Carbon Offsets — Buyer Beware

By Steven Milloy
July 19, 2007, FoxNews.com

Congress began investigating the carbon offset industry this week. The inquiry could produce some “inconvenient truths” for Al Gore and the nascent offset industry.

Carbon offsets ostensibly allow buyers to expunge their consciences of the new eco-sin of using energy derived from fossil fuels. Worried about the 8 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted each year by your SUV? Similar to the indulgences offered by Pope Leo X in the 16th century, you can absolve yourself of sin by purchasing $96 worth of CO2 offsets – typically offered at $12 per ton of CO2 emitted – from offset brokers who, in turn, supposedly use your cash to pay someone else to produce electricity with low or no CO2 emissions.

Last year, offsets representing 23.7 million tons of CO2 were sold to businesses and consumers. Sounds like a lot of CO2 emissions were avoided, except when you consider that annual natural emissions of CO2 amount to hundreds of billions of tons.

The physical world aside, the CO2 offset marketplace itself is questionable – hence this week’s congressional hearing entitled, “Voluntary Carbon Offsets: Getting What You Pay For.” The hearing is particularly notable since it was called by a Democrat-run Congress, concerned that global warming alarmism is being jeopardized by dubious marketing and consumer rip-offs involving offsets.

A prime example of dubious offset marketing involves Al Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

The movie’s producers, Paramount Classics and Participant Productions, announced that they purchased offsets from broker NativeEnergy to compensate for 100 percent of the CO2 emissions from the air and ground transportation, hotel use, and production and promotional activities associated with the movie.

So how many offsets supposedly compensated for the CO2 sins of Al Gore and the dozens of individuals credited with producing a movie shot in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Beijing? According to a Web site release from NativeEnergy – which has since been removed – it only cost 40 tons of offsets (worth about $480) to make “An Inconvenient Truth” carbon neutral.

It’s an absurdly low figure given that the making of a 30-second television commercial can easily produce 50 tons and the movie “Syriana” – another NativeEnergy project – was supposedly offset with 2,040 tons worth of offsets.

When I called NativeEnergy to inquire about the 40-ton figure and the Web page that mysteriously disappeared, I was rebuffed and told that the company “does not share information about its clients without their consent.” This immediately made me wonder why the producers of “An Inconvenient Truth” either withheld or revoked their consent since so many of NativeEnergy’s other clients’ offset purchases are so prominently touted on the company’s web site.

NativeEnergy told me I would have to go through Paramount’s legal department to obtain the necessary consent. Despite repeated attempts, Paramount never returned my calls – quite odd given the Oscar-winning producers’ mission and audacious self-acclaim of pioneer status as the world’s first carbon-neutral documentary.

NativeEnergy still boasts on its web site about offsetting “100 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution” associated with “An Inconvenient Truth” – but there’s still no mention – let alone any “carbon accounting” – of what that “100 percent” actually represents.

There is reason to explore this issue further than just the spotlighting of more Al Gore-related hypocrisy – the climate alarmist community is even concerned about the offset racket.

As recently reported on the left-wing web site Grist.org (http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2007/6/19/123649/857), it’s worthwhile asking whether carbon offsets are offsetting anything at all.

According to the Grist article, NativeEnergy is selling offsets that are supposed to be helping to pay for wind-generated electricity supplied by the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC) to 52 Alaskan villages.

When the Grist reporter first interviewed an AVEC official, the money received from NativeEnergy was described as a “bonus” – a potential problem given that the agreement between AVEC and NativeEnergy requires that the offsets are “a significant contributor to economic viability and the seller’s efforts to build additional wind capacity.” AVEC and NativeEnergy have since backed off the “bonus” characterization, according to the Grist article.

While acknowledging the possibility of a slip of the tongue on the part of the AVEC official, the Grist reporter raised the salient point – presumably because of the black box-nature of CO2 offsets – that we will never actually know whether the offsets purchased through NativeEnergy were used to produce any wind power or reduce any CO2 emissions.

