Saturday, March 7, 2009

Global Warming Skeptics Sponsor Their Own Climate Change Conference

It's called, The 2009 International Conference on Climate Change and bills itself as "the world’s largest-ever gathering of global warming skeptics." The conference, whose theme is “Global warming: Was it ever really a crisis?,” runs from Sunday, March 8 and concludes Tuesday, March 10 in New York.

Produced by The Heartland Institute and 57 (mostly conservative leaning) co-sponsoring organizations, the conference is "devoted to answering questions overlooked by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change." [Oddly enough, a scan of the program didn't turn up anything that hadn't already been covered by the IPCC.] According to the Heartland Institute's press release for the event, "the IPCC concluded global temperatures may already have reached crisis proportions, and that human activity was a key driver in raising temperatures, primarily because of the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere." Not surprisingly, the participants of this conference say they will present "a substantially different viewpoint."

The Heartland Institute indicates that there will be over 70 speakers at the event, including as you might expect some of the usual skeptics like S. Fred Singer, Willie Soon, Lord Monckton, etc., as well as the founders of various conservative and skeptic think tanks like Fred Smith of the Competetive Enterprise Institute and Joseph D'Aleo of ICECAP. The most notable speaker is the Honorable Vaclav Klaus, President of the Czech Republic (and currently President of the EU by virtue of the rolling 6-month EU presidency structure). Trained as an economist before going into politics, President Klaus has expressed his dissatisfaction with various scientific pursuits, including global warming and the new REACH chemical control legislation in Europe.

It will be interesting to see what science might come out of the conference and whether it impacts the consensus that human activity has contributed to the increased rate of global warming.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

REACH Hits Malaysia - Chemical Control Meets Free Trade?

A work plan is being developed by a group trying to implement a Malaysian version of Europe's Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) program. The work group includes the Minister of International Trade and Industry (MITI), the Chemical Industries Council of Malaysia (CICM), and other relevant government agencies.

The MITI Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, warned that any legislation implemented for health and environment reasons should not impede the free flow of trade. This has been a major concern for companies both inside and outside Europe regarding REACH. Mr. Yassin insisted that "such regulations should be simple, harmonised and not incur additional expenses to the cost of doing business in the industry."

The goal, therefore, is to assist small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in complying with the European Union-REACH regulation and the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). While larger companies often have significant resources and in-house experts, SMEs often have quite limited resources.

In his prepared remarks, which were read by the deputy minister of MITI at the International Conference on Chemical Control Legislation (ChemCon Asia 2009) being held in Kuala Lumpur, he said that the world is increasingly becoming smaller due to globalisation and what affects the chemical industry in Europe will have a direct and indirect impact on it in Asia and vice versa.

Malaysia is the most recent in implementing a series of changes in the chemical control field as REACH takes hold in Europe, Canada is well into evaluating its inventory of existing chemicals, Japan adjusts its chemical control legislation, and the US begins its hearings looking at how to "reform TSCA."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

“Here at the Secret Science Club, all scientists are rock stars”

So announces Margaret Mittelbach, as she introduces that evening’s headliner: a microbiologist from Columbia University, who will talk about vertical farming within skyscrapers to create sustainable ecocities.

Ooh, aah...

This is the monthly meeting of the Secret Science Club.

According to a Christian Science Monitor article dated today, "neuroscientists, marine biologists, astrophysicists, paleontologists, and genomics experts have all taken a bow at the Secret Science Club since it started three years ago." Founded by Mittelbach, fellow natural history writer Michael Crewdson, and Dorian Devins, a radio producer, the Secret Science Club began as a publicity event to launch their first book, “Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger.” The original event was "a wacky taxidermy contest," but it went so well that it grew into "a club where people could talk about science in an informal setting."

But the Club is not alone, as it belongs to a growing international community of “science cafes” (or “cafe scientifique” in Europe where they got their start 10 years ago) "where scientists and ordinary citizens can have a lively discussion in a social setting far from the lecture hall or laboratory."

