August 2004

The attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Iowa, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin, and the corporation counsel of New York City, filed a complaint on July 21 in federal district court in Manhattan alleging that five leading electric power generators in the United States had created a “public nuisance” by emitting carbon dioxide and thereby contributing to global warming.  All but one of the officers who brought the suit are Democrats.

“Save Our Planet,” Say Lawyers

The government lawyers are not seeking monetary damages but rather an abatement ordera court order requiring the utilities to reduce their emissions.  Consequences for noncompliance would be fashioned by the court.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said at a press conference on July 21, that the litigants’ aim was to “save our planet from disastrous consequences that are building year by year and will be more costly to prevent and stop if we wait.”  Blumenthal also told reporters, “Think tobacco, without the money.”

The complaint alleges that the states and city that brought the suit are suffering and will continue to suffer damage from global warming in the form of heat-related deaths; rises in sea level; degradation of water supplies; damage to the Great Lakes; injuries to agriculture in Iowa and Wisconsin; harm to ecosystems, forests, fisheries, and wildlife; wildfires in California; economic damages; increased risk of abrupt climate change; and “Injury to States’ Interests in Ecological Integrity.”

The companies targeted by the suit are American Electric Power Co., Southern Co., Xcel Energy Inc., Cinergy Corp., and the federal Tennessee Valley Authority.  As evidence that these firms manage and control the emission of carbon dioxide, the complaint uses various past statements and admissions by company spokespersons that global warming is a problem they want to do something about.

Only Xcel, through its subsidiary Northern States Power of Wisconsin, provides electricity to customers in any of the states that have filed suit.  To establish some legal grounds for their federal suit, the complaint includes specific complaints for each state.

Lawsuit Rebuffed by Usual Allies

Some supporters of action to curb carbon dioxide emissions have strongly criticized the suit.  Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, told The New York Times on July 22 she found the suit “slightly perverse.    Of course, we need a national program and of course, we need some legislation.  The real question is, does this help you get there?  It’s not clear to me that this lawsuit will help.”

Initial response from newspapers was also unenthusiastic.  The San Jose Mercury News on July 22 called the complaint “a cheap shot” and noted, “Generation by a public utility is about as regulated as an activity can be.  Utilities are not only permitted to produce electricity, they’re also obligated to.  So any ill effects from an operation that has been approved from the local to the federal level can’t be laid at the feet of the utilities alone.”

The Cincinnati Post on July 22 was equally unimpressed.  It satirized Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch’s statement that “It’s imperative that we confront those responsible for unleashing an invader with the power to wreak unspeakable havoc on our climate and to damage, and destroy, our ecosystems” as follows: “Good golly.  If fossil-fueled power plants are that much of a public nuisance, maybe we’d better shut them down right now.  That might reduce Rhode Islanders to living off whatever fish they can catch with a net, but it would take care of that invader.”

Depending on the duration and outcome of procedural matters, the district court can be expected to address the substance of the suit in late 2004 or in 2005.

Dr Than Aung of the University of the South Pacific recently confirmed the conclusions of other experts, such as Nils-Axel Morner, that low-lying Pacific island nations such as Tuvalu are in no danger of disappearing because of rising sea levels.

 According to the New Zealand Herald (Aug. 25), Dr Aung presented his findings at a scientific conference in New Caledonia.  His research was based on 136 months worth of data collected by Australian Marine Science and Technology Ltd, which showed sea levels had both risen and fallen across the Pacific in that time.  The data also showed marked falls in sea levels across the region’s countries due to the strong El Nino event in 1997-98.

 Dr Aung concluded that, The fears of small nations like Kiribati and Tuvalu disappearing under the ocean were exaggerated.  He went on, We have never believed that these islands will go under water. People will live there for thousands of years yet.

 Explaining why nations like Tuvalu were indifferent to his findings, Dr. Aung suggested that they did not seem to want to hear [them], as they would rather blame Western countries for their perceived predicament.  Dr. Aung also predicted that there would be strong representations from Tuvalu about global warming during the next predicted high tides of February to April 2006.

Princeton University scientist Robert Socolow recently co-authored a paper (Pacala, S., Socolow, R., Stabilization wedges: solving the climate problem for the next 50 years with current technologies, Science, 305, 968-972) which argues that existing technologies are sufficient to significantly reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions if widely adopted.  The paper significantly did not consider the costs of adopting these existing technologies.

 In a story based on the article, Dr. Socolow is reported as telling the Washington Post (Aug. 23), If governments fail to actthe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will triple in 50 years.  Keeping it below a doubling is a heroic task, he said.

 The Greening Earth Society pointed out the hyperbole involved in this statement (World Climate Alert, Aug. 25):

 Before people began burning fossil fuels to release the energy that powers life as we know it, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide was about 280 parts per million. Its now about 375 ppm an increase of about 34 percent. Twenty-five years ago the concentration was around 330 ppm, or 18 percent above background.  In other words, Socolow is telling Eilperin (apparently with a straight face) that the 16 percent rise in the last twenty-five years will morph into a 300 percent rise in the next fifty if governments fail to act.  This is nonsensical!  To triple the 280 ppm background by 2053, the atmospheres CO2 concentration must increase 1.65 percent per year.