NativeEnergy sells offsets to the public at a cost of $12/ton. But how much of that price goes to reduce CO2 emissions versus NativeEnergy’s pockets? A recent CNNMoney article reported that NativeEnergy raised $250,000 to pay for 50,000 tons of CO2 reductions on South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux tribe reservation – that is, as little as $5/ton may go toward emissions reduction.

A gross profit margin of $7/ton for NativeEnergy is not bad, especially since there appears to be little follow-up and verification as to whether the consumer’s goal of reducing CO2 emissions are actually accomplished.

Finally, taxpayers provide additional support for projects in which NativeEnergy is involved – the Department of Energy contributed more than $448,000 to the Rosebud Sioux project. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave AVEC $2.5 million for wind turbines. A Capitol Hill staffer told me that the congressional inquiry would look into the possibility of “double-dipping” in the offset industry.

There’s an awful lot of consumer and taxpayer money flying around offset-related projects with little, if any, accountability. On one hand, it’s good that Congress, in the name of consumer protection, has commenced an investigation of “the efficacy and accounting of these unregulated commodities.” On the other hand, only time will tell if a Congress controlled by the global warming lobby will conduct a bona fide investigation that risks discrediting one of its major themes.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert, an advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Must-See Global Warming TV

By Steven Milloy
March 19, 2007, FoxNews.com

As Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” becomes mandatory viewing for many U.S. school children and nears becoming the “official truth” about global warming, it comes as most welcome news that an absolutely gripping film rebuttal has made its international debut, much to the chagrin of true believers in man-made climate change. Continue reading Must-See Global Warming TV

Can't See the Warming for the Trees

By Steve Milloy
April 15, 2007, FoxNews.com

If you need further evidence that hysteria is outpacing science in the global warming debate, consider the study published this week about Northern Hemisphere forests actually causing significant global warming.

Researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (April 17) that while tropical forests exert a cooling influence on global climate, forests in northern regions exert a warming influence — and it’s not just a trivial climatic effect.

Based on the researchers’ computer modeling, forests above 20 degrees latitude in the Northern Hemisphere — that is, north of the line of latitude running through Southern Mexico, Saharan Africa, central India and the southernmost Chinese island of Hainan — will warm surface temperatures in those regions by an estimated 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100.

Most of the warming is predicted to occur north of 50 degrees latitude — that is, north of the line of latitude running just north of the U.S. border with Canada, through Northern France, Northern Mongolia and Southern Siberia.

As the researchers explained in their media release, forests affect climate in three different ways: they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and evaporate water to the atmosphere (which increases cloudiness), both of which cool the planet.

Forests are dark and absorb sunlight (the “albedo” effect), warming the planet. In tropical forests, the net effect of these phenomena is cooling, while in Northern forests, the net effect is warming.

Although the media has largely ignored the study, it should give us plenty to think about.

First, it’s a stunning reminder that we still have a very steep learning curve when it comes to climate and how nature and man may impact it. In addition to this study, just over a year ago scientists discovered that plants emit as much as 30 percent of the annual global production of methane, the third most important greenhouse gas after water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Last fall, we learned that 5 years of cosmic ray activity could cause as much warming as 200 years of human greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s no wonder that alarmists want — and need — us to rush to judgment about manmade global warming before scientific discoveries dismantle their shaky polemic.

Next, the United Nations projects that global temperatures may rise anywhere from 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. So exactly how does the 10-degree warming caused by Northern forests fit into the picture? Could Northern forests be a (the) major contributor to the supposed problem of global warming?

Then there are the eco-activist groups that have been spreading misinformation about Northern forests in their campaign against businesses that manufacture or sell products made from timber harvested from subarctic, or Boreal, forests.

ForestEthics, for example, claims that “Because the Boreal holds more carbon than any other terrestrial landscape, its conservation is imperative. Degrading the Boreal landscape threatens to transform the Boreal from one of the few healthy ‘lungs of the planet’ into a net climate destabilizer.”

Just last month, ForestEthics issued a report, “Robbing the Carbon Bank: Global Warming and Ontario’s Boreal Forest,” that alleged, “The logging of intact forests is one of Canada’s least recognized drivers of global warming.”

