Friday, February 11, 2000

Tricks, and the environment

This week we read in the papers about a report to the British Parliament by the London Geological Society. In it they issued an alert over the real possibilities of a mega volcano eruption that would cause global cooling with dramatic consequences. Why is that hot volcanoes lava emission cools, while oil emissions are supposed to warm? Is someone taking us oil-producers for a ride? 

During the week ending January 21, one liter of premium unleaded gasoline was sold at the pump in England for US$ 1.20. Out of this amount, 19cts went to the supplier, 5cts went to the distributor and 95cts went towards various taxes.

It is evident that an oil producing country like Venezuela is severely affected by these taxes which, by the way, amount to 500% of what the producer receives. If these taxes were eliminated, both prices as well as the demand for oil would be much higher.

There can be no doubt that the only reason for these discriminatory taxes is a healthy fiscal appetite. However, with an almost subtle hypocrisy, these taxes are normally explained as only being related to environmental protection.

When we observe the poverty in our country, which would at least be reduced by increased oil income, any person preoccupied with the environment, may harbor a natural conflict. Up to this moment, I have solved my own conflict by telling myself that it is logical to have high prices in an effort to minimize consumption of oil, but that it is illogical and unjust that the margins produced by the same should only accrue the taxman in the rich consumer nations.

I say ‘up to this moment’ because I just read a book written by Dr. S. Fred Singer called Hot Talk Cold Science which certainly questions current environmental credos.

Singer's credentials as an expert in environmental matters seem to be impeccable. He has a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton and is professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia. He was the first director of the US Weather Satellite Service, Director of the Center for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and Chief Scientist for the US Department of Transportation.

In his book, Singer spells out arguments, that wipe out any justification for these taxes on environmental bases. Among other things, he says:

"The gap between the satellite observations and existing theory is so large that it throws serious doubt on all computer-modeled predictions of future warming"

"Even if global warming were to occur, it would most likely lead to positive benefits overall rather than to disbenefits."

"No credible attempt has been made to define what constitutes a dangerous level of CO2; thus the goal of the U.N. Climate Treaty is arbitrary." 

In relation to the concentration of CO2, Dr. Singer details methods that in his opinion are much more feasible in economic terms than those solely based on the reduction of emissions. These methods are based on sequestering the CO2 from the atmosphere, either through reforestation or the fertilization of oceans, the latter option being the one favored by Mr. Singer. 

Dr. Singer is not alone in his appreciation. In his book he cites the Leipzig Declaration which came out of a 1995 conference which was attended by almost 100 experts. This Declaration states "In a world in which poverty is the greatest social pollutant, any restriction on energy use that inhibits growth should be viewed with caution. For this reason, we consider carbon taxes and other drastic control policies ' lacking credible support from the underlying science - to be ill advised, premature, wrought with economic danger, and likely to be counterproductive".

Why, then, do such great discrepancies exist between the opinions described above and those of other scientists with similar recognized careers? Singer puts forward his explanation: "Nearly all research is funded by government; the rationale for expending taxpayer's money is to prevent hazards to the general population. Funding agencies therefore do not look kindly on research proposals that could demonstrate environmental hazards to be not serious or even non existent."

As a citizen of an oil producing country, affected by this evident injustice, I would be more inclined to advance the possibility that the financing of such environmental studies is more motivated by the need of justifying the taxes levied on oil. In this sense, many of the environmentalists are probably unknowingly soulmates of the famous taxman, the Sheriff of Nottingham, who in Robin Hood's days taxed the poor to give to the rich - i.e. the government.

In a country like ours, so dependent on its oil income, I am surprised at the absence in our universities and other centers of investigation of courses on environmental studies which are so necessary in order to minimize damage caused us in the name of the environment by hypocritical governments of the developed world.