- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) — The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of two wrap-ups for Feb. 4.


The Reason Foundation

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Back to space: NASA fights the future.

by Tim Cavanaugh

If there is an official mourning ritual developing for space shuttle disasters, a central part of it appears to be renewing the debate over whether manned space flight has a future. Saturday's tragic crash of the Columbia space shuttle has already revived this issue, which was fought over heatedly after 1986's Challenger disaster and has been part of the space program ever since NASA's rocket scientists were required (to a great degree against their will) to make human space flight a priority in the 1950s.

This time, the outcome doesn't appear to be in serious doubt. Although NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe has in the past expressed a healthy skepticism about costly flights of fancy like the seven-person International Space Station, he now hints at sending a shuttle up to retrieve the space station crew before June.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science Committee, pledges to continue manned missions, and 82 percent of the American public, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll taken Monday, agrees with him.

For a magazine that has supported private space exploration almost since Apollo 11 to claim the Columbia tragedy as an argument for privatization of manned space travel would be unseemly opportunism. So it's worth questioning whether manned space travel would actually increase or decrease under a private regime.

Our first clue comes in the form of the missions performed on Columbia's final voyage — a strictly scientific mission hailed as a great success for pure research. Among the major science projects handled during this flight (not counting the familiar zero-gravity tests on ants, spiders, and bees dreamed up by school kids in the United States, China, and Australia and performed on the shuttle for public relations purposes), there appear to be few if any items of burning import. According to this poignant, lyrical story from The Washington Post, the Columbia astronauts studied the effects of zero gravity on prostate cancer cells, produced flame balls ("the weakest forms of fire ever produced"), and examined how moss responds to light and gravity.

If these experiments were conducted by, say, the Department of the Interior or a federally funded college lab — that is, if they were removed from the context of national service and heroism space travel endows — they would be scoffed at as a waste of taxpayer dollars, recited in get-a-load-of-this tones by members of Congress who occasionally enjoy criticizing obscure and apparently valueless public science projects. (To anybody who accuses me of disrespecting the recently deceased, I throw the question back: Is expanding the base of knowledge about flame balls worth risking seven lives?)

To question the value of this kind of work is not to be skeptical about the future of human space travel, an inevitable and worthwhile pursuit. But it does raise the question of whether a space organization (or better, many space organizations) driven mainly by practical concerns would be in such a hurry to send people into space.

It's an open secret that NASA spends more than a third of its budget on manned space travel because seeing people in space boosts the agency's reputation, and to some degree (a degree I would argue is dwindling every year) keeps the public, and the politicians who decide on NASA funding, interested. NASA's more recent PR efforts — from all-event televised greetings to granting the aging John Glenn a return visit to outer space to having Buzz Aldrin deck an overly zealous Capricorn 1 fan — have borne a disturbing resemblance to the "Deep Space Homer" episode of "The Simpsons." It's probable that a private space agency, lacking a substantial PR motive, would handle in-flight science experiments, if it handled them at all, through robotics.

Boehlert acknowledged this in his comments after the crash, but fudged his response. "The counter-argument to putting people into space has been that you can get robots or machines to perform the experiments," he said. "But you can't get machines to replace the genius and judgment of a human being."

That's true, except that machines were never intended to replace genius or judgment. They replace, quite efficiently, the labor and physical risk-taking that human beings are better off avoiding.

But if private space agencies would eschew manned space travel for show purposes, there is ample reason to believe that they would do a wonderful job of serving people who, for personal, commercial, scientific or any other reasons, want or need to go into space.

At a host of American and international companies, at the Russian paid-travel program — in fact, everywhere except at NASA — space tourism is rapidly becoming a reality. Now that it is becoming a reality, we have to ask why it took so long. People have been going into space for more than four decades now. Forty years after the Wright Brothers' first flight, by contrast, commercial air travel was a dauntingly expensive but widespread and growing industry. While it's absurd to expect a comparable version of commercial space travel, it is fair to ask how NASA has welcomed an evolution of its responsibilities into the private sector.

Yuri Karash, a Space.com contributor with a flair for shedding light on petty space flight squabbles, notes that when Dennis Tito, the bazillionaire space tourism pioneer, reached the International Space Station, he received a frosty reception from the Americans on board. This is in keeping with the corporate culture at NASA, which critics have long accused of hostility toward privatization efforts.

This attitude may be changing under O'Keefe, President Bush's pick as NASA administrator, who has noticeably raised the temperature for private initiatives. But the mindset that space travel can only be taken seriously under government supervision is a stubborn one. Tellingly, many of the most vocal advocates of continued NASA manned flights are the most strenuous opponents of space tourism.

It would be a shame if the Columbia disaster became another excuse to slow down efforts to transition space travel from a NASA-directed adventure to a private enterprise. In addition to the obvious benefits of competition and decentralized invention, there is a subtle emotional advantage to a non-governmental space program. If Dennis Tito had been killed on his maiden voyage, if Lance Bass were someday incinerated on re-entry, or (hopefully) if irritated cosmonauts ejected that self-satisfied old fart in the Sony commercial into deep space without a helmet, we would not feel the need to treat these events as national tragedies, but would take them in stride and move forward as quickly as possible.

Ironically, NASA, with its commitment to manned space travel but its lack of enthusiasm for space travel by anybody who's not in NASA, is working against its own future.

(Tim Cavanaugh is the Web editor of Reason magazine)


The Heartland Institute

(HI is an independent, market-oriented think tank whose mission is to help build social movements in support of ideas that empower people. Such ideas include parental choice in education, choice and personal responsibility in healthcare, market-based approaches to environmental protection, privatization of public services, and deregulation in areas where property rights and markets do a better job than government bureaucracies.)

