Thursday, August 31, 2006

California: Another enviro-scare campaign

State global-warming bill addresses problem that isn't

Is water vapor is a "pollutant"? Yes, according to the California Climate Action Team Report. Prepared in support of pending state "global warming" legislation, it recommends 45 emission-reduction measures intended to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions toward 1990 levels by 2020.

Amazingly, the report fails to tell us the predicted reduction in future temperatures if 1990-level emissions are achieved. So we have done that analysis here. If California were to achieve the carbon-dioxide reductions, the predicted decline in world temperatures in the year 2100 would be thirteen one-thousandths of a degree Celsius. If the entire U.S. were to achieve those reductions, the decline would be sixteen one-hundredths of a degree Celsius. The figure for the 34 most-developed economies would be one-third of one degree Celsius. If we add China, the figure is forty-five one-hundredths of a degree Celsius. Such changes are far too small to matter.

The global-warming horror stories in the CCAT report - flooding, fires, heat waves, drought, insects - truly are biblical, but its proposals never would be approved for such tiny effects. Moreover, the CCAT free-lunch claim that the regulations would impose no economic costs is preposterous. The real question is: What does the science actually tell us?

A paper published in the journal Science last summer showed that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing mass, while the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (three times as large) is gaining mass. Another paper published in Science last fall reported that the ongoing trend for the Greenland ice sheet is an increase of 5.4 centimeter per year, almost all of which is at elevations above 5000 feet. Other research yields different findings because there is great uncertainty about new measurement techniques. But there is no dispute that Greenland was warmer in the 1930s than it is today and was much warmer 1,000 years ago.

Hurricane activity (frequency and wind speeds) has increased over the past decade, but a substantial body of scientific literature shows that this phenomenon is related to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation - water-temperature changes that shift about every decade - around Greenland and the tropical Atlantic. The AMO warmed around 1995. Hurricane activity has increased, and Greenland glaciers below 5,000 feet have been depositing more ice into the ocean. There is little need to invoke SUVs and the other purported sins of mankind to explain this.

There were no small glaciers 5,000 years ago in what would become the Western United States. Surface temperatures 3,000 years ago were about 2 degrees Celsius higher than today, abnormally low 1,500 years ago, and over 1 degree Celsius warmer in places 1,000 years ago. The Earth then entered the so-called Little Ice Age during about 1850-1900. Satellite measurements show an increase in lower tropospheric temperatures of 0.13 degrees Celsius per decade from 1979 through this March, or 1.3 degrees if extrapolated for 100 years.

So much for Gov. Schwarzenegger's argument that "The debate is over." No one disputes that increasing carbon dioxide concentrations will create some warming, but the magnitude is disputed, well, hotly. Will the warming be observed everywhere, or mainly in Siberia in the winter? (Likely answer: the latter.)

More fundamentally, there can be no "consensus" about future emissions because they will be determined largely by world economic growth conditions. There has never been a consensus among economists about economic forecasts even for the United States only five years in the future; is there a forecasting consensus about worldwide economic growth 50, 60, 80 years from now? Please.

The CCAT report fundamentally is a political document far less concerned with environmental quality than enhancing the political power of the Left to subsidize its constituencies. Recall the myriad other environmental scare campaigns. The pesticide Alar. Global cooling. The northern spotted owl. Power lines and childhood cancer. The population bomb and worldwide famine by the 1980s. The worldwide depletion of most natural resources by the year 2000. And so on. It is time to just say no.



The Greenies are gradually discovering methane

Research on ocean sediments near Santa Barbara suggests that climate change could be accelerated by methane gas stored in oil deposits on the seafloor. The work by Tessa Hill, an assistant professor of geology at UC Davis, documents a new source of methane gas that has not yet been factored into previous analyses of historic climate change. The findings are potentially troubling because methane is at least 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so it has the potential to make the planet hotter faster if released to the atmosphere.

Hill is the lead author of the research, published online Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed journal. She cautioned, however, that more study is needed before her findings can be applied globally. For instance, it isn't clear how the methane would be released during climate change, and it is far from certain that similar methane stores worldwide would be freed up as sea temperatures rise. "We need to learn more about this process, about how globally widespread it is," said Hill, who did the research for her doctoral dissertation at UC Santa Barbara. "But I think we can certainly say this methane seepage out of this source clearly responds to climate warming."

Climate researchers have long been concerned about methane hydrate, a form of frozen methane widespread on the seafloor. If ocean temperatures rise enough to thaw this methane, it could have devastating effects on the climate. But methane stored as a gas in natural offshore petroleum deposits has not yet been figured into climate change. Hill theorizes that melting methane hydrate could free up the second supply of methane in oil deposits by causing underwater landslides and sinkholes as it melts. But she said this theory requires more research.

