The Fiction Of Climate Science
Gary Sutton, 12.04.09, 10:00 AM ET
Many of you are too young to remember, but in 1975 our government pushed “the coming ice age.”
Random House dutifully printed “THE WEATHER CONSPIRACY … coming of the New Ice Age.” This may be the only book ever written by 18 authors. All 18 lived just a short sled ride from Washington, D.C. Newsweek fell in line and did a cover issue warning us of global cooling on April 28, 1975. And The New York Times, Aug. 14, 1976, reported “many signs that Earth may be headed for another ice age.”
OK, you say, that’s media. But what did our rational scientists say?
In 1974, the National Science Board announced: “During the last 20 to 30 years, world temperature has fallen, irregularly at first but more sharply over the last decade. Judging from the record of the past interglacial ages, the present time of high temperatures should be drawing to an end…leading into the next ice age.”
You can’t blame these scientists for sucking up to the fed’s mantra du jour. Scientists live off grants. Remember how Galileo recanted his preaching about the earth revolving around the sun? He, of course, was about to be barbecued by his leaders. Today’s scientists merely lose their cash flow. Threats work.
In 2002 I stood in a room of the Smithsonian. One entire wall charted the cooling of our globe over the last 60 million years. This was no straight line. The curve had two steep dips followed by leveling. There were no significant warming periods. Smithsonian scientists inscribed it across some 20 feet of plaster, with timelines.
Last year, I went back. That fresco is painted over. The same curve hides behind smoked glass, shrunk to three feet but showing the same cooling trend. Hey, why should the Smithsonian put its tax-free status at risk? If the politicians decide to whip up public fear in a different direction, get with it, oh ye subsidized servants. Downplay that embarrassing old chart and maybe nobody will notice.
Sorry, I noticed.
It’s the job of elected officials to whip up panic. They then get re-elected. Their supporters fall in line.
Al Gore thought he might ride his global warming crusade back toward the White House. If you saw his movie, which opened showing cattle on his farm, you start to understand how shallow this is. The United Nations says that cattle, farting and belching methane, create more global warming than all the SUVs in the world. Even more laughably, Al and his camera crew flew first class for that film, consuming 50% more jet fuel per seat-mile than coach fliers, while his Tennessee mansion sucks as much carbon as 20 average homes.
His PR folks say he’s “carbon neutral” due to some trades. I’m unsure of how that works, but, maybe there’s a tribe in the Sudan that cannot have a campfire for the next hundred years to cover Al’s energy gluttony. I’m just not sophisticated enough to know how that stuff works. But I do understand he flies a private jet when the camera crew is gone.
The fall of Saigon in the ’70s may have distracted the shrill pronouncements about the imminent ice age. Science’s prediction of “A full-blown, 10,000 year ice age,” came from its March 1, 1975 issue. The Christian Science Monitor observed that armadillos were retreating south from Nebraska to escape the “global cooling” in its Aug. 27, 1974 issue.
That armadillo caveat seems reminiscent of today’s tales of polar bears drowning due to glaciers disappearing.
While scientists march to the drumbeat of grant money, at least trees don’t lie. Their growth rings show what’s happened no matter which philosophy is in power. Tree rings show a mini ice age in Europe about the time Stradivarius crafted his violins. Chilled Alpine Spruce gave him tighter wood so the instruments sang with a new purity. But England had to give up the wines that the Romans cultivated while our globe cooled, switching from grapes to colder weather grains and learning to take comfort with beer, whisky and ales.
Yet many centuries earlier, during a global warming, Greenland was green. And so it stayed and was settled by Vikings for generations until global cooling came along. Leif Ericsson even made it to Newfoundland. His shallow draft boats, perfect for sailing and rowing up rivers to conquer villages, wouldn’t have stood a chance against a baby iceberg.
Those sustained temperature swings, all before the evil economic benefits of oil consumption, suggest there are factors at work besides humans.
Today, as I peck out these words, the weather channel is broadcasting views of a freakish and early snow falling on Dallas. The Iowa state extension service reports that the record corn crop expected this year will have unusually large kernels, thanks to “relatively cool August and September temperatures.” And on Jan. 16, 2007, NPR went politically incorrect, briefly, by reporting that “An unusually harsh winter frost, the worst in 20 years, killed much of the California citrus, avocados and flower crops.”
