CCNet TERRA 20/2003 - 7 May 2003

"Emissions of greenhouse gases from the European Union increased in 2001 for the second year running. The European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates they were 1% greater than in 2000. The EU as a whole is committed to reducing emissions by 8% on their 1990 levels by between 2008 and 2012. On present trends, it appears to stand almost no chance of keeping its promise. Not enough signatories have yet ratified the protocol to allow it to enter into force. There are now doubts about the willingness of Russia to do so, because some of its prominent scientists apparently believe climate change could be beneficial to the country. It is organising a world climate conference in Moscow in late September, to re-examine the science of climate change."
        --BBC News Online, 6 May 2003

    BBC News Online, 6 May 2003

    Eurekalert, 1 May 2003

    Tech Central Station, 1 May 2003

    Tech Central Station, 5 May 2003

    CO2 Science Magazine, 7 May 2003

    Scripps Howard News Service, 3 May 2003

    The Guardian, 5 May 2003

    The Financial Times, 1 May 2003


BBC News Online, 6 May 2003

Emissions of greenhouse gases from the European Union increased in 2001 for the second year running. The European Environment Agency (EEA) estimates they were 1% greater than in 2000.

The EU as a whole is committed to reducing emissions by 8% on their 1990 levels by between 2008 and 2012. On present trends, it appears to stand almost no chance of keeping its promise.

The 8% cut is the commitment made by the EU under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement on tackling climate change.

Not enough signatories have yet ratified the protocol to allow it to enter into force. Two years ago President Bush said the US would not ratify it, and Australia has followed suit.

Lukewarm leaders

There are now doubts about the willingness of Russia to do so, because some of its prominent scientists apparently believe climate change could be beneficial to the country.

It is organising a world climate conference in Moscow in late September, to re-examine the science of climate change.



Eurekalert, 1 May 2003

Contact: Anne Stark
University of California - Berkeley

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Using a new analysis of satellite temperature measurements, scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have determined that uncertainties in satellite data are a significant factor in studies attempting to detect human effects on climate.

Since 1979, Microwave Sounding Units (MSUs) have been flown on 12 different polar-orbiting weather satellites operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. MSU instruments measure the microwave emissions of oxygen molecules, which are related to atmospheric temperature. By monitoring microwave emissions at different frequencies, it has been possible to 'back out' information on temperature changes in various layers of the atmosphere.

Until recently, only one group -- from the University of Alabama at Huntsville -- had analyzed the raw MSU data. This analysis is complicated by such factors as the gradual decay and drift of satellite orbits (which affect the time of day at which MSU instruments measure atmospheric temperatures) and by problems related to the calibration of MSUs.

The pioneering Huntsville analysis of the MSU data suggested that the troposphere (the lowest layer of the atmosphere) had undergone little or no overall warming since 1979. Some have used this finding to question both the reality of human-induced global warming and the reliability of computer climate models, which predict that the troposphere should have warmed in response to increases in greenhouse gases. The Huntsville results are also at odds with thermometer measurements indicating pronounced warming of the Earth's surface during the satellite era.

Now a second group has conducted an independent analysis of the same raw MSU data used by the University of Alabama scientists. This group, led by Carl Mears, Matthias Schabel, and Frank Wentz of Remote Sensing Systems in

Santa Rosa, uses different methods to correct for satellite orbital drift and MSU calibration problems. They find that the troposphere probably warmed by roughly 0.1 degrees Celsius (0.18 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade from 1979 to 2001. This amounts to a total rise in tropospheric temperature of 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit over this period.

The implications of these uncertainties for attempts to detect human effects on climate are explored by Livermore scientists Benjamin Santer, Karl Taylor, James Boyle and Charles Doutriaux, along with researchers from Remote Sensing Systems, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Birmingham in England. Their findings are reported in the May 1 online edition of Science Express in a paper titled, "Influence of Satellite Data Uncertainties on the Detection of Externally-Forced Climate Change."

