.”

Assumption Dries Up

According to a paper appearing in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (June 1997), the tropical free troposphere, the layer of air between 25,000 and 50,000 feet, is much dryer than climate modelers previously thought. Using west Pacific radiosonde data and infrared and microwave satellite data, Roy Spencer of NASA and William Braswell of Nichols Research Corporation were able to verify the skeptics’ assertion that the climate models have too much moisture present in the upper atmosphere, increasing warming estimates by 100 percent. If Spencer and Braswell’s data are correct, warming estimates will need to be revised downward from 2 degrees C warming over the next one hundred years to 1 degree C.

Soaking Up Greenhouse Gases

For many years scientists have been puzzled by carbon dioxide that seems to disappear each year without a trace. When comparing total carbon dioxide releases with known sinks, researchers cannot account for approximately 1 to 2 billion metric tons of the greenhouse gas. Recent scientific evidence, however, has shown that forests store much more carbon than previously thought. In the past scientists believed that the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by trees was roughly equal to the amount given off through respiration. One of the reasons for underestimating the carbon-capturing potential of forests is that researchers did not include the carbon stored in peat and other organic matter in soils, which accounts for about two-thirds of the carbon stored by forests. Also, forests are expanding in many areas of the world.

One study, done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Laboratory, found that, “the increase in biomass and organic matter on U.S. forest lands over the last 40 years has stored enough carbon to offset 25% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions for that period.” Other studies have shown that tropical forests sequester up to 200 metric tons of carbon dioxide per hectare.

A computer model at the Environmental Sciences Division of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee suggests that harvesting and replanting fast-growing forests is more effective than storing carbon in mature forests. When harvested trees are used in construction it takes carbon out of circulation. The New Zealand Forest Research Institute Ltd., found that a radiata pine plantation takes 112 metric tons of carbon out of circulation each time it is harvested and replanted (Science, “Resurgent Forests Can Be Greenhouse Gas Sponges,” July 18, 1997).

Warming Occurs Mostly at Night

A study appearing in Science (July 18, 1997), shows that the warming over the last half century has occurred primarily at night. Between 1950 and 1993 nighttime warming has closed the gap between maximum and minimum temperatures. The global average minimum temperature has risen by 0.186 degrees C while the global average maximum increased by 0.088 degrees C. In some places, such as the Southern United States and Eastern Canada, daytime maximum temperatures have dropped, reducing the gap even further in those areas.

Possible beneficial effects from nighttime warming include lower heating costs for homeowners and longer growing seasons for farmers. Adverse effects may include greater growth of harmful insects and weeds and lower yields by causing plants to expend energy faster at night. Winter wheat yields may also be lower (Science News, July 19, 1997).


Gelbspan, Feeling the Heat

Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat is On, is feeling the heat himself. In the book he attacks the integrity of several well-known greenhouse skeptics. His own integrity, however, is now in question. The dust cover on his book touts him as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, for his contribution to a series of stories for the Boston Globe in 1984.

Gelbspan, though, has never won the Pulitzer Prize. He was just an editor involved with the series of articles for which seven Boston Globe staff writers won the award. An internet search ( of past winners confirms that Gelbspan has not won the award. However, in an article about the prize, the Globe did include a profile of Gelbspan and another editor involved in the project as well as a profile of the executive editor John Driscoll.

When asked if claiming a Pulitzer Prize under these conditions was acceptable, John McCaughey, a veteran Washington reporter, said “I wouldn’t do it, would you? It’s what the English call ‘sharp practice’ and others call ‘resume inflation'” (The Electricity Daily, July 31, 1997). For further information on Gelbspan, see the Science and Environmental Policy Project’s web page at

It’s About Time

After burying it for over six months the Clinton Administration finally released a Department of Energy report on the economic impacts of proposed energy regulations. The report finds that rising energy prices resulting from climate change policies would be devastating to the chemicals, iron and steel, petroleum refining, aluminum, paper and allied products, and cement industries. Based on a carbon tax of between $100 and $140 per ton of carbon dioxide phased in between 2000 and 2010 the report forecasts an increase in the cost of coal of $70 to $90 per ton. Electricity prices would rise by 25 to 35 percent, No. 2 fuel oil would rise by 60 to 90 percent, and natural gas by 50 to 60 percent.

