Topic: Energy and Environment

Global Warming Showdown

The media is increasingly embracing the idea that anyone in the scientific community who doesn’t wet their bed over the prospect of future warming is some sort of (a) flat-earth know-nothing, or or (b) a cynical money grubber who allows oil and coal companies to buy their expertise despite knowing full well that doom is on the horizon.

Well, today you can judge for yourself.  At a conference co-sponsored by the Western Business Roundtable and the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), Cato senior fellow Patrick J. Michaels (who, more relevantly, is a professor of environmental science at the University of Virginia and a member of the International Panel on Climate Change) will debate Klaus Lackner, a professor of geophysics at the Earth Sciences center at Columbia University.  The debate begins at 1:30 Mountain Standard Time and will be webcast live for all interested.  If you count yourself among them, you can go sign up here to listen.  

Judging Kyoto

Next Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Massachusetts v. EPA, the blockbuster environmental case of the term. The issue: Does the Clean Air Act, a 1970s-vintage anti-smog statute, require the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions from new American cars? A number of states and enviro groups say “yes!” The EPA–in an exceedingly rare example of administrative self-restraint–says “no.” The stakes? Big: If the petitioners win, American carmakers may face the equivalent of Kyoto global warming standards, imposed by judicial fiat, despite Congress’s umpteen rejections of the Kyoto regime.

Cato filed an amicus brief on the EPA’s behalf, written by environmental law whiz Jonathan Adler and joined by lawprofs James Huffman and Andrew Morriss. Read it here. We argue that the petitioners lack standing to sue the EPA and also argue, for good measure, that nondelegation principles should counsel against creatively translating the Clean Air Act into a template for federal global warming regulation.

Cato’s intrepid Pat Michaels also filed a brief, joined by a number of other prominent climatologists, which tackles the dubious scientific claims of the environmental petitioners.

For more on the case, and its implications, Professor Adler recently participated in a panel discussion of the case at the American Enterprise Institute, which will be replayed on C-Span 2 tonight at 6 p.m. However, you can watch the archived video anytime here.

Apocalypse Cancelled

Remember in the 1990s, when the rainforests were alleged to be disappearing and forests of all kinds were being clear-cut around the globe at such an alarming rate that mass species die-offs were inevitable and the planet’s lungs would soon give out lest we, I don’t know, turn the globe into one giant Ted Kaczynski National Forest

Well, it turns out that this is yet one more doomsday predication that won’t likely pan out.  According to an article that appears today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 22 of the 50 countries around the world with the most forestland saw forest acreage expansions over the past 15 years, and most of the rest are transitioning from deforestation to reforestation.  Now that’s out of the way, let’s move on to the next “end is near” prognostication ….

Hollywood - Green Thyself!

Next time you run across some self righteous, moral preening Hollywood-type going on about the environmental doom that awaits us like the Gaian sword of Damocles lest we turn away from our gluttony, our self interest, and money-grubbing capitalist ways, keep this in mind: a recent study has found that the movie industry is the second largest source of pollution in LA. 

The Big Lie About Global Warming

The most intellectually dishonest argument that makes the rounds these days about climate change is the claim that “the debate is over” regarding the relationship between industrial greenhouse gas emissions and our recent spate of warming.  It’s infuriating because it has power.  The enviro playbook is to avoid any detailed discussion of the science in the media - just repeat that phrase over and over, make some snide remark about how “skeptics” are either in deep denial or are simple lying hacks, and gut it out.  And if you repeat something often enough, people begin to believe it.

The master of this sort of thing is Al Gore.  A few days before the election, our uncredentialed scientist-in-chief was out on the campaign trail blasting away at every Republican he could find who had expressed doubts about the need for an anti-warming jihad.  When in Seattle to beat-up on GOP Rep. Dave Reichert, who was running for the U.S. Senate (unsuccessfully, it turns out), he expressed incredulousness that Reichert was still unsure whether industrial emissions of greenhouse gas caused planetary warming.

“C’mon!  And this man is a United States congressman?  You know, 15 percent of people believe the moon landing was staged on some movie lot and a somewhat smaller number still believe the Earth is flat. They get together on Saturday night and party with the global-warming deniers.”

