February 2003

Decarbonization in Our Future?

At a briefing February 7 sponsored by the Cooler Heads Coalition, Jesse Ausubel, a researcher at the Rockefeller University, laid out a framework for thinking about global warming issues. There are several points at which the issue is being debated. There are the issues of energy use, emissions, and concentrations; climate sensitivity, or how much the climate may warm due to increases in greenhouse gas concentrations; the potential impacts on ecosystems and people; and so on.

Ausubel argued that many of these issues are essentially unknowable. Climate sensitivity, for example, has been estimated at different extremes. The aggregate results from peer-reviewed scientific studies show a normal distribution of climate sensitivities. Some suggest that a doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration will warm the climate by about 4.5 degrees Celsius. Others show low climate sensitivity, which would lead to a warming of 1.5 degrees C. Still others fall somewhere in the middle. As Ausubel stated, “The pile of papers keeps getting larger, but the shape of the pile never changes.”

The real debate, according to Ausubel, lies in the trends in energy use. This is one variable that is known, and as Ausubel has discovered, the world has experienced a sustained long-running reduction in carbon intensity in its energy use. Wood, still a major source of fuel in less developed countries, has a hydrogen-to-carbon ratio of 1 to 10. Coals H:C ratio is 1 to 2, oil 2 to 1, and methane or natural gas about 4 to 1.

The world has been steadily decarbonizing for the last 150 years, from wood to coal to oil, and now to methane. Ausubel argues, somewhat controversially, that total decarbonization is in our future and that the economy will run on hydrogen, powered by nuclear power. That may well be the case.

One of the major implications of decarbonization is that energy policy may be irrelevant. As Ausubel has noted elsewhere, “Neither Queen Victoria nor Abraham Lincoln decreed a policy of decarbonization. Yet, the system pursued it.” Decarbonization and our path to the hydrogen economy will happen regardless of government decrees or federal research money.

Ausubel also takes to task the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for its assumptions on energy use. When Ausubel extrapolated decarbonization trends out to the year 2100 and compared it to the IPCCs 1990 “business as usual” (BAU) scenario he found that they bore little resemblance to one another.

The IPCCs BAU scenario was a flat line, which assumes technical stagnation or what Ausubel dubs the Breschnev Scenario. But properly understood, BAU is a technologically dynamic and progressive scenario that will eliminate CO2 by 2100. The IPCCs 2001 Third Assessment Report uses 40 scenarios which show decarbonization and carbonization going in all different directions with no probabilities attached.

IPCCs Economic Assumptions Assailed

The Economist (February 13, 2003) has published an article featuring criticisms leveled at the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the economic assumptions it used to come up with its temperature projections.

“In recent months,” according to the Economist, “two distinguished commentators Ian Castles of the National Center for Development Studies at Australian National University, formerly the head of Australias national office of statistics; and David Henderson of the Westminster Business School, formerly chief economist of the OECD have put together a critique of the panels Special Report of Emissions Scenarios (SRES).”

The major points of contention are the assumptions about the gap between rich and poor countries and the speed at which the gap will be closed. The SRES based its projections of future output on GDP estimates that were converted into a common measure using market exchange rates. Because prices tend to be much lower in poor countries, this method significantly overstates the gap in average incomes between rich and poor countries.

The IPCC assumed that the rich countries will continue to grow and that in most of the 40 SRES scenarios the poor countries will close the income gap by the year 2100. The combination of the overstated gap and the assumption of convergence lead to vastly overestimated emissions scenarios.

Even more startling are projections that show the per capita incomes of those living in South Africa, Algeria, Libya, Turkey and North Korea overtaking the per capita incomes of Americans by 2100 by a wide margin. There are several other serious errors in the SRES scenarios as well. Castles and Hendersons analysis will be published in a forthcoming issue of Energy and Environment.

Renewable Energy in Decline

The Energy Information Administration has released a report showing that the consumption of renewable energy fell significantly in 2001. Much of the decline was attributed to a drought which curtailed the generation of hydroelectric power by 23 percent. But the report also noted that the equipment used to produce solar power is being retired faster than new equipment is being installed.

Much of that equipment was installed in the 1970s and 1980s when there were plentiful subsidies available for distributed solar power. But now the equipment is getting old and wearing out, and the subsidies are no longer available to replace it.

Even though the use of solar collectors and wind turbines has increased over the last few years, overall consumption of renewable energy fell by 12 percent in 2001, the lowest point in over 12 years. In all, renewables only account for 6 percent of the nations energy consumption (Energy Central, February 18, 2003).

