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(Apr. 9, 2005)
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Critical Assessment of the
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
by S. Fred Singer
Forgive me if I approach reports of impending doom with a certain amount of skepticism. This is especially true of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) prepared by 1360 scientists from 95 countries under the direction of World Bank chief scientist Robert Watson, and released by the Royal Society in London. Watson has a remarkable penchant for raising environmental alarms. He headed the first assessment of stratospheric ozone that eventually led to the Montreal Protocol's ban of CFCs (Freons). After much hype, the best data cited by the World Meteorological Organization show stratospheric ozone depleted by only 4 percent before stabilizing. There is no evidence whatsoever of an upward trend in much-feared solar ultraviolet radiation held responsible for skin cancer. Watson then went on to chair the UN-sponsored IPCC that brought us the Kyoto Protocol, designed to limit the emission of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide from the use of energy fuels. But again, the best measurements we have, from weather satellites, show no significant global warming in spite of a 35% increase in CO2 levels.
To those of us with longer memories, it's déjà vu all over again to quote a great American baseball player. It was in 1972 that the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth study announced the end of the world by the year 2000, or shortly thereafter, as resources became depleted and pollution killed off most of humanity. Even earlier, doomsday prophet Paul Ehrlich had forecast a poisoned ocean, cancer epidemics from urban pollution, famines galore, etc., etc.
So here we are facing the MA with the usual cast of hundreds of scientists of carefully assigned nationalities. They tell us -- so claims the headline in The Guardian (UK) that two-thirds of world's resources [have been] 'used up' But they don't provide an answer to the obvious question: How much longer before it's all used up? And what can really be done short of getting rid of most of world population? All we get in the MA is tiresome statistics and a stark warning.
Now it is a fact that population pressures are leading to deforestation in many parts of the world. But in other places, aided by increased atmospheric CO2 levels, forests are growing, as less land is needed for agriculture (USA) or as arid deforested areas are turned into forests (Israel). We learn that many fish stocks (those for which there are no property rights) are overexploited; but aquaculture is growing rapidly. We learn that humanity is using nearly 50 percent of fresh water resources. Actually, borrowing would be a better word; the water doesn't disappear as if by magic. It reappears but requires clean-up -- the removal of pollutants or of salt. This takes energy; and in spite of the fact that fossil fuels are gradually becoming depleted, energy in various forms is essentially inexhaustible.
This World Bank-supported study of 2500 pages cost $20 million, nearly $10,000 a page a relative bargain, provided it doesn't lead to a new bureaucracy. The major conclusion of the report seems to be that a damaged environment will make it impossible to eliminate poverty and hunger. But perhaps it should be the other way round: If we can eliminate poverty and raise living standards, then people will put greater value on environmental amenities and make the necessary investments to clean up water and air.
Economist Jagdish Bhagwati, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues cogently ("A Chance to Lift the Aid Curse," Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2005) that the developed world should be wary about how much it spends on foreign aid and where the funds go, because of waste and corruption. Cynics have suggested that development money could more efficiently be put directly into the Swiss bank accounts of kleptocratic rulers rather than into ambitious development projects; it would save lots of money.
World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz, please take note!
S Fred Singer is professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and coauthor and editor of Is There an Optimum Level of Population?
Give me a break: A review of State of Fear
by John Stossel
Townhall.com April 1, 2005
Michael Crichton's scary movies, like "Jurassic Park," have made billions. He has sold 100 million copies of his scary books. And now he's telling us: Don't be scared.
He almost didn't write his latest book, "State of Fear." - "I'm 62 years old," he told me. "I've had a good life. I'm happy. I'm enjoying myself. I don't need any of the flak that would come from doing a book like this."
Flak is coming because the fear Crichton is questioning is fear of global warming. And as Crichton told me, "people's feelings about the environment are very close to religion."
