October 2004

USA TODAY’s editorial fails to make an economic case for U.S. ratification of the Kyoto Protocol (“Global warming shift gets cold shoulder,” Our view, Greenhouse gas emissions debate, Oct. 21).

It argues that, unlike businesses in Kyoto-ratifying countries, U.S.-based plants “risk being left behind in adopting new technologies that not only cut emissions but also boost efficiency and lower business costs.”

Not so. In a global marketplace, U.S. firms will adopt whatever technologies “boost efficiency and lower business costs,” whether the USA ratifies Kyoto or not. Besides, the editorial seems to confuse energy efficiency with economic efficiency. Kyoto’s emission caps are a stealth energy tax, and energy taxes raise firms’ production costs, not lower them.

Finally, Kyoto’s emission-trading scheme is not a new feature that somehow renders obsolete President Bush’s reasons for rejecting Kyoto in 2001. Kyoto has emphasized emissions trading since its inception in December 1997.

Kyoto was and remains an expensive, non-solution to an unproven problem.

Marlo Lewis
Senior fellow
Competitive Enterprise Institute

Lost among the charges and counter charges about lost explosives during the last week of the presidential campaign, was a last-gasp attempt by the environmental community to impact the election. The assault came from Dr. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who traveled to Iowa from his Manhattan home to charge that the Bush Administration is purposely ignoring growing evidence that sea levels could rise significantly unless prompt action is taken to reduce heat-trapping emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes.” And that “delay of another decadeis a colossal risk.”

Scary stuff if true; but is it? Dr. Hansen himself hasn’t always thought so. His own most recent research, in which he has argued mainly for quickly limiting emissions of methane, rather than CO2, contradicts this claim. Smoke stacks and tailpipes don’t emit methane; cattle and rice fields do.

It appears that Dr. Hansen’s speech in Iowa during the climax of the election is just the latest example of a willingness to change his scientific position depending on his perceived direction of the political winds. For example, Dr. Hansen told former Vice President Al Gore that he predicted high-end estimates of warming, and attributed that to emissions of CO2. More recently, Hansen has embraced lower-end estimates of warming, and suggested that we should control methane emission more than CO2. Yet policy that impacts every area of our economy should be set on sound science, not science that bends to the political winds.

Back to his current charge; is it accurate, are CO2 emissions causing sea levels to rise dramatically? He apparently bases his assertion on his own publication [Proc Nat’l Acad Sci 2004] that to preserve global coastlines, global warming must not exceed one degree Celsius. As sole support for this unusual claim, he cites his own recent article in the popular Scientific American [vol 290, pp 68-77, 2004].

All independent evidence, however, shows sea levels rising steadily – by about 400 feet in the past 18,000 years, since the peak of the most recent ice age. Significantly, empirical evidence has demonstrated that there has been no acceleration of sea level rise during the strong warming in the early 20th century. Evidently, warming leads to faster evaporation from the oceans and an increased rate of ice accumulation on the Antarctic continent – producing a drop in sea level that mostly offsets the rise from the thermal expansion of the oceans.

In addition, as is well known, prompt policy action (by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases in accord with the Kyoto Protocol) would lower the calculated temperature rise by 2050 by at most a tiny one-thirtieth of a degree C – too small to even measure.

Further, it is important to remember that President Bush did not “withdraw” from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming – as his critics so falsely claim. He simply has not submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification; but neither did his predecessor, former President Bill Clinton. Clinton decided not to submit the treaty that was negotiated on his watch because the Senate at the time had voted unanimously against any treaty that would have such damaging economic consequences. That vote was unanimous, including the junior Senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry.

It’s hard to see how ‘prompt action’ of any kind could affect sea level. Dr. Hansen’s critique is disingenuous and not founded on science, and is a prime example of why it is important not to base important public policy decisions on any one scientist’s predictions.

