TCS Daily

Undermining California

By Lawrence Weitzman - June 7, 2002 12:00 AM

SACRAMENTO -- Under the terms of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro -- a treaty signed by President George H.W. Bush -- the United States is required to report to the UN on the subject of climate change every five years. Last week the EPA fulfilled the requirement by filing with the UN a 256 page document entitled "Climate Action Report 2002." The implications of this new report could be more far reaching than President George W. Bush anticipated - reaching all the way to California.

The report says that human-induced climate change is real, it's a big problem, and the burning of fossil fuels (and their resultant CO2 emissions) causes it. Chapter six on "Impacts and Adaptation" outlined scenarios of the dire consequences of this global warming that could range from 2.5C to 4C over the next century. The report also says the United States is the biggest offender.

But Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, said that the current data doesn't support the theory of anthropogenic global warming. "If one insists that the models are correct, then an appropriate associated statement would be: 'Man has accounted for about four times the observed warming over the past century with some unknown and unprecedented factor (sometimes claimed to be aerosols) canceling the difference. Moreover, that factor will henceforth disappear, allowing the full impact predicted by the models.'" Lindzen went on to say, "Somehow I think that statement would properly be considered by reasonable people to be a stretch."

Despite its doomsday tone, the report does contain some caveats. "The U.S. National Research Council has cautioned, however, that 'because there is considerable uncertainty in current understanding of how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warmings should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or downward).' Moreover, there is perhaps even greater uncertainty regarding the social, environmental, and economic consequences of changes in climate."

But of course the press missed the nuances of the report, such as they were, and largely ignored the caveats (and the science of highly respected experts such as Lindzen) and went right to the summer campfire ghost stories. Those scary stories might have unintended consequences and influence local political decisions.

A case in point is what is going on in the Golden State where legislation that will give unelected bureaucrats the ability to dictate how much CO2 comes out of automobile tailpipes was given new momentum thanks to Bush's EPA report.

The bill, AB 1058, declares that CO2 is the most significant greenhouse gas causing global warming and therefore CO2 needs to be controlled. Under the proposed legislation, the California Air Resources Board would have the ability to possibly create SUV taxes, a vehicle mileage tax, a gasoline tax or simply prohibit larger displacement engines that drive SUVs and trucks.

Supporters of the bill express concerns over the potential reduction in the state's mountain snowpack and the adverse effects on water supplies, agriculture and food production caused by warming. (The EPA's report highlights these concerns as well: It claims a potential reduction in the Sierra Nevada snowpack of over 80% by 2095.)

Despite the concerns, a broad coalition of groups commenced a campaign informing the public of the costs and consequences of the bill, as well as the uncertain science upon which AB 1058 is based. The legislature was besieged in email, phone calls and letters telling them not to send this bill to the governor. So although the bill has passed the Assembly and the Senate, it was weighed down by several Senate amendments that have prompted its return to the Assembly for a re-vote. Due to the public information campaign about the bill's likely costs and its restrictions on individual freedoms, the bill had lost steam and was foundering.

But then the EPA issued its report. And now with the press saying Bush believes in human-induced global warming, new life has been breathed into AB 1058. For example, just after the EPA's report came out, the Sacramento Bee penned an editorial calling for the passage of AB 1058 starting with the following sentence: "The timely predictions by reputable scientists of the environmental damage global warming will cause ought to give new life in the most hotly debated bill in the California Legislature this session... AB1058."

Did President Bush or his administration consider the possible ramifications of the EPA's report? Possibly not, but then again it may be the result of a failure of the administration to know what its own bureaucracy is doing. Regardless, Californians can thank George Bush's EPA if this bill makes its way to Gov. Gray Davis' desk.



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