Thursday, December 21, 2006


And Brisbane, Australia, where I live, is having an unusually cool summer. So what does it all prove? Precisely nothing

Traditional scenes of pristine snow and ice have given way to rain and muddy grass from Reykjavik to Moscow as unseasonably warm weather puts a damper on festivities. Russians normally revel in the bitter harshness of their winters, but the warmest December since 1879, when records began, has left Muscovites despairing about a lack of snow to see in the new year. Staff at the Yakhroma Park resort, 30 miles north of Moscow, have turned to artificial snow machines to try to open at least one ski run in what should be the peak season. Natalia Silinskaya, the park’s commercial director, said that attendance was down 70 per cent on last year. Skiing has been possible on only two weekends so far this winter....

Moscow experienced a record winter high last Friday of 9.3C (48.8F), far above the average of -5C. The city received a light dusting of snow yesterday for the first time this month, but it was not expected to stay on the ground for long. Temperatures are predicted to rise above freezing again before the weekend. This winter is in stark contrast to last year, when temperatures in the capital plunged to -40C in the coldest winter since 1940. In St Petersburg, where the temperature set a new record of 10.7C last week, organisers of an ice sculpture festival had to create a refrigerated enclosure to prevent the artwork melting.


Update: And it's unusually cool elsewhere in Australia too. How amazing that weather is changeable!

Update 2: A reader writes: "Well, it might be warm in Northern Europe but it’s f*cking cold here in NorCal. We seem to be experiencing early cold weather with lots of snow predicted for the Sierras and Snow in WA, OR, and even in Vancouver (where we are heading for Christmas)."

Do economists agree on climate change? Yes

What long-term impact is global climate change likely to have on the economy? To answer this question (and a slew of others), I polled Ph.D. economists, randomly selected from the ranks of the American Economic Association.

Like almost everyone else, economists must, essentially, take on faith predictions and calculations by scientists about the impact of greenhouse gases on the environment. They realize that such predictions are based on complicated models and tentative scenarios, informed by self-interest. But they have been trained to understand what makes the economy hum and to think through how people will respond to changing conditions of all kinds.

Specifically, I asked this challenging question: "In comparison to a world in which greenhouse gas (GHG) levels were stable, rising levels of greenhouse gases by the end of the twenty-first century will cause GDP per capita in the U.S. to be a) more than 10 percent lower, b) about 5 to 10 percent lower, c) about 1 to 5 percent lower, d) less than 1 percent lower or higher, e) about 1 to 5 percent higher, or f) more than 5 percent higher." (Remember that GDP or gross domestic product equals the value of all final goods and services produced in the economy or equivalently the level of aggregate income.)

A couple of these choices may seem odd to the lay person, since few media accounts hold out the prospect that any global warming and other climate changes induced by rising greenhouse gas levels could be beneficial to our standard of living. However, some economists credit this possibility - pointing to the fertilization effect of higher carbon dioxide levels on plant growth and the amenity value of warmer weather, for example.

The results show that most economists are not alarmed by the likelihood of continued carbon dioxide emissions. The Great Depression of 1929 to 1933 caused inflation-adjusted GDP to fall a numbing 27%. Few economists think that rising GHGs will have anywhere near this impact - only one in eight predict that GDP will fall by more than 10 percent. Almost twice as many believe that rising greenhouse gas levels will cause the economy to grow. The most popular response is that rising greenhouse gas levels will have virtually no impact on income per person (less than 1 percent lower or higher). The vast majority (73.2%) predict that the impact will be less than 5 percent one way or the other. (Here are the complete responses: a) more than 10 percent lower = 12.5%; b) about 5 to 10 percent lower = 7.1%; c) about 1 to 5 percent lower = 21.4%; d) less than 1 percent lower or higher = 35.7%; e) about 1 to 5 percent higher = 16.1%; f) more than 5 percent higher = 7.1%.)

Assuming that "more than 10" = 15, "more than 5" = 10, and taking the midpoint of the other intervals, this averages to -1.86%. Since the end of World War II, inflation-adjusted GDP has risen by about 2 percent per year on average. Thus, the collective wisdom of these economists is that greenhouse gas emissions will shave about one year of economic growth off the economy over the next century.

Why do economists generally conclude that the economic impact of climate change is likely to be small, not large? The growing literature on this topic suggests that most parts of the economy are not very vulnerable to climate change. Just as importantly, parts of the economy that might be negatively impacted are pretty flexible and adaptable to change. If climate does change, crops can be modified, different crops can be planted and crops can be planted in different places, for example. If sea levels rise, we have the ability and resources to build protective structures or, in a worse case scenario, simply move to higher ground.