Maine Bill Would Prevent Kyoto Implementation

In an attempt to thwart Kyoto-style legislation and Kyoto-related activities in Maine, a bill has been introduced in the state legislature that would prohibit the State from spending any money to implement international treaties that have not been ratified by the U.S. Senate.

The bill may be the beginning of a backlash against efforts in New England to carry out Kyoto-style policies and to pressure the Bush Administration to do likewise. In 2001, for example, the governors of all six New England States signed an agreement with the Eastern Canadian provinces to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010 and to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Also, State Attorney General Steven Rowe is one of several attorneys general who have threatened to sue the Bush Administration for failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming. Maine lawmakers have also sought to introduce legislation to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Henry Joy (R-Crystal), reads in part, “A state department or agency may not expend or award funds to implement, in whole or in part, an international treaty that the United States Senate has not ratified.” The bill explains that “to implement” is any “means to take any action that has a demonstrable and direct connection to specific requirements of any international treaty that has not been ratified by the United States Senate.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Joy testified that Kyoto “really doesnt have anything to do with conservation. Its really about command and control where you live, how you live and in some cases, if you do live.” Joy introduced the bill on behalf of Jon Reisman, an economics professor at the University of Maine at Machias, who has worked to prevent such efforts.

Reisman calls the agreement between the New England States and Canadian provinces, “an unconstitutional foray into foreign policy.” He has noted the agreement violates Article 1, Section 10 of the Constitution, which states, “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance or Confederation. No State shall, without the Consent of Congress enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power.”

Arab States Reject Warming Claims

Thirteen oil producing Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, have signed a declaration dismissing global warming claims and asserting their right to produce and sell oil.

“Such unfounded allegations and doubts would make victims of the oil and gas sector and may result in a recession in world demand, thus harming the interests of producers,” says the so-called Abu Dhabi declaration. The signatories “reaffirmed the necessity of a continuous and unobstructed supply of oil and gas to international markets.”

The signatories also argued that if the world presses ahead with restrictions on energy use, then the Arab states should be compensated for the loss in oil and gas revenues that would result (The Independent, February 9, 2003).

IRS Should Audit SUV Owners

In its continuing war against the automobile in general and large sport utility vehicles in particular, the Sierra Club has urged the Internal Revenue Service in a letter to audit the tax returns of SUV owners who take advantage of the provision in the tax code that allows small business owners to write off a portion of the cost of vehicles weighing over 6,000 pounds used for business purposes.

The tax code requires that such vehicles be used at least 50 percent of the time in business activities to be eligible for the write off. The Sierra Club claims that individuals are taking advantage of the tax credit to purchase luxury SUVs for personal use. The Sierra Club has also attacked President Bush for his budget plan proposal that would increase the deduction from $25,000 to $75,000 (lists.sierraclub.org).

SUVs may get a reprieve from those trying to get them banned, however. The massive snow storm on the east coast saw SUV owners contribute invaluable, life-saving services. An article in the Baltimore Sun (February 18, 2003) begins, “A half-dozen shiny big SUVs were lined up outside St. Joseph Medical Center yesterday morning, their volunteer drivers proving to the world that they are nothing like the arrogant, self-centered, fuel-squandering ignoramuses of stereotype.”

Up and down the east coast, volunteer SUV drivers turned out in droves to help taxi essential hospital personnel, such as nurses and doctors to and from hospitals. Without those volunteers and their SUVs, important emergency personnel would have been stranded without a way to work.

“You hear it on the news – all about the gas-guzzling hogs driving SUVs,” said Jeff Hegberg, climbing back into his $40,000, 7,200-pound, black 2002 Chevrolet Suburban. “Well, on a day like this, what would the hospitals do without us?”

A new report by Dr. David Wojick, which reviews six major National Academy of Sciences studies published over the last five years, argues that a new understanding of climate change has emerged as scientists have grappled with the question of mans influence on the climate.

Wojick states, “The issues in the NAS reports and recent research are far more fundamental and clash with an underlying premise of much climate modeling over the past decade that climate over the past century and a half has been effectively constant and any changes are primarily because of mans activity.”

One of the NAS reports, Decade-to-Century-Scale Climate Variability and Change: A Science Strategy, published in 1998, effectively debunks that premise. “The evidence of natural variations in the climate system which was once assumed to be relatively stable clearly reveals that climate has changed, is changing, and will continue to do so with or without anthropogenic influences.”