Kenneth Green
Fraser Institute

Dr. Kenneth Green is Chief Scientist and Director of the Risk and Environment Policy Centre at Canada’s Fraser Institute, and is an adjunct scholar with Reason Public Policy Institute, a public-policy research organization headquartered in Los Angeles. Dr. Kenneth Green is Chief Scientist and Director of the Risk and Environment Policy Centre at Canada’s Fraser Institute, and is an adjunct scholar with Reason Public Policy Institute, a public-policy research organization headquartered in Los Angeles.  Dr. Green received his doctorate in Environmental Science and Engineering (D.Env.) at UCLA in 1994, his master’s degree in molecular genetics from San Diego State University in 1988, and his bachelor’s degree in Biology from UCLA in 1983.

Green has critiqued the new California auto-emission regulations for the Orange County Register.  If you have any questions about the environmental, political, or economic ramifications of this move by California, this will be a very enlightening hour.

Moderator: Here we go.  I’ll start it off myself by asking Dr. Green to set up the situation for us.  What exactly is the CARB and how did they come to this decision?

Green: CARB stands for the California Air Resources Board – they are the highest air quality control agency in the state. 
The decision to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions of the California vehicle fleet evolved over time, but it was originally proposed by Fran Pavley about 3 years ago.
CARB’s regulation was intended to fulfill a California Assembly bill, 1493, which directed CARB to achieve “maximum feasible” reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Moderator: Richard in Oklahoma asks:
Californians seem to be itching to shoot themselves in the foot with this type of legislation and state spending. As a non-Californian, why should I care? Won’t it mean that California businesses will move to more business friendly states like mine?

Green: It does sometimes seem that California has an economic death wish.  But the answer to your question is fairly complicated. First, California does have massive market power when it comes to buying automobiles. Nearly 20 percent of all the new cars bought in the US are bought in California.
So, they can force the automakers to incur higher costs, at least in the California market. Of course, to get people to buy these cars (that will cost about $3,000 more over the life of the vehicle), they’re probably going to have to subsidize the market in California by raising vehicle rates somewhat in other states. And, other states tend to copy California on these things, so it probably won’t only be California that does it.
The other reason you should care is that, in truth, California’s economic prosperity contributes to overall economic prosperity in the United States. If California’s economy suffers, ripple effects spread throughout the country.

Moderator:  Phil in Florida asks:
Will California lose jobs to other states because of this policy?

Green: It’s somewhat too early to tell. It’s one thing for California to have passed a foolish law, it’s another thing for them to implement it. The National Academy of Sciences has observed that the technology for what CARB is requiring simply doesn’t exist, and isn’t on the immediate horizon.  So, as with the electric car fiasco, this could wind up being a rule that just isn’t met, and lead to endless rounds of “compromise” proposals that sock the automakers for money to be dumped in California through research projects.
What we do know is this: If California raises the cost of transportation, they’ll hinder their economic growth. If that happens, people will lose jobs, and many of those, one presumes, will seek greener pastures.

Moderator: May in Louisiana wants to know:
When most experts say that the California law will do virtually nothing to curtail greenhouse gases,  what’s the real agenda for this restrictions on car emissions?

Green: I think there are several agendas at play. One is simply that “environmentalists” hate cars. They always have. They particularly despise sport utility vehicles. In the past, they’ve tried to get people out of cars, and into trains, by raising fears of oil depletion and air pollution. Both of those problems have been largely corrected, so now the excuse is climate change.  As an agency, CARB is subject to the problem of “public choice” theory. That is, the people who work there, like everyone else, wants to advance in his/her career, and that advancement is through growth.
Growth of their department, growth of their sphere of authority, and so on. As air pollution dies out as a real threat, what’s an Air Resources Board to do?

Moderator: Ned in California wonders:
Will there be an increase in price that it costs vehicle owners to inspect their car?

Green: I doubt that there will be a change in the way that cars are tested through Inspection and Maintenance programs, though I suppose it’s possible. The real cost is going to be in the initial price of the car.  According to a report by Sierra Research, for a new passenger car sold in 2016, when the new rules are tightest, will cost $3,357 more than they would otherwise.

Moderator: Mary in Virginia asks:
Where is Schwarzenegger coming down on this issue?  What power does he have as Governor to effect it?

