Jump down to "Global Warming: An Inconvenient-to-Understand Truth"
Added 5/13/11. Science bites climate skeptics in the ass on the House floor by Jess Zimmerman, 1 Apr 2011
... the guy who busted this out [i.e., showed this graph] at the House climate science hearing yesterday was brought in by the Republicans to debunk global warming. ... "We see a global warming trend that is very similar to that previously reported by the other groups. … I believe that some of the most worrisome biases are less of a problem than I had previously thought."
Added 1/13/11. Figures on Global Climate Show 2010 Tied 2005 as the Hottest Year on Record By JUSTIN GILLIS, January 12, 2011
New government figures for the global climate show that 2010 was the wettest year in the historical record, and it tied 2005 as the hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880.
The new figures confirm that 2010 will go down as one of the more remarkable years in the annals of climatology. It featured prodigious snowstorms that broke seasonal records in the United States and Europe; a record-shattering summer heat wave that scorched Russia; strong floods that drove people from their homes in places like Pakistan, Australia, California and Tennessee; a severe die-off of coral reefs; and a continuation in the global trend of a warming climate.
Two agencies, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reported Wednesday that the global average surface temperature for 2010 had tied the record set in 2005. ...
Added 12/3/10. John D. Sterman, A Banquet of Consequences: Systems Thinking and Modeling for Climate Change Policy (pdf) Slides of his presentation to the MIT System Design & Management (SDM) Systems Thinking Conference 2010.
Video>> of his presentation.
Risk Communication on Climate: Mental Models and Mass Balance by John D. Sterman 10/24/08 (pdf). Excerpt:
Wait-and-see works well in simple systems with short lags. We can wait until the teakettle whistles before removing it from the flame because there is little lag between the boil, the whistle, and our response. Similarly, wait-andsee would be a prudent response to climate change if there were short delays in the response of the climate system to intervention. However, there are substantial delays in every link of a long causal chain stretching from the implementation of emissions abatement policies to emissions reductions to changes in atmospheric GHG concentrations to surface warming to changes in ice sheets, sea level, agricultural productivity, extinction rates, and other impacts (4-6). Mitigating the risks therefore requires emissions reductions long before additional harm is evident. Wait-and-see policies implicitly presume the climate is roughly a first-order linear system with a short time constant, rather than a complex dynamical system with long delays, multiple positive feedbacks, and nonlinearities that may cause abrupt, costly, and irreversible regime changes (7, 8).
Obviously, few people are trained in climatology or nonlinear dynamics, and public understanding of these topics is poor (9-11). But there is a deeper problem: poor understanding of stocks and flows -- the concept of accumulation. Accumulation is pervasive in everyday experience: Our bathtubs accumulate the inflow of water through the faucet less the outflow through the drain, our bank accounts accumulate deposits less withdrawals, and we all struggle to control our weight by managing the inflows and outflows of calories through diet and exercise. Yet, despite their ubiquity, research shows that people have difficulty relating the flows into and out of a stock to the level of the stock, even in simple, familiar contexts such as bank accounts and bathtubs. Instead, people often assess system dynamics using a patternmatching heuristic, assuming that the output of a system should "look like" -- be positively correlated with -- its inputs (12, 13).
Although sometimes useful, correlational reasoning fails in systems with important accumulations. Since 1950, the U.S. federal budget deficit and national debt have risen dramatically and are highly correlated (r = 0.84, P < 0.0001). Correlational reasoning predicts that cutting the deficit would also cut the debt. However, because the national debt is a stock that accumulates the deficit, it keeps rising even if the deficit falls; debt falls only if the government runs a surplus.
Poor understanding of accumulation leads to serious errors in reasoning about climate change (see charts, left, and on page 533). ...