The review goes on to quote several more passages from NAS studies, which simply do not offer any confirmation of the claims that the science is settled. The previously mentioned study also states, “Without a clear understanding of how climate has changed naturally in the past, and the mechanisms involved, our ability to interpret any future change will be significantly confounded and our ability to predict future change severely curtailed.”

Another NAS report, The Atmospheric Sciences: Entering the Twenty-First Century, also published in 1998, states, “Large gaps in our knowledge of interannual and decade-to-century natural variability hinder our ability to provide credible predictive skill or to distinguish the role of human activities from natural variability.” In 2001, the NAS admitted in a study titled, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, that “the observing system available today is a composite of observations that neither provide the information nor the continuity in the data needed to support measurements of climate variables.”

Far from being settled, the science is still in its infancy. The NASs Global Environment Change: Research Pathways for the Next Decade, published in 1999, argues that, “Climate research is only at the beginning of its learning curve, with dramatic findings appearing at an impressive rate. In this area even the most fundamental scientific issues are evolving rapidly.”

The NAS studies reveal, according to Wojick, that there has been a quiet revolution in climate science. “It seems that we have discovered or confirmed a number of natural mechanisms of climate change, at least ten in fact. These mechanisms provide alternative, competing explanations for global warming; alternative to, and competing with, the theory of human-induced warming. Also alternative to, and competing with, each other.

Each of these mechanisms can in theory explain all of the changes in 20th century climate. Human greenhouse gas emissions are therefore just one of many alternative hypotheses. In addition, the evidence for warming due to greenhouse gas emissions is no greater than for any of the other mechanisms” (Electricity Daily, February 3, 2003). As a result of this revolution, increases in our understanding about climate change have been paralleled by increases in the uncertainty about mans contribution, if indeed there is one.

The mechanisms include solar variation, emergence from the Little Ice Age, lunar energy variation, internal oscillations (such as El Nio), Milankovitch forcing (variations in the Earths orbit), ocean variation, biospheric variation, cryogenic variation (variations in the amount and distribution of ice), surface versus satellite temperature variation, and aerosol forcing mechanisms.

Wojick concludes that, “We do not know the extent of climate change in the past, we do not know why climate changes, and we must focus our research on this issue. Only then can we integrate the potential role of past increases in GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions into recent climate history, and only then can we begin to assess the outlook for future climate.”


Christopher Essex of the University of Western Ontario and Ross McKitrick of the University of Guelph, will give a Cooler Heads Coalition congressional and media briefing on their new book, Taken By Storm: the troubled science, policy, and politics of global warming, on Thursday, February 27, from 2:30 to 4:00 PM in Room 406 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. Reservations are requested. To attend, please contact Myron Ebell at mebell@cei.org or (202) 331-2256. Include your name, telephone number, e-mail address, and institutional affiliation. Registered attendees will receive copies of the book, compliments of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Mortality Effects of Regulating Coal

A new study finds that regulations that would reduce the use of low-cost coal-fired power would lead to significant increases in mortality rates, particularly among the poor. The study, Mortality Reductions From Use of Low-Cost Coal-Fired Power: An Analytical Framework, by Daniel E. Klein, president and founder of Twenty-First Strategies, and Ralph L. Keeney, a research professor with the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, notes that “It is now widely recognized that wealthier individuals are more likely to live safer, healthier, and longer lives.”

Low cost coal has been a major part of the U.S. energy supply and has brought tremendous benefits to Americans. “Indeed,” says the study, “the availability of low-cost electricity has accelerated the electrification of our energy systems, with an ever-growing share of our energy use comprised of electricity.” Any curtailment on the use of coal would force Americans to use other more expensive alternatives, most likely natural gas.

The study proposes an analytical framework for determining the effects of reducing coal use, but does not “presume any level of coal displacement of any particular policy initiative.” What it does is extrapolate the costs of reducing coal use from a series of economic studies to determine the income and employment effects of a hypothetical 100 percent displacement of coal, which are then related to health effects. These findings may then be “scaled on a linear basis to estimate the premature mortality implications of various policy initiatives.”

The study finds that fully replacing coal-fired power in the U.S. would reduce total household income by 125225 billion dollars in 2010, the peak year impact. It would also lower employment by 2.2 to 4.5 million jobs. These impacts would persist for 5 to 10 years as the economy adjusts to higher energy costs.

