March 2000

Carbon Tax in England

Great Britains Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that his country will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent below 1990 levels by the 2008-2012 time period, a larger commitment than that agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol. To meet that target, the Blair government proposed the Climate Change Levy that would tax the use of fossil fuels. The tax has met with stiff opposition from industry, which has either opposed it outright or asked for special exemptions.

The Confederation of British Industry, for example, has noted that the Labour government has raised taxes on business by about 5 billion pounds per year since it took office in 1997. “The priority of this Budget [should be] to ease business worries over pressures such as the Climate Change Levy and the road fuel duty escalator,” said CBIs president, Sir Clive Thompson (Times of London, March 3, 2000).

To resolve the controversy, Blair has introduced a CO2 emissions trading scheme, but businesses have said that they will not participate unless there is a reward, such as an exemption from the Climate Change Levy or a cut in other taxes. “For a trading system to work, there has to be an incentive for companies to put themselves on the block by agreeing to targets. Without incentives, it will be very hard to get a system going,” said Chris Fay, chairman of the governments advisory committee on business and the environment (Financial Times, February 28, 2000).

India Should Oppose Emission Targets, Says Environment Group

A new report, “Green Politics: Global Environmental Negotiations,” by the Centre for Science and Environment, has been presented to Indias President Narayanan. The India-based environmental group, argues that international environmental agreements are “skewed” in favor of developed countries.

The Centres director, Anil Aggarwal, argues that the developed countries only focus on issues that concern them in international environmental treaties while ignoring the interests of developing countries. “Not a single government agency, environmentalist or academician has a full picture of what is happening at these environmental negotiations,” said Aggarwal.

President Clinton will be visiting India this spring, and he is expected to raise the issue of Indias participation in the Kyoto Protocol. Aggarwal advised President Narayanan to reject all offers from Clinton, “Since it would compromise development in Third World countries” (Times of India, March 3, 2000).

EPAs Underhanded Regulation

On November 3, 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency filed suit against several electric utilities and the Tennessee Valley Authority, claiming that they were guilty of violations of the Clean Air Act at 17 power plants dating as far back as 1979.

Under the CAAs New Source Review (NSR), power plants that make major modifications are required to install pollution control devices. Routine maintenance, repair, and replacement are excluded from the NSR provisions, however. Moreover, EPA has assumed a life span for utilities of 55 to 65 years during which the NSR provisions would not apply. The utilities argued that the actions for which they have been cited were indeed routine maintenance and repair, and until now were treated as such by the EPA. They feel that the EPA has arbitrarily reinterpreted of its own rules.

Congressman David McIntosh (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Growth, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs, agrees with the utilities. An aide for McIntosh pointed out that power plant equipment is “used at high temperatures and under extreme pressure with chemical compounds that are corrosive, and it is not surprising that the equipment needs maintenance or replacement.” It would be bad practice it these utilities “did not replace the worn-out equipment with parts that rectify the design flaws of the original equipment,” he said (BNA Daily Environment Report, March 8, 2000).

McIntosh has submitted a letter with questions to the EPA to determine whether its “actions against the utilities may conflict with EPAs own understanding of the CAA and its regulations.” McIntosh expressed concern “that EPAs actions may be motivated by what might be called the Kyoto agenda and ideological animus against coal.”

Global Temperature Update

Warm February temperatures in the U.S. gave the press plenty of ammunition for the global warming scare mill. It turns out that U.S. temperatures and global temperatures were going in opposite directions.

According to Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who compiles the satellite temperature data with Dr. Roy Spencer at NASA, “While North America showed extremely warm departures from the 20 year average, the globe as a whole was cooler than normal by almost one-tenth of a degree (Celsius).”

“Virtually all of the tropical belt remained cooler than normal, due to the continuing cold (La Nia) phase of the ENSO (El Nio/Southern Oscillation) cycle.” Christy noted that, “February was a good example of how local regional temperature patterns give little information about the globe as a whole.”