The Pentagon's Weather Nightmare The climate could change radically, and fast. That would be the mother of all national security issues. (FORTUNE Magazine) By David Stipp 2/9/04
Global warming, rather than causing gradual, centuries-spanning change, may be pushing the climate to a tipping point. Growing evidence suggests the ocean-atmosphere system that controls the world's climate can lurch from one state to another in less than a decade--like a canoe that's gradually tilted until suddenly it flips over. Scientists don't know how close the system is to a critical threshold. But abrupt climate change may well occur in the not-too-distant future. If it does, the need to rapidly adapt may overwhelm many societies--thereby upsetting the geopolitical balance of power.
Though triggered by warming, such change would probably cause cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, leading to longer, harsher winters in much of the U.S. and Europe. Worse, it would cause massive droughts, turning farmland to dust bowls and forests to ashes. ...
Though Mother Nature caused past abrupt climate changes, the one that may be shaping up today probably has more to do with us. In 2001 an international panel of climate experts concluded that there is increasingly strong evidence that most of the global warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities--mainly the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which release heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Indicators of the warming include shrinking Arctic ice, melting alpine glaciers, and markedly earlier springs at northerly latitudes. A few years ago such changes seemed signs of possible trouble for our kids or grandkids. Today they seem portents of a cataclysm that may not conveniently wait until we're history. ...
Panel in Britain clears scientists of misconduct allegations in 'Climate-gate'
British Panel Clears Scientists
Added 8/4/10: Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are 12 Times Support for Renewables, Study Shows By Alex Morales 7/29/10
Global subsidies for fossil fuels dwarf support given to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power and biofuels, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.
Governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits, the London-based research group said today in a statement. That compares with the $557 billion that the International Energy Agency last month said was spent to subsidize fossil fuels in 2008.
“One of the reasons the clean energy sector is starved of funding is because mainstream investors worry that renewable energy only works with direct government support,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of New Energy Finance. “This analysis shows that the global direct subsidy for fossil fuels is around ten times the subsidy for renewables.” ...
Added 8/4/10: Climate Policy is Paralyzed, But the Climate Isn’t By ANDREW C. REVKIN 8/3/10
While American energy and climate policy remain paralyzed, physics isn’t standing still. And the science pointing to big, long-lasting consequences for the world from the buildup of greenhouse gases continues to accumulate.
Particularly consequential is the impact on ice sheets and, in the end, sea levels, much of which is already programmed into the system because of the heat banked in the oceans and the long lifetime of the most important human-generated greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. For some insights on the need to adapt to this reality, even as policies on cutting emissions are crafted, read or listen to an interview conducted by Tom Yulsman, an old friend and journalism professor at the University of Colorado, with Jim White, a climate specialist there who just returned from Greenland. ...
Added 11/13/09: No Slowdown of Global Warming, Agency Says By ANDREW C. REVKIN and JAMES KANTER 12/8/09
The decade of 2000 to 2009 appears to be the warmest one in the modern record, the World Meteorological Organization reported in a new analysis on Tuesday. ... The period from 2000 through 2009 has been “warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s, and so on,” Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the international weather agency, said at a news conference here.
Added 12/10/09: Global Warming - A Fake Scandal, Progress Report 12/10/09
The conservative swiftboating attack in "Climategate" involves illegally hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climactic Research Unit (CRU) in the U.K., which skeptics are using to claim that leading climate researchers are suppressing scientific data that shows that climate change is not occurring. The truth is that the hacked e-mails offer no proof of the suppression of scientific data, the mainstream media has given undue credibility to the story, and the science behind global warming is as undeniable as ever.
Added 12/8/09: The Consequences Of Global Warming — From A To Z Think Progress 12/8/09.
Added 12/7/09: "For the last decade the climate has been cooling." That's what "conservatives" say."
|Global Land Ocean Temp Index cropped to show only last 10 years ... see original below.|
I created the graph at right by deleting data before 1998 from the Global Land-Ocean Temp Index graph below. Doing this shows that since 1998, most of the temperature points are down from then ... an obvious downward trend (well, maybe not so obvious, but one could make that case based on this limited data).
PolitiFact.com confirms the obvious: It's false that there's been "cooling". See the graphs below.
