A Fact vs. Fiction Retrospective:McCain-Lieberman Global Warming Bill

Sen. McCain: “The resulting 2001 national research report, which is delegated by the National Academy of Sciences, said the following in their summary, and I will ask my colleague just to comment on this. We need to keep coming back to this and coming back to this and coming back to this during this debate. Again, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, says greenhouse gases are accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that a significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability.”

FACT: Proponents of S. 139 referred repeatedly to this statement by the National Academy of Sciences, interpreting it as categorical proof that man-made emissions are responsible for global warming. This is misleading and false.

The NAS statement, which is vague and tentative, comes from the report’s summary, and is contradicted throughout the report, on several pages, indicating the lack of consensus on global warming in the scientific community.

As Dr. Richard Lindzen, an MIT climate scientist and member of the NAS panel that conducted the study, wrote in the Wall Street Journal just after release of the report in 2001:

    “CNN’s Michelle Mitchell was typical of the coverage when she declared that the report represented ‘a unanimous decision that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man. There is no wiggle room.’ As one of 11 scientists who prepared the report, I can state that this is simply untrue. For starters, the NAS never asks that all participants agree to all elements of a report, but rather that the report represents the span of views. This the full report did, making clear that there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends and what causes them.

On page 1 of the report the uncertainty surrounding climate change and global warming becomes clear: “Because there is considerable uncertainty in current understanding of how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warming should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments upward or downward.”

The report states further that, “A causal linkage between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.” Similar tentative, highly qualified conclusions are littered throughout the report on pages 4, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20.


Sen. Lieberman: “According to a recent Zogby poll, 75 percent of Americans support this legislation, this amendment, we are debating this evening.”

FACT: The Zogby poll provides no evidence of overwhelming support for S. 139 or Kyoto-style restrictions on energy use. Consider the questions: “Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman have proposed legislation to begin addressing global warming. If enacted, the bill would-for the first time-require major industries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, these industries would be required to reduce emissions to year 2000 levels within the next 7 years. How you feel about this proposal?” Not surprisingly, 75 percent “feel” pretty good about it, because the question says nothing about costs, who pays them, or what it means-both for consumers and the economy-to reduce emissions to 2000 levels.

Here’s another: “Addressing global warming by requiring major industries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can improve the environment without harming the economy. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree?” Again, many respondents thought that sounded plausible as an abstract proposition.

What might the reaction be to this question: “How would you feel about this legislation if you knew that, when fully implemented, it would increase your electricity bill by 46 percent?” Or: “How would you feel about this bill if you knew that, when fully implemented, it would impose a tax of $1,000 on every American household?” Or even: “Would you support the Kyoto Protocol if you knew it would impose substantial burdens on the poor, elderly, and minorities?”

Including costs in poll questions can significantly affect consumer attitudes. Take, for example, a recent poll by the New York Times. As the Times reported on October 31, “In the poll, conducted Sept. 15 and 16, 66 percent of the 675 adults surveyed said they knew at least something about global warming.” When asked whether they would support increasing CAF????? standards and pay “an extra 25 cents a gallon for gasoline to reduce pollution and global warming, 50 percent of those familiar with the issue said no, while 46 percent said yes.”

By the way, S. 139, when fully implemented, would increase gasoline prices, according to the Energy Information Administration, by 40 CENTS PER GALLON IN 2025.


Sen. Lieberman: “In a July 25 letter this year, the Business Council for Sustainable Energy endorsed the concept that market-based climate policies can reduce gas emissions while promoting technology-based solutions, reduce energy dependence, and bolster the competitiveness of U.S. industry.”

FACT: “Bolster the competitiveness” of U.S. industry? The Energy Information Administration found otherwise. EIA concluded that S. 139 would undercut the global competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers:

  • Manufacturers use about 40 percent of the nation’s natural gas. S. 139 would cause natural gas prices to increase 16 percent in 2010 and 46 percent in 2025 compared to the reference case.
  • The chemical, steel, and aluminum industries, EIA found, “participate in highly competitive international markets and would be expected to lose markets if domestic energy prices increase relative to foreign energy prices.”
  • Under S. 139, the value of shipments for manufacturers overall would decline by 1.5 percent. In particular, bulk chemicals would decrease by 2.6 percent, steel by 2.8 percent, and aluminum by 3 percent.

What do manufacturers say about S. 139? “Many manufacturers would face a huge competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace and could be forced to consider relocation abroad resulting in more lost jobs,” according to a statement by the National Association of Manufacturers. “Manufacturers cannot afford the higher prices or increased regulatory burdens that S. 139 would bring.”


Sen. McCain: “The point is we are going to hear–in fact, in the course of debate we will hear of a couple of scientists whose views were misinterpreted by the Senator from Oklahoma and by the Republican Policy Committee. We have their rebuttals and we will be going into those. They state–not I state–that their views were completely distorted.”