To be fair, those reports are short-term swings. But the longer term changes are no more compelling, unless you include the ice ages, and then, perhaps, the panic attempts of the 1970s were right. Is it possible that if we put more CO2 in the air, we’d forestall the next ice age?
I can ask “outrageous” questions like that because I’m not dependent upon government money for my livelihood. From the witch doctors of old to the elected officials today, scaring the bejesus out of the populace maintains their status.
Sadly, the public just learned that our scientific community hid data and censored critics. Maybe the feds should drop this crusade and focus on our health care crisis. They should, of course, ignore the life insurance statistics that show every class of American and both genders are living longer than ever. That’s another inconvenient fact.
Following is an excellent analysis of the chapter on geoengineering of our climate contained in “SuperFreakonomocs”, the best-selling book I mention in my blog. Kevin Bullis, the author, is the Science Editor for “Technology Review”, which is published by MIT. It addresses many of the serious health and issues that concern me if governments and industry are allowed to continue to tinker with our atmosphere without proper transparency and oversight. The “Readers Comment” to the Bullis article that follows is also worth your attention as it addresses some of the international treaty and other legal implications of geoengineering.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
How SuperFreakonomics Gets Climate Engineering Wrong
The new book Superfreakonomics neglects the real dangers of geoengineering.
By Kevin Bullis
The sequel to Freakonomics, the best-selling book that uses economics to uncover surprising facts about the world, came out today. Superfreakonomics, cowritten by Steven Levitt, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Dubner, a journalist, is an attempt to outdo the original, and it does this in part by taking on a huge, controversial, and very important topic–climate change.
Unfortunately, the authors’ solution to climate change, which they say is simple, cheap, and safe, is actually dangerous–a cure that could be worse than the disease. (This part of the book has already generated plenty of debate online.)
The authors set up their chapter on climate change as a challenge to global-warming orthodoxy–saying that “the movement to stop global warming has taken on the feel of a religion,” putting climate-change claims in the context of past errors by scientists, and suggesting that climate models are less reliable than risk models for financial institutions that failed in the recent waves of bank closures.
So it’s a little disorienting to discover that the chapter actually argues for the development of radical solutions to global warming. It argues that not enough has been done to curb greenhouse gas emissions and warns of catastrophic events like the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.
The solution that Levitt and Dubner put forward is geoengineering. More specifically, they advocate a scheme that would inject particles into the upper atmosphere to block a small percentage of incoming sunlight and so cool the earth–an idea that’s been around since at least the 1970s. The scheme would mimic the action of big volcanic eruptions, which also inject particles into the stratosphere and have been shown to have a cooling effect.
Historically, Levitt and Dubner say, the main problem with this idea was that proposals for injecting the particles have been too expensive. They add that there might be some sort of vague environmental concerns, but label them as religious objections, not practical, science-based ones. The “moralism and angst” of these environmentalists make it hard for them to see what the authors call a “fiendishly simple” and “startlingly cheap” solution to global warming. They then describe a scheme for delivering sulfur dioxide (which will form sulfate particles) to the stratosphere and declare that it would cost $250 million for the first year and $100 million thereafter, compared to $1.2 trillion a year for reducing carbon emissions. A bargain.
Other than dismissing the potential for damage to the ozone layer, the authors don’t talk about the real environmental concerns that come with sulfate injection to the stratosphere. But there are serious and specific concerns.
Scientists studying the impact of a fairly recent, large volcanic eruption–the Mount Pinatubo explosion in the Philippines in 1991–have found that not only did the layer of sulfates it produced cool the earth, it also led to a “huge change in precipitation,” says Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. By decreasing direct sunlight, the event cut down on evaporation, leading to the “lowest rainfall amount over land since 1948,” the earliest year that good records are available, says Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO. The change in precipitation caused severe droughts that damaged crops and limited drinking water, he says. Schmidt says the potential for drought must be considered before any geoengineering is done. “What good does it do to save the Arctic if you cause the failure of the Indian monsoon on a regular basis?” he says. “That’s billions of people.”
The change in precipitation isn’t the only known adverse affect. Shading the earth does nothing about the levels of carbon dioxide in the air. This has some benefits–plants grow better with more carbon dioxide–but it also makes the ocean more acidic, which can lead to the destruction of coral reefs around the world and prevents some shellfish and crustaceans from developing, cutting off an important source of food for fish and whales, and ultimately destroying important food sources for humans.