Conservative pundit Mary Matalin on CNN 10/22/09:
"Climate change is fake issue anyway. ... There is not consensus science on what is causing global climate change. There is climate change, but for the last decade the climate has been cooling. There is the science. There is the data on that. They want to do this because they like to have all these programs being controlled by the government."
NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt recently told the Associated Press:
"The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record," he said. "Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming."
If 1998 is the starting point, a year many climate skeptics tend to cite, everything looks cooler in comparison, said Raymond Bradley, a climate scientist at the University of Massachusetts. He also pointed out that, when evaluating the impact of climate change on temperature, it's misleading to look at only the last 10 years.
A decade is such a small period of time that "it's like saying, 'It was cold here last week. What happened to climate change?'" Bradley said.
This is a prime example of how to lie using selective data. As a scientist, I find this despicable.
The really big lie: It's all about "government control." Many "conservatives" even go so far as to say that when the communist movement failed they all fled to the environmental movement; that's the way they plot to take government control of the economy. It matters not to "conservatives" that the science confirms that the long term trend is warming, it's human caused, and it's a big problem.
Added 12/6/09: Naomi Klein on Climate Debt: Why Rich Countries Should Pay Reparations To Poor Countries For The Climate Crisis.. Naomi Klein examines the grass-roots movement behind the climate debate proposal that argues all the costs associated with adapting to a more hostile ecology—everything from building stronger sea walls to switching to cleaner, more expensive technologies—are the responsibility of the countries that created the crisis.
Added 12/3/09: I am aware of the hacked e-mails (Hacked E-Mail Is New Fodder for Climate Dispute By ANDREW C. REVKIN 11/20/09) and why the deniers have it wrong: Phil Jones and Ben Santer respond to CEI and Pat Michaels attack on temperature data record. The deniers are distorting reality. See "Climategate" exposed: Conservative media distort stolen emails in latest attack on global warming consensus. 12/01/09.
Deniers are creating a propaganda campaign to fabricate A Climate of Conspiracy. As Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said, those who doubt the science of global warming are "muddled and confused."
Based on what I know (thanks to a Ph.D. in physics, an MBA, and studying system dynamics), both the data (see the charts below) and the physics of the system make it clear that the planet is warming and anthropogenic in origin (human caused).
This attack on science perpetrates a crime of planetary proportions ... privatize the enormous profits from ologopoly control of oil, coal, and gas resources and externalizing the costs onto all other creatures on earth. This is a monstrous evil.
Added 11/1/09: For those who don't believe the earth is warming, these are from GISS Surface Temperature Analysis - Analysis Graphs and Plots:
|Global Annual Mean Surface Air Temperature Change: Line plot of global mean land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present. The dotted black line is the annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year mean. The green bars show uncertainty estimates.|
|GISS traditional analysis using only meteorological station data is a lin e plot of global annual-mean surface air temperature change derived from the meteorological station network [This is an update of Figure 6(b) in Hansen et al. (2001).] Uncertainty bars (95% confidence limits) are shown for both the annual and five-year means, account only for incomplete spatial sampling of data. January-September (9 months) mean is used for 2009 data.|
"Climate Change -- Super Freaking Wrong", 10/21/09. On the "global cooling" lie ... really now, just see the graphs above. For example: Bill O’Reilly and his Weatherman, Joe Bastardi, purvey the lie that over at least the last 10 years the globe is actually cooling.
"Global Warming -- Business Backlash Against Deniers", 10/1/09. On the "intense lobbying effort by various industry groups that have adopted extreme right-wing positions on the issue. These organizations include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) ... the many U.S. businesses that ... have started to revolt" against the global-warming deniers.
News Story: Global warming 'underestimated': BBC News, 15 February 2009. Global warming will be much worse than previously thought, a leading climate scientist has warned. Professor Chris Field says the earth's temperatures will change beyond anything currently predicted. [Note: what's described in this story should be "setting off positive feedback" that has negative effects, not "negative feedback." ... negative feedback is stabilizing.]