The relationship between loss of disposable income and mortality rates suggests that regulatory costs of $6.818.5 million lead to one additional adult death. For regulatory costs related to electricity, $8.9 million induces one additional adult death. Thus a loss of disposable income of $125225 billion in 2010 could lead to 1425 thousand additional deaths. The study also notes that these costs disproportionately affect the poor, because they spend a larger percentage of their income on electricity than wealthier individuals. Those earning less than $15,000 per year (about 16.5 percent of all households) would suffer 43 percent of the total additional deaths, while those earning over $50,000 would only incur 9 percent of the additional deaths.

The study did not estimate income-related deaths in children or unemployment-induced deaths, partly because of the possibility of double counting. “However, our extrapolations from other studies suggest substantial mortality impacts, possibly in excess of 100,000 lives,” says the study.

The study was funded by the Association of American Railroads, the Center for Energy and Economic Development, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Mining Association, and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Wind Powered by Tax Credits

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has announced that the amount of generation capacity added in 2002 fell off significantly from 2001, due to uncertainty over the availability of a federal 1.7-cent-per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for wind farm owners and operators. The tax credit expired in December 2001 and was not renewed again until March 2002. The tax credit lapsed again in December 2002. Only 410 MW of wind power generation were installed in 2002, compared to 1700 MW in 2001.

This came as no surprise to AWEA, however, which predicted that there would be a decline in new generation unless the tax credit was kept up to date. This is not the first time that a lapse in the tax credit has had a significant impact on new installation. In 1999, installation of new generation fell to 50 MW when the tax credit was no longer available. Because wind power is not cost-competitive without the tax credit, the lapses lead to a boom-and-bust cycle for the industry.

Now, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) has introduced a bill in Congress to extend the tax credit through Jan. 1, 2014 to allow for growth in the market. “We love it,” said Jaime Steve, AWEAs legislative director. “It gives business some stability so they can plan and gets rid of the boom-and-bust cycle in the industry.” One energy company, FPL Energy, has plans to install significant wind generating capacity this year, anywhere from 700 MW to 1200 MW. But, according to company spokesman Steven Stengel, the fate of the production tax credit will have an impact on the companys future plans.

What is not clear is why taxpayers should be funding an industry that cannot survive without their help, or why wind power should receive special treatment over its competitors. Wind power subsidies are so extensive that their value sometimes exceeds the wind farms revenues from selling electricity.

It is unlikely that the bill will succeed, however. A bill introduced last year by Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) to extend the tax credit for five years went nowhere.

A new study appearing in the January 10 issue of Geophysical Research Letters has found that the greenhouse effect may be weakening due to changes in cloud cover that do not correspond with climate model predictions.

The study, conducted by Robert Cess, with the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and his late colleague Petra Udelhofen, looked at the role of clouds on climate in the tropics and subtropics by comparing the results of a climate model to observations. The model shows temperature rising since 1970 along with the strength of the greenhouse effect.

As more greenhouse gas concentrations increase, less heat or outgoing longwave radiation (OLR), should be able to escape the atmosphere. If this is the case, then observations from space should measure a long-term decline in OLR. The model also indicates, however, that there should be a decline in incoming sunlight, or absorbed shortwave radiation (ASW). This would come about through increases in cloud cover.

Cess and Udelhofen use satellite data from 1985 to the present to test this model result. What they found was that even though there has been a general warming since 1985, both OLR and ASW are increasing, not decreasing. In other words, the greenhouse effect is weakening. With the exception of a few years after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, the increase in OLR has been fairly steady. Moreover, increases in the ASW correspond with an observed decline in cloudiness. With fewer clouds, it is easier to raise the temperature at the surface and there is no need to invoke greenhouse gases to explain the change.

There are several possible explanations for the decline in tropical and subtropical cloudiness. Cloudiness may be responding to climate change, as suggested by Richard S. Lindzen at MIT. His research has found that high altitude clouds that block OLR decrease as temperature increases. Cess and Udelhofen argue, on the other hand, that the change in cloud cover is due to natural variation. “If the change in cloud cover is the result of natural variability acting over decadal time scales, this could considerably hamper efforts at detecting the radiative signature of future global warming.” Regardless of the reason, this is yet another instance where the models do not match reality.


  • David Wojick, founder and president of ClimateChangeDebate.org, has published a blockbuster study on climate change uncertainties. The study, The New View of Natural Climate Variation: Fundamental Climate Science Issues Raised in Six Major National Academy of Science Studies, shows that there are still major uncertainties in the climate science. According to Wojick, scientists “have discovered or confirmed about ten natural mechanisms of climate variation, each of which can in theory explain all of the changes in 20th Century climate. Human GHG emissions are therefore just one of many alternative theories. The study is available at www.nam.org.