The Lab scientists and their colleagues use results from a state-of-the-art computer climate model that was run with estimates of historical changes in greenhouse gases, sulfate aerosols, ozone, volcanic dust and the sun's energy output. These experiments were performed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and the Department of Energy's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in Berkeley, Calif. The model runs yield detailed patterns (or 'fingerprints') of tropospheric temperature change. These fingerprints are identifiable in the Santa Rosa satellite data showing a warming troposphere, but not in the University of Alabama MSU records. Model output from these and other simulations are freely distributed to the research community (

"In the last 24 years, satellites have helped us to observe the climate of our planet more intensively and systematically than at any other time in Earth's history," said Santer, lead author of the paper. "Yet even over the satellite era, there are still large uncertainties in our estimates of how tropospheric temperatures have changed. It's important to take these uncertainties into account in evaluating the reliability of climate models. We find that model/data agreement, like beauty, depends on one's observational perspective. Our detection results point toward a real need to reduce current levels of uncertainty in satellite temperature measurements."

The positive detection of model tropospheric temperature 'fingerprints' in the Santa Rosa satellite data is consistent with earlier research that has found human-induced signals in such climate variables as surface temperature, ocean heat content, tropopause height and Northern Hemisphere sea ice cover.


Tech Central Station, 1 May 2003

By Ronald Bailey

"Experimental models incorporating both anthropogenic and natural factors are consistent with the new analysis showing tropospheric warming," claims the press release heralding a new paper being published today in Science. This paper is supposed to be a knockout blow against the satellite dataset that has consistently and annoyingly (for the global warming alarmists) shown that the earth's atmosphere is NOT warming nearly as much as the computer climate models predict. The new analysis, meant to prove finally that dangerous man-made global warming is real, was done by a team led by long-time global warming proponent Benjamin Santer from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

So is it true? Have the satellites been wrong about global temperature trends? The paper it turns out is mostly hot air, adding nothing new to the climate change debate. Evidently, the strategy being used by Santer et al. is that if their models don't agree with the data, then change the data.

Since 1979, climatologists John Christy and Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) have been using instruments aboard a variety of weather satellites to take the temperature of the earth's atmosphere daily. What they find is that the atmosphere is warming up at a rate of only about 0.05 degrees centigrade (+/- 0.05 C) per decade. This is considerably lower than the rate of warming predicted by the climate computer models. Now it is not unreasonable to think that perhaps the data contain some unaccounted for uncertainties - this is science after all, and you're only as good as your data.

Puzzled by the discrepancy between the satellite data and the models, Frank Wentz, a physicist working at Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) in Santa Rosa California, decided to check into the matter. Since 1979 whenever a new weather satellite was launched to replace old ones, scientists had to cross calibrate instruments taking into account things like orbital differences and slight variations in the instruments. Wentz looked at how the UAH team cross-calibrated the data from each of satellites and found that they had not taken into account variations between satellites due to their orbital decay.

Wentz published a 1998 bombshell paper in Nature claiming to show that once the satellite data were corrected that cooling trend identified by Christy and Spencer would in fact become a warming trend of 0.07 degrees centigrade instead of the 0.05 degree rate of cooling that the UAH team had found between the years 1979 and 1997. This was still considerably below the trend found in most models but it was positive. It is no surprise that global warming proponents hailed the RSS dataset as evidence that they are right.

As conscientious scientists, Christy and Spencer admitted that they had failed to take all of the orbital decay effect into account. They then painstakingly readjusted their data and found that the atmosphere was cooling at a 0.01 degree centigrade per decade rate. It seems that the RSS team had used data that had already been corrected for some of the effects and therefore over-corrected it to create a spurious warming trend.

So what gives now? Santer et al. have done new climate model runs and conclude that because a new RSS dataset conforms more closely to their models, the RSS data must be right, and because the UAH dataset does not conform to their models, it must be wrong. This is a very curious conclusion because models must fit data, not data fit models. A discrepancy between datasets can only be resolved by more empirical research. Data validate models, not vice versa.