Thus, while potential climate changes might be devastating to parts of the environment, most economists don't think that it will affect our economic standard of living much, one way or the other. The bottom line is that recent history has shown economists that the primary cause of economic growth is technological improvement. Climate change cannot staunch the global torrent of new discoveries, processes and products. Human ingenuity is the ultimate resource and - as far as most economists are concerned - rising greenhouse gas levels cannot imperil this.



Out from under their hoodies they came, awkward Eagle Rock High School intellects eager to weigh in on a controversy that has been oozing like an oil slick across the online environment: Al Gore - self-promoting propagandist or lonesome crusader for planet Earth? More precisely, the question being yakked out on education and political websites nationwide goes more like this: Was the National Science Teachers Assn. behaving as immorally as one Hollywood activist claims when it rejected an offer of 50,000 free DVDs of "An Inconvenient Truth," the former vice president's global warning alarum?

Listen to Laurie David - a producer of the Gore documentary, environmentalist and wife of "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David - and it's easy to believe that the 57,000-member science teachers association turned down her generous offer because it had already sold its soul to the pro-greenhouse gas forces of Big Oil. It's also easy to suspect that writing on this subject means I've been suckered into providing publicity for the recently released DVD or Gore's undeclared but inevitable presidential run. But what the heck. The question of whether science instruction can be kept pure is just too interesting not to poke at.

The brouhaha began with an e-mail from Paramount Pictures to the science teachers group. It asked if the organization would distribute donated DVDs to its members. In the ensuing exchange, forwarded around by the Natural Resources Defense Council - for which Laurie David serves as a trustee - the teachers explained: "There is strong consensus that we should pass on this." The group's members, the e-mail explained, might perceive the distribution as a political endorsement and it could open the door for all sorts of other distributions.

What really set David off, though, was the association's concern that handing out the DVD would place "unnecessary risk upon the capital campaign, especially [with] certain targeted supporters." Could free-spending oil companies be among those "targeted supporters?" David publicly wondered. In a Washington Post op-ed piece, she noted that whenever she screened the film, admiring viewers clamored that "every student in every school in the United States needed to see this movie." So how could a teachers' group turn down her generous offer while scooping up millions of dollars of oil company dough - including $6 million from Exxon Mobil since 1996? "These companies have spent years misinforming the public about global warming . lying to the public about global warming!" David railed in a phone conversation that singed my right ear. If Big Oil really had students' best interests in mind, they could build playgrounds, she said, rather than trying to spin curriculum. "They're trying to infiltrate the schools."

Bill Aldridge, who served 16 years as executive director of the science teachers association, has followed the controversy and is appalled at his former organization's decision. "They don't want to offend oil companies and American Petroleum Institute," he said.

Linda Froschauer, president of the group, confirms that it has accepted money from corporations, including those in the oil business. Much of that Exxon Mobil money went to distributing the national science standards materials published by the uncontroversial National Academy of Sciences, and Shell sponsors a speaker at the group's annual conference. It's all in the open and does not affect the message, she says.

Froschauer, an eighth-grade science teacher, gives the Gore movie a wobbly thumbs up. "A great deal of the science was very good," she says - although she would fail students for turning in projects with graphs that present information without the full context, as some in the documentary do, she added. The "supporters" her group doesn't want to offend, she says, are all those who would bridle at the way "Inconvenient Truth" presents its information or at any hint that science teaching is being politicized.

The problem is that educators need money and taxpayers aren't going to be endlessly generous. Last week, for example, Los Angeles City Hall announced that Verizon had kicked in $1 million for after-school programs. Will that money influence what's taught? Probably not. But the purity of any teaching or scholarship can be subtly or overtly twisted by an underwriter's preoccupation with profit or ideology.

To which many teachers I talked to say: "So?" Kurt Holland, a science teacher at Santa Monica Alternative School and member of the science teacher's group, independently ordered five copies of the DVD without knowing about the flap. Hearing about it doesn't bother him. "I see controversy," he says, "as a complete and total learning opportunity."

