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The Week That Was
(June 25, 2005)
brought to you by SEPP

New on the Web: "Greens Are the Real Energy Problem" says Steve Milloy – and backs it with facts.

It's been a tough week for enviro-activists. We start with an amusing but insightful blog item from our economist friend Alister McFarquhar (Downing College, Cambridge), commenting on the forthcoming G-8 meeting July 6-8 in Scotland. The real problems are not Global Warming and Africa (Item #1).

All over Europe, ministers for industry are waking up to the fact that Kyoto will damage their already shaky economies. Have they been listening to George Bush? In any case. Kyoto targets are becoming increasingly unattainable (Item #2, 3) in UK and New Zealand.

This hasn't slowed down activists in the US, however. They can claim "victories" from US mayors (Item #4) and the governor of California (Item #5). These are all meaningless political gestures – although statements from certain leaders of industry are worrisome. (Item #6).

On the other hand, the US Senate turned down firmly attempts to put caps on CO2 emissions (by McCain, Lieberman, Bingaman). McCain-Lieberman garnered only 38 votes (versus 42 on their previous attempt). The Hagel amendment for voluntary limits passed easily.

The Senate showed some skepticism towards the proliferating of wind energy (Item #7). There was also an advance in dealing with genuine pollution problems from coal-fired powerplants (Item #8); a court ruled in favor of a sensible interpretation of the Clean Air Act --and against several state attorneys-general. Unfortunately, federal oil leasing is still bedeviled by policies that go against resource conservation (Item #9).

Finally, are seal pups better in predicting climate change than the Royal Society? (Item #10)

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We are sad to report the passing of Charles "Dave" Keeling. Keeling, of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, is the originator/discoverer of the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1958. Keeling's observations were fundamental in the discussion of global warming and helped bring the science --and concern-- to where it is today. He is fortunate in having a son, Ralph, who is ably advancing his work. Dave recently published an imaginative paper on ocean mixing through tides in trying to explain the observed 1500-yr climate cycle. RIP, my friend.

Keeling's obituary in the Times on June 23 : http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/23/science/23keeling.html

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New on the Web

Greens Are the Real Energy Problem
By Steven Milloy
June 02, 2005

It goes without saying that the global economy depends on the availability of affordable energy. Many place their hopes for abundant energy supplies in yet-to-be-imagined technologies.

But while researchers tinker with far-off possibilities, there's something we should do right now to keep the energy flowing: break the radical environmentalists' chokehold on national energy policy.

Regardless of form — whether oil, gas, coal or nuclear — the Green movement is blocking efforts to harness our accustomed energy sources while leading us down the primrose path of so-called “renewable energy.”

First, we're not running out of oil.

“Notwithstanding the recent paucity of discoveries of new major oil fields, innovation has proved adequate to meet ever-rising demands for oil,“ wrote Alan Greenspan last October in "Middle East Economic Survey."

“Gross additions to reserves have significantly exceeded the extraction of oil the reserves replaced,” added Greenspan. These new reserves don't include unconventional oil sources, including the vast Canadian tar sands and Venezuelan heavy oil.

Nevertheless environmentalists are hindering efforts to obtain that oil — witness, for example, their fight against drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Environmentalists currently are whipping up Floridians against the offshore drilling provisions in the current energy bill in Congress, forcing Republican Sen. Mel Martinez to defy Senate leadership and kowtow to the activists.

“Any weakening of protections currently in place off Florida's coasts is unacceptable,” says Martinez, echoing the anti-drilling position of environmental groups.

Green opposition to increased oil production is international in scope. Acting through such diverse groups as Amnesty International and Christian Brothers Investment Services, activists are harassing oil company BP about its $3.2 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

The recent increase in gasoline prices is only partially due to higher demand from developing countries like China and India. Price spikes have also been fueled by the failure of U.S. refining capability to keep pace with demand. No new gasoline refinery has opened since 1976 — thanks to unnecessarily strict government regulations and community opposition, both of which have been tirelessly orchestrated by the environmental movement.

There's also plenty of natural gas to be had — if the Greens would let us have it.

As spotlighted recently by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, environmentalists “have successfully pushed moratoriums for most new offshore drilling of the fuel, have fought to keep the most gas-rich federal lands off-limits to exploration, and have used lawsuits to tie up those pieces that are accessible.”

