A SHRINKING THREAT
By Simon Scott
A shorter version of this article appeared in the Australian Financial Review on 14 September, 2000.
Despite continuing efforts by greenhouse sceptics, the conventional wisdom remains that rising levels of carbon dioxide are changing the climate. Numerous model simulations predict that continuing increases in CO2 and other greenhouse gases will result in hotter weather, worse storms, rising sea levels, and spreading tropical diseases.
Scientifically, however, the global warming theory has had a
torrid year. Meetings in Lyons from 11 to 15 September 2000
were to have hammered out the final details for cutting emissions
under the Kyoto Protocol, for approval at the Sixth Conference of
Parties to the UN Climate Convention at The Hague in November. http://www.unfccc.de/resource/docs/whatnew/notification.pdf
Instead delegates have been confronting the looming collapse of the Protocol and a growing crisis of confidence in the underlying greenhouse theory.
Three key aspects of the greenhouse scenario have recently come unstuck. First, warming to date in the free atmosphere appears to be negligible. Second, it seems the warming effect of extra CO2 may have been overestimated. And third, greenhouse gas concentrations are rising at less than half the rate assumed in most climate models.
The mounting evidence that the greenhouse threat has been
overblown has left many of its scientific proponents searching
for explanations. Meanwhile, Finance Ministries in
Europe and North America have been stunned by the estimated price
tag for meeting Kyoto targets, and one government has already
fallen over the issue.
Contamination of the surface record by local heating effects
The initial evidence that greenhouse warming was happening
came from compilations of global surface temperature records from
around the world, which appeared to show a warming of about 0.6
degrees through the 20th century, 0.4 of it since the mid-1970s. http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/
[See the graph at http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/cru/info/warming/]
But recent scientific scrutiny has undermined the credibility
of these well-publicised and long-accepted graphs. Melbourne
researcher Warwick Hughes has shown that they failed to allow for
artificial local heating from increases in surrounding asphalt,
concrete, traffic and smog. http://www.ozemail.com.au/~hughesw7/
Some allowance was made for urban warming but not enough.
Data from hundreds of smaller towns was thrown in without
adjustment, as they were thought to be "rural
areas". Reason? The compilers had used
population data that was up to 30 years out of date. http://www.microtech.com.au/daly/press1-4.htm#HotCity
[See also] http://www.microtech.com.au/daly/graytemp/surftemp.htm
Only a few weather stations, mostly on small islands or in remote areas, are completely free from urban warming biases. Tasmanian greenhouse sceptic John Daly has made a collection of data from these sites. http://www.microtech.com.au/daly/stations/stations.htm
Practically none show any warming. Especially striking is that scientific stations in polar regions, which according to greenhouse models should have warmed up as much as 5 degrees already, also show no overall trend, despite frequent stories about melting ice and snow.
But the real smoking gun has been the data from
specially equipped satellites that have circled the earth since
1979. They take continuous measurements of the temperature
in the free atmosphere, above the smog and local heating at the
surface. The data have been painstakingly refined by John
Christy at the University of Alabama at Huntsville and Roy
Spencer of NASA, and are correct to a hundredth of a
degree. Over more than 21 years, they show only a tiny
global warming of 0.1 degrees - and were even registering a
slight fall until the big El Niño three years ago. http://www.atmos.uah.edu./essl/msu/background.html
[Regraphed at] http://www.vision.net.au/~daly/nasa.gif
Overestimation of the warming potential of CO2
Overall, the evidence suggests that warming caused by the rise in greenhouse gases has so far been negligible. But model projections of future temperatures assumed it was substantial, and that doubling CO2 could raise temperatures by around 2.5 degrees. http://www.vision.net.au/~daly/press-00.htm#TAR-draft [ follow instructions at click here, press continue twice and see e.g. Summary for Policymakers, p. 6.]
