News: CJ Exclusives

No Climate Analysis Offered on C02 Regs

DAQ assumes the science of global warming is settled

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Division of Air Quality, through its Climate Action Plan Advisory Group, is finalizing recommendations to reduce the volume of greenhouse gases emitted within the state, but the agency offers no analysis of how any options under consideration will affect temperatures or other weather conditions.

CAPAG, under the strong influence of nonprofit advisory group Center for Climate Strategies, will recommend to the Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change more than 50 measures to lower carbon dioxide emissions in the state. Many of the recommendations could be costly, especially for utilities customers and taxpayers.

Included among the options are increased taxes on gasoline and electricity; more subsidies for renewable fuels programs and public transportation; and heightened emissions standards from vehicles and stationary sources. CCS, which provides technical analysis, runs meetings and sets agendas for CAPAG, did not evaluate the options’ effects on the state’s economy, taxpayers, or state and local governments.

Instead CAPAG and CCS are studying the carbon dioxide reduction options based on limited criteria: the quantity of emissions reduced; cost per ton of greenhouse gases removed; possible “co-benefits” to the reduction of emissions, such as the “creation” of jobs; and feasibility issues.

Asked why the state or CCS has conducted no analysis of the options and their impact on climate, DAQ spokesman Tom Mather said in an e-mail message that the recommendations are “aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with the assumption being that these reductions would help reduce climate change.”

DAQ was given a mandate in the 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act to study programs to control carbon dioxide emissions, evaluate control technologies, and estimate benefits and costs of strategies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The law required that DAQ report annually in 2003 and 2004 findings and recommendations to two state environmental agencies, with a final report due in September 2005. DAQ cited those reports to justify the creation of CAPAG to study greenhouse gas emissions in the state.

No discussion of global warming

There is no mandate in the Smokestacks law “to discuss, debate or analyze competing theories on global climate change,” according to Mather, and DAQ avoided it. Instead, he said, CAPAG’s mandate was solely to evaluate carbon dioxide emissions, examine potential controls with their costs and benefits, and recommend actions for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

“That is what the DAQ did in its reports to the Legislature,” he told Carolina Journal in an e-mail.

But in those three annual reports DAQ discusses in detail the threats of global warming, claiming there is unity of thought among scientists about the threat. DAQ, in its 2003 report, cited the federal government and the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to buttress that contention.

“There is strong evidence of scientific consensus that increasing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are affecting Earth’s climate,” the 2005 DAQ report stated. “…The IPCC’s most recent assessment concluded that most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely due to increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

DAQ offers no similar explanations from the point of view that global warming is not a future threat, saying little more than “there are still skeptics who discount the level of problems anticipated.” While the DAQ reports don’t present the counterarguments to a likely climate change threat, the agency hedges on its own certitude, littering its reports with words like “could,” “possibly,” “potential,” and “may.” The reports present no probability statistics on the likelihood of future temperatures or weather changes caused by global warming.

“With [computer simulation] models,” DAQ reported in 2003, “the developers and other scientists believe that a projected increase in the atmosphere’s heat trapping ability for a given concentration of greenhouse gases has reasonable precision.

“However, the resulting impact on climate is more uncertain. This is primarily because the climate system is very complex and dynamic, with constant interaction between the atmosphere, land, ice, and oceans.”

Is the science settled?

Carbon dioxide is a radiation-trapping gas that causes the atmosphere to retain heat, and many scientists say it is a major contributing factor to warming the earth.

Because the Smokestacks law required the study of “available [greenhouse gas] control technologies” and “the benefits and costs of alternative strategies to reduce emissions of CO2,” DAQ determined that global warming and climate change “are accepted as fact by the General Assembly.”

There is near-unanimity in the climate change debate about the recent past: the Earth has been warming, overall, through the last century or so. But that is where the agreement ends. While activists say the warming is abnormal and is caused by increased industrial activity, those less concerned say it is part of a natural global cycle of warming and cooling. Skeptics also say part of the heating trend can be attributed to other factors such as increased solar brightness.

Those who claim membership in the “consensus” sometimes argue that those who disagree about global warming are “deniers” of the evidence. They portray doubters as indebted to business interests that produce fossil fuels, the burning of which produces the majority of greenhouse gases. They also challenge the credentials of the dissenters — usually scientists — who question the science of global warming, as though their experience and education shortcomings make them less-than-adequate as experts in the debate. Those who detract from the future threat of climate change are not above using similar tactics, with some labeling global-warming believers as “alarmists” and also questioning their scientists’ credentials.