Having completely overlooked the albedo effect in its report, ForestEthics seems to have the net climate effect of Boreal forests exactly wrong. But this hasn’t stopped it from successfully attacking a variety of businesses for selling products made from Northern timber.

ForestEthics has browbeaten a long list of brand-conscious companies into commitments not to use timber from Northern forests including Apple Computer, Dell Computer, Federal Express, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, Kinko’s, Lowe’s, Nike, Office Depot, Staples, Starbucks and many others.

ForestEthics’ most recent success came last December at the expense of Limited Brands, which was targeted with the group’s “Victoria’s Dirty Secret” campaign (Victoria Secret’s catalogues used paper made from Northern timber).

After caving in to ForestEthics, the Limited Brand’s Tom Katzemeyer said, “We’re hoping to raise the bar on the availability of environmentally friendly paper and pulp. …”

But how will Limited Brands’ “hope” ever overcome the Boreal’s albedo effect? If global warming is the dreaded catastrophe advertised by the enviros, then Northern forests hardly seem all that eco-friendly insofar as they may cause 10 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by 2100.

Finally, let’s not overlook the scam factor.

For years, global warming opportunists (aka “climateers”) urged consumers to compensate for their so-called “carbon footprints” by paying to plant trees. But as the facts slowly emerged about reforestation, the carbon-offset industry quietly backed off planting trees and moved on to other offset schemes.

One carbon-offset vendor, The Carbon Neutral Co., says on its Web site, “In those early days, the icon of a tree and its emotional appeal were critical to attract audiences. But, thankfully, the market has grown in sophistication — markedly over the last 4 years, and such obvious symbols are less necessary.”

Translation? Perhaps, “the facts have caught up with us and so we’ve changed shell games”?

Science is slowly, but similarly catching up with global warming alarmism. The only question is how the race will be won — with facts or fear?

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert, and advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Climate Change's Carnival Atmosphere

by Steve Milloy
February 6, 2007, FOXNews.com

The global warming carnival hits its full stride this week in preparation for the release of the long-awaited and much-hyped United Nations report on global warming. It’s unfortunate for the climateers that this week’s climate science doesn’t live up to all the hoopla. Continue reading Climate Change's Carnival Atmosphere

Asbestos Fireproofing Might Have Prevented World Trade Center Collapse

By Steven Milloy
January 18, 2007, FoxNews.com

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I suggested in this column on Sept. 14, 2001 that many lives could have been saved if asbestos fireproofing been used in the World Trade Center. Continue reading Asbestos Fireproofing Might Have Prevented World Trade Center Collapse

Eco-Intimidation Bypasses Scientific Debate

By Steven Milloy
January 11, 2007, FoxNews.com

Junk science traditionally has been pretty much of an in-your-face phenomenon. Activist-generated scary headlines that are followed by a hysterical rush to adopt new laws and regulations is standard fare.

But that may be changing. Consider the more insidious and subtle tactics of the San Francisco-based As You Sow Foundation. Continue reading Eco-Intimidation Bypasses Scientific Debate

New York City Bans Science

By Steve Milloy
December 07, 2006, FoxNews.com

The New York City Board of Health this week banned the use of trans fats by restaurants. The decision is directly traceable back to the “research” of Harvard University’s Alberto Ascherio and Walter Willett, the promoters-in-chief of trans fats hysteria.

Now that the Board has deemed their dubious trans fats research suitable for dictating public policy, New Yorkers ought to hope that Ascherio and Willett don’t press the Board to implement some of their other published research that is similar in “quality” to their trans fats work.

New Yorkers could, for example, see restaurants banned from serving potatoes, peas, peanuts, beans, lentils, orange juice and grapefruit juice. Ascherio-Willett reported an increase in the risk of heart disease among consumers of these foods in the Annals of Internal Medicine (June 2001). Although none of those slight correlations were statistically meaningful — and, in all probability, were simply meaningless chance occurrences — a similar shortcoming didn’t seem to matter to the Board when it came to their trans fats research.