The Greens are also obstructing the importation of liquefied natural gas by blocking the construction of new port facilities based on fears that they would be terrorist targets.

Coal is a cheap and abundant source of energy, but environmentalists are making its use more difficult with hysterical claims that coal burning releases “poisons” like mercury into the air. Environmentalists also oppose so-called “clean coal” technology on the grounds that, although less nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide are emitted, mercury emissions remain.

The reality of the matter is that the vast majority of mercury in the environment comes from natural sources; mercury emitted from coal burning power plants is not linked with detectable harm to human health or the environment.

As to nuclear power, environmentalist fear-mongering has ensured there's been no new nuclear power plant construction since the 1970s. They're trying to shut down nuke plants in operation by blocking the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility in the Nevada desert, forcing nuclear plants to temporarily store waste in limited, politically unpopular on-site facilities.

General Electric, producer of nuclear power technology, is hoping fears about global warming and energy supplies will interest the public and environmentalists in nuclear energy. No doubt GE hoped it was getting a Green ally in jointly announcing its recent “Ecomagination” initiative with the eco-activist World Resources Institute (WRI). Such hope is pretty naïve, however.

WRI has worked more closely and a lot longer with the likes of anti-nuke groups like Environmental Defense and Greenpeace, which, by the way, is currently trying to block the construction of a new nuclear power plant in Southern Maryland.

The energy crisis has arisen not because there's a lack of sufficiently clean and affordable energy supplies — our problem is that we've allowed the Greens to have too much power.

-----------------------------

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRwatch.com, is adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and is the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).

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1. GW and Africa: G-8 Diversions by Alister McFarquhar

Former UK prime minister Harold Macmillan described what precipitates political change. "Events, dear boy, events." The two current G8 diversions chosen are Kyoto and poverty in Africa. Both are seductive. The public does not know that the degree of global warming expected is still in doubt, or that it may confer net benefits. Some scientists point out that solar activity far exceeds carbon emission as a possible cause

Allister Heath (Cry Africa the Beloved Country-- but not for Aid) reports research suggesting that aid supports corrupt dictators and even delays progress towards better governance. Economists Heckelman and Knack (World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 3557, April 2005) concluded that aid retarded, rather than encouraged, market-oriented policy reform over the 1980 to 2000 period. Even in the 1990s, when efforts were made to target hand-outs more selectively, foreign aid had a negative effect on reforms. This applies for developing countries generally, not only in Africa. 

Easterly of New York University shows that even in countries with good policies, aid made no impact. Meanwhile back in Paris, the French NON demands that Chirac find a diversion from his failure to make the French accept a new EU constitution. What better than demand revision of the British EU rebate, without which UK would pay 15 times more than France to Brussels? Blair offers flexibility in return for a restructure of CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), which still accounts for 40 percent of the EU Budget, with only 5 percent of EU employment in Agriculture and 1.6 percent of output. 

France and Germany recently stitched the CAP up until 2013. The French cannot consider revision since the raison d`etre of the Common Market was that Germany pays and French farmers benefit. And a French election is coming up. 

This is the politics of diversion. The EU is at a crossroads and its leaders don't know which way to turn. The Euro might easily implode. US stability is at risk because of its budget and trade deficits. The world has to accommodate the economic rise of China and India. Far-reaching changes are reverberating, yet the focus of the EU is on the British rebate, and that of the G8 will be on Kyoto and Africa. Diversions, dear boy, diversions.
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2. European greenhouse emissions climb again Michael Hopkin Nature News Published online: 21 June 2005; | doi:10.1038/news050620-6

The figures, compiled by the European Environment Agency, show that the 15 core European Union nations pumped out an extra 53 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2003 - a 1.3% hike over 2002.

==================
BBC report June 22

Emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide rose in the European Union by 1.5% in 2003 after falling in 2002, the European Environment Agency reports.

Italy, Finland and the UK were named as the worst offenders while cold weather was blamed for a rise in the use of fossil fuels to heat homes and offices. Some commentators now doubt the EU can meet its promise to cut emissions by 8% of 1990 levels by 2012.