On the whole, I think science clubs are a great idea. In fact, I might start one of my own.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Japan Amends Chemical Control Law

I've documented efforts by Europe, the US, and Canada to change their chemical control laws and/or review their Inventory chemicals. Well, now Japan is getting in on the act. As it has elsewhere, public interest in ensuring the safety of chemical substances has been on the rise in Japan. At the global level, agreements such as the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) have pushed to minimize adverse effects of chemicals on human health and the environment by 2020. Other regional and international efforts have also put pressure on individual countries to enact changes to their long standing chemical control laws.

So at the end of February 2009, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment issued an announcement that a bill to amend the had been submitted to the 171st ordinary session of the Diet. This bill is aimed at introducing a comprehensive control system to minimize the adverse effects of chemical substances on human health and the environment and at ensuring the international consistency of Japanese regulations on chemicals.

The main changes include:

• Companies that have manufactured or imported any chemical substance, including an existing one, in excess of the specified amounts are newly obliged to notify applications containing quantity and other information to the government.

• Upon receipt of those applications, the government screens and prioritizes substances subject to detailed risk assessment. For these substances, the manufacturers/importers may be required to submit information on hazardous properties for government evaluation.

• Based on the evaluation, the government decides whether to regulate the manufacture/used of the substance and its product, etc.

The Japanese amendments reflect changes recently made in Canada (Chemical Management Plan), Europe (REACH), and potentially the United States, which began hearings last week aimed at reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mixed Responses - Scientists in US Happy, Scientists in Canada Not So Much

Most scientists didn't miss the obvious reference to reinvigorating and respecting science in President Obama's inauguration speech. The Kansas City Star newspaper had a nice article yesterday about this:

Researchers welcome Obama’s emphasis on science by Malcolm Garcia

In contrast, researchers in Canada have had a slightly different response to science budgets.

Researchers fear 'stagnation' under Tories by Carolyn Abraham

What do you think?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Unintended Consequences - Ethanol is Up/Ethanol is Down

News came this week that USEPA Administrator Lisa Jackson won't decide for several months the tricky issue of how much ethanol should be blended into gasoline. EPA is in discussions with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Transportation, who are coordinating on the possible raising of the amount of ethanol blended in the US supply, all while trying to agree on a policy for regulating vehicle emissions.

Why is this important? Well, the current US standard is that ethanol can be 10% of the gasoline mixture (whereas in Brazil the mandate is 25% ethanol, mostly from sugar cane). Current law in the US requires that 11.1 billion gallons of biofuels (mostly corn-based ethanol) must be used this year in accordance with the Renewable Fuels Standard. But ethanol demand has fallen because the high prices of gasoline made people drive less, which in turn helped to decrease the price of gas. Add in the large subsidies given to ethanol producers to ramp up production a year or two ago and the now the worldwide recession, and ethanol producers are suddenly operating at about 85% capacity and struggling to pay the bills. One company, VeraSun Energy Corp., the second largest US ethanol maker, actually filed for bankruptcy protection late last year. Raising the ethanol standard would help keep ethanol use high even as fuel consumption drops.

Meanwhile, other issues have been raised as to whether corn-ethanol is a good fuel option or not. The increased use of corn for fuel rather than food had wide-ranging impacts not only on direct costs of eating corn, but also on the costs of beef, milk and other foods that rely on corn as feed. Given that ethanol actually reduces fuel-economy, and the technological difficulties of fuel delivery systems (e.g., corrosion of iron parts, internal wear, and spark generation), some have argued that it is not a viable alternative to gasoline. Yet others point to its advantages as a renewable resource and note that non-food vegetation (i.e., cellulosic) ethanol is being developed, as will innovations to automobile and other fuel delivery systems. All innovations necessitate further downstream innovations (and subsequently, jobs), they say.

What this means, of course, is that we need to be aware of the interconnectedness of our technologies. Changes to one can impact others. So merely switching from one fuel source to another isn't enough - we need to be aware of all the other impacts that such a switch might necessitate.