That this sort of argument has power even with journalists on the warming beat is increasingly clear.  NBC’s chief science correspondant Robert Bazell, for instance, was asked on the air a few months ago by Brian Williams whether it was fair to say that the debate was over about whether industrial greenhouse gas emissions were warming the planet.  Brazell answered that you could find someone who believes the earth is flat and put them together with another person and have a debate on it, but it would not be any more of a serious debate than the debate about industrial emissions and global warming. 

Anyway, all of that is preface for an article that ran on election day in the “Science Times” section of the New York Times.  Therein, you’ll find an excellent story by reporter William Broad about a fascinating debate among geologists and paleoclimatologists about prehistoric (Phanerozoic to be specific) climate.  Turns out that the planet once enjoyed super-elevated levels of CO2 (up to 18 times that of the present), but that it’s very hard to detect elevated planetary temperatures from those high concentrations of greenhouse gases.  It’s unclear what this might mean, but the kicker is this:

“Carbon dioxide skeptics and others see the reconstructions [of prehistoric climate] of the last 15 years as increasingly reliable, posing fundamental quesitons about the claimed powers of carbon dioxide.  Climatologists and policy makers, they say, need to ponder such complexities rather than trying to ignore or dismiss the unexpected findings.  ‘Some of the work has been quite meticulous,’ Thure E. Cerling, an expert at the University of Utah on Phanerozoic climates, said.  ‘We are likely to learn something.’”

Honest scientists (of which there are suprisingly many - at least when they’re talking to themselves) and honest environmental politicians (of which there are few) concede that there’s a non-zero chance that the reigning consensus is wrong and that high concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide have far less impact on global temperatures than we think.  In fact, that concession is made in multiple places in the four previous IPCC reports that have been published - the oft-cited “Bible” of consensus science on the matter.  Broad’s article suggests that there is in fact a greater possiblity that the present consensus is wrong than you would ever think if you read the other sections of the New York Times - or pretty much any other newspaper in the country, for that matter. 

Voters Yawn over Global Warming

I’ve long argued that enviros don’t have anywhere near the electoral clout most people think and that no one is going to gain much political capital donning the garb of “Mr. Green Jeans.”  Today, the trade publication Greenwire (subscription required) agrees.  And believe me, these are the last people who want to make this argument.

CAMPAIGN 2006: Voters cool to climate issue in torrid midterm races

Darren Samuelsohn, Greenwire senior reporter

Five Northeastern Republicans facing fierce re-election battles turned just before the latest congressional recess to global warming in hopes the issue would boost their chances in their suburban House districts.

But the lawmakers apparently got little traction from climate change in a campaign dominated by voter concerns about the Iraq war, President Bush’s unpopularity and overall dissatisfaction with Republican leadership.

“It’s been very difficult for any of these incumbents whose problems are bigger than themselves, or whose problems have been themselves,” said Bernadette Budde, a senior vice president for the Business and Industry Political Action Committee. “They have had a hard time changing the subject.”

The five – Reps. Curt Weldon (Pa.), Mike Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.) and Rob Simmons (Conn.) – cosponsored in September what some consider the most aggressive bill to date aimed at limiting heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions. The bill’s lead sponsor is Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the presumed new chairman of the House Government Reform Committee if his party wins a majority of House seats.

“Doing it before Congress goes off to campaign is telling,” said Howard Reiter, chairman of the political science department at the University of Connecticut. He added that global warming is a nuanced subject that comes with an important caveat: It may require constituents to make sacrifices in their day-to-day lives.

“The problem with global warming is its incremental,” Reiter said. “It’s not as if there’s an immediate crisis people can see.”

Massie Ritsch, spokesman for The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks campaign spending, said the recent media frenzy over climate change – from Hollywood-style documentaries to mainstream press coverage – did little to stir voters this year. “For all of the attention Al Gore’s movie got, it hasn’t stayed a major election issue,” he said.

The lack of voter interest in climate change is not due to a lack of effort from environmental groups ….

Reporter Michael Burnham contributed to this report.