January 2004

Cold Kills Hundreds in India and Bangladesh

South Asia has experienced a particularly cold winter this year, with the result that at least 380 people have died as a direct result, according to Agence France Presse (Jan. 4).

In India , 261 have died so far. AFP comments, Most of the cold deaths in India have been recorded in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which saw a weekend low of four degrees Celsius (39.2 F), registered at the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.

The causes of the deaths have mostly been linked to poverty and lack of access to energy it appears, Homeless people in Bangladesh lit waste to keep themselves warm, as the government and voluntary and political groups distributed warm clothes for the poor, officials said.

Hit by the Hand that Fed Them?

New Zealand s rent-seeking forest owners suffered an unexpected blow when the island nations government nationalized carbon credits at the end of last year.

New Zealands National Business Review reported (Dec. 30), A group representing the owners of forests planted after 1989, the only forests eligible to earn lucrative carbon credits under the Kyoto protocol, says the government is stealing $2.6 billion from them by fiat. In New Zealand , the government plans to hold the earnings for its own programmes and estimates the value of the credits during the first Kyoto commitment period, 2008 to 2012, to be worth $2.6 billion. Forest owners associations like the epyonymous Forest Owners Association (FOA) are on record as claiming that the decision to nationalise the income from carbon credits is an infringement of property rights, but the newly formed Kyoto Forest Owners Association (KFOA) says the decision is possibly the largest private property theft in New Zealands history.

The Review went on to relate how a KFOA spokesman had told a local newspaper exactly why his colleagues had sought these rents in the first place: A lot of investors had gone in partly because of this (carbon credits)and they had not expected to have the government take their return by fiat. After all, we grew them (the carbon sinks) in our trees–they are ours to do with what we like–they are not the Government’s, Mr. Dickie said.

 Sea Level Rise Disproved

Two new studies by Swedish scientist Nils-Axel Mrner in the journal Global and Planetary Change reveal that the much-hyped threat of sea level rise as a result of global warming appears to be illusory.

In the first paper, Estimating future sea level changes from past records, Mrner looks at sea level oscillation over the last 5000 years. He finds that In the last 300 years, sea level has seen oscillation close to the present with peak rates in the period 1890-1930. He goes on to state, Satellite altimetry indicates virtually no change in the past decade. From model runs based on these data, he concludes, This implies that there is no fear of any massive future flooding as claimed in most global warming scenarios.

In the second paper, New perspectives for the future of the Maldives , Mrner and his colleagues conclude that one of the island nations most cited in fears that they might vanish beneath the waves has experienced higher sea levels in the past: The people of the Maldives have, in the past, survived a higher sea level of about 50-60 cm. The present trend lacks signs of a sea level rise. On the contrary, there is firm morphological evidence of a significant sea level fall in the last 30 years. This sea level fall is likely to be the effect of increased evaporation and an intensification of the NE-monsoon over the central Indian Ocean .

Soots Role in Warming Confirmed

New research by James Hansen and his colleagues at NASAs Goddard Institute has confirmed the major part played by atmospheric soot in the recent warming trend. According to NASA, emissions of black soot alter the way sunlight reflects off snow, and may therefore be responsible for 25 percent of observed global warming over the past century.

Hansen and colleagues found that, Soot’s effect on snow albedo (solar energy reflected back to space), which has been neglected in previous studies, may be contributing to trends toward early springs in the Northern Hemisphere, thinning Arctic sea ice, melting glaciers and permafrost. According to the NASA press release, Hansen said that Soot’s increased absorption of solar energy is especially effective in warming the world’s climate. This forcing is unusually effective, causing twice as much global warming as a carbon-dioxide forcing of the same magnitude.

Hansen stressed that, in his opinion, greenhouse gases remained the primary cause of climate warming over the past century. The Associated Press coverage of the story (Dec. 23) revealed the emerging and uncertain nature of climate change: Scientists thought until recently that only carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have global reach and effect. They now are finding the same thing with these microscopic, suspended particles of pollutants, generically known as aerosols, that settle on ground hours later.

