OH OH! Another Satanic Gas!
Environmental Defense! Last week, the following stories appeared in
response to a May 4 article in Science
by MIT's Ron Prinn: Reuters: "Atmosphere's Pollution-Fighting
Chemical Waning." AP: "Decline in Natural Chemical Found." And the
Times: "Study Finds a Decline in Natural Air Cleaner," with the
pull-quote "Uncertain measurements tied to global warming."
paper discusses atmospheric concentrations of the "hydroxyl
radical," known chemically as OH, since 1978. OH is a highly reactive
species that helps to reduce concentrations of several industrial
emissions including methane, a potent global-warming gas.
the abstract's key statement: "Global average OH levels rose 15±22
percent between 1979 and 1989 and then subsequently decreased to levels
in 2000 about 10±24 percent below 1979 levels." The problem is that
little "±" sign. None of these results can be statistically
distinguished from a change of zero. The value 10±24 means a change of
somewhere between –14 and +34. There is no reason to believe in any
one number in this range more than any other.
it seems like the editor of Science
should have suggested that a paper with such flimsy results be
resubmitted as a small technical memorandum describing our inability to
confidently detect changes in this important chemical. Instead, though,
it appears in Science Express, an on-line service of Science magazine, highlighting research to be published with
possibly "some editorial changes" in "several weeks." (We ask
readers to cease thoughts analogizing, say, USAir Express
and Holiday Inn Express).
Is there a
human component to those numbers? Almost everyone lives on the northern
half of the planet. If the decline is greater here, then maybe people do
have something to do with it. But Prinn and colleagues found that "OH
levels in the southern hemisphere are on average about 14±35 percent
higher than in the northern hemisphere." In other words, the
difference in OH concentration between the hemispheres again cannot
be scientifically distinguished from zero.
today's environmentally correct climate, why let scientific truth get
in the way of inflammatory speculation? The paper concludes that "The
overall negative acceleration [since 1989] in the global OH trend is
dominated by changes in the northern hemisphere and suggests an
anthropogenic cause for the major OH variations."
research just established that the change in global concentration
between the years 1989 and 2000 cannot be distinguished from zero, nor
can the difference in mean concentration between the hemispheres be
separated from zero. How, then, can the authors say the changes are
being caused by people, so many more of whom live in the northern half
of the planet?
It should have beaten every reviewer of this paper, too. But there's
little incentive in this system anymore to do anything other than cry
wolf. Or cry fowl (See page 1).
Prinn, R.G., et
al., 2001, Science Express, www.sciencemag.org.
Euros Slam Us for Efficiency
up any European paper these days for a whiff of some pretty vitriolic
anti-Americanism, thanks to President Bush's views concerning the
Kyoto Protocol on global warming. His novel (to Europeans, anyway) idea
is that a problem must be a problem before we tax people to solve it.
Further, private investors are better structured to risk investment in
future technology than the government is.
The May 17
London Financial Times contains
a front-page "news" item about how European ministers are mad at
George Bush about global warming and low taxes in the U.S. . A few days
before, a British MP ranted on the BBC about our perfidy: With only 5
percent of the world's population, we produce 25 percent of the
world's increase in greenhouse gases. How evil!
misleading nonsense might be expected from a Labour MP, it appears that
the Times has also decided to
forget about economics and candor. Let's set the record straight with
a little Brit-bashing in return.
true. The United States leads the world in per-capita emissions of
carbon dioxide. So what? What really matters is how efficient we are
with respect to those emissions. The folly of the "per capita"
argument can be seen in India and China. If they produced, say, one-half
of the amount of carbon dioxide per citizen that we do (which they will
in a couple of decades), they still would emit far more than we do.
measure should be how many bangs we get for the carbon dioxide buck. So
let's take the 10 largest emitters and rank them in terms of emissions
per unit economic output. The worst is Russia, where 148 million people
are busy producing virtually nothing.
assign them a grade of 100 for greenhouse efficiency, 100 being the
worst possible number. On this scale, the U.S. gets a 33. Only Japan
(18) and Germany (25) are better, and that's because they rely more
heavily on nuclear power than we do. Those numbers don't allow for the
fact that different nations have different transportation needs, and
that moving goods and services takes a lot of energy. Nations that are
large, geographically, are going to emit more, even after adjusting
emissions for economic efficiency.
solution is to adjust emissions per unit economic output for the area of
each country. In that calculation, the United States comes in as Numero
Uno, most efficient. Of the 10 big emitters in our basket, guess who is
the worst: The United Kingdom! And this from a country that doesn't
even put "loos" (that's British for "Johns") in hotel rooms!
Why are we
so much better? One reason is that here in the good ol' USA, we use
railroads to efficiently haul about 40 percent of what we make. In
Europe, trains carry people instead—people who can't afford to drive
because of the cost of petrol, driven up (in the UK) by new "global
reason is the airplane. The United States is simply too big for trains
to move a lot of people a long way. Admittedly, seat 13E on Peanut-Aire
doesn't hold a candle to a couchette
on the Venice-Simplon, but it
will get you to Dallas and back in a day. The economies of scale in the
massive American economy result in a No. 1 efficiency, even though the
principal long-distance people-mover, the jet engine, produces more
greenhouse gases per mile than any other form of propulsion.
massive transportation need will never go away. Nor will the compact
nations of Europe get any bigger (despite current German wishes for the
EU). European politicians know that. And they know that the energy taxes
required by the Kyoto Protocol will put us at a tremendous economic
why European politicians and pundits are so mad at Mr. Bush over Kyoto.
They were banking on it to bring us down to their level—constant 10
percent unemployment and crushing taxation.