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Blowing smoke

by Discovery Newsletter 1/1/2010

We are often told our planet will be devastated unless we immediately make drastic reductions in man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The list of possible climate catastrophes caused by GHGs seems endless.

The BBC warns there may be no more fish in the sea in 50 years.  Greenpeace frets that summer ice in the arctic could disappear completely by 2030. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations Organization, asserted that Himalayan glaciers may be gone by 2035. 

Meanwhile, professors from Penn State University say polar bears are becoming extinct as we swelter through the hottest decade in history.

Interestingly enough, all of these claims have been disproven or grudgingly retracted. 

So why would a reasonable society rush to implement far-reaching (and costly) climate change policies based on such shaky understanding of the science?

Furthermore, are the actual outcomes of these policies even going to be beneficial?

Feeble foundation

Climate misinformation has gotten so out of hand that a high court in London has ruled the film “An Inconvenient Truth” amounts to promoting “partisan political views” and cannot be shown to schoolchildren unless its many factual errors are addressed.

So why are such unproven or false claims promoted? 

Al Gore’s explanation in a magazine interview was: “It is appropriate to have an overrepresentation of factual presentations…for opening up the audience.”

Advocates of GHG proposals want us to believe they have a monopoly of scientific thought on their side.

But what the recent “Climategate” scandal at the University of East Anglia may have illustrated is just how suspect many of those scientific assumptions may be.

Correspondence indicates that when the data didn’t support their hypothesis, leading climate change advocates in England decided to change, hide, or, if necessary, destroy conflicting data.

The scientific process of discovery is completely undermined if important information gets modified, manipulated, distorted or dropped if it contradicts a preferred outcome.

Scientists have also perverted the peer review process, doing everything possible to prevent opinions contrary to the alarmist view from being heard.

Leonard Weinstein, a senior research scientist with 30 years of experience at NASA, is one of those voices climate change proponents are trying to silence.

“Any reasonable scientific analysis” of man-made global warming, said Weinstein, “must conclude the basic theory [is] wrong.” 

Rather than encouraging open and honest scientific enquiry and debate about the issue, climate extremists are trying to shout down any and all dissenters.

All of this should be a warning flag for anyone proposing actions to respond to climate change on the mistaken assumption that “the science is settled.”


In the United States, the most-discussed proposal for addressing climate change is a cap-and-trade scheme that involves charging companies for permits to emit greenhouse gases.

Cap-and-trade advocates claim this will gradually diminish GHG emissions and generate large revenues without damaging the economy. 

Experience proves otherwise.

In Europe, overall emissions went up, not down, after the world’s largest emissions trading program was established in 2005. 

The revenue stream expected by E.U. officials and many traders has failed to materialize.  Instead, that revenue went to politically favored companies and developing countries.

And to make matters worse (especially for consumers), prices for electricity and gasoline are now significantly higher.

Due to the E.U.’s disappointing results, many legislators and environmental activists are now urging a flat-out tax on carbon emissions of any kind, whether from power plants, cattle or lawnmowers.

As drastic as that sounds, others want to go even farther.  The director of the European Environment Agency has proposed not only taxing carbon in all forms, but non-energy resources such as water.

Cause for concern

Cap-and-trade is essentially a stealth tax on energy.  As such, it inevitably leads to higher energy costs and job losses.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget, a non-partisan government agency, calculates cap-and-trade proposals would add at least 77 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

Spain learned the hard way that only one in ten new “green” jobs tend to last even a year.  And each new green job displaces more than two “traditional” jobs. 

In 2009, White House officials estimated the value of cap-and-trade revenues in their budget proposal at $646 billion over ten years.  Subsequent estimates have tripled that amount.

For any government running record deficits and burdened with unprecedented levels of debt, such a huge source of new revenue must be enticing.  But is it worth devastating the economy?

Policymakers have a history of using new revenue streams to promote pet projects and punish what they consider to be “bad” industries.

If, for example, the U.S. Congress wants to reduce all CO2 emissions, why would proposed regulations penalize refining emissions at six times the rate of emissions from utilities?

Wrong focus

Richard Muller, a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has raised serious concerns about the effectiveness of proposed climate change policies in North America and Europe.

Regardless of what developed nations do about climate policy, he says, emerging nations are the real issue.

Even under a “best case scenario,” with the U.S. reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent and other developed nations by 60 percent, Muller believes global carbon emissions will quadruple.

That’s because emerging countries, such as India and China (which already emits 30 percent more carbon than the U.S.), will inevitably increase their emissions as their economies grow. 

It takes energy to achieve economic growth and quality-of-life improvements for a society.  No developing nation on earth – large or small – is likely to reduce its carbon emissions if it means suffering economically.

Opportunity or obstacle?

Mark Dobbins, executive vice president for Koch Supply & Trading in Houston, is helping develop corporate strategies for emissions trading. 

“It’s clear from the data that the science on greenhouse gases is not really settled,” said Dobbins.  “But, at the same time, emissions trading has already been launched in the U.K. and E.U., and on a regional basis here in the U.S.” 

Emissions markets are fundamentally different from other markets because they’re mandated by government. 

“So it’s essentially a compliance market that wouldn’t exist if not for government.  But a second-order effect of that is government can always change the rules.”  Court challenges from unhappy parties can add to the uncertainty.

 “With emissions we’re talking about commitments five or ten years out.  There’s no confidence if the rules can change in a way that would modify or eliminate these markets. 

“In Europe, they’ve continually tinkered with the rules.  In the middle of a scheme one nation suddenly gets a few more credits, which then upsets the supply/demand balance. 

“It’s very scary, but it’s what you’d expect from government, which has a history of not keeping hands off.”

True costs

Last year, the Minnesota Pipeline System spent close to $9 million on fuel and power.  That line item for energy is one of the largest of its operating expenses. 

“If our throughput and crude quality remain the same but electricity prices go up 129 percent because of cap-and-trade,” said Kim Penner, president of Koch Pipe Line Co., “we could be looking at roughly $20 million per year for power.  That’s a huge increase for a business our size.”

If company plants with coal-fired boilers or generators – such as those owned by INVISTA and Georgia-Pacific – have to switch to other fuels because of new policies, hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on conversion projects with little or no return. 

The enormous amount of capital spent on those conversions would then be unavailable for projects that could create permanent jobs and products that people value.

What should be done?

Last November, Kenneth Green, an environmental scientist, testified before the Senate Committee on Finance about global warming.  His conclusions are worth repeating:

“The earth’s climate is prone to sharp changes over fairly short periods of time.  Plans that focus simply on stopping climate change are unlikely to succeed; fluctuations in the earth’s climate predate humanity.

“Rather than trying to make the climate static, policymakers should focus on implementing resilience strategies to enable adaptation to a dynamic, changing climate.”

In other words, since we can’t control Mother Nature, let’s figure out how to get along with her changes.




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