The AP story also commented on the role of diesel engines in producing soot, noting that, The Bush administration in 2001 ordered pollution cuts from heavy-duty diesel engines and diesel fuel used in highway trucks and buses. This year it proposed requiring a 90 percent reduction in pollution from diesel-powered construction and other off-road equipment, starting with 2008 models. The European Union, by contrast, encourages the use of diesel fuel through tax and other policies.

Extinct Argument

An article published in Nature magazine (Jan. 9) garnered alarmist headlines all over the world alleging that the study warned that over a million species would be doomed to extinction by the middle of the next century because of global warming.

The study, Extinction risk from climate change, however, suggested no such thing (although some of the authors tried to promote it by making this outlandish claim). It found that 15 to 37 percent of species in its sample of 1,103 species in 18 habitats around the world might become extinct if global warming causes their habitats to shrink. Of the 1,103 species studied, 243 were South African evergreen plants.

This is an extremely small and non-random and therefore statistically insignificant sample from which to extrapolate the risks of extinction faced by the millions of species that currently exist. The modeling process was also suspect. The New York Times (Jan. 7) was careful to point to the pessimistic nature of the models, quoting emeritus professor Daniel Botkin of UC Santa Barbara as saying, The analysis was based on a lot of steady state assumptions that lead it to the most pessimistic forecast, including the notion that things will stay as they are in terms of the ways animals migrate and respond to temperature change.

The study also failed one important reality check. Although there have been several episodes of mass extinction over geologic time, it is thought that none has occurred as a result of gradual warming. Experts do not even believe that the onsets of ice ages in recent time have caused extinctions on the scale extrapolated from the current study.


Cooler Heads Coalition to Move?

An article in London s Independent (Jan. 6) criticized the Cooler Heads Coalition for its location. Reporting on the threat supposedly posed to the island nation of Tuvalu by rising sea-levels, the article says, But there are sceptics, notably those running the globalwarming.org website – funded by the right-wing Cooler Heads Coalition, who think that global warming isn’t scientifically provable. (Notably, none of the Cooler Heads members lives in any of the threatened island states, or shows any signs of moving there; they’re all safely ensconced in the US. ).

Many a True Word

A Washington Post Style section article (Dec. 29) about the lack of worry Christmas shoppers felt over the threat of terrorism contained an interesting insight into exactly how the Kyoto Protocol is viewed by the general public.

Reporter Joel Achenbach wrote that if you asked people about the terrorism risk and you’d get shrugs and head shakes and a few funny looks, as though you’d brought up something a little bit out of left field, like the Kyoto Treaty or the One-China Policy.

The realization that the Kyoto Protocol is as good as dead seems to be slowly spreading through the American media establishment.

For example, The New York Post ran an editorial on Dec. 28 that stated, The truth is that Kyoto is dead, and has been for some time. The article, entitled Kyoto Protocol, RIP, concluded, Kyoto was a bad idea in 1997, and it’s a bad idea today. If President Putin’s government scotches all remaining hope for its coming into effect, Russia will have done the whole world a favor. The Post echoed a Dec. 2 editorial in The Wall Street Journal.

First to break the establishment party line, however, was The New York Times, which on Dec. 31 forgot to assert that Russia was still moving towards ratification of the protocol, despite all evidence to the contrary (see last issue). In an article reviewing Russias drift away from Europe and towards America in many policy areas, the Times pointed out that, In recent negotiations over joining the World Trade Organization and ratifying the Kyoto treaty on climate change, Russia has clashed fundamentally with Europe’s vision on free markets and the environment, arguing in both cases that its unique geography merits exclusive consideration. By admitting that Russia has turned away from Europe on the issue, it basically admitted the protocol was no longer a going concern.

A few days later, The Denver Post actually used the d-word, but urged activists to fight on, writing, The Kyoto treaty is dead, but its demise must not end focused, concerted efforts to slow global warming (Jan. 4).

Even the Council on Foreign Relations got in on the act. In an interview for Newsday (Jan. 4), Council President Richard Haass admitted that Kyoto was the wrong approach from the start. The paper summarized his views as follows: Haass is critical of the administration for rejecting such diplomatic initiatives as the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Treaty on global warming without offering alternatives. Even if those were proposals were flawed-and the facts suggest they were-the United States could have maintained a consensus by proposing better ways to accomplish the goals, Haass says.