A spokesman for Friends of the Earth called the new figures "shocking". "The blame goes mostly to national economy and industry ministers, who constantly block any attempts to introduce mandatory targets for renewable energies, energy efficiency rules or fuel consumption standards for cars,"

Kyoto Targets Unlikely To Be Met
John Vidal, environment editor, The Guardian, 18 June 2005 http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1509151,00.html#article_continue

Europe is failing to tackle climate change, putting further pressure on Tony Blair to come up with a fresh initiative at the G8 summit and embarrassing the European commission, which is floundering over budget cuts and the constitution treaty.

Figures from the European Environment Agency show that only France, Germany, Sweden and the UK have any hope of cutting their energy use in time to meet their targets and that most countries are now falling well behind.

Britain is expected to only just fulfill its Kyoto obligations but not the government's more ambitious target of a 20% cut in emissions by 2010.

Catherine Pearce, global climate change spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth, said: "If Britain and the rest of Europe cannot get it right, then how can anyone expect the US or developing countries to?"....

3. Reality of Complying With Kyoto a Blow to 'Clean, Green' New Zealand

(CNSNews.com) - New Zealand's government is being challenged to justify the country's continued participation in the Kyoto Protocol after it admitted that complying with the climate change treaty will cost taxpayers about one billion NZ dollars (U.S. $714 million).

The news has rattled New Zealanders, who previously were led to believe that participating in Kyoto would earn the country millions of dollars in carbon "credits."

The admission is a blow for a left-leaning, green-friendly government, which last month announced that one of the world's first carbon tax regimes -- entailing higher prices for gas, electricity and coal -- would come into effect in 2007.

The opposition center-right National Party has called for an immediate formal review of the country's participation in Kyoto, accusing the Labor government of a major policy blunder.

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4. City City Bang Bang:

An interview with Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels on his pro-Kyoto cities initiative
http://www.grist.org/news/maindish/2005/06/15/little-nickels/
By Amanda Griscom Little, 15 Jun 2005

A Nickels' worth of free advice ... Meet the pied piper of one of the most exciting green grassroots uprisings to hit the U.S. in years: Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels (Dem.).

He's managed to get roughly 300 mayors nationwide -- from the Northwest to the deep South and everywhere in between -- to agree that it's a good idea for U.S. cities to meet or beat Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, despite the Bush administration's rejection of the treaty. Municipal leaders attending a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Chicago on Monday unanimously endorsed Nickels' initiative calling on cities to do their part to stave off climate change. Before the conference vote, 165 mayors from 37 states had individually signed on to the initiative; now Nickels hopes many more will follow suit.

Granted, the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement is non-binding, so cities could climb aboard the bandwagon but not follow through on meeting the targets. But the fact that there's a bandwagon at all is noteworthy, and the timing is fortuitous. As the Senate deliberates a number of bipartisan climate amendments that have been proposed for the energy bill, mayors from New York City to Salt Lake City are sending a powerful message to D.C. lawmakers that America wants action on global warming.

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5. Terminating Prosperity in California
By Joel Schwartz 6/7/2005

According to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, "the debate [over human-induced global warming] is over. We know the science, we see the threat and we know the time for action is now."[1] Schwarzenegger issued his call for action on climate change last week at the United Nations World Environment Day conference in San Francisco, where he unveiled an executive order establishing stringent greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets for California.[2]

In the absence of national action on GHG emissions, the Governator is just one of many state and local politicians seeking to impose GHG reduction requirements on their constituents. Climate alarmists promote GHG reductions on the basis of ostensible improvements in human welfare. Unfortunately, it is climate change activism and the public credibility of its misguided intellectual foundation, rather than climate change itself, that poses a threat to the safety and prosperity of humankind.

When compared with projected "business-as-usual" GHG emissions, the Governor's order would require California to reduce GHGs 11 percent by 2010, 25 percent by 2020, and 87 percent by 2050. His plan calls for the virtual elimination of GHG emissions in California over the next few decades. This alone should give people pause, as the only way to achieve such large GHG reductions is to drastically curtail the use of fossil fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and natural gas.

With the Governor calling for such a radical reorganization of Californians' lives, we need to ask what problem Schwarzenegger and his environmentalist allies are trying to solve. The Governor's executive order claims human-caused climate change threatens to increase California's air pollution, reduce its water supplies, increase heat-related mortality, infectious diseases and asthma, harm the state's agricultural industry, and flood the state's 1,100 miles of coastline.