Global warming, of course, is not a faith that brings comfort. We interviewed people who seemed almost hysterical about it. One said, "Greenland is melting!" Another warned that "places like Los Angeles and New York will be underwater!" One person went even further off -- should I say it? -- the deep end: "I'm thinking it's like the end of the world."
It's natural for people to worry because there's been so much media hype. A U.S. News & World Report cover story claimed that within 50 years, the ocean "could" be checking in at the glamorous hotels of South Beach, Fla., while Vermonters "could" get malaria and Nebraska farms "could" be abandoned because of drought.
Crichton himself used to worry about global warming. But then he spent three years researching it. He concluded it's just another foolish media-hyped scare. Many climate scientists agree with him, saying the effect of man and greenhouse gases is minor.
Many people believe the weather is already getting worse -- that the earth is experiencing bigger storms than ever before. That U.S. News & World Report cover screamed "Scary Weather." But it's not true that there are more storms today or that weather is "scarier" than it used to be. As Crichton says, "It's something that almost nobody actually goes and checks."
Sadly, he's right. When "scare stories" fit reporters' preconceptions, we rarely check with the skeptics. On the subject of global warming, reporters often listen to alarmists and don't take the trouble to survey the scientists who really know. And even if they do, it's a mere fig leaf of fairness. U.S. News, for example, buried its one skeptical voice under a shrieking headline, after paragraphs predicting disaster, and between two quotes from alarmists -- astoundingly presented as voices of reason -- dismissing dissenters.
Crichton got his medical training at Harvard, where he paid his way through college by writing thrillers. When he wrote "The Andromeda Strain," the story of an organism from outer space that threatens to wipe out mankind, Hollywood called, and his medical career was over. He's gone on to write book after book that anticipated the future. "Jurassic Park" introduced cloning before others really talked about it. "Disclosure," about a man who's sexually harassed by a female boss, also raised issues that were ahead of their time. "State of Fear" may be his biggest risk, because he's taken on environmental groups that some Americans revere with religious fervor. Crichton says, "Environmental organizations are fomenting false fears in order to promote agendas and raise money." He points out that even the scientists who study global warming have an incentive to exaggerate the problem. If you say, "there isn't a big problem," you're less likely to get grant money.
"State of Fear" is already being attacked, he says, by activists who didn't even read his book. "We seem to be very ready to think it's all coming to an end," Crichton says. And there are consequences to that kind of thinking. It can be quite difficult to oppose new laws, however much freedom and money they will take away from you, when you believe they are the only thing that can stop major cities from being lost to a sea swollen by melting icecaps. But we're not on the way to disaster, except in the form of more laws. "State of Fear" will give you new perspective on "global warming." Then, when someone tells you "it's like the end of the world!" you can say: "Give Me a Break."
John Stossel is co-anchor of ABC News' "20/20" and the author of "Give Me a Break," just released in paperback.
MY APOLOGIES: Some readers were upset by the April-1 spoof about George Bush and Kyoto in our last TWTW (of April 2). [Science magazine (in its April 1 issue) ran a similar spoof on its editorial page -- no connection there.] Our story was contributed by a reader who did not want his name mentioned. I removed some objectionable items and added a paragraph on the Hockeystick. In spite of various hints to the contrary, some thought the story was too realistic.
It did contain an important truth: A provision in the Kyoto Protocol that permits nations which fail to meet the 2012 target to postpone their obligation to the post-Kyoto follow-on. But if there is none as seems increasingly likely then all the fuss raised about the White House refusal to ratify the treaty is just a charade.
New on the Web: My critique of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, yet another report produced at a cost of $20 million, announcing impending doom, written by the usual cast of international scientists, organized by perpetual doom impresario Bob Watson. As an antidote, you should read John Stossel's review of State of Fear by Michael Crichton.
Jesse Ausubel's short essay on the Threat Industry is a gem (Item #1). Here are some trenchant quotes: Journals publish few papers saying 'I searched for years, spent much, and found nothing.' Or: 'Our governments and tax-laws have created a flourishing business in threat legitimation. Today, Jeremiah would lead a large institute. Don't you just love these? It reads like a distillation of Michael Crichton's book.
