|The Week That Was
November 9-15, 1998
The UN extravaganza, the Fourth Conference of the Parties (to the Climate Treaty) was wrapped up in the wee hours Saturday morning (Nov. 14), with an agreement that settled nothing. Perhaps that was the point. Now it's on to COP-5, COP-6, and God knows how many more reincarnations, not to mention interim gatherings in various garden spots on the globe.
The Conference of Parties is beginning to resemble a traveling circus, taxpayer-funded, complete with elephants and trained seals, clowns and acrobats. Delegations from some 160 countries trooped into the conference hall in Buenos Aires, along with 70 environment ministers, representatives from 100 or more Green activist organizations (who, the public should know, have an extraordinary, and some would say unethical, influence on international policy) and the usual gaggle of radio, TV, and print reporters. There were even a few scientists here who understand the complexities of climate. But make no mistake. This conference was not about science. It was about money; more specifically, it was about transferring money from industrialized to developing countries. Such a long-desired New International Economic Order has been described by cynics as a resource transfer from the poor in the rich countries to the rich in the poor countries.
So what was I doing here? One scientific contrarian in a sea of political posturing and blatant self-interest. Scientific observations show no human-induced global warming. Both satellites and balloon-borne weather sondes show a slight global cooling between 1979 and 1997. (The El Nino warming of this year is a well-known phenomenon unrelated to global warming.) All of this, of course, is in conflict with expectations from climate models. So why should we trust model forecasts of a major future warming? And why the hysteria? Historic data show clearly that warm periods (and there have been several NATURAL global warmings) were more beneficial for humanity than cold periods when crops failed, and famine was widespread. Not for nothing do climatologists refer to the major medieval warming around 1000 AD as a "climate optimum."
Of course, that view did not get official recognition. No press conferences, no platforms to speak from. A few enterprising reporters were aware of the numerous attempts by scientists to show their opposition to the Treaty with various petitions: the 1992 Statement by Atmospheric Scientists on Global Warming, the 1992 Heidelberg Appeal, the 1996 Leipzig Declaration, signed by more than 100 prominent climate scientists, and the recent Oregon Petition against the Kyoto Protocol, signed by more than 17,000 U.S. scientists. There were congressional delegations from the United States whose members resolutely oppose Kyoto. Congressman Sensenbrenner (of Wisconsin) chaired a bipartisan panel that made its anti-Treaty views quite clear. U.S. senators also spoke up.
But it was the sideshows that revealed the flavor, and the bias. The University of California sent in a team of "objective" scientists for the benefit of the press, borrowing the hot &cold, gloom&doom Steve Schneider from Stanford. None of the scientists said anything that was particularly new but they managed to make it sound menacing nonetheless. Their main theme was that the climate doesn't change smoothly but fluctuates; the catch phrase was "it's a switch not a dial" Fair enough. As measured in ice cores, the temperature did indeed show wild swings during the last ice age, but it has also been much more stable during the present interglacial that began about 11,000 years ago, when the climate suddenly warmed and CO2 levels started to rise.
Since the stated objective of the Climate Treaty is greenhouse gas levels that would not be "dangerous to the climate system, " I suggested (helpfully, I thought) that we should be pumping more CO2 into the atmosphere. They failed to see the humor. Those caught up in religious fervor are a dour bunch.
In fact, we don't really know what CO2 level is "dangerous"; the goal is completely arbitrary. In 1992, it seemed to be the then-current level of 350 parts per million. These days, the European Union appears to be aiming for 550 ppm, a political compromise that bears no relation to a specific climate effect. So why not 750 or 1,000 ppm? Personally, I have long admired the principled position of Greenpeace to return to the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm. Trouble is, it requires negative emissions. Oh well, we'll just have to invent an oil burner that sucks up CO2 from the atmosphere instead of pumping it out.
The British science briefing, which presented results from the Hadley Centre's new climate model, was perhaps more interesting. They showed, inter alia, that strict enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol would lower temperatures by a whopping (I'm being sarcastic) 0.05 degrees Celsius, when compared to the "business-as-usual" scenario. In short, the Brits demonstrated that we were debating a Treaty whose only result will be higher prices on energy (and virtually everything produced with energy) and suppressed development. It will do next to nothing to greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.
It is not surprising then that Robert Watson, an acolyte of Vice President Albert Gore and the new chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), abandoned the disinterested science role that the IPCC had been affecting under the previous chairman. He launched into an impassioned plea to raise the Kyoto emission reduction target by a factor of three, from 5.2 percent (from 1990 levels) to 15 percent. For most industrialized countries this would entail a 50 percent reduction in energy use by the year 2010. And even this economically suicidal level would do nothing to stabilize CO2.
Talking to a group of Young Nuclear Professionals (mostly European) proved disheartening. After I praised nuclear energy and its advantages, I suggested they didn't need to promote it with the opportunistic "threat of global warming." I should have anticipated the reaction: "We are all here because global warming is a fact and we must try to overcome it." While I admire the naive faith that the young display in the rationality of the world, I felt compelled to inject a small dose of reality: the Greens will never permit nuclear energy to gain an advantage after fossil fuels are taxed. A few did come up to me afterwards to agree; but they didn't want to say so in public. How sad.
I had more success with the Iranian delegates who sought me out after one of my public "interventions." They had been unaware that there was a different view on climate science. What about the 2500 "consenting" (though unsurveyed) IPCC scientists, etc., etc.? Hearing that 17,000 U.S. scientists had signed the Oregon Petition against Kyoto was an eye-opener. What to do? When I left, they were in a huddle
On to the Fiji delegation. For island nations, their status as potential victims of rising seas is decidedly seductive. It gets them a lot of attention on the global-warming circuit. Without it, they would be completely ignored. Naturally, Fiji delegates didn't take kindly to my contention, based on new research, that a warming would lower sea levels, not raise them. They wanted no part of any new scientific results.
Most disturbing in Buenos Aires were the bleeding hearts who hope to punish the West for having increased CO2 levels while achieving economic prosperity. My advice: Reflect on the fact that without this prosperity, without the advances in science, medicine, and technology, the rest of the world would be even worse off and the future of developing countries would be grim. In fact, they wouldn't be "developing" at all. Some scientists, including the late Dr. Roger Revelle, sometimes called the "father" of greenhouse warming, have even suggested that the enrichment (yes!) of CO2 in the atmosphere may have saved millions of lives by increasing agricultural yields and feeding the world.
Finally, no UN conference would be complete without demonstrations and street theater. Buenos Aires had the usual messages from "children" imploring the delegates to do something to save the world, the usual Green activist demonstrations against the oil companies and "corporate greed." Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum, who have been playing along with the Greens lately, were scolded for not doing enough and excoriated for carrying on oil exploration. "Stop looking for more oil!" they yelled.
To the credit of rational discourse, there were some counter-demonstrations. One in particular left a lasting impression with the slogan "Stop Global Whining!"
Yes, stop global whining indeed.
Next week, back to Washington...
TW2 was compiled this week by SEPP President S. Fred Singer, just returned from observing the UN Summit on global warming in Buenos Aires, Argentina.