Green: Well, judging from his recent media circus over his hydrogen-powered Hummer, one has to assume that Schwarzenegger won’t want to change the regulation. On the air pollution and environmental issues, Schwarzenegger seems to have decided to just throw in the towel to environmental groups. As Governor, he could certainly effect change in the regulation. For one thing, I believe that several of the appointees to the governing board of the Air Resources Board are appointed by the governor.

Moderator: Alex in Virginia is worried:
As an enthusiast of older automobiles, I have read that the CARB standards would put the squeeze on older automobiles, especially ones that don’t have any emissions controls from the factory. CARB has already impacted on my hobby as there are fewer choice cars and bodies for restoration. California “Junk car” laws encourages that they be crushed instead. Is this only going to get worse? What can we do to stop the destruction of our hobby?

Green: That’s a great question. The new CARB standards for greenhouse gas emissions will only apply to new car sales, and, I believe, that classic cars are exempted from even air pollutant standards. It is true that there’s a pressure to just scrap the older cars that are just being driven, rather than treated as a classic car. I can see where that would make it harder to find parts for restoration. I can’t say how that might be remedied, other than, perhaps, to seek your parts in other states, or other countries.

Moderator: Katherine from Maryland asks:
Is it becoming a trend that states (and of course, their attorneys general) are more and more deciding that they will ignore federal regulatory agencies, in this case, NHTSA, and do their own thing?

Green: Yes, states, and particularly their AGs are, more and more often, simply setting their own agenda regardless of the federal government. They tend, not surprisingly, to do that more when the federal government is seen as not being aggressive in a given area of public policy.  Greenhouse gas control bills are popping up all over the US, as are lawsuits by the Attorneys General involving greenhouse gas emissions. The motivations for this proliferation of state actions, to me, seem to involve the prospect of generating massive state revenues through law suits, or to force the federal government to implement strong greenhouse gas controls by threatening to create such a crazy-quilt of regulation that the feds have no choice but to try to create a uniform regulatory playing field.

Moderator: John from Virginia asks:
It seems clear that CARB and green community place far more credence in global climate computer models than the proven fact (National Academy of Sciences among others) that downsizing vehicles results in more deaths and injuries.  The only way to reduce CO2 is to reduce fuel consumption.  And there are only 2 ways to reduce fuel consumption:  Use more expensive materials and technologies OR downsize the vehicle.  The consquence of Option 1 is pricing consumers out of the market, meaning that more older, polluting vehicles stay on the road longer.  The consequence of Option 2 is increasing traffic at California morgues.  How are they getting away with this literal trade of blood for oil?

Green: Well, CARB has never been averse to simply restating mistruths, until the public buys into them. In the case of the new greenhouse gas controls, you’re going to get a double dose of danger: the cars will have to be lighter, AND they’ll also be more expensive, and they may, if we’re silly enough to use hydrogen as a fuel source, be more likely to explode.  The bottom line is, the new rules will hurt motorists not only in the wallet, but also in their safety. And, those who are sensitive to our ever-lower levels of air pollution are going to see a set back in the elimination of those emissions because people will hold onto older cars longer, rather than buy the new, smaller, higher-priced, less-capable cars and trucks that will result from the new rules.

Moderator: Elizabeth in Florida wonders:
It sounds as if California is trying to force new technologies.  Have there been any prominent successes in low-emission vehicles? 

Green: The planner-types at California’s environmental agencies have long suffered from the fatal conceit, that somehow, they know better than all the people acting in free markets, about what future technologies will win, and which will lose. They have a dismal track record, however, as do all governmental agencies. The most obvious example is the electric car fiasco. Billions of dollars were spent to try to conjure up battery-cars that a consumer would want to buy. They subsidized the building, and the selling, and the charging stands, and they still couldn’t get people to buy their prize electric cars for a very simple reason: they didn’t have nearly the capability of a regular economy car.

Moderator: Patrick at an undisclosed location asks:
What states are most likely to follow California down this road?

Green: It’s hard to say. New York is a distinct possibility, as I believe that they also copied California on their “Zero-Emission Vehicle” standards. There is a group of states that have basically adopted the practice of cloning California’s emission laws, and implementing them.  Of course, we can hope that some of those states might have learned from the electric-car fiasco, and be more hesitant to adopt the new greenhouse gas standards. Either way, what I think is most likely to happen wherever they adopt these rules is simply failure. The deadlines will come, the automakers will have to spend a fortune proving they can’t meet the requirement, some deal will be cut, and the automakers will pay some hefty research bill in some politician’s home town. Motorists will pay one way or the other, as whatever costs the automakers incur in dealing with these rules, it’s ultimately the consumer who pays for it.

