Think tanks wrap-up

Dec. 19, 2002 at 6:49 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of two wrap-ups for Dec. 19.

WASHINGTON -- Press: We decide, we report

by Patrick J. Michaels

"We Report, You Decide," FoxNews's catchy slogan, definitely isn't the way the mainstream papers report on global climate change. Two recent examples demonstrate their egregious lack of rigor (or dare we say purposeful lack of balance) surrounding this important issue.

Is climate change getting worse? On Dec. 12, Usha Lee McFarling wrote in the Los Angeles Times that "groups that are concerned about climate change point out that the rate of warming is steeply increasing," something which would (and perhaps should) alarm every reader.

Her source? Lester Brown, author of about 25 consecutive annual "State of the World" reports about how ecological doom is at hand. (After a quarter-century don't you think even the greenest pressie might catch on to the scam)?

Quoting Brown, McFarling wrote, "Studying these annual temperature data, one gets the unmistakable feeling that the temperature is rising and that the rise is gaining momentum."

How California! Brown and the Los Angeles Times may choose to trust "feelings," but real science is a world where the data report and the data decide. Is there an accelerating warming trend in recent decades? Absolutely not.

Most scientists believe the earth's surface temperature turned a corner sometime in the mid- or late-1970s when a three-decade period of global cooling ended abruptly and a warming began. In fact, there's a California-discovered peculiarity, known as "the great Pacific climate shift" of 1976 and 1977, which seems to initiate the current climate era. So let's start an analysis in 1977, or a quarter-century ago.

My research director, Chip Knappenberger, calculated the rate of warming for the first five years (1977 to 1982), and then added successive years, all the way up to 1977 through 2002 (making some modest assumptions about the last two weeks of the current year). If the L.A. Times and Lester Brown were right -- and if the latter had really "studied" the data instead of relying on "feelings" -- he would have found no significant trend whatsoever in the rate of warming in the last quarter century.

This seems a bit surprising because right near the end of the record, in 1998, is the whopping El Nino that was created with what was clearly the warmest year. You'd think that would induce some type of increasing trend, but it doesn't. After futzing around for the first few years, the well-established warming trend is 0.15ºC per decade. Rock solid.

While the very green Times characterized Brown as a "respected authority" on climate, he isn't. Rather, he is an experienced agronomist. So it's not surprising that he's not overly current with trends in climate science.

According to James Mahoney at the U.S. Department of Commerce, taxpayers have doled out about $20 billion on climate science since 1990, and unless all that money is wrong, human-induced warming should take place at a constant or nearly constant rate once it starts. That's the "central tendency" of the dozens of models for future climate that have been developed largely on those dollars -- a fact illustrated in Chapter 9 of the latest compendium on climate change from the United Nations.

How difficult is it to determine whether warming is accelerating since the mid-1970s? It took Chip about 10 minutes to find the United Nations' global temperature record and analyze it for increasing trends.

It would be convenient to blame this all on ideologues, but unfortunately it is often the scientific community itself that is less than candid. On Dec. 8, both the Los Angeles Times and the N.Y. Times carried a story headlined "Arctic Ice is Melting at Record Level, Scientists Say." The New York Times actually contradicted itself in the first sentence, which read, "The melting of Greenland glaciers and Arctic Ocean sea ice this past summer reached levels not seen in decades." Some record.

All of this came out of the December meeting of the American Geophysical Union, known as the AGU, in San Francisco, from a paper that examined satellite records of arctic ice back to 1978. The selfsame AGU, in its premier journal, EOS, on Nov. 18, ran an article by Igor Polyakov that examined arctic ice and temperature back to 1878, a record some 100 years longer than the satellite data.

Discussing ice extent, Polyakov wrote, "long-term trends are small and generally statistically insignificant," and that "the high latitude temperature increase was stronger in the late 1930s to the early 1940s," long before the initiation of much human warming. The warmest Arctic year was 1938, some 64 years ago.

None of this was noted in any press contact with the AGU. So it's not just the media. But surely some science editor at either newspaper had to be aware of Polyakov's article. And if they weren't, why are they science editors at papers of such stature?

(Patrick J. Michaels is a senior fellow in environmental studies at Cato Institute and the co-author of "The Satanic Gases.")

The Hoover Institution

STANFORD, Calif. -- Understanding the Brazilian elections

by Stephen Haber, Herbert S. Klein, and Richard Sousa

When Brazilian voters went to the polls in October, they did something that no Latin American electorate has done in three decades: they voted in a socialist president, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva.

Lula has been a major political figure of the left since the 1970s, when he led a series of strikes that helped undermine the military government. Three times he ran unsuccessfully for president as the candidate of the Workers Party (the Partido Trabalhisata, known as the PT), before this year's landslide victory, in which he carried all but one of Brazil's 27 states over centrist Jose Serra.

The overwhelming success of Lula and the Workers Party is a consequence of decades of stalled growth and failed promises. During the past eight years, the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso has pushed forward the privatization of government-owned firms, the relaxation of restrictions on trade, and the encouragement of foreign direct investment. Indeed, real gross domestic product per capita in Brazil is, at present, only slightly above its 1982 level. Brazil is also among the most rigidly stratified societies on the planet. For an entire generation, Brazilians have not seen an improvement in either their absolute or their relative standards of living.

Lula's electoral success therefore needs to be understood as a backlash against the inability of the "Washington Consensus" to ignite sustained economic growth and restore the degree of social mobility that existed in Brazil during the boom period of the 1960s and 1970s.

Lula's victory, however, should not be interpreted as a dramatic movement to the left by Brazilian voters. The PT managed to win only three governorships and controls neither house of congress, which means that the PT must look for coalition partners in order to govern. As it does, Lula's legislative agenda will inevitably be watered down.