 According to data compiled by the U. S. Energy Information Administration, the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per capita has been dropping worldwide since the 1980s and population (all those capita) isnt increasing at nearly the rate predicted twenty-five years ago.  In 1980, the United Nations predicted a global population of 15 billion by 2050. Their most recent estimate is nine billion. Theyve reduced their population prediction 40 percent.  As companies have competed to produce and deploy more efficient technologies (principally in developed countries), the rate of increase in the atmospheric CO2 concentration has remained much smaller than the required 1.65 percent per year.  In fact, it has changed very little. Over the period for which we have accurate records (1958 to present), the increase has fluctuated between 0.4% per year and 0.45%.

Tim Lambert of the University of New South Wales, recently discovered (see his web log at science/mckitrick6.html) an error in calculations in a scientific article by Ross McKitrick of the University of Guelph and Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia.  The article (see the June 9 issue of the newsletter), titled A Test of Corrections for Extraneous Signals in Gridded Surface Temperature Data and which appeared in Climate Research, found that recent temperature records were strongly influenced by socio-economic factors.

 Prof. McKitrick has now corrected the calculations upon which this conclusion was based.   In a draft erratum, available at, he writes, The principal effect of the correction is a reduced weight on the constant term and an increased weight on the COSABLAT variable itself. Indeed the correction improves the overall fit and removes the anomalously small cosine-latitude effect. The socioeconomic variables remain significant and the effects carry over from the station data to the gridded data as before.

 Because the main patterns of results persist across the revised tables, the original discussions as worded in our paper need only minor modification, and our overall conclusion, re-stated here, is unaffected:

 Overall, the results of this study support the hypothesis that published temperature data are contaminated with nonclimatic influences that add up to a net warming bias, and that efforts should be made to properly quantify these effects.

Mexico has become the first nation to adopt a greenhouse gas protocol designed by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

 The voluntary protocol, which works on a company-wide or entity scale rather than by project or at factory level, requires companies to account for the six Kyoto greenhouse gases as assets or liabilities.

 Environmental groups lauded the move.  WRI President Jonathan Lash said, The GHG Protocol is voluntary, but if and when the Kyoto Protocol is ratified, and in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, mandatory caps will be imposed.  Common sense tells us that businesses that adopt voluntary accounting standards now will remain ahead of the game when emission caps become mandatory.

Judi Greenwald of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a leading front group for businesses that hope to profit from energy rationing, compared the program favorably to the U. S. Department of Energys 1605(b) registry, saying, Everyone is basing what they do on the protocol.  1605(b) lets you do whatever you want, while WRI constrains your choices.  WRI’s is ultimately preferred if there’s a legal requirement and state and federal governments want choices nailed down.

Mexican government official Miguel Cervantes admitted that it would be a challenge to get Mexicos big emitters to sign up for the protocol.  One of the companies that will prove a challenge is reportedly Comision Federal de Electricidad, Mexicos state-owned electricity utility (Greenwire, Aug. 31).

 As several power companies in Great Britian raised their prices for residential consumers by 3.5 percent, analysts suggested climate change policies were part of the reason.

 An electricity analyst at consultants Wood Mackenzie told Reuters (Aug. 19) that, Industrial and commercial customers have seen rises between 20 and 30 percent in quotes for their power contracts for next year, mainly due to higher oil prices and a European Union carbon emissions trading scheme starting in January.  The report went on, The emissions trading scheme is likely to curb output at coal-fired power stations, the most polluting generators.

 In contrast to Vice President Al Gores 2000 presidential campaign, references to global warming have been few and far between by the Democratic ticket of Senators John Kerry and John Edwards.  Within one week in August, however, the Kerry campaign published its position on the Kyoto Protocol, which vice presidential nominee John Edwards then contradicted. 

  On August 19 the campaign issued a document aimed at West Virginia and other coal-producing States that promoted coal as a clean energy source.  It states, John Kerry and John Edwards believe that the Kyoto Protocol is not the answer.  The near-term emission reductions it would require of the United States are infeasible, while the long-term obligations imposed on all nations are too little to solve the problem.  Unlike the current Administration, John Kerry and John Edwards will offer an alternative to the Kyoto process that leads the world toward a more equitable and effective answer, while preserving coal miners jobs. 

Less than a week later, on August 24, the Journal Times of Racine, Wisconsin, published an account of Sen. Edwardss visit to the town the day before.  According to the paper, Edwards lamented America’s failure to join the Kyoto treaty.  The last thing this president should have done was walk away from Kyoto, he told the audience.  Perhaps co-incidentally, Wisconsin is not a major coal-producing State, and public opinion there favors policies to address global warming.

The annual report of the U. S. Climate Change Science Program for fiscal years 2004-5, entitled, Our Changing Planet, was released on August 25.  It was immediately hailed as a turn-around in the Bush Administrations position by the media and environmental groups.