CHICAGO — Eight reasons why 'global warming' is a scam

by Joseph L. Bast

When Al Gore lost his bid to become the country's first "Environment President," many of us thought the "global warming" scare would finally come to a well-deserved end. That hasn't happened, despite eight good reasons this scam should finally be put to rest.

Similar scares orchestrated by radical environmentalists in the past — such as Alar, global cooling, the "population bomb" and electromagnetic fields — were eventually debunked by scientists and no longer appear in the speeches or platforms of public officials. The New York Times recently endorsed more widespread use of DDT to combat malaria, proving Rachel Carson's anti-pesticide gospel is no longer sacrosanct even with the liberal elite.

The scientific case against catastrophic global warming is at least as strong as the case for DDT, but the global warming scare hasn't gone away. Bush is waffling on the issue, rightly opposing the Kyoto Protocol and focusing on research and voluntary projects, but wrongly allowing his administration to support calls for creating "transferable emission credits" for greenhouse gas reductions. Such credits would build political and economic support for a Kyoto-like cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

At the state level, some 23 states have already adopted caps on greenhouse gas emissions or goals for replacing fossil fuels with alternative energy sources. These efforts are doomed to be costly failures, as a new Heartland policy study by Jay Lehr and James Taylor documents. Instead of concentrating on balancing state budgets, some legislators will be working to pass their own "mini-Kyotos."

Concern over "global warming" is overblown and misdirected. What follows are eight reasons why we should pull the plug on this scam before it destroys billions of dollars of wealth and millions of jobs.

1. Most scientists do not believe human activities threaten to disrupt the Earth's climate. More than 17,000 scientists have signed a petition circulated by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine saying, in part, "there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate." Surveys of climatologists show similar skepticism.

2. Our most reliable sources of temperature data show no global warming trend. Satellite readings of temperatures in the lower troposphere (an area scientists predict would immediately reflect any global warming) show no warming since readings began 23 years ago. These readings are accurate to within 0.01C, and are consistent with data from weather balloons. Only land-based temperature stations show a warming trend, and these stations do not cover the entire globe, are often contaminated by heat generated by nearby urban development, and are subject to human error.

3. Global climate computer models are too crude to predict future climate changes. All predictions of global warming are based on computer models, not historical data. In order to get their models to produce predictions that are close to their designers' expectations, modelers resort to "flux adjustments" that can be 25 times larger than the effect of doubling carbon dioxide concentrations, the supposed trigger for global warming. Richard A. Kerr, a writer for Science, says "climate modelers have been 'cheating' for so long it's almost become respectable."

4. The IPCC did not prove that human activities are causing global warming. Alarmists frequently quote the executive summaries of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known as the IPCC, a U.N. organization, to support their predictions. But here is what the IPCC's latest report, Climate Change 2001, actually says about predicting the future climate: "The Earth's atmosphere-ocean dynamics is chaotic: its evolution is sensitive to small perturbations in initial conditions. This sensitivity limits our ability to predict the detailed evolution of weather; inevitable errors and uncertainties in the starting conditions of a weather forecast amplify through the forecast. As well as uncertainty in initial conditions, such predictions are also degraded by errors and uncertainties in our ability to represent accurately the significant climate processes."

5. A modest amount of global warming, should it occur, would be beneficial to the natural world and to human civilization. Temperatures during the Medieval Warm Period (roughly 800 to 1200 A.D.), which allowed the Vikings to settle presently inhospitable Greenland, were higher than even the worst-case scenario reported by the IPCC. The period from about 5000 B.C. to 3000 B.C., known as the "climatic optimum," was even warmer and marked "a time when mankind began to build its first civilizations," observe James Plummer and Frances B. Smith in a study for Consumer Alert. "There is good reason to believe that a warmer climate would have a similar effect on the health and welfare of our own far more advanced and adaptable civilization today."

6. Efforts to quickly reduce human greenhouse gas emissions would be costly and would not stop Earth's climate from changing. Reducing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012 — the target set by the Kyoto Protocol — would require higher energy taxes and regulations causing the nation to lose 2.4 million jobs and $300 billion in annual economic output. Average household income nationwide would fall by $2,700, and state tax revenues would decline by $93.1 billion due to less taxable earned income and sales, and lower property values. Full implementation of the Kyoto Protocol by all participating nations would reduce global temperature in the year 2100 by a mere 0.14 degrees Celsius.

7. Efforts by state governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are even more expensive and threaten to bust state budgets. After raising their spending with reckless abandon during the 1990s, states now face a cumulative projected deficit of more than $90 billion. Incredibly, most states nevertheless persist in backing unnecessary and expensive greenhouse gas reduction programs. New Jersey, for example, collects $358 million a year in utility taxes to fund greenhouse gas reduction programs. Such programs will have no impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. All they do is destroy jobs and waste money.

8. The best strategy to pursue is "no regrets." The alternative to demands for immediate action to "stop global warming" is not to do nothing. The best strategy is to invest in atmospheric research now and in reducing emissions sometime in the future if the science becomes more compelling. In the meantime, investments should be made to reduce emissions only when such investments make economic sense in their own right.

This strategy is called "no regrets," and it is roughly what the Bush administration has been doing. The United States spends more on global warming research each year than the entire rest of the world combined, and American businesses are leading the way in demonstrating new technologies for reducing and sequestering greenhouse gas emissions.

The global warming scare has enabled environmental advocacy groups to raise billions of dollars in contributions and government grants. It has given politicians (from Al Gore down) opportunities to pose as prophets of doom and slayers of evil corporations. And it has given bureaucrats at all levels of government, from the United Nations to city councils, powers that threaten our jobs and individual liberty.

It is time for common sense to return to the debate over protecting the environment. An excellent first step would be to end the "global warming" scam.

(Joseph L. Bast is president of The Heartland Institute.)



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