The PT has accepted the stability plans of the Cardoso government and most aspects of the country's open economy model. Although suggesting some tighter regulations on market activities, the PT agreed to accept all international agreements and honor all foreign and domestic loans. It also promised to maintain an open market and not de-privatize companies that had been sold to the public.

Although constrained in what he can accomplish, Lula will push for an aggressive tax reform in an attempt to capture a larger share of the upper class's income. He will also seek to redistribute income by increasing the minimum wage and (perhaps) by lowering the tax rates of low-salary workers. He will also push to increase expenditures for welfare and education. Whether he can obtain those goals, however, is far from certain.

Consensus will appear in foreign policy. Brazil's reluctance to support U.S. foreign policies, particularly those that call for the use of military force, has long and deep roots that go back to the U.S. government's support for Brazil's military dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s.

No matter who had won this year's presidential election, Brazil would chart a course independent of U.S. foreign policies.

(Stephen Haber, Herbert S. Klein and Richard Sousa are fellows at the Hoover Institution.)

Forest Fights

LOS ANGELES -- Roadlessly transforming national timber reserves into national parks.

by Ronald Bailey

The courts are once again refereeing fights between the Bush administration and the environmental lobby over our national forests. At issue is the "roadless rule" a lame duck regulation issued by President Clinton just 15 days before he left the White House. This rule prohibits the building of roads in untouched parcels of federal forest at least 5,000 acres in extent, and applies to some 58.5 million acres of national forests.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups strongly backed the rule. After all, the Sierra Club wants to end all commercial logging in our national forests.

"America's first National Forests were established for the people more than one hundred years ago," the club declares. "Since then the timber industry has turned our publicly owned National Forests into a patchwork of clear cuts and logging roads."

With that comment, the Sierra Club is stuffing down the memory hole the reason why national forests were established. At the turn of the 20th century, President Teddy Roosevelt created the national forests largely for the purpose of being logged someday. Why? Because he thought the country was about to run out of wood.

"So rapid has been the rate of exhaustion of timber in the United States in the past, and so rapidly is the remainder being exhausted, that the country is unquestionably on the verge of a timber famine which will be felt in every household in the land," warned Roosevelt in his Annual Message to Congress in 1907.

He also predicted that, if the rate of consumption of timber remained unchanged, "practically all our lumber will be exhausted in another generation." To Roosevelt and his circle of progressive central planners, the solution to the impending national timber famine was a government program -- national forests managed by a new federal agency, the U.S. Forest Service. Under Roosevelt, some 192 million acres of public lands were turned into national forests.

Of course, Roosevelt and the progressives were wrong. The timber famine never occurred. Advances in tree farming and improvements in wood preservation increasingly met consumer demands for wood products. As a result, as Resources for the Future forest economist Roger Sedjo notes, "Although the United States has been the world's number one timber producer since World War II, U.S. forests have experienced an increase in volume in the past 50 years and have maintained roughly the same area over the past 75 years."

In the 1960s, national forests produced 20 percent of our timber. Today, 95 percent of the timber cut in the United States comes from private forests. But private timberlands aren't just dedicated to slashing and cutting -- in the southeastern United States, they now earn as much as 25 percent of their income from recreation and hunting fees.

Federal timber sales are another example of government failure. Environmentalists are right when they complain that many national forests have sold their timber below cost. Why?

In the past, the managers of each national forest were given set targets for timber sales, and failing to meet them could be bad for their careers. To encourage bids from loggers and thus meet their targets, the national forests would sell to loggers at prices that, unlike private timber sales, often did not cover the costs of road building, restoration, and replanting. Expanding timber sales at a loss perversely increased the budgets for national forests, since they had to cover their losses by asking for more appropriations.

The result was that, in the early 1990s, half our national forests lost money on timber sales. The combined losses have totaled more than $400 million to date. Private loggers bought the federal timber at prices the market would bear, but if the costs of restoration had been included in the pricing, the loggers would likely have gone elsewhere for their timber.

Well then, one might ask, since we evidently don't need the country's 155 national forests for timber production, much of it money-losing in any case, what's so bad about the roadless rule?

"It's a one-size-fits-all rule," says Holly Fretwell, a research associate with the Political Economy Research Center in Bozeman, Mont. "It doesn't look at the unique characteristics of the forests that are being closed off."

Fretwell argues that a case-by-case evaluation should be made about how a particular bit of forest should be used. Such analyses might find that the highest-value use of some portions of the national forests would still be timber production.

Nevertheless, Fretwell believes that even without the roadless rule, most of the forests covered by it would likely remain roadless. In fact, even without the centrally imposed rule, local managers of national forests had already designated 24 million acres as roadless.

Another problem with the one-size-fits-all roadless rule, according to Fretwell, is that it inhibits the ability of the Forest Service to improve the ecological health of large tracts of forests. Federal management, especially decades of vigorous fire suppression, has resulted in the build-up of huge fuel loads in many national forests. This wrongheaded policy leads to vast swathes of western forestlands going up in ecologically damaging flames every summer. The roadless rule will hinder efforts to thin fuel loads and to control fires when they inevitably break out.

Whenever I point out in public speeches that the national forests were created as timber reserves, most audiences are surprised. Americans today make no distinction between national parks like Yellowstone and national forests like the Jefferson National Forest. They want both to be preserved and used largely for recreational purposes. Ultimately, if the courts let the roadless rule stand, it will, for good or for ill, become a backdoor way of adding 58.5 million acres of federal forests to our national park system.

(Ronald Bailey, Reason's science correspondent, is the editor of "Global Warming and Other Eco Myths" and "Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet.")

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