Hill and her co-authors looked at ocean sediments in the Santa Barbara Channel, and measured the amount of tar left behind after methane seepage. They compared this with global temperature records, obtained by analyzing oxygen isotopes in the shells of tiny fossilized sea animals. They found that methane emissions from natural offshore petroleum sources peaked between 16,000 and 14,000 years ago, and again between 11,000 and 10,000 years ago. Both were periods when glaciers melted and the ocean became warmer.

Keith Kvenvolden, a retired geochemist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, also has studied methane seepage. He praised Hill's work for connecting the phenomenon to periods of historic climate change. But like Hill, he cautioned that more research is needed. "Their basic observations are unique and very interesting," he said. "But I don't think you can tie it into what's happening over the whole world. Maybe in time it will be shown to be true. But right now it's a big leap in faith."

Petroleum deposits and methane gas are locked together in sediments all over the Santa Barbara Channel -- a fact well-known to area surfers and beach lovers. As the oil rises to the ocean surface, it releases methane bubbles locked in the gooey mass. On the surface, the petroleum degrades and leaves behind tar, which falls back to the ocean floor. This happens in many other locations around the world. But the present rate of methane emissions by this natural process is unknown, and it's also unknown how this rate would change if ocean temperatures increased. "It appears as though this source of methane reacts dynamically to climate change in the past, and we would expect that it might in the future as well," Hill said. "I can't tell you how big the problem is, because this is the first time anyone has ever reconstructed petroleum seepage over time."


Leftist Australian State governments are desperate to placate the Greens

When you see a pack of suits in the midday sun on Sydney's Bondi Beach it's safe to assume they are either real estate agents or politicians. Either way, they're selling something. And so it was when NSW Premier Morris Iemma and Victorian Deputy Premier John Thwaites were joined by South Australian Premier Mike Rann to launch a discussion paper on a state-based greenhouse gas emissions-trading scheme. In hindsight, they might have been better off parading their latest green credentials in the grungy inner-west of King Street, Newtown, or its parallel universe on Brunswick Street in Melbourne. Because their carefully weighted support for emissions trading is pitched squarely at the inner-city latte belt of Australia's two biggest cities, where the Greens are eating Labor alive.

Arresting and reversing this urban greenslide without causing collateral damage to their suburban heartland is a tricky but increasingly important objective for the Steve Bracks and Iemma governments as they head to the polls. As social commentator and author Bernard Salt observes, the social, economic and environmental aspirations of the suburban majority and the vocal minority of the progressive inner-city elites are diverging at such a rate that it is becoming impossible for any one political party to appeal to both. "By the next decade I think the divisions would have (become) too big," Salt says. "The weight of numbers over time will mean the two will make uncomfortable bedfellows, and that means there must be divorce. This can only augur well for the Greens."

This divide is no more apparent than on the landmark environmental issue of climate change. However you cut it, reducing greenhouse emissions will increase the cost of energy. Lower-emission energy sources and technologies are all more expensive than existing ones. If they were cheaper we would switch today. The discussion paper estimates the price of capping emissions to 1997 levels will result in higher domestic electricity bills of more than $100 a year. Beyond these household impacts, the national impact of emissions cuts is likely to be uneven: acute in industrial regions such as the La Trobe Valley and Geelong, the Hunter and Illawarra, and less noticeable in the inner cities.

Largely bereft of airconditioners and mostly detached from industrial Australia, the relatively affluent progressives from the inner city are demanding accelerated action on greenhouse gases, among other issues. They are venting at the ballot box and switching their allegiance from Labor to the Greens. As ABC election analyst Antony Green points out, the Greens are hurting Labor in a multitude of ways. Their primary vote in both states is tracking at nearly 10 per cent. In the mortgage belt it is in single digits, but in inner Melbourne and Sydney it is nearly 30 per cent. Labor candidates in these seats are fending off the Greens as their No.1 rival or dependent on Greens preferences to get over the line. Green said that as the Greens devour Labor's inner-city heartland, they are also siphoning active and educated Labor members and campaign workers while delivering a big chunk of the votes needed to establish themselves as a genuine force in each state's upper house.

Election analyst Malcolm Mackerras predicts the Greens will win three seats in the next Victorian Legislative Council and four in NSW. So while Bracks (almost certain) and Iemma (increasingly likely) appear set to be returned to power, both face the uneasy prospect of seeing the Greens holding the balance of power in their upper houses. Green says the Greens are likely to be increasingly prickly customers to deal with because their policy positions are simultaneously unfettered by having to govern and contrary by nature. "They are the party of permanent opposition," he says.

