Cover Story

Putting Kyoto on ice

Economists are estimating the costs of the United Nations' global warming treaty, and the numbers are startling. In the Third World, slowing economic progress would curb development of sanitary living conditions, health care, and transportation; 4 billion persons could suffer and die prematurely. But what is really putting a chill on the global warming scare is the growing scientific backlash.

Issue: "Putting Kyoto on ice," Aug. 8, 1998

Clinton administration environmentalists were confident eight months ago at the United Nations climate change conference in Kyoto, Japan. They predicted member states would ratify an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions to stave off catastrophic global warming. Proponents of the treaty, and the theory underlying the crisis it purports to address, had the spotlight pretty much to themselves. Dissenting voices were few and far between. It was easy for treaty advocates to write them off as cranks and eccentrics, the unprincipled hired guns of industry who sold their scientific credentials to the highest bidder. The appearance of consensus was strong enough that a year ago Vice President Al Gore could announce at a White House conference on global warming, "The overwhelming balance of evidence and scientific opinion is that it is no longer a theory but now a fact that global warming is real." In support of this claim, Mr. Gore touted "2,500 scientists" who endorsed the UN's 1996 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report with its forecast of catastrophic global warming. But the reality wasn't so simple then, and in the intervening year it's become a lot more complicated. Even when Mr. Gore made the claim that "2,500 scientists" had endorsed the IPCC report, it was false. As atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, pointed out at the time, "If one were to add up all contributors and reviewers listed in the three IPCC reports published in 1996, one would count about 2,100. The great majority of these are not conversant with the intricacies of atmospheric physics, although some may know a lot about forestry, fisheries, or agriculture. Most are social scientists-or just policy experts and government functionaries.... The list even includes known skeptics of global warming-much to their personal and professional chagrin." Mr. Singer pointed out that "the IPCC report has some 80 authors for its 11 chapters, but only a handful actually wrote the Policymakers' Summary; most of the several hundred listed 'contributors' are simply specialists who allowed their work to be cited, without necessarily endorsing the other chapters or the summary." By contrast, nearly 100 climate scientists signed the "Leipzig Declaration on Global Climate Change" in 1996, stating, in part, "there does not exist today a general scientific consensus about the importance of greenhouse warming from rising levels of carbon dioxide. In fact, many climate specialists now agree that actual observations from weather satellites show no global warming whatsoever-in direct contradiction to computer model results." Four years earlier, two other groups had spoken out against the Global Climate Treaty and the conventional wisdom that supports it: More than a hundred U.S. climate scientists signed a "Statement by Atmospheric Scientists on Greenhouse Warming," and eventually more than 4,000 scientists worldwide signed the "Heidelberg Appeal," circulated at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. But those efforts to get a word in edgewise fell largely on deaf ears. The mainstream press ignored them. So did government officials and agencies, as well as the scientists and policymakers of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the wake of Kyoto, however, a new effort is underway that might be more difficult to ignore-at least in the long run. Early this year, Arthur B. Robinson, director of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, in cooperation with Frederick Seitz, one of America's premier scientists and past president of the National Academy of Sciences and of Rockefeller University, began circulating a "Global Warming Petition" that flatly denies the crisis scenario and firmly opposes the Kyoto climate accord. Accompanying the petition was an extensive, heavily documented paper reviewing the main scientific literature on greenhouse theory. "The empirical evidence [of] actual measurements of Earth's temperature shows no man-made warming trend," the paper reported. "Indeed, over the past two decades, when CO2 levels have been at their highest, global average temperatures have actually cooled slightly." Initially, the petition went by mail to a variety of scientists. Those who signed and returned cards could ask for more cards to give to colleagues. Then it was put on the Internet so that scientists who wanted to add their signatures could download the petition and signature card, print it out, sign it, and return it. The response has been overwhelming. By mid-April more than 15,000 American scientists had signed. By mid-July, the total number of signers had grown to over 18,800. Of these, 16,400 are basic and applied scientists, and nearly all of them have technical training suitable for evaluation of the relevant research data. These include 2,300 physicists, geophysicists, climatologists, meteorologists, oceanographers, and environmental scientists specially qualified to evaluate the effects of carbon dioxide on Earth's atmosphere and climate, and 4,700 chemists, biochemists, biologists, and other life scientists specially qualified to evaluate the effects of carbon dioxide on Earth's plant and animal life. Defenders of the conventional wisdom initially questioned the credibility of the list. But of the 18,800 signatures so far in the database, 17,300-including over 95 percent of those holding Ph.D. degrees-have been independently verified, and the other 1,500 are pending verification. "One name that was sent in by enviro pranksters, Geri Halliwell, Ph.D., has been eliminated," the Institute reports. (Readers with access to the Internet can read and download a complete list of signers, along with the petition and accompanying technical paper, at The list continues to grow of its own accord. Mr. Robinson, who is familiar to some for his CD-ROM homeschooling curriculum, told WORLD that more than a thousand additional signature cards had been received but not yet verified or added to the database. Of course, science doesn't-and mustn't-determine truth by majority vote. But to the extent that policymakers and proponents of the global warming scenario have claimed scientific "consensus," this Global Warming Petition demolishes that claim. Politics, policymaking, and environmentalist public-relations campaigns aside, the reasons behind the Global Warming Petition are far more important from a scientific standpoint. These are spelled out in the accompanying review of research literature, "Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide." The argument against fears of global warming-and consequently also against costly climate change treaties-is two pronged. First, the