In drawing a false connection between greenhouse gases and the shrinking of the Kilimanjaro ice cap, the New York Times created a media sensation. However, the Times is not alone in demonstrating, in the words of climatologist Pat Michaels, an “absolute lack of critical insight tendered towards environmental scares.” The following is an article published in the December 8, 2003, Sacramento Bee, with Environment & Climate News comments posted in the margins:
Change and Leadership
Russia, U.S. can’t duck global warming role
The world is flawed, but only global warming strategy is on dangerously thin ice. Russian officials, who used to routinely voice support for the so-called Kyoto Protocol, are beginning to send mixed signals as to whether they will commit to reducing emissions of carbon dioxide–saying “no” one day, then “maybe” the next. If Russia and the United States, the world’s two largest polluters in terms of total carbon dioxide emissions, fail to adopt this treaty, it fails to formally take effect in the rest of the 100-plus countries that have already approved it. This is hardly the style of leadership that this increasingly worrisome issue demands.
The scientific evidence at this point is crushing. Global warming is not only for real, it’s accelerated by the emissions of modern society. (1) A new report in California predicts a scary scenario in the Sierra, a precipitation shift from snowfall to rain that would effectively reduce the ability of the state’s massive reservoir system to capture adequate supplies of water. (2) Small increases in the sea level could have huge impacts in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where a saltwater intrusion would wreak havoc on the pumps that provide water for farming and for the economy of 17 million people in Southern California. (3) By the end of this century, according to a new study by teams of international researchers (published in last Friday’s [December 5] edition of Science), there is a 90 percent chance that the world’s temperature will rise between 3.1 and 8.9 degrees Fahrenheit. (4) “Modern climate change is dominated by human influences, which are now large enough to exceed the bounds of natural variability,” concludes the study. (5) “It is very unlikely to be adequately addressed without greatly improved international cooperation and action.”
Crafted in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol called for reducing carbon dioxide emissions worldwide by 5.2 percent by the year 2012 (compared to 1990 levels). How? The strategy was to rely heavily on the advanced economies. (6) Their high standards of living (more cars, air conditioners, electricity consumption, etc.) simply create more pollution. (7) The investments by big polluters such as the United States could either happen at home or in a fast-developing country where modest spending could have a big payoff. (8)
The Bush administration seeks to debate once again the question of who has to reduce what, to further study whether humans are really behind the temperature shift and to seek volunteers among the major pollution sources to curb emissions. This is a prescription for failure and international ridicule. (9)
(1) As James Schlesinger noted in a Washington Post article last summer, “Despite the certainty many seem to feel about the causes, effects, and extent of climate change, we are in fact making only slow progress in our understanding of the underlying science.” A petition compiled by a past president of the National Academy of Sciences and signed by more than 17,000 scientists says the science of climate change, and man’s role in it, is uncertain.
(2) Actually, the study’s lead author was careful to say their “scenarios” are not predictions. They are computer simulations based on many assumptions, often with margins of error larger than the effects they claim to find. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says forecasts of the regional effects of climate change are impossible.
(3) Scientific evidence shows sea level is not rising or is rising at a rate consistent with post-ice age history. Moreover, even if sea levels rose a couple of feet, as predicted by alarmists, this would have no impact on the water table for Sacramento, which is dozens of miles and a coastal mountain range removed from the sea.
(4) This study was outdated and debunked before it was published. The predicted temperature increases cited by the Sacramento Bee are dependent on unrealistic assumptions that most of the impoverished nations of the Earth will undergo astonishing growth fueled almost exclusively by fossil fuels. The alarmist scenario assumes average incomes on the entire Asian continent will increase over the next 100 years by a factor of between 70 and 140. Similarly, this scenario depends on an assumption that nations such as North Korea, Libya, and Latvia, to name just a few, will in the coming century surpass the United States in per-capita Gross Domestic Product, and do so almost entirely through dramatic escalations in CO2 emissions. Common sense clearly dictates such predictions are farfetched, to say the least.
(5) The global climate is dominated by the sun, not by man. To the extent the human presence has any influence, it is probably due to farming, ranching, and deforestation in developing countries, not emissions from the U.S. The small human influence, if it exists, may be preventing the overdue recurrence of another ice age.
(6) The U.S. and other developed countries would have to make drastic cuts in energy use, while nations such as China and India, the second and third greatest emitters of greenhouse gases, are allowed to increase their emissions as much as they like. As a result, total global emissions would continue to rise.
(8) As stated by James Hansen, “it is estimated that two-thirds of the cost of the Kyoto targets, if they were extended to the U.S., would be borne by the U.S.” Moreover, observed Hansen, “the Far East (defined as Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Mongolia) and the rest of Asia (includes the Middle East) have had the fastest growing CO2 emissions in recent decades and are now near the same level of emissions as the United States. Future global CO2 emissions will depend upon the path of Asian emissions.” (http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/forcings/ceq_presentation.pdf)
(9) Stepping up scientific research is a prescription for international ridicule only if the international community is either ignorant of the science or intent on implementing the Kyoto Protocol as a means to secure competitive advantages for their own economies at the expense of the U.S. economy.
James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].