Global warming: Watson indulges in scare tactics . . . again

Published March 1, 2001

In early January, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stepped up its campaign to coerce regulatory action from the United States by releasing the Summary for Policymakers from the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report (TAR).

Word from the IPCC meeting in Shanghai is that the upper range of temperature rise during the next 100 years is nearly 11°F. “This adds impetus for governments of the world to find ways to live up to their commitments . . . to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases,” Robert Watson, chairman of the IPCC and former Clinton science advisor, is quoted as saying.

Mind you, Watson is the same scientist who, in 1992, predicted an imminent ozone hole in the Northern Hemisphere. You remember the event; then-Senator and soon-to-be Vice President Gore called it “an ozone hole over Kennebunkport” (former-President George Bush’s summer compound). Watson’s (and Gore’s) purpose was to stampede the U.S. Senate into a mandate that would reduce chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. They succeeded, even though the ozone hole never appeared.

This is Watson’s second go at buffaloing a Bush Administration. Big Media’s eagerness to go along is breathtaking. The January 23 edition of The Washington Post put this particular global warming story above the fold on its front page! The play could have been bigger only were it in the upper left-hand corner rather than the right.

A model of a model

Neither the Post nor Watson mentions that this forecast of extreme warming is the result of a computer model. And not just any model, either. It is a product of the most extreme climate model run under the most extreme set of future emission scenarios. In other words, it’s not a model based upon present trends; it’s a model of a model! Putting a fine point on it, this particular result was produced by one (that’s right, one) of 245 models the modelers ran.

In the backrooms at science meetings, the technique Watson and the IPCC have used in this instance is derided as a “toy model.” This is because it treats the world largely as a uniform entity, one devoid of ocean currents, without mountains, and with no thunderstorms. Ocean currents, mountains, and thunderstorms just happen to be the three things that are the major movers of heat around our planet. They generally keep the Earth’s surface temperature cooler than it otherwise would be.

It’s not that there weren’t other computer models available. There are. There were nearly 20 different sophisticated, but still flawed, models tested in the IPCC’s TAR called general circulation climate models (GCMs). If Watson were forthcoming, he would have pointed out that the average for those models was a rise of only about 3.8°F–or some 2.75 times less than the extreme value Watson and the Post trumpet.

Trouble with models

Even so, those models assume an increased rate in greenhouse gases that has been acknowledged to be much larger than it has been for decades. So even those results are probable overestimates.

Both the “toy models” and the GCMs have been artificially “cooled” with sulfate aerosols for 10 years now to account for the fact they predict too much warming. Admittedly, that’s a mis-statement of what the modeling community is doing. Instead, the amount of warming radiation reaching Earth’s surface is “dialed down.” There’s no sulfate aerosol, per se, in the model. Instead, the amount of heating potential is reduced because that’s the only way to slam the square peg of model predictions into the round hole of observed temperatures.

Why is that happening, you reasonably ask? There was such a clamor about the models that include only greenhouse gas increases and their inability to accurately simulate the climate as we know it to have been over the last 100 years (they warmed things up much too quickly) that the modelers added another factor, sulfate aerosols, in order to offset a large amount of the CO2-induced warming. The IPCC itself admitted this fact in its Second Assessment report (1996).

In that report, the IPCC stated, “When increases in greenhouse gases only are taken into account . . . most [climate models] produce a greater mean warming than has been observed to date, unless a lower climate sensitivity [to the greenhouse effect] is used. . . . There is growing evidence that increases in sulfate aerosols are partially counteracting the [warming] due to increases in greenhouse gases.”

The “toy model” the Post and Watson rushed to report upon has an unrealistic value of 11°F because in it the sulfate aerosols have been removed. That’s right: What previously was used to “fix” the computer models now has been taken out. The result? The previously acknowledged, unrealistic warming rate is baaack.

Actually, according to the IPCC, the influence of sulfate aerosols–both direct and indirect–on Earth’s temperature is the most uncertain of the factors considered. Their net global effect on surface temperature (according to the IPCC) is about twice the total observed change in temperature for the last hundred years! Why so much uncertainty? Their net cooling (or warming) of global surface temperature has never been measured. This gives rise to a huge uncertainty, through which a careful manipulation of numbers at the extreme ranges of the uncertainty can produce a large warming. This is precisely the exercise the IPCC has carried out in this report, and Watson’s emphasis of this result is a scare tactic, pure and simple.

Blaming the U.S.

But Watson doesn’t stop there. He accuses the United States of being primarily responsible for an impending climate catastrophe. “The United States is way off meeting its [emissions] targets [agreed to under the Kyoto Protocol]. A country like China has done more, in my opinion, than a country like the United States to move forward in economic development while remaining environmentally sensitive,” he said.

While it is true that the U.S. is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, our economy is among the most energy-efficient in terms of output. We produce more goods and services per unit of greenhouse gas emission than all but a very few countries. Brazil and France come to mind. Brazil relies on hydroelectric energy and France, nuclear fission.

Hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants are even less eco-friendly than the fossil-fuel-fired power plants we rely upon. Even so, our efficiency continues to increase. If the rest of the world achieved similar energy efficiency, global greenhouse gas emissions would be about 20 percent less than they are.

But for Watson and the IPCC, desperate times require desperate measures. Negotiations at The Hague, which sought to bind countries to the Kyoto Protocol’s emission targets, largely failed. The U.S. insisted that its carbon sinks–forests and crops–be credited against its carbon emissions. European Greens replied, “No go.” So no go it was.

Kyoto is dead

Without U.S. involvement, Kyoto not only is as good as dead, it’s meaningless. Even if everyone, including the U.S., participates, the Kyoto targets will reduce global temperatures only by an undetectable 0.13°F by the year 2050 (according to Tom Wiley of the U.S. Center for Atmospheric Research).

Perhaps Watson felt he had to make the most dramatic case possible to bully a new President who is less receptive to his pitch than were Clinton and Gore. Rather than succumb to “science by press release and executive summary,” a better starting point for the new Administration is a reassessment of the science used to produce the IPCC TAR and (for that matter) the recent, equally nonsensical U.S. National Assessment of global warming.

We can only pray that the time ahead for spreaders of climate hysteria become more desperate indeed.

According to Nature magazine, University of Virginia environmental sciences professor Patrick J. Michaels is probably the nation’s most popular lecturer on the subject of climate change. Michaels is coauthor of The Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air About Global Warming.