The highly respected American solar scientist Doug Hoyt has highlighted cooling effects left out in calculating the 2.5 degree figure. These include increased evaporation from plants, reduced atmospheric transparency from CO2 itself, and the energy taken by lifting more water vapour into the air. Hoyt describes the way the models treat the water cycle as energetically impossible. http://users.erols.com/dhoyt1/annex12.htm
The draft Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released earlier this year, still
clung to 2.5 degrees for CO2 doubling. But the question
most modellers are now asking is not whether they should scale it
down, but by how much. Several research institutes have
already re-run their models using 2.0 degrees. But Hoyt and
others say this should be slashed to as little as 0.5 degrees.
No one knows for sure exactly how much warming a doubling of
CO2 would cause. The answer is probably somewhere between
0.5 and 2.0 degrees - in which case, current projections of
warming need to be scaled down by 20 to 80 per cent.
Exaggerating the speed of greenhouse gas build-up
The speed of greenhouse gas build-up also has to be taken into account. Most climate change simulations have projected a standard increase in greenhouse gases of one per cent a year. This helps model results to be compared. But it is no longer a reasonable real-world assumption.
[esp. comment on p.3, line 15]
[See the graphs at] http://www.dar.csiro.au/cc/gh_gg.htm
The graphs show recent trends in greenhouse gas concentrations, as measured by CSIRO. None are rising at anywhere near 1 per cent a year. The most important greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, currently accounts for 370 parts per million in the atmosphere, and is rising by 1.5 ppm a year. Most other greenhouse gases are levelling off or even falling.
On present trends it would take over 200 years for total greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to double from their current levels. They might never double at all if new power sources come on stream.
Daly points out that the 1 per cent increase assumed in the
models compounds each year, making CO2 double in only 70 years. http://www.vision.net.au/~daly/press-00.htm#1%
Thus the models give the impression that any warming that does occur will happen three times faster than is likely in reality.
Dubious greenhouse research
Each new scientific advance makes the threat from greenhouse warming seem smaller and more remote. But subtantial reaseach funds have already been spent to investigate the impacts of a warming which is so far barely detectable, and unlikely ever to be very serious.
Sea level modelling has been a particular waste of time.
It initially led to dire predictions of submerged island nations
and the inundation of the Ganges basin. Now satellite
measurements since 1992 have proven that mean sea level around
the world has hardly changed a jot.
This came as no surprise to Daly, who had done substantial research on one of the oldest tidemarks in the world, cut in stone on a small island off Port Arthur in 1841. Documented historical measurements against this mark show mean tide has moved only 2 centimeters since the late 19th century.
Six recent IPCC scenarios predicted an average sea
level rise of 31 centimeters over the next 100 years. http://www.vision.net.au/~daly/press-00.htm#TAR-draft
[ follow instructions at click
here, press continue twice and see e.g. Summary
for Policymakers, p. 11.] This is far lower than
earlier guesstimates, but is still based on the now questionable
model projections of warming. In fact, a number of
scientists, on both sides of the greenhouse debate, actually
believe a small warming would reduce sea level, because of
greater snowfall in the Antarctic and the evaporation of gases
from crystals on the seabed.
A lot of greenhouse research has been silly and some of it
even cruel. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the
Australian Antarctic Division had been conducting experiments
that severely injured elephant seals on Macquarie Island, south
of Tasmania. A visiting state government wildlife officer
discovered that scientists had been branding and tagging elephant
seals, producing large infected wounds. The seals were also
routinely subjected to stomach lavaging, supposedly
to see how climate change among other things was affecting their
The warmers respond
Some greenhouse proponents have reacted to the crisis of confidence in their theory by retreating into denial. When one former IPCC mandarin received calculations from a German scientist suggesting that the IPCCs estimate of the warming potential of CO2 was five times too high, he fired back that he wanted to be deleted from the scientists mailing list, sniffing that Your messages have so far not provided me with new meaningful information.http://www.microtech.com.au/daly/forcing/forcing2.htm#Bolin1
Others have tried to explain the lack of observed warming by claiming that industrial aerosols are scattering sunlight before it reaches the surface. http://www.pewclimate.org/projects/env_science.pdf, [esp.p.6f]. But Daly and Hoyt have pointed out that, if this were true, places downwind of industrial centers would be cooler than everywhere else. In fact they are warmer because of the urban heat island effect. Taking them out of the temperature calculation only makes global warming even more negligible than before. http://www.vision.net.au/~daly/sulphur.htm
James Hansen of NASA has perhaps been shrewder in responding
to the holes in the greenhouse scenario. Hansen has a key
role in the debate as it was his 1988 testimony to the US Senate
that first triggered global alarm over greenhouse warming.