Skeptics found, numbered

But who are the “skeptics” on climate change who get short shrift in the DAQ’s greenhouse gas reports, as opposed to the scientists in the “consensus?” And what are they skeptical about?

Part of the answer may be found in a booklet released last month by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a free-market, limited government think tank. “Scientific Consensus on Global Warming,” compiled by Joseph Bast and James Taylor of Heartland, condenses the results of two international surveys of climate scientists, conducted in 1996 and in 2003. Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch, two German environmental scientists, directed the surveys.

According to the Heartland Institute, Bray and von Storch questioned more than 530 climate scientists from 27 countries in each survey, asking the same questions — but in 2003 they added 32 questions. The surveys presented scores of statements on climate change and asked respondents to rate their levels of agreement or disagreement on a numerical scale.

The Heartland Institute booklet singled out 18 questions from the 2003 survey and presented the answers “in a simplified and less academic style.” Answers mildly or sharply in agreement with a statement were classified as “agree,” while those mildly or sharply in disagreement were categorized as “disagree.”

On the question, “Is global warming occurring?” 82 percent of respondents affirmed the statement “We can say for certain that global warming is a process already underway.”

However, a majority of the climate scientists — 66 percent — believed that the science is not developed enough to assess the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change. Somewhat in contrast was their response to a statement that “human activity is causing climate change.” Nearly 56 percent of the respondents agreed with that position.

Some of the other answers illuminated in the Heartland Institute booklet:

* Only 35 percent of respondents agreed that “climate models can accurately predict future climate”, while 18 percent were uncertain and 47 percent disagreed

* Seventy-three percent agreed that the IPCC reflects the scientific consensus on climate change

* Thirty-two percent of the scientists agreed that climate variability can be confidently predicted in 10 years, while 53 percent had little or no confidence in such predictions

* Fewer were confident in the ability to predict climate change in 100 years, with only 27 percent believing it possible

* Seventy percent of respondents believed climate change could have beneficial effects for some societies; 86 percent said climate change will have detrimental effects on some societies

Because of the surveys’ findings, Heartland Institute concludes in its booklet, “the views of climate scientists on some aspects of the global warming debate are important and deserve more attention in the current debate than they have received.”

‘You have to start somewhere’

Despite conflicting views about the risks caused by unchecked greenhouse gas emissions, state environment officials say the potential damage from global warming dictates that North Carolina takes action.

“Each resident of the state is a part of the problem, and the solution,” wrote William Ross, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in his introduction to the 2005 DAQ report. “Consequently, each of us must consider how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in ways that may be individually small, but collectively huge, and thus respond to threats posed by global climate change.”

Mather agreed with those sentiments in response to skeptics, when asked about the lack of analysis of CAPAG’s recommendations on temperatures.

“If you are skeptical of the actual impact of any of these recommendations on global climate,” he said, “my response would be that you have to start somewhere. Each action by a person or entire state might not have a huge impact, but these actions could have impacts when considered collectively with other states, nations, or other groups [such as corporations].

“To make an analogy, do you think individuals should refrain from voting because it is unlikely that their individual vote will determine the outcome of an election?”

But even greenhouse gas limitations proposed for worldwide implementation, such as the Kyoto Protocol, were determined to have an insignificant effect on global temperatures. When asked whether DAQ analyzed whether North Carolina’s recommendations would affect overall climate, even if other states and nations implemented similar greenhouse gas controls, agency officials referred Carolina Journal to other states’ Web sites on the issue. None of them had any studies of greenhouse gas impacts on climate, either.

“We have specifically tried to focus most on options for North Carolina that would ‘make sense’ for the state, independent of arguments related to whether climate change is occurring or not,” James Southerland, DAQ’s coordinator for CAPAG, wrote in an e-mail.

CAPAG was to make final decisions on options at its meeting July 16. The Legislative Commission on Global Climate Change awaits their recommendations, which will weigh heavily upon any bills that are developed.

The commission has already heard testimony on global warming issues, mostly from those who foresee a difficult future. But a few “skeptics,” including Arizona State University professor Robert Balling and University of Virginia professor Pat Michaels, have testified also. Balling and Michaels are the only climatologists to have spoken before the commission.

“The [Legislative] commission is clearly not balanced in representation and the speakers have not been balanced, so I don’t know why I should assume that there would be balance in the associated organizations providing input to the process,” said state Sen. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican and member of the commission.

Paul Chesser ([email protected]) is associate editor of Carolina Journal.