Article: The Greenhouse Effect and the Bathtub Effect By Andrew C. Revkin, 1/28/09 on
Dr. Sterman, a prominent analyst of risk perception and management at the Sloan School, has devised various tools akin to flight simulators to help corporate leaders understand the nature of a variety of problems and choose among various remedies. He recently turned this approach to climate, which he says bears much more resemblance to deficit spending and the national debt than it does to 20th-century-style pollution problems like acid rain.
Stopping the increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions ... will that reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere or stop global temperature increases? What do you think?
See the MIT System Dynamics Group Greenhouse Gas Emissions Simulator that explains "Bathtub Dynamics and Climate Change." It provides a personal examination of the dynamics of bathtubs and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses. You'd think we'd know about bathtub dynamics .. but we don't because our mental models are deficient ... that is, WRONG.
Global Warming: An Inconvenient-to-Understand Truth
This article is based on Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming by John D. Sterman & Linda Booth Sweeney, System Dynamics Review, 18(2) 2002 (138K). Read it for a more complete understanding.
Note1: Humans are also really bad at Estimating Exponentials.
Note2. I suspect that Al Gore did not go far enough A Really Inconvenient Truth
The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?
An Inconvenient-to-Understand Truth
Though some cast Al Gore as a global warming alarmist, his message isn't just "An Inconvenient Truth;" it's an inconvenient-to-understand truth.
Here's why, but first some inconvenient facts:
1: The earth’s surface temperature is mainly determined by the difference in energy between incoming solar radiation and outgoing radiation into space.
2. Higher atmospheric green house gas (GHG) concentrations absorb more of the energy radiated by the earth, allowing less energy to be radiated back into space. Therefore, increasing atmospheric GHGs, like CO2, cause greater warming.
3. At current GHG concentrations, incoming solar radiation exceeds outgoing radiation.
4. Human-generated GHG emissions have been growing exponentially since the beginning of the industrial age. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the current CO2 concentration is greater than anytime over the past 420,000 years (likely 20 million years). The current rate of increase is greater than over at least the past 20,000 years.
5. IPCC: Plants and the ocean absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, but the "net removal of atmospheric CO2 by natural processes is about half of the anthropogenic [human-generated] CO2 emissions." That is, the planet can absorb CO2 at only half the human-emission rate.
6. IPCC: “Most of the [global] warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.”
Why is the issue so hotly debated and confused?
First, because of well-financed disinformation campaigns that give a few dozen skeptics about the same attention as the scientific consensus of thousands of independent researchers.
Second, our intuition in "dynamically complex" situations, like global warming, with feedbacks and long delays is really bad. Research shows humans can no more figure out what will happen than they're able to memorize the Denver phone book (an example of a different kind of problem: "detail complexity").
The MIT System Dynamics Group tested student understanding of the dynamics of global warming (google "Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming"). They're no dummies, but didn't do well.
They were asked: If human CO2 emissions fell to zero in the year 2000, what would happen to atmospheric CO2 and global mean temperature from 2000 to 2050?
No one knows exactly, but the structure of the global climate system and basic laws of physics severely constrain possibilities.
First: If human CO2 emissions fell instantly to zero in the year 2000, what would happen to atmospheric CO2?
- 1. Go up?
- 2. Level off?
- 3. Slow decline at a diminishing rate?
- 4. Decline precipitously like CO2 emissions?
Do the thought experiment. Guess before reading on. There's enough information to answer correctly.
Answer. An atmosphere containing CO2 is like a bathtub of water. When inflow is greater than outflow, the tub keeps filling. When inflow stops and outflow continues, the level doesn't continue up, level off, or drop precipitously; it declines slowly at a fairly constant rate. Atmospheric CO2 would decline, too, but more slowly over time because the absorption rate into land and water falls as the atmospheric CO2 falls and some previously-absorbed CO2 is released back into the atmosphere. Simulations show it takes about 25 years for CO2 to get back down to the 1990 level. Only 26 percent of the students correctly chose #3.