Clinton Administration greens were not pleased. A memo released with the report, written by Marc Chupka, acting assistant secretary of DOE’s Office of Policy and International Affairs, called the assumptions used in the study “outdated” because they did not take into consideration the Clinton Administration’s own opinions. Specifically, the Administration believes that proposals such as an international trading system for greenhouse gas emissions and joint implementation programs will lower abatement costs.

Regardless, Chupka argues that the study is still valuable in instructing policy makers as to the dangers of increasing energy costs. It also makes clear to industrial countries the danger of unilaterally imposing binding emission reduction targets. According to the study, this policy would cause a massive transfer of manufacturing in the six industries listed above from the industrialized world to the developing world (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 15, 1997).

International Trading Scheme Would Transfer Wealth

A Brookings Policy Brief (“A Better Way to Slow Global Climate Change,” No. 17) argues that an international emissions trading scheme – which would allow for the most abatement to occur where it is cheapest – would result in a large transfer of wealth from the industrial countries. A tradable emission system would increase the U.S. trade deficit by $27 billion to $54 billion every year, a 24 to 47 percent increase. Most of this wealth would go to the developing countries, dwarfing the $17 billion in foreign aid the U.S. sends abroad each year.

The authors, Warwick J. McKibben and Peter J. Wilcoxen, propose an internal trading scheme where each nation will receive permits based upon historical emission levels. Each national government could distribute the permits as it saw fit. Trading would occur entirely within the nation, avoiding the international wealth transfer problem. Of course, an obvious weakness of this plan is the difficulty in verifying whether governments are enforcing emissions reductions within their own countries (Brookings’ webpage

In a speech at the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s “Costs of Kyoto” conference on July 15, economist Brian Fisher of Australia’s ABARE projected that by 2010, 12 percent of the former Eastern bloc’s GNP would come from income transfers, assuming a climate treaty covering industrialized countries with a tradable emission scheme. He wondered aloud whether the U.S. Senate would be comfortable with that.

1996 Greenhouse Gas Data

According to the World Energy Council (WEC), global carbon dioxide emissions continued to rise in 1996, with the highest increase of 5.5 percent, occurring in India, China, the newly industrializing Asian tigers and the Middle East. U.S. emissions increased by 3.1 percent while the European Union experienced a 2.3 percent rise in its second consecutive year of greenhouse gas increases, most of which can be attributed to Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark.

Rapid increases in the Asian-Pacific countries could heighten pressure to impose binding emission targets on developing countries. Increases in the U.K. and Germany erode their moral credibility and raise doubts about their ability to reach the stringent targets proposed by the two countries at the Rio Plus Five conference. According to Michael Jefferson, the WEC’s deputy secretary general, the honeymoon of closing polluting industries is over for the U.K. and Germany. They must now deal with the economic realities that the rest of the world faces in terms of emissions reduction (Nature, July 17, 1997).

Voluntary Programs Not So Great

A General Accounting Office (GAO) report argues that EPA predictions about the greenhouse gas reducing potential of three voluntary programs are overly optimistic. The EPA estimates that the Green Lights program will save 3.9 million metric tons of carbon equivalent (MMTCE), the Source Reduction and Recycling Program 1.9 to 6.7 MMTCE, and the State and Local Outreach Program 1.7 MMTCE. But the GAO argues that the EPA’s projections “are not consistent with experience to date.” The GAO also argued that much of the future reductions attributed to the outreach program might happen regardless of EPA’s actions (BNA Daily Environment Report, July 21, 1997).

The Consequences of Climate Change Policy

In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal (July 25, 1997), Jack Kemp identified three major economic consequences of proposed limits on greenhouse gases. First, production costs would increase for virtually all U.S. industries, making American products less competitive abroad and less affordable at home. Second, as much as 250,000 high paying jobs could leave the U.S. as American companies struggle to remain competitive in world markets. Finally, Americans would face higher energy bills which could increase as much as 50 percent.

As the AFL-CIO has indicated, carbon taxes “. . . are highly regressive and will be most harmful to citizens who live on fixed incomes and work at poverty level wages.”

The pain involved is not justified, however. As Kemp points out, a treaty excluding the high growth developing nations such as China, South Korea, and India, would do nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions. And if climate change is not happening anyway, as Kemp indicates in the article, then why should anyone implement all pain, no gain policies?