|The Week That Was
July 12-18, 1999
GLOBAL WARMING HYPE
On July 8, the New York Times printed an op-ed, which was little more than an unpaid advertisement of global warming scares. [We suspect the timing was carefully arranged to come at the peak of the heat wave, when people died in NY City because electric power was cut off.] Gale Christianson, a history professor, complains that “most vociferous naysayers [of man made global-warming theories] tend to be astronomers, chemists and physicists” rather than climatologists. He seems to be baffled by this fact, but there is no mystery here. Climatologists, by and large, publish careful records about climate parameters, like temperatures, in different places and at different times. It is left largely to more fundamental scientists to explain why climate is changing. In the last few years, astronomers have made a convincing case for a predominant solar influence on climate changes. Physicists have established how radiation is absorbed and emitted in the atmosphere, with water vapor as the most important greenhouse gas, whose effects override those of carbon dioxide. Chemists have figured out how methane can be transformed into water vapor, producing additional climate effects. These results are all published in peer-reviewed journals and don’t require support from think tanks, conservative or otherwise.
As a historian who claims to have “spent the last two years plumbing that literature” Prof. Christianson didn’t plumb deep enough. He would have learned that core samples from the ocean bottom demonstrate changes that are larger and more rapid than anything seen in the recent record or predicted by climate models. Similarly, data from polar ice cores show temperatures much greater than today’s. And finally, sea levels have been rising for about 15,000 years, with the rate of rise decreasing in recent centuries, as demonstrated from the record of coral growth. Mr. Christianson’s message, though couched in poetic language, is an embarrassment to climate science even though he accurately quotes Prof. Frederick Seitz, past president of the American Physical Society: “…the environmental problem [of global warming] is hypothetical and not substantiated by careful observations.”
Not to be outdone, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, lavishly supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, has been hyping a study by climatologist Tom Wigley that promises greater temperature increases in the next century than predicted even by the 1996 UN/IPCC report. The basic idea is that anthropogenic sulfate aerosols (which reflect sunlight) reduce the radiative forcing (and therefore warming effect) of CO2. Thus, the IPCC had argued, the current warming trend should be reduced from their previously calculated trend of 0.3 C per decade to about 0.2 C….which should bring it closer to what is observed by ground stations (about 0.1 C). [Satellites and balloon data, we recall, show no current warming at all.] Wigley simply asserts that a reduced trend of aerosol formation in future (because of reduced SO2 emissions) will raise the calculated temperature trend in the next century. Some years ago, we made exactly this point (Science, vol. 271, p. 581, 2 Feb. 1996). At that time, Wigley strongly dissented (in the March 15 Science issue). We had argued that with SO2 emissions currently declining, the observed trend should exceed the calculated value of 0.3 C. It doesn’t; hence the discrepancy between theory and data looks even worse. For some unfathomable reason, our friend Wigley didn’t find this conclusion to his liking.
Our comment now is: It all depends on China and India. Will their SO2 emissions continue to increase or not? That’s not a scientific question at all, but depends on uncertain scenarios, on economics, politics, and sociology.
The scientific points, hardly touched on by Wigley, are the complicated and uncertain effects of different kinds of aerosols (including also mineral dust, smoke, soot, etc), some absorbing rather than reflecting sunlight, in causing cloud formation, etc. etc. Experts in this field, including most recently global warming maven Jim Hansen, basically contradict Wigley and show his results to be trivial. [As an aside: Wigley still has not grasped the fact that a moderate warming will slow down rather than accelerate the rise in sea level, which has been ongoing since the peak of the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago.] Our only comment on Wigley is, well: Pyeew!
Rumors have it that Clinton will postpone an international convention on finalizing Kyoto until 2001 (Wall Street Journal June 14), dumping it into the laps of the next administration. This has caused great concern over at the Boston Globe editorial page (July 6): “Postponing final agreement on the Kyoto treaty until 2001 would mean that a new president will be making crucial choices. This raises the stakes for Vice President Al Gore, who has made global warming central to his agenda, and for all the other presidential candidates whose views are less well known. It is not too soon to ask probing questions of the men and women who will help decide the fate of the earth.” Meanwhile it was learned that Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund, had briefed George W. on global warming last March. And we all know where Krupp gets his information from.
The International Energy agency reports that CO2 emissions from non-OECD countries began to outpace OECD emissions around 1995, when both were a little over 10 gigatons. By 2020, CO2 emissions will reach 40 Gt, with about two-thirds from non-OECD sources.. It is worth noting that the U.S. an d Canada both increased their emissions in the 1990s, while the U.K. lowered its CO2 emission from 0.58 (in 1990) to 0.53 Gt (1995) thanks to replacing coal with methane a one-time change. No wonder, the British government is so keen on Kyoto. We wonder if they would be equally enthusiastic if the Kyoto base year were changed from 1990 to 1995?
Meanwhile , nuclear energy in the U.S. avoided emission of about 0.45 Gt of CO2 in 1997, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. At the same time, it eased both the acid-rain and smog problems by avoiding emissions of 5.1 million tonnes of SO2 and 2.4 Mt of NOx in 1997 (when non-fossil-fuel generation rose to 31%).
Disturbing news from Belgium though, where the chicken-dioxin debacle has produced a change in government that is seeking to phase out nuclear reactors. Along with France, Belgium generates most of its electricity from atomic energy. Even worse news from Sweden, where the government is moving to shut down an operating reactor at Barseback unless there is a last-minute reprieve. On 10 July, German papers reported about the visit of German chancellor Schröder and his green environment minister Trittin in Kiev, Ukraine. Their purpose was to convince president Leonid Kutschma (to whom the EU had promised credits for two new nuclear plants to replace the Chernobyl units) to build fossil stations instead (Global warming be damned!) and institute energy taxes. But as both nuclear plants (Rowno 4 and Chmelnitzki 2) are already 80% completed, Kiev didn't bite.
On the other hand, China is moving in the opposite direction, tripling its nuclear capacity, from 1% to 3%, in the coming decade. Even Japan may be coming round, as reported in Nature, March 18. Against strong environmental opposition, parliament is considering a plan from Japan’s Environment Agency for reducing fossil-fuel use by adding 20 nuclear plants by 2010, increasing nuclear electric generation by 50 percent. Who said that the Kyoto Accord (to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide) was all bad?