Fortunately this can be done. It turns out that there is a completely independent dataset of tropospheric temperatures that can adjudicate between the RSS and UAH data-weather balloon data. The weather balloon data agree well with the UAH dataset and not the RSS dataset. The new Science paper handles this confounding issue by mildly mentioning in passing that there may be a problem with the weather balloon data. However, the paper it cites as evidence for a possible problem actually shows that the UAH data and the weather balloon data are in good agreement .

"The point here is that the models agree with only one tropospheric satellite dataset (Remote Sensing Systems) but they do not agree with any balloon, balloon-based or UAH's satellite datasets," says Christy. "There is no there, there."

So what are the trends in dispute? Christy points out that the latest reanalyzed UAH dataset finds that mid-tropospheric temperatures are rising at about 0.03 degrees centigrade (+/- 0.05 C) per decade. The troposphere is the lowest atmospheric layer, about 18 kilometers (11 miles) thick at the equator to about 6 km (4 miles) at the poles, and contains 80 percent of the total air mass. Meanwhile the RSS dataset finds that mid-tropospheric temperature increases at 0.11 degrees centigrade (+/- 0.02) per decade. What do the weather balloons say? They find that temperatures are essentially flat at a rate of about 0.00 degrees (+/- 0.05) per decade. It's pretty obvious that the weather balloon data undercut the RSS dataset now being relied upon by the global warming proponents.

The new Science paper also suggests that the climate computer models are good at modeling data for the stratosphere (the tenuous air layer above the troposphere) and concludes that therefore they must be good at modeling the troposphere, too. Christy thinks this a classic example of a stolen base. "It's a lot easier to model the stratosphere because you only have to consider radiational effects," says Christy. "The troposphere is much messier. It contains complicated things like clouds, convection, moisture, and dust. Claiming that your models get the stratosphere right tells you almost nothing about how well they model the troposphere."

Nevertheless, Santer's team claims that their models' conformity with the RSS data and their success at modeling the stratosphere "[t]aken together.strengthen the case for pronounced human influence on global climate." However, two independent sets of temperature data say that this conclusion is unwarranted and that this is clearly a case where two wrongs do not make a right. The scientific debate over whether earth is warming dangerously due to man-made influences remains unresolved.

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

Copyright 2003, Tech Central Station


Tech Central Station, 5 May 2003

By Kenneth Green

In the fourth overtime period of a recent Stanley Cup playoff game, I found my mind wandering to a different kind of hockey stick - the kind that UN scientists claim is sketched out by temperature records going back 1000 years or so. Since the first reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, UN scientists have used a reconstruction of past climates based on evidence from tree rings, coral, boreholes, and other proxy indicators that suggested the climate was mostly unchanging for the last 1000 years, with the spike of the last 150 years appearing to be clearly abnormal (Figure below) shooting upward like the blade of a hockey stick.

But over the years, data has accumulated arguing that the "IPCC hockey stick" is fundamentally flawed. Some researchers, studying the climate of the last 1000 years argued that the IPCC scientists were refusing to acknowledge evidence indicating that in reality, the temperature from about 1,000 A.D. to 1300 A.D. was quite a bit warmer than today, while the climate from 1300 A.D to 1850 was unusually cold. As climate researcher David Wojick illustrates, a more realistic depiction of recent climate is not a hockey stick, but is more a matter of emerging from a climatic valley (see Figure below).

Despite the accumulating evidence, UN scientists have continued to assert that the medieval warm period and the little ice age were strictly local phenomenon, and hence, were not representative of the Earth's climate as a whole. That willful ignorance led Australian climate researcher John Daly to label the IPCC hockey stick "A New Low in Climate Science." Daly argued that "What is required to disprove the Hockey Stick is to demonstrate conclusively the existence of the Medieval Warm Period and/or the Little Ice Age as recorded in proxy and/or historical evidence from around the world."

Fortunately, a new study, by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics offers just what Daly requested. A review of more than 200 climate studies confirms the that both the medieval warm period and the little ice age were global, not regional phenomena. As astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas explains, "For a long time, researchers have possessed anecdotal evidence supporting the existence of these climate extremes. For example, the Vikings established colonies in Greenland at the beginning of the second millennium that died out several hundred years later when the climate turned colder. And in England, vineyards had flourished during the medieval warmth. Now, we have an accumulation of objective data to back up these cultural indicators."