Across town, those Eagle Rock ninth-graders possess more healthy skepticism than many adults. They'd read the book "An Inconvenient Truth" for an English class. They were eager to opinionate. Danny Leventon: "I didn't like the parts where Al Gore talked about his family and himself. I didn't really care about his family." Camilla Manciati: "It had a lot of pictures, and the pictures affected me emotionally. When they talked about the family, it made you realize this man cares about family and the environment." Gerry Zhang: "I'm in the Academic Decathlon, and we're studying climate change. The decathlon coaches challenged what Al Gore says.. They say scientists are very careful about predicting what will happen." Jake Goranson: "I felt the book was often misleading in the language that Al Gore used. He used loaded language instead of giving us straight facts." Moises Escamilla: "I liked it. They gave you helpful tips to avoid global warming. You know, the 'Three Rs' - reduce, reuse, recycle."

That about nails it. The book is a remarkable echo of the film, and the inconvenient truth about the film is that it's peculiar, as much a hagiographic biopic as a science documentary. I watched the closing credits with almost as much concern for Gore's ego as for those sweltering polar bears. That said, "An Inconvenient Truth" is also a powerful, emotion-engaging primer on the potentially devastating impact of global warming.

David says Paramount is going to give the DVDs to teachers without the association's help. If I were a science teacher, I'd jump at the offer. I'd use the DVD to spur discussion of science in all its sometimes-tainted complexity. I'd talk to students about corporate shortsightedness, conflicts of interest and disinformation campaigns. I'd tell them about zealotry and the temptation to propagandize. I'd remind them that scientific inquiry requires testing and proof. I'd trust them to sort out the truth. [If it is given to them]



A wind farm in the Thames Estuary was approved by the Government yesterday despite a warning from the shipping industry that it would significantly increase the risk of massive pollution in the event of a collision. It will be located 12 miles off the coast between Margate in East Kent and Clacton in Essex and consist of 341 turbines spread over 90 square miles, making it the world's largest offshore wind farm.

The Chamber of Shipping said that the decision had been rushed through by the Department of Trade and Industry without proper consideration of the risks to mariners. More than 100 ships a day would pass close to the wind farm. The chamber said that the wind farm would be too close to shipping lanes, leaving little margin for error. It said the turbines would interfere with radar, preventing ships from spotting smaller boats. "With visual and radar detection of vessels impaired, the risk of collision is increased, and should such a collision involve a chemical or oil tanker, the repercussions would be immediate and far-reaching.

"The decision ignores expert advice on the safety of those using the estuary [and] disregards the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's guidance as to the minimum distance which should separate shipping lanes from wind farm sites. It is hard to understand why an environmentally minded project has been pushed forward with little consideration given to its potential to cause an irreversibly damaging environmental disaster."

A spokesman for the DTI said that the approval contained a condition that required more work to be done on navigational safety.



A letter to the editor of the WSJ by Senator James Inhofe, (R., Okla.), Chairman of the United States Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

I write to applaud your Dec. 4 editorial "Global Warming Gag Order." I also read with interest the responses from your readers ("Senators' 'Chill Out' Letter to Exxon Creates a Heated Reaction," Letters to the Editor, Dec. 13). As chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works for the past four years, I have held several hearings examining the fears of manmade catastrophic global warming, and I have spoken publicly on this issue more than any other senator.

Those who wish to quell opposing viewpoints on manmade global warming do so because of a number of inconvenient facts about both the science of climate change and the economic harm their proposed "solutions" would cause the American people. What the activists and special interest groups don't want you to know is that 60 scientists wrote an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Harper this year stating, "If, back in the mid-1990s, we knew what we know today about climate, Kyoto would almost certainly not exist, because we would have concluded it was not necessary."

They don't want you to know that Claude Allegre, a leading French scientist who is a member of both the U.S. and French National Academies of Sciences, recently defected from the alarmist camp, and now says the cause of global warming is "unknown." They don't want you to know that the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to revise downward significantly its estimate of man's contribution to global warming in its upcoming Fourth Assessment Report or that another U.N. report recently found that emissions from cows were more damaging to the planet than C02 from cars.

And they certainly don't want you to know that their favored solution, the Kyoto Protocol -- often referred to by supporters as merely a "first step" -- would cost the average American family more than $2,700 a year while having no measurable impact on global temperature.

Despite enjoying a huge advantage in funding over skeptics, liberal special interests groups have had almost no impact in convincing policymakers to pass economically destructive climate legislation in the U.S. Now it appears those same alarmists are panicking and adopting a new agenda: to silence those who disagree with their views. I find it troubling that two of my colleagues in the Senate would join the campaign to shut down the ongoing debate on the science of global warming.



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 generally 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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