This isn't the place for a treatise on climate change science and health impacts. But even a cursory survey of the research literature should make everyone queasy about using the claim of human-induced climate change as the pretext for forcing a drastic reorganization of human economies.

First, rising temperatures will at worst have no effect on heat-related mortality. Urban temperatures have been rising for decades, probably due to an expanding urban heat island effect. Nevertheless, between the 1960s and the 1990s, the rate of heat-related mortality declined more than 75 percent in U.S. cities.[3] No matter. Environmentalists and politicians continue to claim that climate change will increase heat deaths.[4]

But perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on environmentalists and politicians. They get help from scientists who lend credibility to their false claims. For example, despite large observed declines in heat-related mortality, a group of scientists recently published a study in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) claiming that rising temperatures will increase future heat-related deaths in California.[5] Several authors of the PNAS study are also the authors of Union of Concerned Scientists climate change reports.

Likewise, regardless of whether temperatures rise in the future, this will not increase air pollution.[6] For particulate matter, higher temperatures are associated with lower pollution levels. For ozone, most ozone-forming pollutants will be eliminated over the next 20 years, making future climate virtually irrelevant for ozone levels. Observations of the recent past should also put to rest any concerns about future air pollution levels in a changing climate. Despite rising urban temperatures over the last few decades, air pollution of all kinds has drastically declined.

Schwarzenegger's asthma-air-pollution link is also spurious. Asthma prevalence has more than doubled in the U.S. since the early 1980s, but during the same period, air pollution of all kinds declined.[7]

The Golden State already has some expensive GHG reduction requirements. For example, the California Air Resources Board predicts its carbon dioxide limits for new automobiles will add $1,000 to the cost of a car. Californians must get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2017, raising the costs of power production. If approved, the Governor's "million solar roofs" program will stick the state's electricity ratepayers with a surcharge to subsidize solar electricity systems.

These programs are just a subset of the state's GHG reductions efforts, and GHG reduction is just one among many of the state's expensive social engineering schemes. Each takes money out of the pockets of average Californians in order to fund the pet causes of special interest busybodies. Because most of the costs are hidden in the form of higher prices for goods and services, the people who pay them don't realize they've had their pockets picked.

----------------------
[1] Terence Chea, "Schwarzenegger to Unveil Emissions Plan," Associated Press, June 2, 2005.
[2] The press release and the executive order can be downloaded here.
[3] Robert E. Davis, et al. 2003. "Changing heat-related mortality in the United States," Environmental Health Perspectives, 111: 1712-18, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/members/2003/6336/6336.pdf.
[4] Among many examples, see Union of Concerned Scientists. 2004 Climate Change: Choosing Our Future, http://www.climatechoices.org/data/.
[5] Katherine Hayhoe, et al. 2004. "Emissions pathways, climate change, and impacts on California," 101: 12422-427, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/101/34/12422.
[6] For a detailed discussion of air pollution and climate change, see Joel Schwartz and George Taylor. 2005. Air Quality False Alarm, http://www.joelschwartz.com/pdfs/AIR_QUALITY_FALSE_ALARM.pdf.
For a more succinct discussion, see my TCS column here: http://www.techcentralstation.com/040805B.html.
[7] I present asthma and air pollution trends for California in slide 10 of the following presentation: http://www.joelschwartz.com/pdfs/AWMA_Bakersfield_4_05.pdf.

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6. Businesses Giving Away the Store on Global Warming By Steven Milloy June 20, 2005, New York Sun

Businesses are poised to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the battle over global warming.

Though Americans have already dodged the global-warming bullet twice - the Kyoto treaty was rejected by the Senate in 1997 and by President Bush in 2001 - three business-supported bills on greenhouse gas emissions are vying to be attached to the energy legislation moving through Congress. It's a dream come true for the usual suspects, radical environmental activists.

The bill with the most support, introduced by Senator Bingaman, a Democrat of New Mexico, favors nuclear power, caps on greenhouse gas emissions, and would make non-nuclear energy producers and consumers pay for emissions in excess of permitted levels.

The champion of the Bingaman bill is Exelon, the largest domestic operator of nuclear power plants. While Exelon's support for nuclear power is understandable, its effort to hamper non-nuclear competitors and force consumers to pay for higher energy costs is not.

Under the Bingaman bill, power plants and industrial facilities whose emissions of carbon dioxide exceed allowances (to be determined by bureaucrats) would have to purchase "extra" allowances from the government at a cost of $7 per ton of carbon dioxide released.