This general theme is continued, as applied to genetically modified (GM) crops, in The March of Unreason, the recent book by Lord Dick Taverne (Item #2). The fear of synthetic chemicals like DDT, PCB, CFC (and many others) has led to their ban. Yet thousands of such compounds are produced naturally and often in quantities that exceed any human contributions. (Item #3). Did you know that rapeseed plants emit about 15% of all human-contributed methyl bromide?
Meanwhile, the EU's new constitution wants to enshrine the Precautionary Principle which would cover chemicals, radiation, and any other real or imagined hazards. (Item #4)
A verdict of $112M ($219M with interest) against Exxon for contaminating a site with radium from drilling pipe cleaning is not another April Fool's joke (Item #5). Jim Muckerheide (Radiation, Science, and Health http://cnts.wpi.edu/rsh/ ) comments:
Unfortunately, this is another case of actual "judicial travesty" in accepting as fact the false data and bases for the radiation health effects that are used to justify costly radiation protection policies applied by the government agencies. Clearly, ExxonMobil did not do its "homework" in this case.
Perhaps this can be used to get industries to undertake serious research and documentation of the relevant data in the face of such continuing travesties. It seems corporations just expect that the relevant expertise can be hired by their lawyers when needed. But the substantial work has not been done, especially in key cases, like the Argonne radium-dial painters studies, which were terminated by DOE/NIOSH to avoid documenting unwanted facts.
Of course, now the legal "facts," as established in this case, will make it
difficult, if not virtually impossible, to apply relevant data to the appeal
(which will only look at matters of law, not findings of fact). And this will also affect any future related cases.
After reading this, you may want to join the International Hormesis Society [see http://www.hormesissociety.org/ ].
Advocates of suppressing carbon-dioxide emissions in the name of combating global warming have long argued that their goals could be accomplished cheaply and easily by industry, without imposing significantly higher costs on American consumers. Duke Energy has now admitted that the costs will be significant. (Item #6) However, Duke Energy itself plans to avoid these costs by moving rapidly to nuclear energy.
Readers have asked how we estimate future global warming as only about 0.5 C by 2100. It's based on extrapolating actual measurements, rather than using unverified computer models and even more uncertain emission scenarios. Essentially, we use the atmosphere itself as an analog computer. (See Item #7)
More pie-in-the-sky, as Sir David King pushes for availability of nuclear fusion, but wisely didn't say when. (Item #8) It's been 50 years away for the past 50 years, and may remain so for many more years. It does not produce CO2, that's true, but it does produce radioactivity through plentiful neutron emission. So what's wrong with existing fission reactors? We know they work.
What irony! The ozone-friendly replacements for CFCs are all GH gases. How to resolve ozone protection vs. climate protection? We can hardly wait for the report after 180 national delegations deliberate on this weighty issue at a meeting in Ethiopia. (Item #9) Ah, thank heaven for the UN; while millions are being murdered in Africa, UN agencies address things that really matter.
An Australian press report gives a skeptical view of the Hockeystick and of Global Warming. (Item #10) For a very readable review and its relation to the IPCC generally see http://www.climatechangeissues.com/files/PDF/conf05mckitrick.pdf
And finally, just google on "Harvard Professor Manure" to find all the funny jokes about Martin Weitzman, Department of Economics , the Ernest E. Monrad Professor at Harvard. An aficionado of horse manure, he is currently attempting to clarify the "essence" of the global-warming problem under uncertainty. How appropriate!
a name=#11. Dis the Threat Industry
by Jesse H. Ausubel (Rockefeller University)
This short paper first appeared in the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change 62:119-120, 1999.
The CIA for decades overstated the size of the Soviet economy and thus its threat to the USA. Worldwatchers have yearly forecast a food crisis from the exhaustion of soil or oil since the early 1970s. The Wall Street Journal editorial pages daily scare entrepreneurs with multiplying regulations stifling markets. What should we make of currently touted threats such as germ warfare, global warming, and a graying population?
