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January 08, 2004

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On global warming
Owen Hertzman (SFU News, Nov. 13) attempts to debunk some of Steven Pearse's comments (SFU News, Oct. 30) on global warming. In his letter, Hertzman refers to the latest report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) as a reliable authority. This is at odds with the opinion of the internationally respected editorial board of The Economist which criticizes (Nov. 8-14, 2003) the methodology employed by the IPCC. The panel forecasts greenhouse gas emissions by measuring current gaps in incomes between poor and rich countries and by estimates of how those gaps will close by the end of this century. They use badly and obviously biased methods for each of these separate estimates, to exaggerate the greenhouse gas emission problem.

The income gap between rich and poor countries is estimated using market based exchange rates rather than rates adjusted for differences in purchasing power, as is commonly done. This error makes the income gaps seem much larger than they really are. Then they forecast, even in their lowest emissions scenarios, the closing of the overestimated gaps at rates higher than have ever occurred, so that by the end of the century Americans are poorer on average than South Africans, Algerians, Argentines, Libyans, Turks, and North Koreans. The resulting gross overestimates of emissions forecasts are then used to attempt to put at stake hundreds of billions of dollars worth of global output.

In commenting further on the IPCC procedures, The Economist reports that the panel members are “drawn from a narrow professional milieu. Economic and statistical expertise is not among their strengths. Making matters worse, the panel's approach lays great emphasis on peer review of submissions. When the peers in question are drawn from a restricted professional domain - whereas the issues under consideration make demands upon a wide range of professional skills - peer review is not a way to assure the highest standards of work by exposing research to skepticism. It is just the opposite: a kind of intellectual restrictive practice, which allows flawed or downright shoddy work to acquire a standing it does not deserve.”

The Economist also states: “You might think that a policy issue which puts at stake hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of global output would arouse at least the casual interest of the world's economics and finance ministries. You would be wrong. Global warming and the actions contemplated to mitigate it could well involve costs of that order. Assessing the possible scale of future greenhouse gas emissions, and hence of man-made global warming, involves economic forecasts and economic calculations. Those forecasts and calculations will in turn provide the basis for policy on the issue. Yet governments have been content to leave these questions to a body - the IPCC - which appears to lack the necessary expertise. The result is all too likely to be bad policy, at potentially heavy cost to the world economy.”

Richard Holmes
Professor emeritus

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