What would happen to global mean temperature if human CO2 emissions fell instantly to zero in the year 2000?
- 1. Continue up? Flat, then up?
- 2. Flat and then down?
- 3. Slow rise and later slow decline?
- 4. Slow decline at a diminishing rate?
- 5. Decline precipitously like CO2 emissions?
Answer. Because incoming solar radiation exceeds outgoing radiation at current CO2 concentrations, some atmospheric CO2 must be removed for outgoing radiation to begin to equal incoming solar radiation. So temperature will rise (for about 30 years) until enough CO2 is absorbed by the earth to allow temperature to begin to fall. Only 31 percent correctly chose #3.
If this is difficult to follow, if your eyes glazed over just thinking about it, that's a clue as to why the reality of global warming caused by humans is difficult to understand. And that's why the issue is so easily obfuscated by those pushing a "don't worry, be happy" message.
It's a real and urgent problem. Don't believe the skeptics.
Bob Powell, Ph.D. in physics, is owner of exponentialimprovement.com and a Magellan Center Senior Fellow
To fully understand why this issue evades public understanding read this paper on the dynamics of global warming at the M.I.T. web site: "Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming" by Sterman and Sweeney (2002).
Here are some graphs from the referenced paper. Coincidence? No.
|Figure 1. Global CO2 emissions resulting from human activity (billion tons of carbon per year)|
Figure 1. Global CO2 emissions resulting from human activity (billion tons of carbon per year)
|Figure 2. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations, parts per million.|
Figure 2. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations, parts per million.
|Figure 3. Average global surface temperatures, °C. The zero line is set to the average for the period 1961-1990.|
Figure 3. Average global surface temperatures, degrees C. The zero line is set to the average for the period 1961-1990.
|Figure 4. Zero Emissions Task - Emissions to Zero Input|
Figure 4. Zero Emissions Task - Emissions to Zero Input
|Figure 5. Simulation of the Zero Emissions Task - Atmospheric CO2|
Figure 5. Simulation of the Zero Emissions Task - Atmospheric CO2
|Figure 6. Simulation of the Zero Emissions Task - Global Mean Temperature|
Figure 6. Simulation of the Zero Emissions Task - Global Mean Temperature
IPCC cites: a rising mean global surface temperature, glacier retreat, a decline in winter snow cover, a 40% decline in arctic summer sea-ice thickness, an increase in extreme weather events, and a rise of 0.1 - 0.2 meters in sea level.
Though mean global temperatures only rose in the 20th century by a seemingly-small 0.6 +/- 0.2 degrees C, reinforcing feedbacks produce exponential changes, which start small but can quickly and irreversibly get out of hand.
More on this:
Global Warming: Bush's "Clear Skies" Means "Cloudy Skies"
Global warming is a major problem that we must address. The paper below from MIT explains the flawed nature of public understanding of the problem, and why George Bush's "Clear Skies" program is more aptly titled, "Cloudy Skies." Again, this references Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming by John D. Sterman & Linda Booth Sweeney, System Dynamics Review, 18(2) 2002 (138K).
The column by a libertarian extremist to which this responds is included below.
On Global Warming by Bob Powell
A libertarian stated that the "environmental radicals" and the "social responsibility set," who are concerned about global warming, are "fools" carrying on another "environmentalist scare campaign." The perverse assertion is that environmentalists "want power" and are "red within" communists using "junk science to close down legitimate businesses." This Orwellian distortion and shortsightedness is frightening. Ostrich-like behavior is comforting for a time, but in the long run it's disastrous.
The concern of economic "conservatives" for the alleged "expropriation of stockholder profits" is touching, but it's the public that bears the burden. Corporations act as capitalists as they privatize business profits, but they act as socialists as they externalize costs. Because the climate is a shared global resource, it's vulnerable to the tragedy of the commons dynamic. In this case, corporations and nations benefit in the short-run from high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but the costs are (1) borne by all, (2) shifted from the rich to the poor and (3) shifted from current to future generations.