The question of whether we're in hockey-stick mode, or hill-and-valley mode is critical, because it cuts right to the heart of the climate change debate. Is recent climate change abnormal enough to support the assumption that it must be due to human activity, or is recent climate change within the realm of natural variation? The former argument is used to support mandatory greenhouse gas reduction schemes, like the Kyoto Protocol, while the latter view is used to support arguments that our current best response to climate change is to build resilience, and get ready for a somewhat warmer environment.

As it becomes clear that recently observed climate changes are not unusual, the case for assuming human causation is greatly weakened. If the climate is changing due to forces other than human action, then greenhouse gas controls will do nothing to protect future generations confronting the impacts of climate change. UN scientists have acknowledged that there is no evidence implicating human activity with any warming before 1950, but they continue to attribute "most" of the warming since 1950 to human activity, and continue to clamor for immediate greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The world is in the second overtime period of the Kyoto Cup, with climate change alarmists pushing economically crippling greenhouse gas controls around the world with increasing desperation, while those holding climate change to be largely natural are fighting to preserve the economic freedom that provides the resources needed to secure health, safety, and environmental protection.

A lot is riding on the Kyoto Cup. If we waste our resources in controlling carbon emissions that are not responsible for causing recently observed warming, where are we going to get the resources to help those areas that will experience the negative impacts of a changing climate caused by Mother Nature? Let's hope that the UN breaks its hockey stick, and joins in a real exploration of how we protect future generations from a largely natural climate change.

Environmental Scientist Kenneth Green is Director of the Risk and Environment Centre at The Fraser Institute. His most recent publication is "Global Warming: Understanding the Debate," a text-book for junior high school students.

Copyright 2003, Tech Central Station


CO2 Science Magazine, 7 May 2003

In our Editorial of 19 Dec 2001, we describe the genesis of the idea that the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath have led to a great "greening of the earth" in response to the many biological benefits (enhanced biomass production, water use efficiency, etc.) provided by the historical-and-still-ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content that has resulted from the burning of massive amounts of coal, gas and oil, and we describe several studies that support that scenario.

Additional support for the concept is provided in our Editorial of 11 July 2001, where we describe an atmospheric CO2 depletion experiment conducted by Mayeux et al. (1997), which indicates that since the inception of the Industrial Revolution, wheat yields of the world have likely increased by something on the order of 60% due to the CO2-induced stimulation of vegetative productivity provided by the burning of fossil fuels. We also report how appropriate scaling and transference of this result to results obtained from the many CO2 enrichment experiments that have been conducted on other crops (reviewed by Idso and Idso, 2000) imply concomitant historical yield increases of 70% for other C3 cereals, 28% for C4 cereals, 33% for fruits and melons, 62% for legumes, 67% for root and tuber crops, and 51% for vegetables.

With respect to the more recent past, Hicke et al. (2002) assessed the net primary productivity (NPP) of North America over the period 1982-1998 using a carbon cycle model driven by a satellite-derived surface vegetation index, concluding that NPP increases of 30% or more occurred across the continent over that 17-year time span. From what is known about plant growth responses to atmospheric CO2 enrichment, we calculate that anywhere from a tenth to a quarter of that period's growth stimulation was likely due to the concomitant rise in the air's CO2 content, with the rest of the productivity increases likely attributable to factors such as increased precipitation during summer, increasingly intensive crop and forest management, increasing use of genetically improved plants, regrowth of forests on abandoned cropland, improvements in agricultural practices such as irrigation and fertilization, and regional warming that lengthened growing seasons in some areas.

