On global warming

by Wm. Robert Johnston
January 2003

On suggestions that "Bush administration advisors" have stated that anthropogenic warming is a real issue: in reality, the report in question (the 2002 National Assessment) was issued by the EPA by appointees from previous administrations. The report was little more than a reissue of one done before Bush entered office; further, it is afflicted with the same deficiencies as much of the EPA's climate change material, including data that is selective and/or presented in a misleading manner.

And on reports that NPR came up with a scientist that was "converted" by the findings on Eurasian river outflow: I submit this illustrates the biased nature of information presented by NPR. The findings in question, I gather, are those reported by Peterson et ali in the 13 Dec. 2002 Science (298:2171-3). The research directly concluded that outflow from six rivers increased 7% from 1936 to 1999. Beyond this, if it is assumed that this increase is the result of temperature change (without acknowledgment of factors such as changes in agricultural practices in Russia, for example), assumed that the results can be extrapolated for any future temperature change (an area which the authors admit is "poorly constrained by observations"), assumed that the IPCC's temperature predictions for 2100 are correct (which they probably aren't, given their track record for the last decade or so), assumed that several times as much freshwater would enter the Arctic Ocean from other sources, and assumed that separate models are correct in predicting the impact of freshwater on North Atlantic Ocean currents, than an impact on climate could result. Few scientists are so impressed by this scenario, I suspect.

Scientific findings of the last decade have, if anything, strengthened the case against anthropogenic global warming. Satellite and balloon based measurements of global temperature for the past decade show little change, refuting IPCC predictions, while more deficiencies in the commonly cited ground-based temperature series have emerged. Each successive IPCC report has offered less severe predictions than before. More questions have been raised regarding the global carbon balance, and evidence has developed that North America is a net carbon sink, which was severely damaging to recent Kyoto treaty negotiations.

So which approach is really the conservative one? I would disagree that we have little to lose if we pursue "more efficient, clean, and sustainable technologies." To the degree that these are economical, the free market is already pursuing them without government intervention. What is generally referred to here, however, promises little return and is not as efficient, clean, and sustainable as claimed. Large-scale solar and wind projects remain more expensive than nuclear power and some fossil fuels. This is because of the inherent diluteness of solar and wind energy, which requires vast collection areas to be significant, which in turn requires vast investment of resources for collection facilities and associated non-negligible operating costs and environmental impacts. Many drawbacks of these alternative proposals are not acknowledged by their proponents; even worse, the increasing efforts to legislate them into being are magnifying the deficiencies to the point of endangering human lives.

The cost vs. benefits of fossil fuels are also not so clear. They represent the only affordable energy source for many, particularly in the developing world, where any inhibited access to energy is going to do the greatest human injury. Recoverable fossil fuels would last the world a few centuries to a millenium or more, a period of time over which uninhibited market forces could be expected to provide a smooth transition to other energy sources. Nuclear does even better, sustainable for thousands of years if fast breeders are used, and cleaner to boot.

Where the climatic effects of increased carbon dioxide may be unclear, the biological effects are verifiably positive. Further, if we desire a stable climate we might do as well to increase the greenhouse effect and delay the next ice age. And then there is the negative human impact if Kyoto limits are implemented.

© 2003, 2008 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 27 January 2008.
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