For a coal-burning utility like American Electric Power that emits more than 220 million tons of CO2 a year the cost of extra allowances could be substantial and would be passed on to consumers.

Exelon looks to the Bingaman bill to make nuclear power more competitive with coal-generated electricity. This might make sense if there were some tangible and worthwhile benefits to be derived from favoring nuclear power over coal, but in terms of global warming, there don't seem to be any.

A Competitive Enterprise Institute report estimates the Bingaman bill would cost $331 billion in lost productivity between 2010 and 2025 while perhaps averting an insignificant 0.008 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2050.

Competing with the Bingaman bill is legislation introduced by Senator Hagel, a Republican of Nebraska. Supported by oil giant British Petroleum, it offers tax breaks to energy companies that voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The third global warming bill was introduced last year by Senators McCain and Lieberman. Like the Kyoto Protocol, McLieberman would establish a tight national cap on industrial emissions of greenhouse gases.

But there is another Senate bill that would address global warming hysteria as the junk science phenomenon it is.

Some power companies are taking steps to address their carbon dioxide emissions, the costs of which will be passed on to consumers. But the Ratepayers Protection Act, introduced by Senator Inhofe would ensure that the costs associated with voluntary actions taken by utilities under the guise of global warming are not passed on to consumers.
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7. Senator Alexander introduces bill to restrict wind power near national parks

By Gretchen Randall
Date: June 13, 2005

  Issue: Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has introduced a bill, the Environmentally Responsible Wind Power Act (S.1034), that will deny federal tax subsidies to wind power farms built within 20 miles of national parks, national seashores or national wildlife refuges. This bill is co-sponsored by Sen. John Warner (R-VA) and may be offered as an amendment to the large energy bill being debated this week. Its counterpart in the U.S. House is to be sponsored by Reps. John Duncan (R-TN) and Bart Gordon (D-TN).

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that renewable energy accounted for about 3.3% of generation of electricity in U.S. (2000), with wind contributing .05% and estimates that all forms of re-newables, including solar, ethanol, biomass and wind will account for only 4.3% of U.S. electricity generation by 2025.

According to Sen. Alexander, federal tax subsidies for wind energy will cost the U.S. taxpayer $4.5 billion over the next five years. Here are some facts Sen. Alexander gives about windmills:

  • Each windmill is typically more than 300 feet tall or higher than many football stadiums, including skyboxes.

  • The rotor blades stretch from one 10 yard line of a football field to the other 10 yard line and turn at 100 miles per hour.

  • Their flashing red lights can be seen for 20 miles or more and their thumping noise can be heard a half mile away.

  • Windmills produce power only about 40% of the time.  

    Comment 1:  "At a time when America needs large amounts of low-cost reliable power, wind produces puny amounts of high-cost unreliable power."  Sen. Alexander (Associated Press, 6-12-05.)

     Comment 2: If we want clean, safe and plentiful energy, we should be focusing on new generation nuclear power.   This is a win-win for us since we would reuse spent fuel rods which are stored at current nuclear power plants, reduce the amount of spent fuel which would need to be stored at Yucca Mountain and have a plentiful supply of clean fuel which has no emissions.  

    Comment3:  If windmills are inappropriate around national parks, why are they OK anywhere else?

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    8. U.S. Court Backs Bush's Changes on Clean Air Act
    By MICHAEL JANOFSKY

    WASHINGTON, June 24 - A federal appeals court sided with the Bush administration on Friday, upholding its revisions of the Clean Air Act to allow plant operators to modernize without installing expensive new pollution control equipment. The ruling turned back challenges to the revisions by New York, California and a dozen other states.

    In upholding central provisions of the regulations known as New Source Review, the court concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency had acted within its rights in issuing rules in 2002 that allowed operators of power plants, refineries, and factories greater flexibility in controlling emissions of air pollutants than they had previously.

    Representatives of the electric power industry, which had strongly supported the new regulations, hailed the ruling as a victory. The new rules require owners of older plants to upgrade emission-control equipment to standards for new plants only if they make substantial improvements. Plant owners and the E.P.A. have consistently disagreed over how to differentiate between routine maintenance and large-scale upgrades.