Moderator: Okay, that was our last question.  We want to thank Dr. Green for lending us his time and expertise!
Keep checking back at GlobalWarming.org for more live chats with the experts. 

Breaking with the scientific consensus that the intense hurricane season this year was unconnected with global warming, Paul Epstein, M. D., claimed that there was a connection in a telephone press conference (Reuters, Oct. 21).

Epstein said, This year, the unusually intense period of destructive activity, with four hurricanes hitting in a five-week period, could be a harbinger of things to come.  The weather patterns are changing.  The character of the system is changing.  It is becoming a signal of how the system is behaving and it is not stable.

Reuters quoted only one expert who disagreed with Epsteins analysis.  Florida State University meteorologist James OBrien said, Recent history tells us that hurricanes are not becoming more frequent.  According to meteorological measurements, extreme weather is not increasing.  Hurricanes are just one of many scientific fields where Dr. Epstein has claimed expertise where he in fact has none.

European media sources (e.g., the Independent, Oct. 10) made a great deal out of a supposed surprise rise in CO2 levels in 2003, increasing by 2 parts per million to 379 ppm when the recent trend has a been 1.5 ppm rise each year.

Nevertheless, even dedicated climate alarmists such as Sir David King, chief scientific adviser to the British government, felt impelled to dismiss the anomaly as an aberration, not the start of a trend (BBC, Oct. 11).

The Hadley Centers Peter Cox told UPI (Oct. 14) that, as the CO2 increase was not uniform across the globe, it might have been caused by something unusual in the Northern Hemisphere, such as the forest fires in Europe caused by the hot summer.

University of California physics professor Richard Muller, a MacArthur Fellow in 1982 and who writes the column Technology for Presidents in the MIT Technology Review, strongly criticized the Michael Mann hockey stick reconstruction of historic temperatures in his October 15 column.

Mullers criticism is interesting because he remains a strong believer in the threat of global warming.  Nevertheless, he agrees with the findings of Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (see previous issues, passim) that the hockey stick is an artifact of poor mathematics.  He also points out that the principal component error that McIntyre and McKitrick identify is blatant and easy to understand.

Muller comments further, It certainly does not negate the threat of a long-term global temperature increase.  In fact, McIntyre and McKitrick are careful to point out that it is hard to draw conclusions from these data, even with their corrections.  Did medieval global warming take place?  Last month the consensus was that it did not; now the correct answer is that nobody really knows.  Uncovering errors in the Mann analysis doesnt settle the debate; it just reopens it. We now know less about the history of climate, and its natural fluctuations over century-scale time frames, than we thought we knew.

If you are concerned about global warming (as I am) and think that human-created carbon dioxide may contribute (as I do), then you still should agree that we are much better off having broken the hockey stick.  Misinformation can do real harm, because it distorts predictions.  Suppose, for example, that future measurements in the years 2005-2015 show a clear and distinct global cooling trend. (It could happen.) If we mistakenly took the hockey stick seriously that is, if we believed that natural fluctuations in climate are small then we might conclude (mistakenly) that the cooling could not be a natural occurrence.  And that might lead in turn to the mistaken conclusion that global warming predictions are a lot of hooey.  If, on the other hand, we reject the hockey stick, and recognize that natural fluctuations can be large, then we will not be misled by a few years of random cooling.

A phony hockey stick is more dangerous than a broken one if we know it is broken.  It is our responsibility as scientists to look at the data in an unbiased way, and draw whatever conclusions follow. When we discover a mistake, we admit it, learn from it, and perhaps discover once again the value of caution.

Environmentally-conscious electricity consumers in the United Kingdom have been surprised to see their bills going up by 10 percent as a result of rising oil and gas prices.  The price rises have been condemned as profiteering by the opposition Conservative Party (a believer in global warming alarmism).  Energy spokesman Laurence Roberston told the Times (Oct. 17), It is unbelievable.  It sounds a bit of a con to me.