We humans don't deal well with systems in which delays between action and effect are months, much less decades as in the case of global warming. In fact, humans cannot deal effectively with delays of even seconds when driving, which is why there are laws against driving while intoxicated. What economic "conservatives" promote is the equivalent of drunk driving where the stake is the fate of the global environment and life on earth as we know it. Extremist? Not at all; what's extreme is not taking precautionary action now, before it's too late.
Well-financed industry campaigns discount the science to protect profits, regardless of the future impacts. Most of us have little appreciation of the extent to which humans affect the climate. Studies have shown that aerosol pollution from autos and industry along the eastern seaboard of the United States builds up throughout the workweek and dissipates over the weekend. Data show that the chance of rain is highest on the weekend, while on average the nicest day is Monday, when few are free to enjoy the out of doors. Few of us understand that driving that SUV to work helps spoil our weekend plans.
Conservatives justify inaction by exaggerating the uncertainty that's inherent in any scientific study where delays are measured in decades. But despite uncertainty, the scientific consensus is that global warming is real.
What's more, the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded: "most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities." It noted that, while natural processes gradually remove CO2 from the atmosphere (for example, plants absorb and ocean dissolve), the current "net removal of atmospheric CO2 by natural processes is about half of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions."
So human-caused (anthropogenic) emissions must be cut at least in half to stabilize CO2 at its present record levels. Such cuts greatly exceed Kyoto targets, which would reduce emissions to about 95% of 1990 rates by 2012. Reducing CO2 concentrations will require even deeper cuts.
Mr. Bush's masterfully misnamed "Clear Skies Initiative" calls for continued emissions growth. He stated:
"My administration is committed to cutting our nation's greenhouse gas intensity -- how much we emit per unit of economic activity -- by 18 percent over the next 10 years. This will set America on a path to slow the growth of our greenhouse gas emissions and, as science justifies, to stop and then reverse the growth of emissions."
This misleading statement allows Mr. Bush to use words like "cutting" and "slow," even though his plan increases emissions because increased economic activity brings increased emissions. In fact, projected emissions in 2012 would rise by 17% assuming his 2002 budget economic growth assumptions. His carefully worded target is contrived to seem large, but it's very close to the 17.4% drop in emissions intensity that occurred over the economic boom from 1990 to 2000. Mr. Bush's "Clear Skies" is a continuation of business as usual.
His obfuscation works. A 1/21/03 NPR news segment reported on administration efforts to get voluntary pledges to meet Mr. Bush's "goal of an 18% reduction in emissions of GHG by 2012." In fact, Bush's goal is continued increases.
Many believe that, if CO2 emissions drop, then global temperature will drop. But at current CO2 concentrations, incoming solar radiation exceeds outgoing radiation. The accumulation of CO2 concentrations must fall to halt warming. This warming has brought retreating glaciers, less winter snow cover, a 40% decline in summer arctic sea-ice thickness, an increased number of extreme weather events and a rise of 4 - 7 inches in sea level, among other effects.
In the 40 scenarios the IPCC considered, CO2 concentrations continue to rise through 2100 with rising temperatures over the next century of between 2.5 to 10.4 degrees F. This is a significant change when one considers that, when thousand foot thick ice sheets covered much of the northern hemisphere, mean global temperature during the last ice age was only about 9 degrees F colder than today.
For more on this see the paper at the M.I.T. web site: "Cloudy Skies: Assessing Public Understanding of Global Warming" by Sterman and Sweeney (2002). They observe that a more accurate statement of Bush's policy is:
"My administration is committed to further growth in our nation's greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring higher greenhouse gas concentrations and continued global warming. If it turns out that sound science justifies further action, it will be too late."
That's the truth about Orwellian George's "Clear Skies" policies.
The libertarian idealogue's column to which this responds:
Published: Denver Post, Tues., April 22, 2003
Earth Day 2003: Are we better off than last year?