I answer Dis the Threat Industry, using youth's short form of Disrespect. The Threat Industry has always done good business. Recall the 40-year career of Old Testament prophet Jeremiah beginning 629 BCE. The scale is new, as is the highly developed symbiosis with experts, including natural and social scientists.
For scale, consider the endeavor to find and predict Global Change, especially human-induced climate change. Each year the world spends $2 billion on it. At $100,000 per person-year, 20,000 people are searching full-time. Searching for something that in any case fluctuates, such battalions cannot fail.
Indeed, they dare not. Funders look the fools if they expend for nothing. The sustainability of the endeavor, that is, the jobs of the managers and the searchers, depends on finding something. And the career of a searcher flourishes with a positive result. Journals publish few papers saying I searched for years, spent much, and found nothing. Critics of strong assertions of discoveries of global change are marginalized as contrarians. In general, smiling in the face of threats and nay-saying make for a lonely, impoverished career.
Diminishing a problem unemploys not only experts and their publicists. Threats beget threat-removal industries. Fears about asbestos created the asbestos-removal industry, which in turn needed to feed fear of asbestos. Environmental protection agencies feared to reverse themselves, even as evidence for the removal programs itself got removed. So the game continues.
Indeed, threats find curiously cooperative ways to grow. The CIA overstatements boosted the USA military, whose growth in turn justified the Soviet military's growth, which then further nourished the budgets of its USA counterpart. The Cold War shows how hard it is to break a threat cycle. Threats can make symbiotic enemies.
Of course, the USA and USSR truly did endanger one another. And I am not saying 'disbelieve global warming or ignore anthrax.' I do say 'understand the biases inherent in assessments and forecasts.' Germ warfare will sustain large military budgets.
We are accustomed to filtering the words of experts receiving rich fees from private companies. We need to become more sensitive to the bias of large chunks of academia funded to document threats by government and to the growing, vocal number living from other non-profit sources and means. Television evangelists weekly prophesy an upcoming Last Judgment and wrest checks. So do environmentalists. Our governments and tax-laws have created a flourishing business in threat legitimation. Today, Jeremiah would lead a large institute.
So, follow the money and the public and peer approbation. Calibrate threats accordingly. The collapse of the USSR showed the Western Threat Industry overstated by about a factor of three. Dividing by three could prove a rule of thumb.
Fortunately, many threats have simply crumbled against time. The Threat Industry itself will not. Society appears subject to a Law of Conservation of Concern. Editors fill the front page of the newspaper everyday. Moreover, threateners contend they must inflate their claims to compete.
And a few threats prove worse than assessed. Both supporters of slavery and abolitionists in the pre-Civil War USA underestimated its malignant, enduring legacy. We need to learn better to separate slavery from steam engines, whose dangers also made headlines in the 1840s and 1850s. And we need to separate the real, manageable problems of exploding engines from the apocrypha of witches and weak magnetic fields.
Today, I do fear that a graying population will wreck social security. But I treasure the contrarians who contest that view. Science, like democracy, can thrive only with a loyal, tough opposition. Dis the Threat Industry.
name=22. The March of Unreason,
by Lord Dick Taverne,
The Liberal Democrat peer, accuses Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and other Green groups of turning their opposition to GM plants into a "religious crusade", based on "blind faith and deep bias" rather than serious research. Lord Taverne, a member of the House of Lords' science and technology committee, accuses environmentalists and aid agencies of ignoring "solid science," citing each others' reports, and using discredited studies to push the case against GM crops.
During the 1970s, pressure groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth played an important role in rousing public opinion from complacency about environmental degradation. But as the environmental movement has grown in influence, it has become more fundamentalist. The trashing of GM crops during field trials showed that the campaign against them had become a crusade and that Greenpeace has become impervious to evidence. When the huge international success of GM cotton cultivated by 6 million small farmers is denied and the potential benefits of crops like golden rice are ridiculed, it is clear that dogma prevails over reason.