A similar study was conducted by Bogaert et al. (2002), who utilized satellite-derived vegetation indices from July 1981 to December 1999 to assess vegetation responses to the different temperature changes experienced in North America and Eurasia over this slightly expanded period, during which Eurasia experienced an overall warming and North America exhibited a much reduced warming and, in the eastern United States, even a slight cooling. The scientists report that their results indicate significant greening trends in both parts of the world, but that "the greening trend in Eurasia is more persistent and spatially extensive than in North America."  These findings are precisely as they should be; for plants actually thrive on higher temperatures in an atmosphere of increasing CO2 concentration (Long, 1991; Idso and Idso, 1994; Cannell and Thornley, 1998).

Similar results had earlier been obtained by Zhou et al. (2001), as described in our editorial of 18 September 2002. They, however, attributed the lion's share of the North American and Eurasian greening to rising temperatures, essentially excluding CO2 effects from the mix.  This conclusion was challenged by Ahlbeck (2002), who promoted the air's CO2 increase as the primary cause of the proliferation of vegetation. In response to this challenge, Kaufmann et al. (2002) stuck by the original conclusion of Zhou et al. We tried to resolve the issue by noting that the North American response was about what would be predicted for CO2 effects alone, but that the Eurasian response was what one would expect from a warming-induced amplification of basic CO2 effects, which is, of course, what we continue to believe today.

Many of these issues were revisited in our Editorial of 6 November 2002, where we also reported on recent evidence of vegetation encroachment upon the southern edge of the Sahara Desert and described data from the Central and Western Sahel that suggest that plant productivity and coverage of the desert actually increased somewhat over the past quarter century, leading us to conclude that "in spite of drought and everything else -- natural or otherwise -- that may have combined to frustrate biospheric productivity throughout the course of the Industrial Revolution and beyond, the greening of the earth continues ... courtesy of the aerial fertilization effect and the water conservation effect of the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content."

Models that incorporate physiological responses of plants to changes in climate and atmospheric CO2 concentration predict much the same thing.  As described in our Editorial of 17 April 2002, for example, Cheddadi et al. (2001) developed and validated such a model and applied it to the Mediterranean region under present environmental conditions and those sometimes predicted for the future, i.e., an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 500 ppm and a mean annual temperature 2C higher than that of today. What did they find? In their own words, there was "a substantial southward shift of Mediterranean vegetation and a spread of evergreen and conifer forests in the northern Mediterranean." Why did it happen? The scientists say "the replacement of xerophytic woodlands by evergreen and conifer forests could be explained by the enhancement of photosynthesis due to the increase of CO2" and that "under a high CO2 [concentration], stomata will be much less open which will lead to a reduced evapotranspiration and lower water loss, both for C3 and C4 plants," adding that "such mechanisms may help plants to resist long-lasting drought periods that characterize the Mediterranean climate."

These findings are all impressive and constitute welcome news; but the biological effects of atmospheric CO2 enrichment do much more than simply promote vegetative prowess and help plants better withstand the negative extremes of weather and climate. They also tend to positively alter the nature of climate itself.

As described in our Editorial of 2 January 2002, Eastman et al. (2001) developed a hybrid atmosphere/vegetation model composed of linked meteorological and plant growth sub-models that they applied to the portion of the earth located between 35 and 48N latitude and 96 and 110W longitude for situations where (1) only the physical radiative effects of a doubling of the air's CO2 concentration are considered, (2) only the biological effects of a doubling of the air's CO2 concentration are considered, and (3) the physical and biological effects of a doubling of the air's CO2 concentration are considered simultaneously.

What did they find? With respect to the area-averaged and seasonally-averaged daily maximum air temperature, the strictly physical effects of doubling the air's CO2 content led to a temperature increase of 0.014C, while the biological ramifications produced a temperature decrease of 0.747C, for a net cooling of 0.715C. With respect to daily minimum air temperature, on the other hand, both the physical and biological responses to the doubling of the air's CO2 content produced temperature increases, resulting in a net warming of 0.354C.  Hence, during the day, when high air temperatures can be detrimental to both plant and animal life, the net effect of the simultaneous physical and biological impacts of an increase in the air's CO2 content acts to decrease daily maximum air temperature, which results in an alleviation of potential heat stress.  Likewise, during the night, when low temperatures can be detrimental to plant and animal life, the net effect of the simultaneous physical and biological impacts of an increase in the air's CO2 content acts to increase daily minimum air temperature, which results in an alleviation of potential cold stress. In addition, when considering day and night air temperature changes together, the mean daily air temperature range is reduced, leading to a less thermally-variable environment, which is less stressful to plants and animals.

