Kyoto’s chilling effects: Can the United Nations dictate scientific outcome?

Published February 1, 2000

The former head of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which bills itself as the “consensus of scientists,” has finally made it official: If your research indicates global warming isn’t such a big deal, maybe you shouldn’t publish it.

Initially charged by the U.N. General Assembly with “initiat[ing] action leading as soon as possible [toward identifying] elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on climate,” the IPCC came to describe itself as “an intergovernmental mechanism aimed at providing the basis for the development of a realistic and effective internationally accepted strategy for addressing climate change.”

Now, more than 10 years after the panel’s inception, the compelling science of our greening planet is becoming an impediment to the IPCC’s mission.

Some background: Last May, the University of Illinois’ Evan DeLucia and 10 colleagues placed a landmark study in the journal Science demonstrating that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) makes loblolly pine, perhaps the most important commercially grown tree species in the world, grow like topsy. Specifically, they found that the amount of annual growth will increase by a whopping 25 percent per year by 2050, compared with today, as we continue to put more and more carbon dioxide in the air.

DeLucia’s study was doubly important because it also found that this “carbon dioxide fertilization effect” was more than twice what computer models said it should be. These are the same models that predict climate gloom-and-doom if we don’t dramatically restrict our use of fossil fuels, and the same beasts that provide the scientific cover for the onerous Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Climate Treaty.

(The Kyoto Protocol requires that the United States reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide—the main human greenhouse gas—by around 40 percent below the level we would achieve in 2010 if we just continued upon our merry Dow-11,000 economic way.)

Eleven senators currently support the Kyoto Protocol. Sixty-seven are required for ratification. Why is it unpopular? Using realistic policy assumptions, numerous studies have shown the protocol will wreck our economy.

DeLucia’s study further implies that the overall scientific hypothesis of skyrocketing atmospheric carbon dioxide is wrong because plants are so adept at absorbing it. If these findings extend globally, then by 2050, the world’s forests will absorb fully half of the CO2 emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels.

DeLucia’s study followed hard on the heels of another, by S. Fan and several others, late in 1998, showing that the forests of North America are growing so rapidly they are actually taking a bit more carbon dioxide out of the air every year than we put in. Which is to say, despite our humongous economic engine, our continent is a net “sink” for dreaded greenhouse gases, rather than a source.

Before that, NASA global warming firebrand James Hansen, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, speculated that the reason carbon dioxide’s growth rate in the atmosphere has slowed in recent decades is, in his words, that “apparently the rate of uptake by CO2 sinks, either the ocean, or more likely, forests and soils, has increased.”

Enough of this! said Bert Bolin, who as the first head of the IPCC is perhaps more responsible than anyone else for the Kyoto Protocol. Recently, Bolin penned a letter to Science stating that, “In the current, post-Kyoto international political climate, scientific statements about the behavior of the terrestrial carbon cycle must be made with care . . . “

(In other words, scientists had better consider not publishing results that might undermine support for Kyoto—Signed, The Boss.)

That letter was also signed by four other prominent voices in global environmental science.

In response, the head of the International Council of Scientific Unions (which itself largely cheerleads for Kyoto), Mihkel Arber, shot back:

“Your letter on the need to temper scientific findings with political considerations, published in Science today, is a chilling testimonial to the current trend to limit objective reason in deference to political ambitions. . . . The open rebuke of a scientific, peer-reviewed paper on political grounds . . . is unacceptable to the scientific community and serves only to tarnish the scientific reputation [of those who signed the letter]. Your letter confirms . . . the observation that a disturbing amount of politically correct research is being done with little care for scientific accuracy.”

Sadly, Bolin’s attempt to intimidate objective scientists is not without precedent. In 1996, the IPCC’s longtime chief scientist, England’s Sir John Houghton, wrote that climate change is a “moral issue.” Before an important 1996 U.N. conference in Geneva, a gathering that greased the skids for the Kyoto Protocol, Houghton wrote of his agreement with the World Council of Churches, “which calls upon the Government to adopt firm, clear policies and targets [read: Kyoto], and the public to accept the necessary consequences.” He further stated that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will “contribute powerfully to the material salvation of the planet from mankind’s greed and indifference.”

This is the chilled environment in which the secular scientist now works. Leaders of the world’s premier scientific organizations on climate change publicly call for the suppression of research findings and invoke religion, and not science, as the basis for policy.

But the truth of the matter is that those pine trees keep growing, and our continent continues to become greener.

No force in the world—not even the former head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—can stop that. Trees don’t care who or what is politically correct.

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 the author of Sound and Fury: The Science and Politics of Global Warming.


Bolin, B., et al., 1999, On the biosphere of elevated atmospheric CO2, Science, 285, 1849.

DeLucia, E.H., et al., 1999, Net primary production of a forest ecosystem with experimental CO2 enrichment. Science, 284, 1177–1179.

Fan, S., et al., 1998, A large terrestrial carbon sink in North America implied by atmospheric and oceanic carbon dioxide data and models, Science, 282, 442–443.

Hansen, J.E., et al., 1998, A common-sense climate index: Is climate changing noticeably? Procedures of the National Academy of Sciences, 95, 4113–4120.