3. Natural Chemical Emissions:
In a recent article for the American Council on Science and Health's Health Facts and Fears, scientist Jack Dini looks at how some chemical contaminants thought to be solely industrial are in fact created in nature. Dini notes that dioxin has been found in 40-million year-old clay deposits, and has been released to the world throughout history by forest and grassland fires and wood and peat burning. And while such emissions are not quantified, he considers them to be an important source of dioxins in today's environment.
Other chemical contaminants, he suggests, may also have some natural sources. He notes that researchers with Canada's Wildlife Service have discovered PCB-like chemicals in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans that have never been found near industrial facilities, and that the natural chemical that gives pine its distinctive smell is actually a polycyclic aromatic compound. Dini also suggests that some ozone depletion may be the result of naturally created volatile halogenated organic compounds (VHOCs), generated by rotting wood, biomass burning, and volcanic emissions. He even offers evidence that vinyl chloride can be the product of a natural reaction of organic matter, an iron compound and chloride in soils.
Prof. Gordon Gribble (Dept of Chemistry, Dartmouth College) has produced a comprehensive survey (Oct. 2004) on Natural Organohalogens [see www.eurochlor.org] , that include biogenically and abiogenically produced compounds resembling DDT, PCB and CFC. A very readable account is published in the American Scientist July b2004 [see www.americanscientist.org/IssueTOC/issue/621
4. Free-Marketeers caution against EU precaution
Environment Daily 1852, 05/04/05
All references to the precautionary principle as a basis for environment policy should be removed from the EU's draft constitution, Franco-Belgian free-market think-tank the Molinari Institute argues in a new report.
Molinari says applying the precautionary principle in EU policy areas such as biotechnology and climate change will have disastrous effects for the developing world. Guidance on using the principle at EU level was agreed over four years ago (ED 13/12/00 http://www.environmentdaily.com/articles/index.cfm?action=article&ref=8951).
The institute rests its case on the example of the insecticide DDT, an effective anti-malarial agent, which was banned in most of the developed world and placed on a United Nations blacklist because of fears it was damaging wildlife.
Developing countries blighted by the disease can still use DDT but are strongly discouraged from doing so because they could be disqualified from UN aid programmes, author Gabriel Calzada told Environment Daily. As a result the incidence of malaria has risen, he claims.
According to the draft constitution's article III-233-1, EU environment policy "shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay."
The constitution was signed by European heads of government last October; the probability of a change to the wording is now extremely low. But to enter into force, the constitution must be approved by each of the EU's 25 member states and lively campaigns for and against are being waged by its proponents and detractors.
Spain was the first member state to decide its position, voting in favour in a referendum earlier this year. France votes on 29 May; last year it incorporated the precautionary principle in its own national constitution (ED 26/06/03 http://www.environmentdaily.com/articles/index.cfm?action=article&ref=1471).
5. Damages cut, verdict upheld against Exxon
By MARGARET CRONIN FISK
Bloomberg News, April 1, 2005
A Louisiana appeals court this week reduced a $1 billion verdict against Exxon Mobil Corp. to $112.3 million, while upholding a jury's finding the company was responsible for radioactive contamination of land near New Orleans.
Irving-based Exxon Mobil was responsible for polluting the land with radium-tainted residue from oil-drilling pipe cleaning operations, said Michael Stag, attorney for site owner Joseph Grefer. In May 2001, a New Orleans jury awarded Grefer, a former Louisiana state court judge, and his family $56.15 million for clean-up costs and $1 billion in punitive damages.
The appellate court upheld the compensatory damages, while calling the punitive award excessive. The company will appeal, said Charles Matthews, Exxon Mobil general counsel.
