Houston roundtable discusses global warming theories

A group of four panelists shared their insight on the possible presidential administrations of the two major-party candidates and how measures addressing potentially catastrophic climate change would impact the US economy during a Houston roundtable last week, hosted by the University of Houston's Energy Institute.

Karen Broyles
OGJ Online

HOUSTON�When it comes to addressing potentially catastrophic climate change, US Vice-President Al Gore would most likely favor direct action taken from the federal level through the Environmental Protection Agency, while Texas Gov. George W. Bush would opt for state and local initiatives.

A group of four panelists shared their insight on the possible presidential administrations of the two major-party candidates and how measures addressing global warming would impact the US economy during a Houston roundtable last week, hosted by the University of Houston's Energy Institute.

Lynn Scarlett, vice-president of research and executive director of the public policy institute for the California-based Reason Foundation, said Gore would likely expand the number of environmental issues to be addressed. Bush, on the other hand, might be more inclined to focus less on expansion of environmental issues and more on determining and addressing priority matters.

Bush also is more likely to use financial incentives, said Scarlett, while Gore would use them as add-ons to environmental regulations. Gore would likely extend President Clinton's policy of land conservation such as the National Monument Proclamation Act, while Bush would emphasize state management and private stewardship.

Climate change equals disaster?
The general consensus of the roundtable was that the debate isn't about whether the issue of air quality and other forms of pollution should be addressed, but in what manner the problems should be tackled.

One speaker, Robert Bradley, director of policy analysis for Enron Corp. and an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, Washington DC, said that, despite the negative hype surrounding the global warming debate, there are benefits to higher levels of greenhouse gases.

The potential effects of global warming have turned out to be more ambiguous than overtly dire, he said. Climate change would have a more negative impact on developing countries, which would have more difficulty adapting to the change because of their lack of wealth. Global warming, on the lower end of the projected scale, would actually have positive side-effects for the US in agriculture, said Bradley, who says the presence of more water and CO2 in the air would likely mean a greener world.

He noted that his theory would be considered politically incorrect by the standards of the Clinton administration and European governments.

Noting that environmental alarmists tend to focus on the effects of potentially higher temperature levels, Bradley said, "If human influence on climate had gone the other way, towards a colder, drier climate, the effects would've been negative from the very beginning."

Bradley also noted that the rate that greenhouse gas emissions are rising less than 0.5%/year, compared to the 1%/year figure frequently mentioned. That means that greenhouses would double in another 140 years as opposed to 70 years.

Many energy economists are leery of the Kyoto Protocol, Bradley said, adding that, if the US and all 37 countries comply with all regulations, they will, by the year 2100, have reversed the amount of influence on the climate of people by 5%. Economists remain concerned that the protocol is just the beginning of a "bait and switch," and that more environmental restrictions would follow, with even greater economic effects.

Economists would also be concerned if maximum temperatures were going up more in the US Lower 48 rather than Alaska, but minimum temperatures are rising more than maximum temperatures, he said, and they are rising mainly in the colder regions of the world, where few people live. The warmest temperatures seen in the US during the 20th Century occurred during the Depression of the 1930s, when the southwest was known as "the dust bowl."

Hydrocarbon age over?
Many climate alarmists lean towards either using technocratic blueprints or "going back to an idealized past" in response to climate change. But Bradley said that alarmists' theories fail to take into consideration the fact that reserve estimates for oil and natural gas have grown faster than consumption rates, and that depletion indicators haven't shown up yet.

Looking at the earliest data on reserve estimates from the 1940s and consumption levels between then and now, known crude oil reserves are 15 times greater now, while world consumption is 11 times the level seen in the 1940s. Known coal reserves, meanwhile, are 45 times the level known in the 1940s.

The global natural gas scenario is similar to what's happening in the US and Canada, said Bradley, referring to the fact that, while North America is short on gas production, there are plenty of reserves to be produced. Reserves that remain to be found could extend the reserve life for world hydrocarbons, and other fuel sources such as Orimulsion also aren't taken into account, suggesting that the "hydrocarbon age" could be young.

Bradley also pointed out that human knowledge and financial capital, which can extend the life of fuels through technological ingenuity, aren't depletable resources.

In addition, while fuel prices are higher, gasoline remains cheap, relative to most items found in a local grocery store. The current average gasoline price of $1.60/gal, he said, is one-third less than 1981 prices, after adjusting for inflation. Bradley pointed out that part of the cost of gasoline is related to taxes and the cost of making a higher-quality product.

In the US, five of the six most-significant pollutants have been reduced over the past 30 years while the population grew by a third, the gross domestic product doubled, and vehicle miles rose more than 100%. Refining is among the industries that have paid to bring about these emissions reductions.

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