And then there are potential unanticipated consequences. Volcanoes inject sulfates into the stratosphere sporadically. No one knows what will happen if the sulfates become a permanent part of the stratosphere. It could very well be that major problems won’t become obvious until many years or decades into a sulfate injection project. Levitt and Dubner argue that we could simply stop if problems arise. But this could be disastrous. All of the warming that’s been prevented by the sulfates over the years would happen suddenly, far too fast for people to adapt.
If nothing is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the sulfate injection scheme will have to be kept up year after year, potentially for well over a hundred years, given the lifetime of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As concentrations of the gases mount, ever more sulfate will be needed to offset the warming effect, increasing costs. And the dangers of stopping the program–due to war or economic hardship or a shift in the political winds–would mount. The same holds true for another scheme the authors mention–cloud whitening, an approach that may not work and that could also lead to severely reduced precipitation over land. It is not, as they suggest, “geoengineering that the greenest green could love.”
Geoengineering by shading the earth is simply not an alternative to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. In some extreme case–the impending collapse of major ice sheets, or the realization that the world is warming far faster than anticipated–it might be used to buy a little time. But even this is a risky proposition, not just because of the environmental concerns, but because of political ones, since some countries would be harmed more than others. The authors point out–in passing–that one can “imagine the wars that might break out over who controls the dials,” that is, who selects how much the earth should be cooled. Oddly, they don’t seem to consider this a serious objection to geoengineering.
But although the authors may be wrong in failing to point out the significant hazards of shading the earth (let alone some annoying side effects, such as obscuring the view from ground telescopes and reducing the power output from some solar power systems), they may be right that geoengineering may prove necessary. They point out that changing people’s behavior is notoriously difficult, and that the uncertainty of climate predictions makes it particularly hard to set up and enforce government policies, particularly those that require international agreements. For poor countries, the uncertain cost of climate change may seem small compared to the cost of forgoing cheap electricity, at least until cheap carbon sequestration or renewable energy is available.
Donald Johnston, the former secretary general for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has said that political realities may make strong international emissions controls impossible: “I foresee a situation about 10 years from now where the world will be warming, the new targets for greenhouse gases set [at the December 2009 United Nations climate change meeting] in Copenhagen will be ignored by many big emitters as they have in the past, and desperation will force the world to consider reducing the penetration of the sun’s rays through geoengineering.”
If we reach that point, we’d better have a clear idea what geoengineering might entail, so we can choose the best methods and prepare for the inevitable bad side effects. That means research must be funded to create ever more sophisticated computer models of geoengineering and to run some small- and perhaps even large-scale experiments. Also, governments need to start talking about geoengineering policy. How do you decide–and who decides–how much to cool the earth? How do you decide how to reimburse people who suffer from negative side effects? How will lawsuits be handled? What’s to be done if a country decides to undertake geoengineering on its own?
This research and planning should be accompanied by continued efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, eventually, to start pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The goal should be to shade the earth for as short a time as possible–or not at all. The only way to drive these changes is to be as clear as possible about the dangers of both global warming and geoengineering. That’s going to be a lot harder with Levitt and Dubner making geoengineering sound like a panacea.
Readers Comment to Bullis Article
Geoengineering is illegal
One of the principal reasons that geoengineering research has remained relatively unexplored compared to other climate-change mitigation technologies is because it has potentially perverse applications. Beginning in the 1940s, the United States and a number of foreign governments launched research programs developing technologies for modifying the weather to gain battlefield advantage. The proposed weather modification technologies were so alarming that in 1976 the United Nations adopted the “Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques.”
While state-sponsored use of environmental modification technologies for “hostile” or military purposes seems unlikely today, there is an appreciable risk that that terrorist groups or other rogue actors are likely to consider geoengineering an appealing candidate for furthering their interests. To minimize this risk, geoengineering research is most likely to achieve its full potential if it proceeds under the umbrella of an international legal framework that goes well beyond providing guidance for nations deciding on funding or authorizing research with potential consequences for ‘downwind’ nations.