    Jeffrey Holmstead, the agency's assistant administrator for air and radiation, said the court "recognized the value of common sense reforms" included in the new rules. Mr. Holmstead noted that the panel "simply did not buy" the argument made by the states and other critics that allowing the rules' provisions to remain intact would cause "environmental devastation."

    The ruling was issued in a unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But the court also said that the E.P.A., in issuing the rules, had exceeded its authority in several areas, and representatives of the states and environmental groups also said they found enough to their liking in the 73-page opinion to claim successes.

    =====================

    A comment on the dubitable claim that tens of thousands are dying each year from coal-fired power plant pollution. There's certainly a consensus on this among regulators and the epidemiologists they fund. However, a small, but dedicated group of epidemiologists has been challenging the air-pollution death claims, uncovering serious flaws in the research supporting the consensus, and publishing their own research finding contrary results

    S H Moolgavkar
    Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 42, 123-144, 2005
    available online at www.Sciencedireect.com
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    9. Oil Royalties-
    by S Fred Singer
    Letter to WSJ
    Published June 9, 2005

    Your editorial (“Drilling for Dollars, May 25, 2005) describes well the games Congress plays with royalty income on federal offshore oil leases. Under the House energy bill, a portion of the funds collected is set aside for “Coastal Energy States,” increasing drastically beyond 2016. A separate issue is “royalty relief,” whereby the government can waive part or all of its royalty – a contested issue subject to political influence.

    There is a simple solution to all these problems. The government should reduce the royalty to zero and revert to pure bonus bidding – a simple auction, where a larger sum is collected in advance of drilling and oil production. In essence, the bidders will raise their up-front payment, knowing that there will be no royalties. The scheme has several advantages -- besides reducing political meddling.

    **Efficiency: The feds have not been very good about collecting royalties and much litigation revolves around the computation of royalties, especially when oil prices fluctuate. Further, the organization charged with collection could be abolished.

    **Market control: The successful bidder would be free to decide how to exploit the resource. If he thinks that oil prices will rise, he could delay production. Or he could sell the lease -- without any interference from the government.

    **Conservation: Overriding royalties are calculated as a percentage of gross value of production. But as a well nears depletion and lifting costs rise, a fixed royalty would force a premature shutdown and waste the resource by leaving more oil in the ground than without a royalty. This is the real argument for granting royalty relief; so why not do it from the beginning?

    -------------------------------------------

    S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at that University of Virginia, has authored a monograph on the price of world oil and co-authored “Free Market Energy.” He writes frequently on various aspects of energy policy.

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    10. Global Warming Alarmists Barking Up Wrong Tree According To California Seal Pups

    A new study of the weaning weights of California's elephant seal pups predicts that a 25-year trend of Pacific Ocean warming has ended. That means that the second half of a 50-year cycle has begun to cool the northern Pacific. In addition, historical fish catch data indicates the ocean cooling trend is likely to last until about 2025.

    Burney Le Boeuf and David Crocker (University of California, Santa Cruz) monitored the weaning weights of central California seal pups for 29 years, from 1975 to 2004. The ocean's temperatures generally increased, and the pups' weaning weights declined 21 percent over 24 years from the study's beginning until 2000.

    • The seal pups' weight decline coincided with an increase in their mothers' foraging time of 36 percent.
    • A decline in the mother's own weights confirmed that fish were relatively scarce.
    • ·
    • After 1999, however, ocean temperatures began to decline, fish became more abundant and the pups' weaning weights abruptly began to rise.
    By 2004 the pups weaning weights had recovered to 90 percent of their 1975 weaning size.

    The previous shift toward warmer temperatures, which disadvantaged the California seal pups occurred in the mid-1970s. Researchers have begun to call the 50-year ocean cycle the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO).

    During the PDO, ocean temperatures rise and fall, fish species wax and wane, and fish are caught in different places, but total ocean productivity remains stable.

    What does it all mean? Seal pups are instructing us that even temperature trends as long as 25 years can mislead us about cause and effect in the Earth's climate -- which has been cycling constantly for at least the last million years, say observers.

    -------------------------

    Source: Dennis Avery, "Trust Seal Pups' Assessment of Climate," Investor's Business Daily, June 20, 2005; based upon: Burney Le Boeuf and Daniel E Crocker, "Ocean climate and seal condition," University of California, Santa Cruz, March, 28, 2005.

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