New Labour’s Opinion of Big Green

April 7, 2011 by admin No Comments »

A guest post by Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center.

In the introduction to his book “The Green Wave” about the fundraising prowess of the environmental community, Bonner Cohen notes that as environmental groups become more powerful, they often forget their original goal of helping the environment. He notes that even lifelong environmental activist like Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus lament the fact that even while these groups now “boast large professional staffs and receive tens of millions of dollars in donations every year from foundations and individuals,” in many ways ”the environmental movement’s fundamental concepts … are outmoded.” They are focusing more on fundraising and their organization than improving environmental sustainability.

Now another committed environmental believer has added his voice to this chorus of concern: former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

In his memoirs released last year, Blair expresses his frustration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially environmental groups. Discussing the climate change negotiations at the G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, he writes:

Over time, I’m afraid I came to dislike part of the NGO culture, especially the Green groups. NGOs do a great job, don’t misunderstand me; but the trouble with some of them is that while they are treated by the media as concerned citizens, which of course they are, they are also organizations, raising money, marketing themselves and competing with other NGOs in a similar field. Because their entire raison d’ etre is to get policy changed, they can hardly say yes, we’ve done it, without putting themselves out of business. And they’ve learned to play the modern media game perfectly. As it’s all about impact, they shout louder and louder to get heard. Balance is not in the vocabulary. It’s all “outrage,” “betrayal,” “crisis.”

Given his commitment to negotiate an agreement to follow the Kyoto Protocol, one can hardly question Blair’s sympathy for the greens. Yet, even he recognizes that environmental groups have strayed from their original intent, confusing power with movement toward the goal they claim to care about.


Weak Brew: The Tenuous Link Between Climate Change and Coffee Crops

March 24, 2011 by admin No Comments »

A guest post by Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center.

Today, Real Clear Science features a long piece I wrote on the interplay between the process of science and the storytelling of journalism. The problem arises when journalists substitute compelling anecdotes for scientific data, conflating the two. A recent story in the Seattle Times about one impact of climate change offers a good case study.

On March 5, the Seattle Times published a story highlighting the impact of climate change on the Costa Rican coffee crop, claiming recent declines are related to unpredictable weather caused by the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The story’s headline captures the tone: “Climate change takes toll on coffee growers, drinkers too”. The impact of climate change on coffee, they argue, has been significant. “Yields in Costa Rica have dropped dramatically in the last decade,” the Times wrote, “with farmers and scientists blaming climate change for a significant portion of the troubles.”

But there are factual problems with the story.

(1) According to NASA, Costa Rican temperatures during 2008-09, the years with the largest drop in production, were only 0.6 degrees warmer than the 20th century baseline. The most significant increase occurred in the fall (September-November, 2008), of just over 1 degree F. This was left out of the story.

(2) Average temperatures in 2008-09 were only 0.1 degrees warmer than 1998-2000, when Costa Rican
coffee harvests were 68 percent larger. The largest difference occurred in the fall, a difference of only 0.7 degrees.

(3) Temperatures in 2008-09 are actually 0.1 degrees lower than the average annual temperature during the 1991-93 period, which marked the country’s highest coffee production.

Even the climate scientist chosen by the Seattle Times to participate in an online chat about the story threw cold water on the link between the crop declines and climate change. Dr. Mike Wallace, a climate scientist at the University of Washington told me “the warming of the past 10 years is pretty small, both globally and over Costa Rica. I’m not at all sure that it’s been a factor in the decline of coffee production on this short time scale.”

Science journalism can be especially susceptible to the urge to substitute a simple, compelling story for the complexity of data-based science. Reporting the uncertainties of scientific information may not result in gripping journalism, but it is critical to enabling the public and policymakers to rely on the stories they read about climate change or the other environmental challenges we face.

You can read the entire piece at Real Clear Science. A longer version of the analysis is available at the Washington Policy Center.


Leaving Oregonians Out in the Cold

March 21, 2011 by admin No Comments »

We are often told that the costs of global climate change will disproportionally fall upon the poor. Unfortunately, the same is also true of many efforts to address global climate change.

Consider the example of renewable portfolio standards in Oregon, which were implemented as part of the state’s broader efforts to decrease fossil fuel use and combat climate change. Todd Wynn of the Cascade Policy Institute writes:

In 2007, Oregon legislators passed Senate Bill 838 which established a state Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), effectively forcing utility customers to purchase renewable energy. A recent economic analysis by Cascade Policy Institute reveals this bill has significant negative consequences…”

Specifically, Wynn notes that “[i]n 2010, approximately one in 30 Oregonians had their electricity cut off due to inability to pay.” Some of the blame can be attributed to the recession, but rising energy costs caused by renewable portfolio standards certainly worsened the financial hardships faced by low-income Oregon residents.

A new study published by economists at Suffolk University finds:

[T]hese mandates [mean that] the average Oregonian household will pay an additional $1,706 in higher electricity costs; the average commercial business will spend an extra $9,641; and the average industrial business an extra $80,115 over the period of 2015-2025. Overall, the mandate will cost Oregonians nearly $7 billion more than conventional energy sources until 2025.

The Oregon experience cautions policymakers around the world to consider the potential impacts of global climate change in light of the current reality of poverty. Policies that cause economic pain in Oregon—which had a per capita income of $36,125 in 2009—would wreck economic devastation upon developing countries. GDP per capita figures for India and China in 2009 were merely $3,200 and $6,800, respectively.

Harming the poor today in hope of helping the poor tomorrow is a dangerous foundation for public policy. Forcing low-income individuals out in the cold is never acceptable—and we must adjust our pursuit of renewable, low-emission energy sources accordingly.


Better Model, Less Warming

March 17, 2011 by admin No Comments »

This is the central claim of paper recently published in the Journal of Science and discussed at length by Patrick Michaels in his monthly column The Current Wisdom.

The paper, published by Masahiro Watanabe and his colleagues, improves the MIROC (Model for Interdisciplinary Research on Climate) model. The updated version, MIROC5, will be used in the 5th Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is due in 2013.

Michaels writes:

“Watanabe et al. report that the climate sensitivity is now 2.6°C (4.7°F) – more than 25% less than in the previous version on the model.”

Why the change in predicted warming?

The change resulted from a more realistic simulation of the way clouds work, resulting in a major reduction in the model’s “climate sensitivity,” which is the amount of warming predicted for a doubling of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide over what it was prior to the industrial revolution.

Michaels also notes that all models are imperfect, and thus

such improvements will continue into the future as both our scientific understanding and our computational abilities increase.

Will this lead to an even greater reduction in climate sensitivity and projected temperature rise? There are many folks out there (including this author) that believe this is a very distinct possibility, given that observed warming in recent decades is clearly beneath the average predicted by climate models. Stay tuned!

And you should stay tuned—both to the Civil Society Coalition blog and to The Current Wisdom.

Published monthly, The Current Wisdom is written by Patrick J. Michaels, Ph.D. in ecological climatology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. His highly-informative columns comment exclusively on peer-reviewed scientific literature. To follow The Current Wisdom, visit the Cato@Liberty blog.


Global Warming By Another Name

March 11, 2011 by admin No Comments »

An observation from Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation:

“President Barack Obama uttered not a peep about global warming in his State of Union this year. No dire warnings about climate apocalypse. No calls for cap-and-trade. Has this cold winter convinced him to put his global warming agenda on ice?

“Hardly. Indeed, even in this age of deficits and debt, the president’s budget is chock full of global warming items—except he wraps them around a new cause: clean energy.”

Read more about President Obama’s “clean energy” proposals here.