Global warming and little green monsters By Linda Gorman, Golden
It's April, and fools are out in force.
The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a bellweather for the latest fashion trends in morally smug investing, reports that gadfly shareholder resolutions on global warming showed the most growth in the environmental activism category. Judging from the ICCR report, the social responsibility set thinks that other shareholders ought to be required to finance research for environmental radicals. If passed, the resolutions would require companies to report on economic risks caused by their greenhouse gas and mercury emissions. They also require describing the "operating, financial and reputational risks" derived from "past, present and future greenhouse gas emissions" from their "operations and products."
Problem is, discussing such risks is a waste of time. Nobody knows if greenhouse gases pose any risk or what those risks might be. Even though media outlets and activist propaganda campaigns have succeeded in portraying industry emissions and SUV drivers as the sole source of global warming, on balance the facts we have suggest otherwise.
Currently, carbon dioxide makes up about 0.037 percent of the Earth's atmosphere. Estimates put it at 0.027 percent 150 years ago, and environmental activists assume that industrialization is responsible for the increase. They claim that unless energy use in the developed world is drastically curtailed, rising carbon dioxide levels will trap more and more heat in the atmosphere. Temperatures will rise, triggering disasters of biblical proportions including sea level increases of 4 to 40 inches, floods, hurricanes, Antarctic glacier surges, the demise of the Gulf Stream, the death of coral reefs, drought and marauding icebergs off Portugal.
Fortunately, such predictions come from mathematical climate models, not real data. Though constructing models is a worthy scientific undertaking, modeling climate is a difficult problem. At their present stage of development, climate models are better suited to producing scare headlines than to guiding environmental policy.
Even the most advanced models cannot accurately reproduce such basic phenomena as El Nino, cloud cover, regional rainfall and the variations in the Earth's energy budget. Furthermore, the historical record does not show a consistent relationship between carbon dioxide levels and temperature, possibly because plants respond to higher carbon dioxide levels by growing faster and taking more out of the atmosphere. One group of researchers calculated that the broadleaf forest in North America is capable of removing all of the carbon dioxide created by fossil fuel use in the United States and Canada. If correct, this means that human activity in those two countries has nothing to do with the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Then there's the sun. A number of solar cycles have been observed. The best known is the 10-to-11-year sunspot cycle, which is accompanied by changes in magnetic activity that produce dramatic changes in ultraviolet and soft X-ray emissions. These may have important consequences for the Earth's upper atmosphere, ocean temperatures and atmospheric water vapor. Analyses of tree rings, ocean sediment cores and stalagmite deposits suggest that biological processes are correlated with solar activity. During the Maunder minimum, a period from the mid-1650s to the early 1700s, both sunspot numbers and temperatures in Europe reached record lows.
Should environmental radicals succeed in parleying their mathematical fantasies into the expropriation of stockholder profits, a ban on fossil fuels and the ability to regulate modern industry into extinction, the rest of us can take comfort from the fact that global warming will likely continue. Evidence from a variety of sources - including ice cores, glaciers, tree growth, peat, pollen and sea- floor sediments - suggests that the Earth has been warming in fits and starts since the Little Ice Age (1300-1900). In time, we may even return to the balmy temperatures that characterized the Medieval Warm Period (800-1300). Environmentalists have few scruples about inflicting vast discomfort on other humans. If they get their way, retreating glaciers, more arable land and the kind of climate that let the Vikings settle Greenland will no doubt be welcome events.
Like Lenin, whose birthday is celebrated on Earth Day, modern environmentalists want power. Green on the outside and red within, they'll do anything to get it, including burning buildings they don't like, planting lynx hair to get control of other people's land and using junk science to close down legitimate businesses. We haven't run out of food or raw materials as they predicted in the 1970s, or forests and space to put garbage as they predicted in the 1980s.
Legally used pesticides don't turn children into little green monsters, either. For that, one needs environmentalist scare campaigns like the one on global warming.
Linda Gorman is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Golden.
|© 2003 Continuous Improvement Associates