An added concern is the optional preferential voting system in NSW which means that Green preferences do not automatically flow back to Labor, as they tend to in other states. Sustaining sufficient appeal to these dissatisfied Labor voters to hang on to their preferences will be an important part of Labor's election strategy. Former Labor national secretary Bob McMullan observed the best way of marginalising the rise of independents and minor parties was to maximise the difference between the major parties on defining issues, including climate change. "When people say there is no difference between Labor and Liberals then this is a good climate for independents and minor parties," McMullan says. "If the contrast between Labor and Liberal on global warming is so stark then being the third force becomes less relevant."

Which brings us back to Bondi. While implementing a state-based emissions-trading scheme would be complex, dependent on protracted negotiations over a number of years and not without considerable political and economic pain, talking about one is a lot easier. For Iemma and Thwaites, the elegant political theatre of Bondi was all about staging a noble defeat. Without the support of Canberra, implementing such a scheme at the state level would require the unanimous backing of every state government. Even one dissenter would be enough to ensure the discussion would be short. The blueprint of a state-based scheme took the National Emissions Trading Taskforce more than two years to develop, and the two resource-rich fast-growth states of Queensland and Western Australia less than four hours to kill.

Cue WA Premier Alan Carpenter. With the very first dorothy dixer in his parliament's question time that afternoon, he threw the switch. "If it is regarded as disadvantaging Western Australia, we will not be a part of it. I believe there is at least one other state that has the same view," he said. "I would want an assurance that any trading scheme would not negatively affect the state's capacity to rely on energy sources such as coal ... I have not seen that level of support indicated so far."

The other state was, of course, Queensland. Premier Peter Beattie, already a self-confessed troglodyte on the issue, said that afternoon that he supported emissions trading in principle, but only on the impossible proviso that clean coal technology was in place and would mitigate against electricity price increases and therefore job losses for Queenslanders. Beattie neatly sidestepped the practical reality that clean coal technology is still under development, with 2015 touted as its earliest commercial start date possible in Australia. He also carefully ignored the other fundamental about clean coal: that like all other lower-emission technologies, its use would still cost considerably more than Queensland's present electricity supply. As politely as he put it, that was still another no.

The Greens are causing headaches for Labor in the run-up to the September 9 Queensland election. On Sunday they announced they would deny preferences to Labor in key marginal seats because of their displeasure over some headline environmental issues. Optional preferential voting in Queensland means the Greens vote in these seats will not flow to Labor. In 1995, a similar tactic contributed to the defeat of the Wayne Goss government.

Of course, the states had already played their hand at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in July. To ensure the issue wasn't going to awkwardly bind any state government position, the original emissions-trading green paper owned by them had been downgraded to a more theoretical discussion paper owned by the taskforce. Timing was also key. Comments on the paper are due before Christmas, just after the Victorian poll in November and before the NSW election in March. Enough time to have a discussion but nowhere near enough time to make a decision.

The politicisation of emissions trading in Australia has elevated it to watershed status in the present environmental vernacular. Like the Kyoto Protocol before it, there is a perception that support or opposition casts protagonists on to either side of some apparent greenhouse policy divide. This is somewhat overstated. Placing a cap on emissions and trading the right to emit them is widely considered the most efficient and lowest cost method possible to achieve a specified national rate of emissions.

Prime Minister John Howard does not oppose emissions trading in principle. After presenting his energy plan at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch in Sydney last month, he said what he was opposed to was Australia heading down this policy path without the rest of the world. This was echoed by the Allen Consulting Group report in March in its assessment of the impacts of deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions commissioned by the Business Roundtable on Climate Change. The report stated that "any large-scale unilateral action by Australia would constitute bad policy in that it would impose significant costs on the community while having a negligible impact on climate change".

As the European Union has discovered the hard way, getting political support for emissions trading is a snack compared to the operational difficulties of making it work. In 2000 the EU voted to start trading in January 2005. At least, that was the idea. It was hoped trading would help EU member states meet emissions targets, but while it is early days, its scheme has to date proved both expensive and ineffective. In the first three-year phase, national laws have been implemented piecemeal, while the complex regime of registries to track and monitor the emissions and trades are still, at best, partial. Several member countries arbitrarily increased the number of emissions permits to such a degree that allocations exceeded emissions in 2005.

The big loser was Britain, which was silly enough to set tough targets from the outset while its continental neighbours have been far more lenient. As a result, it is estimated Britain will need to spend pound stg. 1.5billion ($3.74billion) over three years to buy surplus permits from across the channel.

Compliance with the administrative and regulatory targets for the second phase, supposed to start in 2008, is also falling behind schedule. There have been further concerns about the high administrative cost of the scheme, particularly for smaller companies, and complaints from all sides about how the emissions permits have been allocated. Architects of the domestic states-based scheme claim they have had the benefit of learning from Europe's many mistakes in drafting their model. Importantly, both industry and environmental groups agree that whatever the political motives behind its release or its likelihood of success, the indigenous discussion paper has served to advance thinking about how Australia might manage its greenhouse gas emissions in the future.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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