In a related matter, the Environmental Protection Agency has found that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions rose by a mere 0.5 percent in 1998 (BNA Daily Environment Report, March 6, 2000).

Climate Changes Linked to the Suns Magnetic Activity

A new study published in the February 23 issues of New Astronomy could have important implications for our understanding of changes in the Earths climate. The study shows that the sun may have a significant impact on the Earths temperatures.

According to the authors, solar physicists Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, climatologist Eric Posmentier of Long Island University, and physicist Pius Okeke of the University of Nigeria, changes in the suns magnetism are closely correlated to temperatures in the Earths lower troposphere as measured by satellite-borne instruments called microwave sounding units.

The data show, for instance, that as the Suns magnetic activity weakens there is a distinct drop in the atmospheric temperature. This is due to the corresponding expansion of coronal holes in the Suns outer atmosphere, which in turn increase the amount of hot, supercharged particles striking the Earths atmosphere. These particles may increase cloud cover, lowering the Earths temperature. Greater magnetic activity, on the other hand, warms the Earth.

The study concludes that, “Variable fluxes either in solar charged particles or cosmic rays modulated by the solar wind, or both, may influence the terrestrial tropospheric temperature on a timescale of months to years.”

New York Times Gives Skeptics a Fair Shake

The New York Times environment reporter, William K. Stevens, has been suspected of bias in his reporting of global warming issues. Recently, however, his reporting has tended to be balanced, making some concessions to those who are not convinced that global warming is a serious threat. His most recent article, “Global Warming: The Contrarian View,” is devoted entirely to the global warming skeptics.

Featured in the article are atmospheric scientists, Dr. William Gray, of Colorado State University, Dr. Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, Dr. Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Robert Balling of Arizona State University, and Dr. Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia.

Although Stevens gives fair play to the skeptics veiws, he also finds it difficult to avoid using terms such as “mainstream” when referring to the views of global warming believers. He cites Michael Oppenheimer an atmospheric scientist with Environmental Defense (formerly Environmental Defense Fund) as representative of the mainstream (New York Times, February 29, 2000).

Oppenheimer himself seems to give up a great deal of ground to the skeptics when he says in the article, “There is no compelling evidence to allow us to choose between the low end, or the high end, or the middle.”

As for what constitutes “mainstream,” Dr. Singer, who circulates widely among the scientific community, noted that, “Stevens fails to mention that there are dozens if not hundreds of contrarians out there besides the half dozen he mentions in his article” (The Week That Was,, March 4, 2000). Indeed, the Cooler Heads Coalition has sponsored several congressional briefings featuring some of the other contrarians.

Is Global Warming Speeding Up?

According to a paper published in the March 1 issue of the Geophysical Research Letters, during the sixteen month period from May 1997 to September 1998, “Each month broke the previous monthly world average temperature record,” reported the New York Times (February 23, 2000).

The research team led by Dr. Thomas R. Karl of the National Climatic Data Center calculated that there is a 1-in-20 chance of such a string of record breaking months occurring. “It raises a flag because it was such an unusual event that we need to watch very carefully in the next several years, because, indeed, it could be a signal of an increased rate of temperature increase,” said Karl.

Dr. John Christy, of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, urges caution in linking the unusual event to global warming, however. The powerful El Nio of 1997-98 is at least partly to blame for the temperature spike, said Christy. Karl agrees, but he said, “Its important to keep in mind that El Nio is a natural phenomena but not necessarily unrelated to the forcing of man on the climate.”

That may be true, but an article that appeared in Nature on May 28, 1998, showed that there have been several powerful El Nio events long before the buildup of manmade greenhouse gases and when temperatures were much cooler. There appears to be no correlation between the frequency or magnitude of El Nio events and global temperatures.

Dr. Patrick Michaels, of the University of Virginia, also takes exception to the studys interpretation of the data, noting that it uses “16 months of data to forecast the next 100 years” (Washington Times, March 7, 2000).