  • Jesse Ausubel of the Rockefeller University will give a Cooler Heads Coalition congressional and media briefing on “Climate Change: the Known, the Unknown, the Unknowable” on Friday, February 7, from noon to 1:30 in Room 628 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. Lunch will be provided, and reservations are required. To attend, please contact Paul Georgia at pgeorgia@cei.org or (202) 331-2257. Include your name, telephone number, e-mail address, and institutional affiliation.

Attorneys General Threaten Lawsuit

Attorneys general from three StatesConnecticut, Massachusetts and Mainehave notified the Bush administration of their plan to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unless it classifies carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which would allow the agency to begin regulating emissions of the gas.

In a letter to EPA administrator Christie Whitman, the attorneys general, all Democrats, warned the EPA that if the agency does not act within 60 days they will bring the suit. “We have not seen any appreciable progress on the development of a national program to address carbon dioxide emissions,” says the letter. “In seeking to protect the health and welfare of our citizens from the impacts of climate change, we are left to fall back on our available remedies available under existing law.”

The attorneys general claim that the EPA is violating federal law by not regulating CO2. “The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to take certain actions when it determines that a pollutant may cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.”

The attorneys general base their argument on the administrations Climate Action Report 2002 (CAR) which was submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in May 2002. They claim that the admission that climate changes “are likely due mostly to human activities,” obligates the EPA to regulate CO2. But the CAR should have never been released because it was based on the thoroughly discredited National Assessment, a report prepared by a federal advisory committee appointed by the Clinton Administration.

Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., argues that the attorneys general ignore the plain language, structure, and legislative history of the law. The AGs build their case on Section 103(g), which refers to CO2 as a “pollutant.” However, the context of that sole reference to CO2 in the Act is a discussion of “nonregulatory strategies,” and the passage concludes with the admonition that, “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to authorize the imposition on any person of air pollution control requirements.” According to Lewis, “If nothing in that subsection gives EPA authority to impose new control requirements, then the passing reference therein to CO2 as a pollutant cannot provide such authority.”

Lewis also accused the attorneys general of trying to end run the legislative process. “They want to legislate energy taxes or their regulatory equivalent through the courts rather than allow Congress to make the law.”

The threatened lawsuit follows a letter that 11 attorneys general sent to the administration last July urging it to regulate CO2. It also follows a lawsuit against the EPA filed by three environmental groups to force the agency to regulate automotive emissions of CO2 using the same legal argument as the state attorneys general.

An industry source told Greenwire (January 31, 2003) that there is little to worry about. “If Im an EPA attorney, Im not losing any sleep over defending this lawsuit,” he said. “Of course, the issues would have to be briefed properly. But the risk of EPA losing this case, if its even litigated, is very, very low. I just think arguing that CO2 is a pollutant is too big a legal hurdle to get over.”

NC Approves Renewable Energy Plan

The North Carolina Utilities Commission approved a plan on Jan. 28 that will allow the residents of that state to purchase electricity produced from renewable sources. It is the first statewide program of its kind in the nation, according to the Charlotte Observer (January 29, 2003).

The NC Green Power program, to be launched in six months, will initially allow residential customers to buy power generated mostly from landfill gases. Wind and solar power are slated to make up 15 percent of the states electricity supply by the third year of the plan. Customers who choose to purchase electricity from renewable sources will buy it in blocks of 100 kilowatt-hours for an additional $4 per month.

Large commercial and industrial customers will pay an additional $2.50 per block of electricity and will have access to a greater variety of energy sources, including animal wastes and small hydroelectric plants. The rate premiums are meant to cover the higher costs of producing renewable electricity, but similar rate premiums in other states have proved insufficient.

Nearly every proposed source of renewable energy has its detractors, since every source of energy carries some environmental costs. The environmental group, Appalachian Voices, objected to the burning of biomass, for example, on the grounds that it produces air emissions.

“The problem is that everybody wants solar or wind power, but we dont have any,” said Karen King of Advanced Energy. Currently, North Carolina has only a couple of solar power plants and no wind power connected to the grid.

Dan Lieberman of the Center for Resource Solutions, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that certifies renewable energy programs, warns that the program will require massive marketing to be successful. “The product isnt going to sell itself,” he said.