While the full range of treaties likely to apply to geoengineering will vary from proposal to proposal, all geoengineering projects should be required to comport with the principal elements of the “Convention On The Prohibition Of Military Or Any Other Hostile Use Of Environmental Modification Techniques.” The core requirements of the Convention are likely to promote approaches to geoengineering es with politically acceptable risk profiles. First, the Convention’s prohibition on “hostile use” technologies will preclude development of geoengineering technologies that could be used for nefarious purposes. Second, the Convention’s “long-lasting” element will ensure that only sufficiently “reversible” approaches to geoengineering are pursued, which will lower the risk of unintended adverse consquences.
while ENMOD would only proscribe geoengineering strategies deemed “hostile,” it may already be having a chilling effect on research efforts – similar to the chilling effect you suggest is likely to result from an international “taboo” on geonengineering.
In particular, Kay Hutchinson (R-TX) has sponsored legislation in recent years that would have instituted a much-needed federal “weather modfication” agency and transferred critical weather modification technologies developed by the U.S. government into the private sector. John Holdren’s predecessor, John Marburger, wrote a letter to Hutchinson requesting that she table the legislation until the Bush administration completed an inter-agency review of the legal, political and military ramifications. Marburger wrote the following:
“The Administration respectfully requests that you defer further consideration of the bill pending the outcome of an inter-agency discussion of these issues that the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would coordinate – with the Department of Justice on legal issues, with the Department of State on foreign policy implications, with the Departments of Defense and State on national security implications, and with pertinent research agencies to consider the reasons the U.S. Government previously halted its work in this area . . .
“In 1978, the United States became a party to an international treaty banning the use of weather modification for hostile purposes. While modification for peaceful purposes is allowed, whether well-intentioned programs could be considered “hostile” and perceived to violate this ban should be considered.”
Ironically, China, which has never signed ENMOD, is openly engaged in weather modification research. So it seems to me that ENMOD has already constrained “the countries (and their subjects) who are likely to do the most responsible testing, assessment, and (if needed) deployment of geoengineering systems [and left] less responsible governments and individuals—those most prone to ignore or avoid inconvenient international norms—to control the technology’s fate.”
Marburger’s letter implies that any international regulatory framework for oversight of geoengineering research will need to address the concerns contemplated in ENMOD. This makes a compelling case for treating the regulatory issues raised by geoengineering research as separate and distinct from issues related to the deployment of geongineering strategies. To the extent geoengineering research proceeds under the rubric of environmental norms, it is likely dead-on-arrival, principally because the precautionary principle that inevitably plays a large role in framing the impact analysis for international environmental negotiations focuses exclusively on the dangers of acting rather than the dangers of not acting. Geoengineering only makes sense when the risks of inaction have dwarfed the risks of action, which makes it unlikely to survive scrutiny under the precautionary principle.
The weekend papers and blogs have been replete with interesting commentaries on what really happened in Copenhagen. Who will be the ulimate winners and losers? What was the “real” agenda? Who are the good guys and the bad guys? Here are a couple of Post-Copenhagen perspectives — one from an environmental group, Friends of the Earth, that clearly views the last minute Obama-brokered “deal” as meaningless and an impediment to the UN sponsored effort for an ultimate cooperative resolution among all nations. The second piece, from a San Franciso paper, illustrates the renewed effort by California to depict itself as the model for the future and to supercede the US as a world leader in combatting Global Warming. If you aren’t already worried about implications to the US as a whole if a national carbon cap and trade plan is adopted, consider the current economy in California compared with that of Texas — the poster children for over and under regulation, respectively. You can attribute it to what ever you please, but California is teetering on bankruptcy and is losing jobs at a record pace, while Texas is leading the pack among states in digging out of the recession. Perhaps Texas is a bit too “pro-business” and turns its eye away from some environmental abuses, but those are issues that can be addressed without abandoning our way of life and relegating our people to complete reliance on the state to direct every aspect of life. For those of us that are concerned about the new world order / cap and trade faction that appear to be driven by ideology and profit motivation, the Copenhagen process was at least a temporary setback, and light is being is finally being brought to many of the issues that have caused us to be concerned. But as we have seen in the way votes can seemingly be bought and sold in the US Congress in connection with the healthcare legislation, we cannot take solace from the fact that disparate sovereign interests at Copenhagen provided a check and balance mechanism to the Globalists having their unimpeded way, that will not be the case with respect to our Congress. If you believe the CO2 threat is at least somewhat fabricated, that a national cap and trade program would be an ineffective solution, would devastate our economy and would be one more step in leading the US toward a European Union / One World Government model, we must continue to have our voices heard. Although many have completely lost faith in our system, we are still a democratic society, so letters and calls to your representatives should make a difference. So irrespective of where you come down on what should happen after Copenhagen, don’t keep it to yourself. One way or another, whether Global Warming is bogus or real, it is driving an agenda that will potentially impact us in unimagineable ways.