Green Energy, which raised its prices by an average of 9 percent, said, The demand for renewables has increased over the last three years in no small part as a result in the increase in the voluntary market.  This increase in demand has meant that renewables command a premiumand consequently when the price of brown (non-renewable) energy goes up, renewables move to maintain that premium.

The chief executive of Good Energy also defended a price rise of 7-10 percent by saying, If I kept my prices down and I told my generators to keep their prices down, we would get a lot of customers and then I would run short.

Norman Baker, of the alarmist Liberal Democrat party, commented on learning that economic laws apply to renewable energy as well, It is deeply ironic that people like me who are supporting green energy have found it tied to oil.

Meanwhile, the British governments quango (which stands for quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization) the Energy Saving Trust told British householders to cut down on heat and power and walk to the shops instead of driving (BBC, Oct. 25).  This years winter is projected to be particularly cold in Britain (see last issue).

Venturing into economics once more, the journal Science published a study October 15 by two atmospheric scientists and one economist that called for a carbon tax of 5 cents per gallon, to be gradually increased over the next thirty years.

Michael Schlesinger and Natalia Andronova of the University of Illinois and economist Gary Yohe of Wesleyan called their suggestion, a low-cost insurance policy that protects against climate change.

Schlesinger argues that the current uncertainty surrounding climate change was the main reason for adopting such a proposal as a hedge against the uncertainty.  Hanging his argument on the basis of studies that suggest much greater climate sensitivity than the IPCC finds, Schlesinger concludes that without immediate action it may be impossible to keep the temperature rise below 3 C.

The proposal calls for a carbon tax of $10 per ton of carbon (roughly 5 cents per gallon of gasoline), rising to $33 per ton in thirty years time.

The sub-Sahelian state of Niger has seen authorities turn to promoting the use of coal in an effort to halt deforestation (Inter-Press Service, Oct. 20).  Wood is the primary energy source in Niger, accounting for 95 percent of energy needs.  This means that the country consumes two billion kilograms of firewood each year.

The government aims to replace 25 percent of firewood with coal, mainly by targeting large institutions..  The move will require the Nigerien Coal Company (SONICHAR) to increase production to 33 million kilograms.

The government is also keen to persuade households that coal is more economical than wood.  One restaurateur told IPS that he would save about $20 over a three-week period by using coal.

Even the president of the National Association of Wood Users has endorsed the move.  Elhadj Dodo Mahaman Abdou said, Recourse to coal as a source of domestic energy is a healthy initiative, in the sense that it will allow us to save our forests from altogether disappearing.

The latest edition of the International Energy Agencys World Energy Outlook, released in Paris on October 26, predicts that in the absence of changed policies or accelerated use of new technology world energy demand will increase by 59 percent from now to 2030.  About 85 percent of that increase will be supplied by fossil fuels, and two-thirds of the new demand will come from the developing world, especially India and China.

Nuclear power use will decline in Europe but increase in Asia.  While renewable usage will triple, it will still only account for 6 percent of world electricity production in 2030.

These trends are, however, not unalterable. Our analysis shows that more vigorous government action could steer the world onto a markedly different energy path, said Claude Mandil, the agencys Executive Director. The Oulook suggests that world energy demand can be 10% lower and carbon-dioxide emissions 16% lower in an Alternative Policy Scenario. 

In this scenario, the worlds reliance on Middle East oil and gas are also much reduced.  The scenario depends on more efficient use of energy in vehicles, electric appliances, lighting and industry, which accounts for more than half of the reduction in emissions.  The rest is accounted for by a shift in the power generation fuel mix towards renewables and nuclear power.  Yet, even in this alternative scenario, said Mandil, energy imports and emissions would still be higher in 2030 than today and would still be growing.

What this analysis shows very clearly, he added, is that achieving a truly sustainable energy system will depend on technological breakthroughs that radically alter how we produce and use energy.  Mandil called on governments to take the lead in accelerating the development and deployment of new technologies that allow us to meet our growing energy needs without compromising our energy security and the environment.  (IEA Press Release, Oct. 26)