January 2000

Internet will Require Greater Energy Reliability

On January 13, CEI Senior Fellow Mark Mills gave a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Energy and National Security Program to follow up his Greening Earth Society analysis on why “The Internet Begins With Coal.” During the speech, he argued that the electricity and telecomm industries must begin to communicate with each other on matters relating to the policy, structure, and business aspects of the Internet to make the long-run development of the information economy a reality.

Mills focused on how the Internet economy will require the development of new levels of electricity distribution reliability that have not yet been achieved within the current distribution mechanism. As businesses increasingly provide internet-based services, minor outages caused by faults in the distribution mechanism will impose increasingly high costs on the economy. In addition to this, the physical hardware of the Internet itself requires that its power sources operate at a reliability of 99.9999% to function effectively.

As a result, he predicts that companies will be willing to spend money to correct these shortcomings. Telecomm deregulation enabled companies to build overlapping distribution networks to improve reliability. Electricity deregulation could have the same effect.

Mills also predicts that combination diesel/electric devices will be the technology of choice for companies seeking to improve reliability outside of the current distribution grid. As companies continue to produce these devices, internet-based companies will continue to buy them and maintain them outside of the grid.

Overall, Mills believes that if the deregulation process is conducted effectively, the electricity industry will be turned on its side. Vertically integrated firms will be replaced by firms that adopt the matrix-like organizational structure used in the telecomm industry. Of course, all of this could be short-circuited if Kyoto-style limits on energy use become a reality.

 Implementing Kyoto Over Our Heads

Stopping bad environmental policy at the international level is becoming increasingly difficult due to the vast network of supranational organizations with the power to autonomously create and implement policy. So far the U.S. has resisted being saddled with the burdensome, but largely ineffectual, Kyoto Protocol, on the domestic front. But other means of pushing the Kyoto agenda are being pursued at the international level, which are almost entirely shielded from U.S. Congressional oversight.

The World Bank, for example, has just launched its Prototype Carbon Fund that will create a market for carbon and a way for companies to get carbon credits toward future possible Kyoto commitments. The fund will be made up with money contributed by industrialized nations and private companies. The money will then be “invested” in CO2 reductions in developing countries. “The PCF is intended to invest in projects that will produce high quality greenhouse gas emission reductions that could be registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for the purposes of the Kyoto Protocol,” the World Bank said.

So far Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden have made funding commitments, as well as private companies from Japan and Belgium (BNA Daily Environment Report, January 19, 2000). The ploy behind the PCF is similar to that under the various “credit for voluntary action” schemes proposed in the U.S. Companies that contribute to the fund for whatever reason will be awarded carbon credits that will be worthless unless the Kyoto Protocol is ratified. The result will be the creation of an industry-based constituency that favors implementation of Kyoto.

Global Warming Activists Agitate Iowans

The Washington, D.C.-based green activist group, Ozone Action, has been protesting the lack of attention paid to global warming in the presidential campaign. They have disrupted the debates between the Democratic presidential candidates and carried around a 25-foot inflatable ear of corn with a banner saying “Drought Kills Corn.” One activist was even interrogated by the secret police after getting too close to Vice President Al Gore.

They also convinced several prominent Iowans into signing a letter urging the candidates to present detailed plans on how they would deal with global warming. Thirty scientists and several elected officials have signed the letter. Neither of the two scientists mentioned in an Associated Press article (January 19, 2000) are climatologists. Jim Colbert is an associate professor of botany and Ricardo Salvador, an associate agronomy professor at Iowa State University. If Ozone Actions past is a guide, then very few if any of the signatories have any expertise on climate matters.

Kyotos Last Gasp?

Is the Kyoto Protocol nearing the end of the road? With the President refusing to submit it to the Senate for ratification, knowing it would almost certainly be defeated, the question of whether it is still viable is relevant.

Grist Magazine (www.gristmagazine.com) an online publication, published a debate on January 17, 2000 on whether Kyoto is dead between David Victor, a Senior Fellow in Science and Technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Dan Lashof, Senior Scientist in the Natural Resources Defense Councils Air and Energy Program.

Victor argues that the protocol is dead. No action is likely before the November elections, and even if the next administration makes ratification a top priority it would be 2003 before the process is completed. That would leave five years to meet the Kyoto targets.