FACT: The “rebuttals” from the scientists absolutely DO NOT address or rebut Sen. Inhofe’s references to their work in his climate speech. Here are the points of contention:

Sen. Inhofe quoted Dr. Tom Wigley’s calculations that by 2050, the Kyoto Protocol would reduce global temperatures by about .07 degress C., an insignificant amount, and a finding confirmed by many other scientists, including Dr. James Hansen of NASA.

As Sen. Inhofe said, “Dr. Tom Wigley, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, found that if the Kyoto Protocol were fully implemented by all signatories it would reduce temperatures by a mere 0.07 degrees Celsius by 2050, and 0.13 degrees Celsius by 2100. What does this mean? Such an amount is so small that ground-based thermometers cannot reliably measure it.”

Dr. Wigley NEVER challenged that citation. In a letter to Sen. Frist and Sen. Daschle, Wigley wrote: “Senator Inhofe quotes my 1998 publication (in the journal Geophysical Research Letters) where I pointed out that adhering to the emissions reductions outlined in the Kyoto Protocol would have only a small effect on the climate system. What he fails to point out is that this analysis assumed that Kyoto was followed to 2010, and that there were no subsequent climate mitigation policies [emphasis in the original]. The point of the paper was to show that Kyoto must be considered as only the first step in a long and complex process of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels as a primary energy source.”

As is obvious, Sen. Inhofe quoted Wigley correctly; Wigley is saying that we must do more than Kyoto, because Kyoto isn’t enough. Notably, he doesn’t say whether that will have any more impact on global temperatures.

Second, Dr. Stephen Schneider also questioned Sen. Inhofe’s reference to his work, but, again, did not refute or directly address what Sen. Inhofe said. Here’s the quote from Sen. Inhofe’s speech:

    “Even Dr. Stephen Schneider, an outspoken believer in catastrophic global warming, criticized the IPCC’s assumptions in the journal Nature on May 3, 2001. In his article, Schneider asks, ‘How likely is it that the world will get 6 degrees C hotter by 2100?’ That, he said, ‘depends on the likelihood of the assumptions underlying the projections.’

    “The assumptions, he wrote, are ‘storylines’ about future worlds from which population, affluence and technology drivers could be inferred. These storylines, he wrote, ‘gave rise to radically different families of emission profiles up to 2100 – from below current CO2 emissions to five times current emissions.’

    “Schneider says that he ‘strongly argued at the time that policy analysts needed probability estimates to assess the seriousness of the implied impacts.’ In other words, how likely is it that temperatures would go up by 5.8 degrees Celsius, or 1.4 degrees Celsius, which represent the IPCC’s respective upper and lower bounds?

    “But as Schneider wrote, the group drafting the IPCC report decided to express ‘no preference’ for each temperature scenario.

    “In effect, this created the assumption that the higher bound of 5.8 degrees Celsius appeared to be just as likely as the lower of 1.4 degrees Celsius. ‘But this inference would be incorrect,’ said Schneider, ‘because uncertainties compound through a series of modeling steps.'”

Now, here’s what Schnieder said during an October 1 hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee: “Yeah, [Sen. Inhofe] quoting me as saying that there’s uncertainty is fine, that’s a correct quote. In fact, for the last IPCC, Richard Moss and I were somewhat unaffectionately dubbed the ‘uncertainty cops,’ because we wrote the guidance paper that was rather aggressive in insisting that, for policymakers to find statements from scientists useful, they wanted to have probabilities attached so that you’d know how to make resource decisions in the face of scarcity by knowing the relative likelihood of various outcomes.”

Dr. Schneider continued: “What [Sen. Inhofe] quoted, unfortunately, was not accurate. He quoted me as saying that the IPCC was not peer-reviewed.” Sen. Inhofe, of course, NEVER attributed this to Schneider, nor did he even make the claim that the IPCC was not peer-reviewed.


Sen. Lieberman: “A recent MIT study estimated that our amendment would annually cost less than $20 per household. That is not a lot to ask for stemming the warming of the planet and all the devastating consequences it could bring.”

FACT: The $20 figure comes from the optimistic end of a cost range estimated by MIT. But more importantly, a recent study by Charles River Associates, a non-partisan economic forecasting firm, found that the impact would be far more dramatic-a cost of between $350 and $1,300 per family per year through 2020.

The CRA model is superior to that employed by MIT. CRA factors in “anticipatory behavior” by consumers and businesses-or, in other words, the actions they will take anticipating future phases of emissions reductions. As we know, supporters of S. 139 want to implement phase II, and will likely push for greater reductions beyond that.

By 2010, the CRA study says, the cost of coal would rise between 51 and 140 percent; the cost of natural gas would rise 12 percent to 30 percent; oil, between 12 percent and 29 percent. For end users, electricity bills would jump between 7 percent and 17 percent. The costs would be far higher between 2010 and 2020. These increases undoubtedly pose severe constraints on economic growth.


Sen. Akaka: “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, a premier international working group, predicts an increase in air surface temperature. The IPCC estimates the increase would be between 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit from the year 1990 to 2100.”

