Key Issues (Updated July 2006)

Global Warming | Energy Policy | Environment vs. Jobs | Asbestos | Misuse of Science | Energy & Nat. Resources | Stratospheric Ozone | Radiation Exposure | Risk Assessment | Urban Smog | Space | IPCC

Global Warming Issue: Computer models forecast rapidly rising global temperatures, while data from weather satellites and balloon instruments show only slight warning. But since climate undergoes natural fluctuations, both warming and cooling on various timescales, it is important to determine how much of the observed warming is anthropogenic {human-caused}. In fact, this the key issue and still the subject of intense scientific debate. However, it is generally agreed that the key is comparison of the patterns of warming with those calculated from greenhouse models. Nevertheless, the general view among decisionmakers seems to be that the science is "settled" and that AGW is an uncontested fact. However, a detailel comparison of up-to-date observations with current models leads to the different results: The Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) of the US government issued its first and most important report in May 2006. The report show a clear disagreement between models and observations in the tropical region, which is the most sensitive for model validation. However, the Executive Summary claims, falsely, "clear evidence" for AGW. A more careful and more detailed examination of this issue reveals that the disparity between observations and models is real and significant; it suggests that a major part of current warming is due to natural causes and that the human component due to greenhouse gases is only minor. It also suggests that the computer models cannot be considered as having been validated by observations.

But these same unreliable computer models underpin the Global Climate Treaty, negotiated at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro "Earth Summit," and are the driving force behind United Nations efforts to force restrictions on the use of oil, gas, and coal. The Third Conference of Parties (COP-3) to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) (a.k.a. Global Climate Treaty), meeting in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997 agreed to set mandatory limits and timetables. Politicians were told that the science is "settled" and "compelling," when in reality, scientific experts still strongly disagree on the evidence. Considering the economic damage from energy rationing and taxation, the plans are drawing strong negatives in the U.S. Congress. Without firm evidence that an appreciable warming will occur as a result of human activities, or that its consequences would be harmful, there can be no justification for bureaucratic remedies or any action beyond a "no-regrets" policy of energy efficiency and market-based conservation. For additional commentary, see articles on Global Warming and the Energy Policy . See also Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming's Unfinished Debate and the convenient 12 point summary of Global Warming: Unfinished Business. We also refer you to the "Scientific Case against the Climate Treaty," published in English, French and German.

The IPCC Controversy: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the science group that advises the United Nations on the global warming issue, issued assessment reports in 1990, 1996, 2001, and will issue its fourth report in 2007. While ostensibly an impartial collector and reporter of climate science, the IPCC has consistently promoted global warming fears in its Summary for Policymakers (SPM). In May 1996, unannounced and possibly unauthorized changes to the IPCC report touched off a firestorm of controversy within the scientific community. The draft of December 1995 was approved by national delegations. When the printed report appeared in May 1996, however, it was discovered that substantial changes and deletions had been made to the body of the report to make it "conform to the Policymakers Summary." The clandestine changes put a spin on the report's conclusions that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." Lead authors of the crucial--and doctored--Chapter 8, dealing with the detection and attribution of climate change, have since backed off from this conclusion and now admit that it may take 10 years or more before any human influence on climate can be detected. In its third report, issued in 2001, the IPCC vigorously promoted a scientific result, termed the Hockeystick. Based on an analysis of proxy data, it was used to claim that the twentieth century was the warmest in the past 1000 years. This claim was meant to suggest that the warming of the twentieth century was due to human causes, specifically the growth in atmospheric greenhouse gases. Few noticed that such a result, even if real, had no bearing on AGW. In fact, it has since been demonstrated that the hockeystick result was based on the faulty application of statistical analysis and the consequence of an incorrect procedure. Furthermore, additional proxy data that had not been considered by the hockeystick team, or by the IPCC, suggest that the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was warmer than the twentieth century-- a conclusion in good accord with historic data such as settlement of Greenland.

The second IPCC report, falsely suggesting that the science is settled, led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. It called for substantial reductions in GH gas emissions by industrialized Nations, especially of CO2 from fuel burning. The United States and Australia have not ratified the Protocol. Most of the other nations are finding it difficult if not impossible to meet the Kyoto target; it is doubtful if they will be achieved by 2012 as planned.

For commentary and letters on this issue, see IPCC.

Regulatory Excess: In response to a lawsuit filed by the American Lung Association, an EPA-funded lobbying group, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has imposed ever more stringent standards on ground-level ozone and particulates. These standards are based on inadequate science and wildly unrealistic cost/benefit figures, yet EPA Administrator Carol Browner ignored comments put forth during the formal review process and zealously moved ahead. This put the Clinton Administration in a bind --as opposition rose among labor unions and industries, city mayors and members of Congress. In part, the fear is that Browner's extreme measures will stall current efforts to deal with urban air pollution by forcing revision of existing plans. But more important, if costly federal regulation forces industry to flee the inner cities, the loss of jobs and the effect that will have on the municipal tax base could exacerbate poverty and destroy efforts to revitalize urban neighborhoods. For related commentary, see Urban Scmog, Environment vs. Jobs, and Costs of Regulation.

