GLOBAL WARMING -- A CORPORATE PERSPECTIVE
December 5, 1997
Does the evidence prove that global warming exists? Fredrick Palmer, CEO of Western Fuels Association, doesn't think so. He discusses global warming and his concerns about a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Tonight, we get a corporate perspective on global warming, the issue that representatives from more than 150 countries are now discussing in Kyoto, Japan. Fredrick Palmer is CEO of Western Fuels Association, an energy cooperative that supplies coal to electrical power plants in the Western U.S. Coal is a major source of the greenhouse gas emissions that the Kyoto conference is seeking to limit. Western Fuels helps fund scientific research skeptical of the dangers of global warming and also is lobbying against emissions caps.
Mr. Palmer, is there such a thing as global warming?
FREDRICK PALMER, Western Fuels Association: There is a concern over global warming. There are computer models that project catastrophic global warming fifty or a hundred years from now, but observations from satellites and weather balloons over the last twenty to forty years suggest that there is not human-induced global warming.
MARGARET WARNER: And that, of course, is the underlying premise on which Kyoto is based, that already thereís a discernible human influence on the climate.
FREDRICK PALMER: There has been a statement made by scientists with the U.N. to that effect, but the Rio treaty, itself, is not based on that statement.
MARGARET WARNER: Youíre talking now about the treaty--
FREDRICK PALMER: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: --from 1993, wasnít it?
FREDRICK PALMER: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: On which this conference is based.
FREDRICK PALMER: Right. The treaty is based on computer models, on projections from flawed, flux-adjusted computer models that predict apocalypse fifty to a hundred years from now.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me see if I can find if thereís some agreement. Now, the advocates of this theory say itís indisputable that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are up 30 percent since the pre-industrial age.
FREDRICK PALMER: Correct.
MARGARET WARNER: And that the temperature of at least the Earth is one degree higher in the last hundred years.
FREDRICK PALMER: Iíll accept that.
MARGARET WARNER: You do?
FREDRICK PALMER: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: But then what you donít accept is what, the computer projections showing that this is going to continue and accelerate?
FREDRICK PALMER: In the last hundred years weíve come out of a little ice age. And the middle of the 19th century was the end of the little ice age. We donít want to return to the little ice age. The Vice President went to Glacier National Monument, stood in front of a glacier that has been melting for 100 years in a part of the country thatís had no warming, according to the ground-based records there since 1900, and said this is being caused by humans. Thatís not right. Itís being caused by the fact that weíre coming out of a little ice age.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that any of the increase in temperature weíve seen is caused by humans?
FREDRICK PALMER: I personally think that if there is any impact by humans thus far, itís been very, very small. Most of the warming that has been detected since the 19th century was before the buildup of greenhouse gases. Since the buildup of gases in the early 1950's, weather balloons say very little warming since 1979, when the satellites have been up, thereís actually been global cooling. And satellites are the best measurement of temperature for the globe.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, I donít want to get too scientific here, or technical, but are you talking about the difference between the temperature on the actual surface of the Earth and whatís measured up in the atmosphere?
FREDRICK PALMER: Yes. The ground-based temperature record shows some warming, but the ground-based temperature record is captured in cities where the thermometers are in the middle of concrete and glass, tainted by the urban heat island effect. Also, large parts of the globe, the oceans and the deserts, are not representative of ground-based temperature records. They use the same cities that have the urban heat island effect as a proxy for oceans and deserts. So the ground-based records are not the records we need to look at. Itís the satellites.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Last scientific question. The overall theory of global warming is that because you have this buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, youíre trapping heat.
FREDRICK PALMER: Correct.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think--and you accept that there is some increase in those gases--
FREDRICK PALMER: There is increase.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying then you donít think that has any impact on the temperature of the Earth?
FREDRICK PALMER: I think over time there will be a modest impact on the temperature of the Earth. I think there will be some modest warming. What is ignored by the scientific community that is behind the treaty by the administration, by Carol Browner, who talks about CO2 as a pollutant, is that itís not a pollutant. CO2 is benign limiting nutrient that for plants, agriculture, and forests, a buildup of greenhouse gases of CO2 in the atmosphere is something that should be welcomed and not feared. The impact will be benign in that we will have more productivity in agriculture; we may have some modest warming, but warm is good; ice ages are bad.