Friends of the Earth Commentary on Obama-Brokered Agreement Undermining UN Process
California Repositions Itself as World Force in Combatting Global Warming After Copenhagen Failure to Act
Although it is often long on drama, sometimes short on substance, the December 19 episode of Jesse Ventura’s “Conspiracy Theory” did serve to raise awareness as to the possibility of an agenda of New World Order / Globalists that would potentially have profound implications to our national sovereignty. The program examined (ever so superficially) how people like Maurice Strong and George Soros, who have financial interests in carbon trading exchanges, may use the Global Warming issue to promote a one-world government with ideals contrary to those held by most Americans. As the name of Governor Venura’s series suggests, this clearly falls in the conspiracy theory category — but that is not per se evidence that it is wholly untrue. Unfortunately, the Ventura program is so short on substance it almost makes a mockery of a message that should be seriously considered. Do we want the UN and international law governing CO2 emissions trumping our statutes? It is, at best, one more step toward a slippery slope. Again, this is a big issue, with monumental consequences, so we need to understand what motivates those that are promoting sweeping changes with very limited public discussion. Jesse Ventura’s new series clearly isn’t a reliable source of information, but as I always say, fact is often stranger than fiction. So — true or false, right or wrong, keep an open mind. iIn any event, here is a pretty good recap of what was presented on Wednesday’s “Conspiracy Theory” episode on Global Warming:
Not that he deserves a lot more credibility than Jesse Ventura, but Glenn Beck is having a very similar discussion on the role of Maurice Strong and the Globalists in manipulating the Global Warming story to promote a One World Government. So you “right winger’s” that would never embrace something being hawked by Jesse Ventura can hear pretty much the same “fair and balanced” story on Fox. Sad, but true, you must run the gamut of spin-meister’s (used to be called snake oil salesmen) — from Ventura, to Beck, to Drudge to Huffington — to sift through the drivel we call our news, to try to arrive at truth.
Both sides of the global warming debate are using the recent blizzards on the East Coast of the United States to further their agemdas. Check out the following article. Go to the link below for the full article.
February 11, 2010
Climate-Change Debate Is Heating Up in Deep Freeze
By JOHN M. BRODER
WASHINGTON — As millions of people along the East Coast hole up in their snowbound homes, the two sides in the climate-change debate are seizing on the mounting drifts to bolster their arguments.
Skeptics of global warming are using the record-setting snows to mock those who warn of dangerous human-driven climate change — this looks more like global cooling, they taunt.
Most climate scientists respond that the ferocious storms are consistent with forecasts that a heating planet will produce more frequent and more intense weather events.
But some independent climate experts say the blizzards in the Northeast no more prove that the planet is cooling than the lack of snow in Vancouver or the downpours in Southern California prove that it is warming.
As an illustration of their point of view, the family of Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, a leading climate skeptic in Congress, built a six-foot-tall igloo on Capitol Hill and put a cardboard sign on top that read “Al Gore’s New Home.”
The extreme weather, Mr. Inhofe said by e-mail, reinforced doubts about scientists’ conclusion that global warming was “unequivocal” and most likely caused by human activity.
Nonsense, responded Joseph Romm, a climate-change expert and former Energy Department official who writes about climate issues at the liberal Center for American Progress.
“Ideologues in the Senate keep pushing the anti-scientific disinformation that big snowstorms are evidence against human-caused global warming,” Mr. Romm wrote on Wednesday.
It is perhaps not coincidental that the snowstorm scuffle is playing out against a background of recent climate controversies: In recent months, global-warming critics have assailed a 2007 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and have claimed that e-mail messages and documents plucked from a server at a climate research center in Britain raise doubts about the academic integrity of some climate scientists. Earlier this week, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators made light of the fact that the announcement of the creation of a new federal climate service on Monday had to be conducted by conference call, rather than news conference, because the federal government was shuttered by the storm.
Matt Drudge, who delights in tweaking climate-change enthusiasts, noted on his Web sitethat a Senate hearing on global warming this week was canceled because of the weather. . . .