“The problem,” says Victor, “is that most of the technologies that use fossil fuels are long-lived the stock of automobiles, for example, has a lifetime of about two decades; most buildings last even longer.” We could meet the Kyoto targets, said Victor, “but only if large fractions of the existing capital stock were retired before the end of their useful lives, which would be wasteful and extremely expensive.”

Lashof is more optimistic. He argues that Kyoto is moving ahead as planned and that the obstacles to its final triumph are largely fabricated by the opposition. He claims that Europe is moving forward with implementing Kyoto, although Victor says that Europe is all talk and little action. Lashof also claims that “industry opposition to Kyoto is fracturing.” Moreover, the fact that the U.S. economy has had strong growth rates over the last two years without a rise greenhouse gas emissions shows that we can meet Kyotos targets at little cost. (He fails to mention that lower energy consumption was largely due to mild winters.) Finally, Lashof claims that public opinions polls show strong public support for Kyotos goals, and the public gets what it wants.

Warning: Buying This Car May be Dangerous to Your Health

The European Union has issued a directive requiring passenger cars sold within its borders to carry a label showing its fuel economy and levels of carbon dioxide emissions. “[T]he provision of accurate, relevant, and comparable information on the specific fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of passenger cars may influence consumer choice in favor of those cars which use less fuel and thereby emit less CO2, thereby encouraging manufacturers to take steps to reduce the fuel consumption of the cars they manufacture,” the commission said.

Member states will be required to make the directive national law by January 18, 2001. By December 31, 2003, they will be required to submit a report on the laws effectiveness (BNA Daily Environment Report, January 19, 2000).

Climate Flip-Flop

A recent report by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has attempted to reconcile the difference in temperature trends between surface and atmospheric observations. The surface data shows a strong warming trend, while the satellite data show a zero to slightly positive trend. The climate models, however, predict that the troposphere would warm more rapidly than the surface in response to increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. The report noted in particular the ground-based warming observed over the last 20 years.

One explanation may lie in a natural climate cycle that occurs every 20 to 30 years, known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). According to the scientists at the University of Washington who discovered the phenomenon, the Pacific Ocean goes through cycles of warm and cool periods every 20 or 30 years. The years 1925 to 1946 and 1977 to 1998, for instance, were dominated by a warm phase, while cooler Pacific waters dominated the period in between. This cold phase leads to weather patterns in the U.S. similar to those produced by La Nia (Washington Post, January 20, 2000).

This may help explain global temperature trends over these time periods. The global temperature record measured at the surface shows that the years 1911 to 1945 experienced a rate of warming similar to the one from 1977 to the present. Of course, the cooling trend from 1945 to 1977 had some scientists, such as Stephen Schneider, worried about global cooling. It may be that the PDO can go a long way toward explaining many of the trends observed in the global temperature data as well as the discrepancy between the satellite and surface temperature measurements. If we are indeed entering a cold phase, winters will be colder and wetter, with a higher possibility of drought in the Southwest. This could also lead to heightened hurricane activity in the Atlantic.

In a related item, Colorado State University hurricane expert William Gray has released his hurricane predictions for the year 2000. He predicts that 11 named storms will form in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this year. This heightened hurricane activity is due to “a marked shift in temperatures in both oceans, back to levels not seen since the active hurricane decades of the 1940s and 1950s,” notes the Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News (January 21, 1999). “The data reflect a naturally occurring fluctuation in ocean conditions, not a sign of global climate change.”

Climate Change Certainty Overstated

Colorados state climatologist, Roger Pielke, Sr., a professor at Colorado State University, says that people should not worry about global warming, according to the Denver Post (January 14, 2000). Pielke presented research at the American Meteorological Societys annual meeting that showed that land use change has a significant effect on the climate system that is not adequately accounted for in the climate models. “If land-use change is as important on the climate system as our results suggest, there is a large uncertainty in the future climate, since there is no evidence that we can accurately predict the future landscape,” said Pielke.

The presence of plants, for instance, influences the Earths energy budget, said Pielke. Increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations may increase the area covered by plants, which will lead to more transpiration. This water vapor could have one of two effects: It could cool the atmosphere directly or through cloud formation or it could warm the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. “This is an example of a complex feedback between vegetation and the atmosphere that we do not completely understand,” Pielke said. Other influences on land use can also effect the Earths energy budget.

“Since landscape and other atmosphere-surface interactions involve complex, non-linear feedbacks, it becomes impossible to predict future climate accurately,” Pielke said. “This suggests that the scientific community might be overstating the certainty of global climate change.”