 The New York Times in a story by Andrew Revkin on August 25 set the tone, and an editorial the next day called the report a striking shift in the way the Bush administration has portrayed the science of climate change.  Other newspaper editorial columns and environmental groups jumped on this interpretation.

The striking shift is confined to several short passages in a 130-page document that are less qualified and more direct than in the FY 2003 edition.  The statements that attracted the most attention are the following:

Multiple ensemble simulations of the 20th century climate have been conducted using climate models that include new and improved estimates of natural and anthropogenic forcing.  The simulations show that observed globally averaged surface air temperatures can be replicated only when both anthropogenic forcings, e.g., greenhouse gases, as well as natural forcings such as solar variability and volcanic eruptions are included in the model.  These simulations improve on the robustness of earlier work (pages 46-7).

 Comparison of index trends in observations and model simulations shows that North American temperature changes from 1950 to 1999 were unlikely to be due only to natural climate variations.  Observed trends over this period are consistent with simulations that include anthropogenic forcing from increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols.  However, most of the observed warming from 1900 to 1949 was likely due to natural climate variation (page 47).

 Administration officials disputed that the report represents a striking shift in their position.  In a Washington Post article on Aug. 27, White House Science Adviser John Marburger, one of the signatories to the report, was quoted as saying that the findings had no implications for policy.

 Further, a New York Times reporter covering the presidential campaign put the question directly to President Bush (Aug. 27): Asked why the administration had changed its position on what causes global warming, Mr. Bush replied, Ah, we did?  I don’t think so.

The report may be found on the web at


“Computers Add Sophistication, but Don’t Resolve Climate Debate” – “When the Bush administration issued an update last week on federal climate research, it was criticized with equal vigor by environmentalists and by industry-backed groups.

The update featured new computer simulations showing that the sharp rise in global temperatures since 1970 could only be explained by human influences, mainly rising levels of greenhouse gases.” (New York Times)

0831-sci-WARM-ch.jpeg (61550 bytes) Oddly, Meehl’s graphic, reproduced here from the NYT, is truncated at 1999, just post-peak of the powerful 1997/98 El Nio-induced temperature spike evident in both MSU and GISS datasets. MSU data indicates a peak in April of 1998 at +0.746C (annual mean +0.472C) and GISTEMP peaked in February of that year at +0.97C (annual mean +0.711C) – by March ’99 both had fallen significantly, to -0.088C (annual mean -0.022C) and +0.3C (annual mean +0.437C) respectively.

We’re sure the resultant impression of runaway warming in Meehl’s graph is purely accidental. Basing his anomalies graphic on the 1890-1919 average is also a rather novel approach, other items here based on the climatological mean (1951-1980 average).

UStemp.gif (18879 bytes) Regardless, Meehl’s graphic sure differs greatly from this one derived from one of the best financed and arguably best maintained near-surface datasets in the world – the continental United States of America. Kind of odd, considering they’re depicting the same period, that one indicates significant and quite rapid warming while the other shows no increase in 7 decades. Even more strangely, the GISSTEMP near-surface global mean temperature anomaly graph below does not appear to support Meehl’s version either.

MSU_monthly_mean.gif (9662 bytes) So, which ‘reality’ is being modeled then?

The thumbnail to the left links to a graphic of lower troposphere temperature anomalies determined from data captured by NOAA satellite-mounted MSUs. July, 2004 global mean -0.213.

GISS_monthly_mean.gif (10451 bytes) The thumbnail on the right is linked to a graphic of temperature anomalies as suggested by the NASA GISS surface temperature analysis (GISTEMP), a near-surface temperature amalgam – July, 2004 global mean +0.3.

GISS_MSU_monthly_mean.gif (12886 bytes) Plotted together – the increasing disconnect between these datasets is obvious. The question is: how does the near-surface amalgam produce a resulting anomaly >0.5C warmer than so-called satellite temps? This does not accord with the enhanced greenhouse hypothesis. Under that hypothesis the troposphere should warm and some of that increase should be reflected subsequently in near-surface measures – diametrically opposite to what has supposedly been measured.

This leaves us with several possibilities: the enhanced greenhouse effects works nothing like we suppose; the lower troposphere measures are incorrect; the near-surface amalgam is incorrect or; some combination of the above. Although there are many uncertainties regarding climate we think we have a fair understanding of the greenhouse effect – if not then the entire argument is moot. That leaves the temperature records. Of these, the satellite data has been validated against balloon-sonde measures while the near-surface amalgam is “odd man out.” Satellite data gives near-complete global coverage while near-surface records increasingly reflect temperatures in cities and at airports, an urbanization of the record accelerated by closure of rural recording stations and urban development.

So, what are these computers modeling? Is it enhanced greenhouse effect (EGE) or urban heat island effect (UHIE)?

As determined by NOAA Satellite-mounted MSUs
Information from
Global Hydrology and Climate Center,
University of Alabama – Huntsville, USA
The data from which the graph
is derived can be downloaded here
Global Mean Temperature Variance From Average,
Lower Troposphere,
July 2004: -0.213C

(Northern Hemisphere: -0.140C , Southern Hemisphere: -0.286C )