Considered together, these several studies thus suggest that the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 content has been, and continues to be, a great boon to the biosphere, positively impacting both climate and biology.

Ahlbeck, J.R.  2002.  Comment on "Variations in northern vegetation activity inferred from satellite data of vegetation index during 1981-1999" by L. Zhou et al.  Journal of Geophysical Research 107: 10.1029/2001389.

Bogaert, J., Zhou, L., Tucker, C.J, Myneni, R.B. and Ceulemans, R.  2002.  Evidence for a persistent and extensive greening trend in Eurasia inferred from satellite vegetation index data.  Journal of Geophysical Research 107: 10.1029/2001JD001075.

Cannell, M.G.R. and Thornley, J.H.M.  1998.  Temperature and CO2 responses of leaf and canopy photosynthesis: a clarification using the non-rectangular hyperbola model of photosynthesis.  Annals of Botany 82: 883-892.

Cheddadi, R., Guiot, J. and Jolly, D.  2001.  The Mediterranean vegetation: what if the atmospheric CO2 increased?  Landscape Ecology 16: 667-675.

Eastman, J.L., Coughenour, M.B. and Pielke Sr., R.A.  2001.  The regional effects of CO2 and landscape change using a coupled plant and meteorological model.  Global Change Biology 7: 797-815.

Hicke, J.A., Asner, G.P., Randerson, J.T., Tucker, C., Los, S., Birdsey, R., Jenkins, J.C. and Field, C.  2002.  Trends in North American net primary productivity derived from satellite observations, 1982-1998.  Global Biogeochemical Cycles 16: 10.1029/2001GB001550.

Idso, C.D. and Idso, K.E.  2000.  Forecasting world food supplies: The impact of the rising atmospheric CO2 concentration.  Technology 7S: 33-55.

Idso, K.E. and Idso, S.B.  1994.  Plant responses to atmospheric CO2 enrichment in the face of environmental constraints: a review of the past 10 years' research.  Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 69: 153-203.

Kaufmann, R.K., Zhou, L., Tucker, C.J., Slayback, D., Shabanov, N.V. and Myneni, R.B.  2002.  Reply to Comment on "Variations in northern vegetation activity inferred from satellite data of vegetation index during 1981-1999" by J.R. Ahlbeck.  Journal of Geophysical Research 107: 10.1029/1001JD001516.

Long, S.P.  1991.  Modification of the response of photosynthetic productivity to rising temperature by atmospheric CO2 concentrations: Has its importance been underestimated?  Plant, Cell and Environment 14: 729-739.

Mayeux, H.S., Johnson, H.B., Polley, H.W. and Malone, S.R.  1997.  Yield of wheat across a subambient carbon dioxide gradient.  Global Change Biology 3: 269-278.

Zhou, L., Tucker, C.J., Kaufmann, R.K., Slayback, D., Shabanov, N.V. and Myneni, R.B.  2001.  Variations in northern vegetation activity inferred from satellite data of vegetation index during 1981-1999.  Journal of Geophysical Research 106: 20,069-20,083.

Copyright 2003.  Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change 


Scripps Howard News Service, 3 May 2003

By Henry I Miller

Americans are very risk-conscious. We buy muscular SUVs and spend billions on all manner of alternative medical therapies. Often, we learn about risks and remedies by relying on the media to interpret medical research and other data that purport to tell what is bad (or good) for us.

Tad Friend wrote in The New Yorker, "It often seems that there is only one show on television, "Dateline NBC48 Hours of 20/20, PrimeTime Thursday," and that this show endlessly repeats one basic story, "The Thing That Went Terribly Wrong." Enter SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, a new, potentially fatal atypical pneumonia that has no known treatment. Rest assured that as the war in Iraq fades from the headlines, SARS will supplant it.