MARGARET WARNER: So thatís one reason, obviously, that your industry is opposed to the emissions caps that the administration--
FREDRICK PALMER: Thatís is correct.
MARGARET WARNER: --and other industrial countries want to see.
FREDRICK PALMER: Right. This is a bad treaty; itís a bad theory; and itís a bad idea.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the administrationís proposal--and there are many on the table--is actually to roll back worldwide these emissions to 1990 levels. What would that cost, do you think, for the United States?
FREDRICK PALMER: It would take an equivalent of a carbon tax. Actually, theyíre talking about emissions trading of two to three hundred dollars per ton of carbon. The studies that I have seen that I think are persuasive suggest between the year 2001 and 2020 weíd lose 3.3 trillion dollars in overall economic growth. The average family would have a present cost to them of $30,000. They would have a present value cost. They would have reduced income over time of $1500 to $2000. Their energy bills would go up 50 to 100 percent. Soccer moms would get out of mini-vans; truckers would be put out of business. The American economy depends upon cheap, affordable electric energy and fossil fuels. And this treaty is aimed at taking that away from our economy.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, your opponents, those on the other side, say every time new environmental regulations are proposed, the industry always says the sky is falling, itís going to cost a fortune, and then--whether itís clean air or clean water--in the end those really doomsday scenarios arenít borne out and, therefore, that these projections arenít particularly credible. What do you answer to them?
FREDRICK PALMER: Well, I live--or I do business in parts of the country outside of the beltway, outside the big cities. I promise you that the American people outside of the big population centers depends upon fossil fuels for their way of life. I promise you if you make fossil fuel scarce and expensive, you will hurt farmers, small business, people on fixed income, lower middle class people, poor people. You will devastate large parts of the country.
MARGARET WARNER: But what theyíre saying is it doesnít have to be that much more expensive. For instance, they say the industry is not really taking into account the kind of genius of American technology; that the U.S. becomes a leader in environmental technology. Thatís why earlier environmental changes havenít been as expensive as originally feared.
FREDRICK PALMER: The genius of the American economy has been produced by the availability of affordable fossil fuels, affordable energy. The genius of the American economy is to take these fossil fuels and to convert them into electricity, for example, to power our factories, to give us the quality of life that we enjoy, to let you and I sit here tonight in this magnificent room with these lights on, to have this conversation. This is a positive good. Fossil fuels are good and not bad. We want to use more of them. We want to use them cleanly and efficiently, but more of them. They are trying to prevent a speculative bad fifty or a hundred years from now by eliminating something that is a positive good today, and we say that is profoundly wrong.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, and they say on the speculative bad, they acknowledge that we donít really know how bad, in their view, it would be but that because carbon dioxide, once itís up in the atmosphere, really doesnít disappear for a hundred years or more, that by the time the buildup gets enough--high enough to prove it--itís almost too late to do anything, or it will be incredibly expensive. I mean, theyíre essentially saying itís their bet against your bet. And I guess what Iím asking, why should the American people think you all are right about the future versus them?
FREDRICK PALMER: Well, we have to live our lives based on whatís in front of us. We live our lives based on what we know, what we can see. We have to go by scientific observations. What they--they talk a lot about the precautionary principle in terms of changing our lifestyle today to prevent something their flawed computers say might happen fifty or a hundred years from now. The true scientific precautionary principle is this: All of the scientists that I have talked to agree that we are in-between ice ages. I debated a man on climate change in Florida last week. He said, unless we do something, weíll have another ice age. The only thing you can do to prevent another ice age is to put more CO2 in the air. The true precautionary principle is to let industrial evolution of humans continue on the path that it is in, to let our lifestyles develop so we have longer lives, more wealth, our health is better by utilizing fossil fuels. So we reject the theory. Itís a flawed, bad theory.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thanks, Mr. Palmer, very much.
FREDRICK PALMER: Thank you. I enjoyed it.