As of this date the EPA is still ramping up targets for ozone and particulates, which counties in the United States are unlikely to meet. In many cases, the suggested targets for ambient air quality are close to or exceed natural backgrounds. Nor do they consider that most people spend most of their time indoors, subject to indoor air pollution that may be worse than ambient. The EPA does not regulate indoor air pollution; nor does the Clean Air Act permit the EPA to perform cost/benefit analyses. EPA's favorite targets have been emissions from automobiles and electric powerplants. The drive for tighter standards is being fueled also by global warming fears ansd attempts to control CO2 emissions. A new environmental initiative is the lawsuit against EPA by the state of Massachusetts, requiring EPA to regulate CO2 as a pollutant.This case is now before the Supreme Court.

Ozone Depletion: Although environmental pressure groups had made exaggerated claims stratospheric ozone depletion by chlorofluorocarbons (most notably Freon) wafting into space, scientists have yet to see any increase of solar ultraviolet radiation at the Earth's surface. Actually, even the worst-case depletion scenario (the one that spawned all those bogus stories about blind sheep, blind rabbits, blind trout, plankton death, dead frogs, autoimmune disorders, and melanoma epidemics), would have resulted in only a minor increase in UV--one you could experience by driving just 60 miles closer to the equator, say from Washington, D.C. to Richmond, Virginia. Nevertheless, the Bush (Sr)White House hastily imposed a ban on CFC production, costing U.S. consumers multi-billions. And to make that sound like a good deal, the EPA is claiming a preposterous health benefit of $32 trillion. Meanwhile, a hugely profitable black market has been created because of the high cost of CFC substitutes and retrofitting air-conditioning systems. Indeed, news reports say the border traffic in "hot" Freon is running a close second to cocaine. Worse, Third World countries, exempt from the ban, are still using CFCs and building factories to produce more. Combine the two and it's unlikely that the ban has produced any benefit to stratospheric ozone. Now that all the handwringing has led to an international protocol, however, the issue is no longer in the public eye. As in the case of acid rain, another minor problem "fixed" by an expensive non-solution, hype has triumphed over substance. Indeed there has been much hype, including claims about an Arctic ozone hole, an annual increase of UV-B of 35 percent-- none of these real. There has been no noticable depletion, since about 1992; yet stratospheric chlorine is still increasing, albeit at a slower rate. Zealots are concentrating their efforts on getting a phase-out of methylbromide, an important agricultural fumigant. There has been no reported increase in stratospheric bromine, however. For additional commentary, see Stratospheric Ozone.

Environmental Health Risks: The mentality of "zero-risk" still survives, even though the infamous Delaney Amendment, which tried to shield the public from single toxic molecules, has finally been repealed by Congress. Chemicals, radiation, and asbestos all exhibit a threshold below which health risks are negligible. What is more, there is a natural background of these substances that cannot be removed by regulation. Despite the increased use of chemicals in food processing and agriculture, and the innumerable (unwarranted) cancer scares over the years, life expectancy continues to go up and up. There have been scares about hormonal disruptors, radiation from cell phones, mercury from coal-burning power plants, and of course, environmental tobacco smoke. For related commentary, see Radiation Exposure, Asbestos and Risk Assessment.

Energy / Natural Resources: Natural resources--whether oil, minerals, water, timber, or fisheries--are best managed when property rights can be clearly defined. Markets can then determine the price and handle the allocation of the resource. Unfortunately, there are many institutional problems that impede rational management, especially for water and fisheries, traditionally resources held in common. The current high price of world oil has thrown the spotlight on oil availability and oil security. On the one hand, it has fueled fears of an early peaking of world oil production and "running out of oil". On the other hand it has also raised fears about a supply interruption due to political instability in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, much of current energy policy is driven by fears of global warming. It has led to undue emphasis on wind and solar power, on biofuels such as ethanol, and on schemes to sequester the CO2 emitted from powerplants. For related commentary, see Natural Resource Management.

Misuse and Politicization of Science: Controversies about environmental hazards and the management of natural resources have spilled over into attacks on scientists who do not subscribe to "politically correct" views. Scientific evidence based on observed facts is being subordinated to speculative theory and unverified computer models. Scientific debate is being replaced by pressure to conform to a new orthodoxy, reinforced by the control of research funds by governmental agencies. Particularly disturbing is the increasing evidence that this funding biases even scientific organizations and university science faculties. Yet the future of science depends on open and untrammeled debate. The global warming controversy has made the situation much worse and has affected formerly respected science journals, with editors injecting their personal prejudices into the publication process. The hockeystick episode provides a good example demonstrating the extreme polarization. For related commentary, see Misuse of Science.

Space Exploration: The U.S. space program has been a spectacular success for planetary science and astronomy. The costly manned space program, however, has few scientific achievements. The manned space station lacks a clear goal. It should be a stepping stone for manned exploration of the planet Mars and its moons. A first step might be a landing on one of the moons to establish a base and laboratory. Another undeveloped program is the protection of Earth and its inhabitants from the effects of asteroid impact--not a negligible risk. For related commentary, see Space.