The incidence and death toll of SARS continue to rise, and public health authorities are increasingly worried. The illness, a pneumonia caused by a previously unknown coronavirus, has stricken about 5,500 and killed over 350 worldwide, causing the World Health Organization to issue an unprecedented warning against unnecessary travel to parts of Asia where SARS is prevalent. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has activated its Emergency Operations Center to track the disease and coordinate a national response.

But we need to place SARS in perspective. Influenza, which kills, on average, about 30,000 Americans annually - in spite of widespread vaccination - is a vastly greater threat, but the media will seize on SARS' mysterious nature and the absence of any effective treatment. The death toll from SARS is zero in the United States, but after a month of 24/7 exposure to SARS on the cable networks, SARS will seem like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Media coverage does not exist in a vacuum. It merely amplifies the "emotional dimension" of peoples' worries about various public health and environmental risks, and those "feelings" then affect individuals' perceptions of risks. These emotional factors include, for example, whether the illness, activity or product is more, or less, voluntary, familiar, controllable, self-initiated, dreaded, immediate, detectable and "natural."

SARS should rank somewhere around the low middle on this scale: The disease is unfamiliar, transmissible through the air from person to person, caused by an invisible "germ;" has no treatment; and is potentially lethal. On the other hand, the virus is detectable, natural, not highly contagious, has caused no fatalities in this country, and has stricken mostly persons who have traveled recently in Asia and medical personnel who have cared for SARS patients.

Emotional responses to potential risk often are grossly distorted. In the risk-analysis community, there's an old joke about the swimmer at a beach on Lake Michigan who hears there's been a shark sighting; fearing an attack, he gets out of the water, finishes off his six-pack of beer, lights up a cigarette, and, helmet-less, zooms off on his motorcycle.

But more realistically, the ranking of risks by experts and consumers is often quite divergent. Among the risks most often overestimated by consumers are accidents, pregnancy and childbirth, abortion, tornadoes, floods, botulism, cancer, fire and homicide. (SARS is in this group.) Among those most often underestimated are smallpox vaccination, diabetes, lightning, stroke, tuberculosis, asthma and emphysema.

Another important aspect of the public perception of risks from various activities, products, technologies, and natural events is that in order to further their self-interest, a large coterie of activists and government regulators, abetted by a handful of scientists outside the scientific mainstream, relentlessly manipulate and terrify the public over hypothetical or minimal risks. It is important to understand the techniques they use to exploit the public's emotions.

One of these is information overload. At best, non-experts are likely to understand only a limited number of aspects of a risk analysis problem, so they are easily overloaded with data. Information overload of the public is a strategy often used by those who would elicit fear about or disparage new technology. (Or even to sell a new product: Think of the mind-numbing, repetitive, TV infomercials that sell acne cures and breast-enhancers.)

Second, a common response to fear and uncertainty about risk is a tendency to split those involved in controversy into opposite camps - us vs. them - and to project onto them conspiratorial and iniquitous intentions. This is especially easy when the "enemy" is painted as faceless, profit-hungry, multinational companies that will benefit handsomely from the sale of products. Psychologically, this is an attempt to reduce anxiety and re-impose certainty and clarity, but such mechanisms are unproductive because they polarize thinking, encourage one-sidedness and actually distort sound decision-making.

A third factor is a yearning for a return to purity and innocence. This romantic, puerile view, which reflects a desire to escape from complex realities and choices - like war and a sluggish economy - can give rise to a kind of puritanical, reactionary, anti-technological view of the world. Purity and simplicity - often erroneously considered synonymous with what is "natural," as opposed to synthetic, or technological - become desired ends in themselves, to the exclusion of other goals such as maximizing our choices and thinking quantitatively.

Finally, we are often victims of manipulation of our environmental and health anxieties. Most Americans consider themselves to be "environmentalists," but the hidden agenda of many of those who have attempted the "greening" of Western societies and governments - environmental organizations, certain political leaders, and a large segment of the media - appears to be their own self-interest. An unfortunate by-product is increasingly widespread acceptance of junk science that denigrates the scientific method and the fruits of technology.