best scientific evidence does not indicate that global average temperatures have risen in recent decades. According to greenhouse theory, as carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere rise, thus keeping more solar energy from reflecting from the surface of the globe back into space, average global temperatures should rise. Yet while there is reasonably good evidence that global average temperatures rose by about 0.6 degrees Centigrade from 1880 to 1980, the data are inconsistent with the theory both because the theory would have predicted nearly three times the increase in temperature for the period and because about 70 percent of the temperature increase that did occur came before 1940 while about 80 percent of the greenhouse gas increase came after 1940. Thus, temperature increase preceded greenhouse gas increase, which is the opposite of what the theory predicts. The most thorough and reliable data indicate a slight cooling trend from at least 1979 to the present. In the past, most temperature data came from thousands of monitoring stations, mostly on land, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, and mostly near urban areas. Consequently, they were highly unrepresentative of the globe as a whole and subject to what climatologists have come to call the "urban heat island" effect-the tendency for urban areas to generate and trap their own heat, thus raising local temperatures slightly while having no measurable effect on global temperature. Climatologists have understood the problems with such data for years and have tried to compensate for them, but their means of compensation always required some assumptions about climate as a whole that could not be sustained by data alone. Since 1979, however, they have had access to another source of temperature data that is completely unaffected by urban heat island phenomena. That was the year NASA's Satellite Microwave Sounding Unit, or MSU, went into operation. It measures temperatures in the lower troposphere (the part of the atmosphere nearest the surface of the earth) literally all over the globe. The data from the MSU, reported by atmospheric scientist James Angell of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Trends Online: A Compendium of Data on Global Change and analyzed by leading climatologists R.W. Spencer and J.R. Christy in articles in Science in 1990 and Nature in 1997, show a decline in global average temperature from 1979 through 1997 that averages about 0.047 degrees Centigrade per decade-or a total decline of about 0.09 degrees over the 19-year period. Two critics of the MSU's data, Frank J. Wentz and Matthias Schabel, pointed out that the satellite had lost about 15 kilometers in altitude (from an initial 850 kilometers) due to atmospheric drag. The loss in altitude would have resulted in a fictitious decline in temperature readings. Mr. Spencer acknowledges that the glitch appears genuine. However, he argues that orbital procession in the satellite and calibration drift in the radiometer would have created a false warming trend, offsetting the false cooling trend. This appears confirmed by the fact that there is strong correlation between the MSU temperature data and independently gathered balloon radiosonde temperature data. If the satellite data were really falsified by the decline in altitude, the correlation should disappear. It doesn't. For the present, at any rate, the combined MSU and balloon radiosonde data appear to be the best available for measuring global average temperature, and the roughly 0.05 degrees Centigrade per decade decline in temperature since 1979 seems real. That presents a major problem for global warming theory, because it means temperatures have declined during the very period when carbon dioxide and other atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have risen most rapidly-precisely the opposite of what the theory predicts. But what accounts for the warming widely acknowledged to have taken place from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th? It appears that this was part of a much longer-term recovery from the "Little Ice Age"-a recovery that began about three centuries ago. The "Little Ice Age" itself had followed what climate historians call the "Medieval Climate Optimum," when temperatures well above today's permitted the colonization of Greenland. But with the onset of the "Little Ice Age," the Greenland colonies proved uninhabitable. The most likely cause of such long-term variations in Earth's temperature is variations in solar energy output. Long-term solar energy output cycles correlate well with long-term geological temperature cycles. The second main argument against the climate accord is that it attempts to avert a blessing rather than a curse. The assumption behind the treaty is that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and higher average global temperatures spell nothing but trouble. The best scientific evidence indicates that this assumption is wrong, according to Mr. Robinson and his co-authors. One reason it is wrong, they argue, is that even if global average temperatures were to rise within the range predicted by popular global warming theory (that is, by about 1.5 degrees Centigrade in the next 120 years), the results would be beneficial, not harmful. Most of the warming would occur in the frigid rather than in the temperate or tropical latitudes, and in the frigid latitudes so small a temperature increase would be insufficient to cause the feared melting of polar icecaps and consequent rise in sea levels. Furthermore, what warming did occur in the temperate latitudes would be mostly in the winter and at night, thus not increasing the number of days of severe summer heat but instead lengthening growing seasons and narrowing the day/night temperature differential, both of which would benefit agricultural production. Another reason the popular fear is wrong is that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is directly beneficial to plant growth and consequently not only to human beings but also to all animals, who depend on plants for food. "As atmospheric CO2 increases," the paper points out, "plant growth rates increase. Also, leaves lose less water as CO2 increases, so that plants are able to grow under drier conditions. Animal life, which depends upon plant life for food, increases proportionally." Thus, increased atmospheric carbon dioxide can contribute not only to more and cheaper food for people but also to the preservation of biodiversity for both plants and the animals that depend on them. The thrust of the Kyoto climate accords is to limit greenhouse gas emissions by limiting fossil fuel consumption. The Clinton administration estimates compliance costs at about $7 to $14 billion per year. But that apparently includes only direct expenditures, not forgone production, which will be much more costly, because every form of economic production requires energy use. Less energy means less economic production. The independent economic forecasting firm WEFA estimates the total costs of compliance with Kyoto:

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