Indian restaurants could be banned from cooking with sunflower oil. Ascherio-Willett once found that consumers of Indian food cooked in sunflower oil were up to 3 times more likely to suffer heart attacks than consumers of Indian food cooked in mustard oil (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2004).

Sure it was only one study and even they acknowledged the need for more research — but that didn’t stop Ascherio-Willett from recommending the switch in cooking oils.

Red meat might disappear, too.

Ascherio-Willett reported a 63 percent increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes associated with iron intake from red meat (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan. 2004). They didn’t bother to verify how much iron from red meat any of the study subjects consumed and, therefore, don’t actually have a firm basis for linking red meat consumption with the disease – but what the heck, they don’t really know the quantity of trans fats consumed by any of those study subjects either.

It’s not looking good for dairy products either. Ascherio-Willett reported in the Annals of Neurology (Dec. 2002) that consumption of dairy products was associated with an 80 percent increase in the risk of Parkinson’s Disease among men. Although they concluded at the time that the finding needed further evaluation, why should the Board wait for more research? That could take forever. If the inconsistent and contradictory trans fats research doesn’t require further evaluation, I can’t imagine why it would be necessary for dairy products.

Regular (sugar-sweetened) soft drinks ought to be history as well. Willett linked them with weight gain and diabetes in women (Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug. 25, 2004). It didn’t even matter that the same study also inexplicably linked diet soft drinks with a similar risk of diabetes.

It’s really odd that when their research inadvertently debunks itself and other food myths, almost no one learns of it. And that’s true for their trans fats research, as well.

The Board’s notice of its decision to ban trans fats tries to bolster its case by playing on popular misconceptions about saturated fat. The notice states that, “trans fat appears even worse than saturated fat.” The Board apparently isn’t familiar with the several Ascherio-Willett studies that fail to link saturated fat with heart disease and stroke.

The public’s 30-year long fear of saturated fat and the Board’s statement is, in fact, without a scientific basis. It’s simply astounding that the Board can get away with exploiting one debunked myth to help propagate another.

Just to show that not all the Ascherio-Willett research is about simply banning foods – after all, it is possible that at some point the public will tire of being nannied – the Board may want to consider requiring restaurant patrons to order caffeinated coffee with every meal. One Ascherio-Willett study reported that the risk of type 2 diabetes was reduced by a statistically significant 54 percent among men who consumed 6 or more cups of coffee per day (Annals of Internal Medicine, Jan. 6, 2004).

The Board might also want to mandate the daily consumption of pizza by men. Ascherio-Willett reported that men who consume more than 10 servings of pizza per week reduce their risk of prostate cancer by one-third (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dec. 1995).

It’s not that either coffee or pizza is a proven “health” food – far from it – but the Board should consider their great distraction potential. Just as the ancient Roman emperors distracted citizens with bread and circuses while taking away their freedoms, the Board could easily distract New Yorkers with coffee and pizza as it dismantles consumer choice in restaurants bit by bit.

Come to think of it, why is the Board’s trans fats ban limited to restaurants? What about grocery stores and convenience shops? If trans fats are so bad, why should you be able to purchase food in a store that is too dangerous to be served in a restaurant?

The Board’s trans fats ban has dramatically lowered the bar for scientific proof. It’s such a sad spectacle that the Board of Health ought to be renamed the Bored of Science.

Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert , an advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Cranberry Health Claims: A Thanksgiving Turkey?

By Steven Milloy
November 22, 2006, FoxNews.com

“Research shows benefits of cranberries” proclaimed an Associated Press headline this week – a gentle nudge, I suppose, just in case you forgot to make cranberries part of your Thanksgiving dinner. Continue reading Cranberry Health Claims: A Thanksgiving Turkey?

Day of Reckoning for DDT Foes?

By Steven Milloy
September 21, 2006, FoxNews.com

Last week’s announcement that the World Health Organization lifted its nearly 30-year ban on the insecticide DDT is perhaps the most promising development in global public health since… well, 1943 when DDT was first used to combat insect-borne diseases like typhus and malaria. Continue reading Day of Reckoning for DDT Foes?