Distortion of risk perception increasingly causes us to lose the ability to discriminate between plausibility and provability, between plausibility and reality. The answer? We need to learn more about what we don't understand, and to seek out the advice of genuine experts for guidance. And, oh, yes, to take with a large grain of salt the pronouncements of TV's talking heads.

Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at the Hoover Institution. He was an official at the FDA from 1979 to 1994

Copyright 2003, Scripps Howard News Service              


The Guardian, 5 May 2003,7369,950027,00.html

Jonathan Watts

Less than a fortnight before the day it predicts the world will end, Japan's latest high-profile cult rolled slowly and bizarrely away from a confrontation with the police yesterday, leaving behind sniggers, fears and a mountainside draped in white sheets.

Until recently, little was known about Pana Wave Laboratory - one of Japan's many small and mysterious sects - but the group has been given prominence in the past week, which has seen a standoff with the authorities and a raid by hundreds of riot police. 

The cult believes most of humankind will be destroyed on May 15, when an undiscovered 10th planet approaches   Earth, reversing the magnetic pole and causing floods and tidal waves. 

To prepare for the final day, a group of about 40 believers have formed a convoy of a dozen white vans that travel Japan's mountain roads in search of an area free from electromagnetic waves. 

The group ended a five-day standoff with police early on Friday when faced with the threat of arrest and has since moved camp twice to its current site, an unused road in the mountainous village of Kiyomi, 170 miles west of Tokyo. 

It says communists are using such waves to try to kill their ailing guru, Yuko Chino, a 69-year-old self-proclaimed prophet who is said to be suffering from cancer.  

In what it claims is a form of defence, followers dress from head to toe in white, drive white vans and cover the trees and roads around their camp in white sheets. 

While most Japanese have been amused at such antics, others have made alarming comparisons with the Aum Supreme Truth cult which was scorned for its outlandishness before stunning the country with a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground in 1995. 

Hidehiko Sato, the director-general of the national police agency, indicated that the authorities were assuming the worst about Pana Wave Laboratory. "The group is similar to Aum Shinrikyo in its early stages," Mr Sato said. "We're going to crack down on any possible illegal activities of the group." 

So far, however, the closest the cult has come to criminal activity is a couple of parking violations - for obstructing the view of its drivers by filling their vans' windscreens with white stickers. 

One follower claimed the cult had been trying to save Tamachan, a seal that has been in the news for making his home in a river near Tokyo. 

But any sympathy this might have generated was destroyed by a statement from the group that said: "People without the ears to hear will all face death." 

The Japanese media said the cult released a pamphlet last year urging members to "exterminate all humankind" if their leader died.

Copyright 2003, Guardian Newspapers Limited


The Financial Times, 1 May 2003

By Carola Hoyos in London

The US Energy Department on Thursday forecast the world will need more than 50 per cent more oil in 2025 than it does now, throwing into question governments' massive efforts to reduce the world's dependence on oil.

Most of the extra barrels will come from the Middle East, despite US, European and Asian governments' attempts to diversify their suppliers away from the volatile region. Opec's market share is expected to grow, with the cartel more than doubling its current 27m barrels a day production to 56m b/d.

Efforts to move to more environmentally friendly fuels are almost negligible, the department's annual report indicated. Total carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase 59 per cent by 2025, while the share of energy that comes from renewable sources - such as wind, water and solar power - will remain unchanged at 8 per cent...

The biggest growth in oil use will come from the transportation sector and the developing world - especially China, India and South Korea - which is forecast by 2025 to need 86 per cent as much oil as the developing world.

The share of natural gas in total energy consumption is expected to increase from 23 per cent to 28 per cent by 2025 as countries looking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions turn to the cleaner burning fuel to service their power plants.

Nuclear energy, which is expected to make up only 12 per cent of the world's electricity supply in 2025, will be on the losing side as developed countries continue to decommission reactors.

Copyright 2003, Financial Times

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