The Week That Was February 23-March 1, 1998

An e-mail update from The Science & Environmental Policy Project

>From bad science last week to dubious economics this week. EnviroNews Service reports that William Nordhaus, economics professor at Yale University and "a leader in attempts to estimate the future economic impacts of global warming" (now there's a career plan), has now calculated the real "cost of living" in a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Philadelphia. To be frank, Nordhaus' calculations remind us of the eco-activist who once speculated that the CO2 buildup in the atmosphere could be eliminated if everyone would just hold his breath for an hour.

Political activists on the environmental front assign billions of dollars in economic benefits to things like eco-tourism and rainforest vegetation containing supposed cancer cures, but they invariably see people as having no value at all, a drain on the planet. We wouldn't ordinarily include Nordhaus in such a group, since he's written some sensible things in the past.

But this year is the 200th anniversary of Thomas Malthus' famous Essay on the Principle of Population, or as it is known today: I'm Okay, You're Okay, All Others Are Surplus. True to Malthusian principles, Nordhaus found just three ways that each additional person affects the economy, none of them positive. First, says Nordhaus, he or she consumes natural resources. Second, each person requires a share of capital resources, such as buildings and computers. Finally, people generate carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. All of these are societal costs over and above what a parent pays to raise a child, he says. (Perhaps the government should send each parent a bill.)

Nordhaus says such considerations are relevant to policy debates about such issues as the child tax credit in the United States and family planning assistance in developing countries. In eco-speak that means that if you think the government should leave a bit more of your paycheck so you can raise your child, then you're obviously among the poor and untalented who shouldn't be having children--and, well, there are already too many brown and black babies in Third World countries anyway.

Never mind that the prices of resource minerals and other basic commodities have gone down, even as population has gone up. Never mind that creating a demand for buildings and computers (and refrigerators and lamps and hair dryers and...) generates economic growth. Never mind that human ingenuity has reduced air and water pollution and is producing more crops on less acreage. Never mind that the population density of "overpopulated" Africa--even subtracting the Sahara and Kalahari deserts--is one-ninth that of prosperous Belgium. Never mind that current global warming proposals will most certainly exacerbate the world's most urgent problem, which is not population but poverty. The late economist Julian Simon might have raised these issues. But that's another story.

The Clinton Administration has begun a series of briefings on its Climate Change Technology Initiative, a $6.3 billion package of corporate welfare and research spending designed to silence its critics and ease the way to an even bigger bureaucracy. According to WEFA, Inc., a respected economic forecasting group, the Global Climate Treaty, if implemented, would cost the U.S. economy $3.3 trillion in gross domestic product--or $30,000 per family--cumulatively, from the year 2001 to 2020. New emissions control standards would raise electricity prices 40-50 percent, gasoline would be up 70 cents a gallon, and the cost of everything dependent upon energy and transportation--which is everything--would go up commensurately.

Best of all, citizens wouldn't know who to blame. As the Commerce Department disclosed two weeks ago, there is no current government data on the amount of money United States businesses spend on complying with national environmental regulations (not to mention state and local regulations and the cost of defending themselves against EPA, Interior, and Big Environment litigation). Since 1979, manufacturers with 20 or more employees were required each year to complete the Pollution Abatement Costs & Expenditure (PACE) survey and send it in. The last such surveys were conducted in 1994, at which time they were zeroed out of the federal budget.

Commerce officials admit that the environmental surveys incorporated only a small portion of total business expenditures for compliance. The last cost estimate based on the surveys, $121.8 billion, was considered much too conservative by many analysts. Maybe that's why Congress paid so little attention. In fact, staff members with the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee expressed surprise when told that there was now no statistical data on business environmental expenditures. Said one: "I'm at a loss to tell you why we don't know of this situation."

Well, one reason could be that so much environmental regulation is based on deception that "not knowing" is becoming the usual condition on the Hill. On global warming, for example, the famed "consensus of 2500 IPCC scientists" is a complete fabrication by the Administration. To be sure, many scientists participated in the scientific assessment of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but they did not necessarily support the chapter conclusions, much less the conclusion of the infamous "Summary for Policymakers."

In this, the comments of Australian meteorologist, Dr. John W. Zillman, who participated in the 1996 IPCC report, are revealing. The IPCC was, says Zillman, "meticulous in insisting that the final decision on whether to accept particular review comments should reside with chapter Lead Authors. This was a variance with the normal role of journal editorial boards, and led to suggestions that some Lead Authors ignored valid critical comments or failed to adequately reflect dissenting views when revising their text."

In the 1990 IPCC scientific assessment, editors simply mentioned in passing a "minority viewpoint that could not be accommodated," without saying whether that minority view represented 1 percent or 49 percent of the scientists who participated. In the 1996 report, IPCC editors not only allowed Lead Authors to screen unfavorable comments, they allowed one chapter to be significantly altered after the draft report had been approved. Consensus? Not hardly.

But if the Administration's proposed Climate package remains in the 1999 budget, consensus may soon be easier to come by. Of the total, $2.7 billion is earmarked for research and development, which no doubt means more studies of the effects of warmer temperatures on aggression in children and on the bee industry in Utah, just to mention a few.

Foreign research spending, unfortunately, just beat out the U.S. government on this little gem: advice on how changing a steer's diet can cut greenhouse gas emissions. The newspaper The Australian last week reported that Australian and Japanese scientists have found that cattle on a forage diet (i.e., grass-fed) produced four-and-a-half times as much methane for every kilo gain in live weight as cattle on a high quality, grain-based (i.e., corn-fed) diet.

Excuse me, but didn't medical researchers convince us ten years or so ago that grass-fed beef was preferable to corn-fed because it was leaner, had less artery-clogging cholesterol, and meant the grain could be fed to people, thus reducing the amount of land under cultivation?

No matter. In this era of "socially relevant" research, all roads lead to global warming. And if the activist appointees in government can't demonstrate that human activities are warming the planet, then by golly they're going to fund a raft of meaningless studies designed to convince the public that the slightest possibility brings consequences too horrible to contemplate and that the solutions are virtually painless--like feeding cornbread to cows.

Send in the clowns.

TW2 is compiled by SEPP Research Associate Candace Crandall (

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