6. Carbon Tax Proposal Shows True Costs of CO2 Controls
The Chief Executive Officer of Duke Energy Corp. this week called for a federal tax on carbon-dioxide emissions as a strategy to counter global warming. This proposal is more honest than the cap-and-trade scheme proposed in the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.
Duke CEO Paul Anderson has finally shown the true colors of the energy-rationing advocates, said Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Marlo Lewis. Rather than trying to hide the costs of carbon suppression behind an allegedly market-based trading mechanism, he has come out with the more candid option of a massive increase in the tax burden on American consumers.
7. Readers have asked how we estimate future warming
1. The weather satellite data (MSU-UAH) show a warming trend of ~0.08º C/decade for the lower troposphere. But this value included contributions from GH gases CFC and CH4 that are not increasing currently.
2. Using the model result of about 20% larger tropospheric trend, I conservatively estimate corrected surface warming to be 0.06º C/decade
3. Now, if CO2 were to increase exponentially --again very conservative radiative forcing would increase only linearly (because the CO2 bands are saturated) and the trend would remain at 0.06Cº /decade.
4. Therefore, I estimate an increase of 0.6Cº by 2100.
8. Sir David King advocates nuclear fusion
The Scotsman, 31 March 2005
THE government's chief scientific adviser yesterday urged more investment in the holy grail of nuclear fusion to help tackle global warming. Sir David King, who last night gave the opening speech at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, said he believed fusion power would become a reality.
The phenomenon, which could provide almost limitless energy, has been researched by scientists worldwide for decades and Sir David urged more work to be done so it could be achieved sooner.
Unlike existing power stations, which run on nuclear fission, fusion reactors produce little radioactive waste and do not create carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases. The reactors could also provide power for centuries to come as they can be fuelled using sea water.
Most of Britain's power stations are due to shut down in the next 15 years and the government has said it will make an announcement on whether any more will be built after the election, expected next month.
9. Ozone protection versus GW avoidance
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), /United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will meet in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 6 to 8 April 2005 to finalize a special report on Safeguarding the ozone layer and the global climate system: issues related to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).
This special report describes both scientific and technical information regarding alternatives to ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) that may affect the global climate system. It addresses scientific linkages between stratospheric ozone depletion and climate change, and how the phase-out of ODSs is affecting climate change. The HFCs have no ozone-depleting potential but are greenhouse gases. They are used as replacements for ODSs in applications such as refrigeration and air-conditioning, foams, aerosol and solvents and fire protection.
The report will be accepted in Addis Ababa by delegates from over 100 countries, who will also approve a Summary for Policymakers, to be posted at www.ipcc.ch on 11 April 2005.
10. The Great Hockey Stick Debate.
Sydney Morning Herald April 9, 2005
The famous graph used by the UN-IPCC claims average temperatures were stable for 900 years and then began to increase dramatically around 1900. The graph, of enormous importance in building global warming as a big public issue, was produced by several scientists including Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Virginia.
[Canadians] Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick claim the hockey stick is plain wrong. Mann published a minor correction in Nature magazine, where the stick first appeared, but has refused to reveal some of its complex computational and statistical bases. So the debate is stalled, but some prominent scientists are deeply worried.
Recently, Hendrik Tennekes, the retired director of the Royal Meteorological Institute of the Netherlands, declared: "The IPCC review process is fatally flawed. The behaviour of Michael Mann is a disgrace to the profession. The scientific basis for the Kyoto Protocol is grossly inadequate."
The hockey stick debacle suggests [UN] panel bias: despite the claimed errors, and its importance, the stick passed two panel peer review rounds.
The organisation's leaders appear to find the idea of a contrary view difficult to conceive. In 2001 its then-chairman, Robert Watson, said he thought only 1 or 2 per cent of scientists did not believe humans were responsible for global warming, a claim that did a lot to propagate the myth that people such as [Australian scientists] Carter, Kininmonth and Paltridge, along with thousands of other scientists who have signed petitions sceptical of the orthodoxy, don't exist.
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