Special Report

Jesse is quoted in the Wall Street Journal, “Auto Industry Feels Threatened; Is Heat Essentially Unhealthy?”

Special Report: Global Warming

Auto Industry Feels Threatened; Is Heat Essentially Unhealthy?

October 19, 1999
Wall Street Journal

Car Wars

Perhaps no single business feels as threatened by the attack on greenhouse gases as the auto industry. It acknowledges that vehicles contribute a quarter to a third of man-made CO2 emissions in the U.S.

The auto industry has successfully lobbied Congress to hold off increasing fuel-efficiency standards for another year. Although environmentalists have pushed to raise the standards to fight global warming, major U.S. auto makers say the public doesn’t want to drive econo-boxes on wheels. “In this market, fuel economy isn’t a driving factor to our customers,” says John Williams, leader of General Motors Corp.’s global-climate issues team. Two of GM’s most fuel-efficient models, the Chevy Metro and the EV1 electric car, have sold poorly.

The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, a government-industry group working on new technologies, hopes to design by 2004 a midsize car that gets 80 miles a gallon — about three times the mileage of today’s average car.

Meanwhile, the industry continues to oppose measures to reduce CO2 emissions contained in the Kyoto accord. They “would go right to the soul of customer choice and vehicle utility,” says Reg Modlin, director of environment and energy planning for DaimlerChrysler AG’s U.S. arm. “Customers aren’t going to choose to pay more money for an environmentally sensitive product,” he says.

Is Heat Unhealthy?

Experts can’t agree whether rising temperatures will make the world wetter or drier. Either way, the potential effects on humans’ health are likely to be considerable.

The 1995 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes says possible effects could include a rise in malaria, dengue fever, encephalitis and other diseases that flourish in tropical climates. But with most of the world’s top pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies immersed in research for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis, there isn’t much interest in these diseases.

On a warmer planet, intense heat waves alone, according to the report, are by 2050 likely to result in increases in death by cardiac and respiratory ills of several thousand a year — especially in urban areas and among the elderly and very young.

One question that hasn’t drawn much research is whether a warmer planet could also bring some benefits to public health. Influenza and other respiratory tract viruses, for example, love cold weather.

And some infectious-disease and ecology scholars think the doomsayers fail to recognize what technology and economic well-being will do for man’s ability to control infectious disease. Jesse Ausubel, head of the program for human environment at New York’s Rockefeller University, says the spread of electricity, refrigeration and water purification are likely to offset many of global warming’s negative consequences.

In turn-of-the-century New York City, he notes, average temperatures were probably cooler than now, yet cholera and diptheria outbreaks were common.

Cool Double Dip

Looking for a pure play on global warming? Try the air-conditioner industry, which gets an unusual double benefit.

The warmer it gets, the more air conditioners people buy. And the more air conditioners they buy, the warmer it gets: Air conditioners, after all, are major consumers of the electricity produced by utility companies that burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases.

Sales of central air conditioners are at record levels. Shipments of central-air units and heat pumps were running 7% ahead of last year in the first six months of 1999, according to the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute, of Arlington, Va. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, of Washington, expects shipments of in-room air conditioners also to come in about 7% ahead of last year.

Glowing Report

The nuclear-power industry, a long time living down “The China Syndrome,” finally has something to brag about: Whatever the long-term risks of using radioactive uranium as a fuel source, air pollution definitely isn’t one of them.

The industry is eager to be seen as a respecter of the environment through what it calls “emission-free electricity.” It is spending $2 million on an ad campaign to get the message out to policy makers that continued operation of the nation’s 103 nuclear plants is essential if America is to meet tighter air quality standards.https://

“Fresh Air to Fresh Food … Nuclear makes it happen,” reads one of three ads from the Nuclear Energy Institute of Washington, D.C. The ads ran in national media as recently as last month. They extol the virtues of nuclear technology when used for power generation, food irradiation, X-ray machines and space exploration.

“We think we’ve got a compelling message,” said Scott Peterson of the Nuclear Energy Institute.

A Green Oil Baron?

Royal Dutch/Shell Group was one of the last companies anyone expected to jump on the global-warming bandwagon. But in the fall of 1998, just four months after being named chairman of the oil giant, Mark Moody-Stuart unveiled far-reaching plans to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

The company first parted ways with Big Oil’s mainstream when it quickly endorsed the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for world-wide reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. Mr. Moody-Stuart then went a step further: Shell not only endorsed Kyoto, it committed itself to exceed the treaty’s requirements every year through 2010.

Kyoto calls for nations to cut world-wide emissions by 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012. Shell promised to reduce its greenhouse gases by 10% below the 1990 baseline by 2002.

Mr. Moody-Stuart, a former geologist and the scion of a sugar-growing family in Antigua, is starting to talk like a green boss. “The demands of economics, of the environment and of contributing to a just society are all important for a global commercial enterprise to flourish,” he said in a recent speech.

He has been instrumental in shaping the company’s global-warming policies for most of this decade. At the center of Shell’s outlook is its “50-50” energy scenario: By 2050, as much as 50% of the world’s energy needs could be met by renewable sources, such as solar power, biomass and wind. And so Shell has moved into renewables, at least as much for potential profits as out of environmental concerns.

In 1997, Shell set up Shell Renewables as a core business, with plans to invest $500 million over five years. Mr. Moody-Stuart has kept to that budget — even during last year’s downturn in oil prices, when he slashed expenditures on oil and gas exploration. Earlier this year, Shell established its Shell Hydrogen unit to enter into the promising world of fuel cells. Next month, Shell will open a solar-panel plant in Germany that will eventually produce about 13 million solar cells annually, to make it the world’s largest.

Shell is beginning to win recognition for such initiatives — just as it earned brickbats for earlier efforts to dump the Brent Spar oil platform into the North Atlantic and for its operations in Nigeria. In September, an international business and environmental magazine, Tomorrow, gave Mr. Moody-Stuart an environmental leadership award and said he had “dared to think the unthinkable.” In the oil industry, that is to consider a future beyond fossil fuels.

Silver (Coat) Lining

Warmer winters could encourage some overdue innovation by outerwear makers and retailers. And it already serves as a nice marketing tool. Weatherproof Garment Co., a unit of David Peyser Sportswear Inc., of Bay Shore, N.Y., has already found hot demand for lightweight outerwear. Its “microfiber windbreaker,” introduced in 1995 as a “a nice little spring jacket,” now sells year round and contributes 40% of company sales, says President Fredric Stollmack. “We have changed the entire complexion of our company and our product line because of this global warming trend,” he says. The company, for example, makes all its heavy jackets with zip-out linings.