Cooler Heads looks forward to reporting more obituary notices, as the news spreads among the protocols band of diehard supporters.

UK Government Steps Up Pressure on Bush Administration

In what now appears to be a two-pronged assault on the U.S. administrations position on climate change, the UK Governments Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, published an article in Science magazine (Jan. 9) that asserted the reality of damaging global warming and attacked the administration for failing to act to prevent it.

Kings article began with a series of highly questionable assertions: Climate change is real, and the causal link to increased greenhouse emissions is now well established. Globally, the ten hottest years on record have occurred since 1991, and in the past century, temperatures have risen by about 0.6C. In that same period, global sea level has risen by about 20 cm-partly from melting of land ice and partly from thermal expansion of the oceans. Ice caps are disappearing from many mountain peaks, and summer and autumn Arctic sea ice has thinned by up to 40% in recent decades, although there is some evidence for stabilization.

The article continues, In Britain, usage of the Thames Barrier, which protects London from flooding down the Thames Estuary, has increased from less than once a year in the 1980s to an average of more than six times a year (see the figure, below). This is a clear measure of increased frequency of high storm surges around North Sea coasts, combined with high flood levels in the River Thames. Last year, Europe experienced an unprecedented heat wave, France alone bearing around 15,000 excess or premature fatalities as a consequence. Although this was clearly an extreme event, when average temperatures are rising, extreme temperature events become more frequent and more serious. In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today-more serious even than the threat of terrorism.

King concluded with an appeal to international solidarity: The United States is already in the forefront of the science and technology of global change, and the next step is surely to tackle emissions control, too. We can only overcome this challenge by facing it together, shoulder to shoulder. We in the rest of the world are now looking to the U.S.A. to play its leading part.

As this issue went to press, the Independent revealed the other part of the strategy on Sunday (Jan. 11), which said that, (Prime Minister) Tony Blair is persuading President George Bush to launch a new international initiative to fight global warming. The move, in part an attempt by Mr. Blair to shrug off the label as the President’s poodle, is the result of a series of behind-the-scenes meetings between high-level officials, the Independent on Sunday has learnt. The two leaders are close to agreement on combating climate change at the next two G8 meetings of the world’s most powerful leaders.

The article went on to explain the meetings referred to: Last month, Professor Sir David King Mr. Blair’s chief scientific adviserled a delegation to Washington to work out the details with senior members of the Bush administration. The President will concentrate in this year’s summit on how to develop new technologies. Senior scientists and environmentalists consulted by Sir David in Washington warned him that Mr. Blair would have to go far beyond merely endorsing these technologies if he wanted to avoid being seen as the Mr. Bush’s poodle. They stressed Britain must insist that more than enough is already known about the dangers of global warming to demand immediate action to cut the pollution that causes it.

It is not yet known to what extent the Independents coverage reflects wishful thinking on the part of Sir David and his colleagues. Such a major change in the Bush administrations position seems highly unlikely, especially after Sir Davids scathing attack on the administration in subsequent press interviews.

Lomborg Vindicated

On January 11 last year, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) found Bjrn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, guilty of scientific dishonesty in writing the book. Alarmists hailed the decision as proof that the immensely popular work was flawed, while more careful observers who bothered to read the flimsy judgment excoriated it. The Economist magazine, for instance, commented, The panel’s ruling-objectively speaking-is incompetent and shameful.

The Danish Ministry of Technology, which oversees the DCSD, agreed on December 17. The Ministry quashed the judgment, declaring, amongst many other harsh criticisms, that, The DCSD has not documented where [Dr Lomborg] has allegedly been biased in his choice of data and in his argumentation, and… the ruling is completely void of argumentation for why the DCSD find that the complainants are right in their criticisms of [his] working methods. It is not sufficient that the criticisms of a researcher’s working methods exist; the DCSD must consider the criticisms and take a position on whether or not the criticisms are justified, and why.

Referring to the lack of solid evidence against him, Dr Lomborg commented that it has now been established that…mudslinging is not enough. You have to use solid arguments. The DCSD now have to decide whether to reopen Dr Lomborgs case.