FACT: The IPCC’s statistical methods and economic assumptions underlying this temperature range have been undermined by recent research. In reference to those assumptions, the Economist, in its November 6, 2003 issue, warned of the IPCC’s “dangerous incompetence.”

The Economist reported that the IPCC’s forecasts for various countries and regions of the world were hopelessly flawed. The magazine cited a major report by Ian Castles (former head of Australia’s Bureau of Statistics) and David Henderson (former chief economist of the OECD and visiting professor at Westminster Business School), which was highly critical of the IPCC’s statistical methods.

As the Economist wrote: “Disaggregated projections published by the IPCC say that-even in the lowest-emission scenarios-growth in poor countries will be so fast that by the end of the century Americans will be poorer on average than South Africans, Algerians, Argentines, Libyans, Turks, and North Koreans. Mr. Castles and Mr. Henderson can hardly be alone in finding that odd.”

And finally, “Who else but the IPCC, and the monolithic industry it leads, would make such a public spectacle of its ‘authority’ by constantly harping about `peer review’? Judging from the mess they have made of their economic forecasts, we have to question not only the economic competence of the peer reviewers (whoever they are –they are comfortably anonymous) but also the scientific competence of both the IPCC and the greenhouse industry.”


Sen. Akaka: “The European Union, EU, has recently adopted a mandatory cap and trade program with a carbon dioxide reduction target of 8 percent by the year 2012. The proposed amendment only calls for a stabilization of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The compliance costs of the EU greenhouse gas reduction program are expected to total less than 0.1 percent of their GDP, Gross Domestic Product. Therefore, the EU predicts a minimal effect on their economic growth even under a rigorous approach.”

FACT: This is misleading. Even if the cost estimates cited for the EU are true (Jos Delbeke of the EU, during his October 1 congressional testimony, cited the .1 percent figure but said it was tentative, and did admit that “the costs could be very high”), it’s no secret why the EU could meet an emissions target of 8 percent below 1990 levels with greater ease than others. An October 28 report from the General Accounting Office is instructive on this matter.

Using EIA data, the GAO found that, from 1980 to 2000, a growing U.S. economy pushed annual CO2 emissions up nearly 23 percent, in spite of our increasingly more efficient use of energy. During the same period, emissions in the United Kingdom declined 10 percent, and in Germany and France, 22 and 20 percent respectively. These reductions came about largely because of shrinking economies and an inability to compete with the United States and emerging Asian countries in the global market.

In short, emissions levels during the 90s were far lower in the EU than the U.S., meaning the EU has fewer, less economically costly reductions to make.

These statistics explain what EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom meant when she said, “[Global warming] is not a simple environmental issue where you can say it is an issue where scientists are not unanimous. This is about international relations, this is about economy, about trying to create a level playing field for big business throughout the world.”


Sen. McCain: “Glaciers in Glacier National Park have dwindled from 150 more than a century ago to about 35 today. Some scientists estimate that the park will have no glaciers in 30 years. An ice-dammed lake drained recently when the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, which a century ago rimmed the entire northern coast of Ellesmere Island, broke up along the coast of northeast Canada. NASA has confirmed that part of the Arctic Ocean that remains frozen year-round has been shrinking at a rate of 10 percent per decade since

FACT: What does this say about man-induced global warming? Not much. First, on November 26, the New York Times had some interesting insights into glaciers and global warming. Here’s what the Times had to say: “The glaciers on Kilimanjaro have been in retreat for at least a century, shrinking by 80 percent between 1912 and 2000. Although it is tempting to blame global warming, the most likely culprit is deforestation.

Second, scientists know very little about glacial activity, but what they do know suggests there are as many expanding glaciers as there are shrinking ones (this even happens with two glaciers within a few miles of each other) and that there is no universal trend either way. There are more than 160,000 glaciers on the planet. Scientists have good, long-term mass balance measurements on a comparative handful of them.

In the journal Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Braithwaite and Raper noted last year that “the temperature sensitivity of sea level rise depends upon the global distribution of glacier areas, the temperature sensitivity of glacier mass balance in each region, the expected change of climate in each region, and changes in glacier geometry resulting from climate change.” They concluded that “none of these are particularly well known at present,” because “glacier areas, altitudes, shape characteristics and mass balance sensitivity are still not known for many glacierized regions and ways must be found to fill gaps.” Filling in the gaps in scientific knowledge “will probably take a decade of work by many different groups in a number of disciplines.

Braithwaite also last year looked at mass balance trends in 246 glaciers worldwide from 1946 to 1995. He found that “there are several regions with highly negative mass balances in agreement with a public perception of ‘the glaciers are melting,’ but there are also regions with positive balances.” This holds true even within continents. In Europe, “Alpine glaciers are generally shrinking, Scandinavian glaciers are growing, and glaciers in the Caucasus are close to equilibrium for 1980-95.” Globally, adding all the results together, “there is no obvious common or global trend of increasing glacier melt in recent years.”


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