Two years ago he conceded that CO2 probably didnt have the
warming potential that the models had assumed.
Now he suggests concentrating on reducing non-CO2 greenhouse gases and recently told the New York Times: The prospects for having a modest climate impact instead of a disastrous one are quite good, I think. http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/081900sci-environ-climate.html
Growing apostasy among heads of meteorological agencies
The heads of other official climate bodies have been walking a tightrope. If they admit that greenhouse warming poses no serious threat in the 21st century, they risk losing research funds and being seen to rat on their own researchers. But if they say nothing they risk public anger and ridicule when the penny finally drops.
John Zillman, Director of the Bureau of Meteorology and President of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, knows this better than most. He gingerly told Channel 9s Sunday programme in November 1997: I am just a little bit less confident than the IPCC as a whole that we know enough about the science to say the statements as firmly as we have made them so far. http://sunday.ninemsn.com.au/01_cover_stories/article_161.asp
The former Secretary-General of the WMO, Wijn Nielsen, has been less discreet. After his term was over, he blurted out to the major German financial daily, the Handelsblatt, that the desire for research funds was the reason that scientists were, against their better judgement, supporting climate hysteria. http://members.aol.com/HZingel3/Index.html, [click on Klima and Ozon and on Die politische Seite der angeblichen Klimaerwärmung durch CO2]
This year the President of the American Association of State Climatologists, George Taylor, finally came out on the issue, stating in an open letter:
Ten years ago, I believed the modellers that
global warming was a serious problem that needed attention and
intervention. As I studied the issue year by year, I became less
and less convinced that the "problem" was truly
serious. My current bottom line: while human activities doubtless
influence climate (on a local, regional, and even a global
scale), the human-induced climate change from expected increases
in greenhouse gases will be a rather small fraction of the
natural variations. I don't foresee global warming causing big
problems, and believe that even if we controlled every molecule
of human emissions we would still see substantial climate change,
just as we always have. http://www.ocs.orst.edu/reports/nascomm.html
Bureaucratic momentum vs. practical reality
Scientifically, the greenhouse scare is largely over. But a substantial bureaucratic machine created to respond to it is still running on empty. Thousands of taxpayer-funded delegates will go The Hague for earnest discussions about national greenhouse gas inventories and how to create an international market for carbon credits.
The idea is that cutting carbon emissions by funding cleaner power plants or new forests - even overseas - could earn credits that countries could trade and eventually add to their Kyoto Protocol emission limits. But the Protocol will only come into force if 55 countries ratify it, including enough industrial countries to account for 55 per cent of their total 1990 emissions. http://www.unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.html, [ Article 25.] This is now very unlikely.
The reason is that most developed nations are already way over
their targets. Their Energy Departments are reporting that
meeting them would cost billions, reducing GDP by up to 4 per
And in any case, developing countries as rich as Singapore and
Taiwan have no target to meet. Multinationals could
transfer any amount industrial activity to those countries, and
not worry how much CO2 they put up the smokestack. Even if
the Protocol is ratified, there is still no penalty for countries
that fail to meet their target, and the Protocol explicitly says
that a new agreement would be required to impose any.
http://www.unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.html [Article 18]
Fat chance. The Kyoto process has become a global game of lets all pretend.
Meanwhile the Kyoto targets have already toppled one
government. Earlier this year, the ruling coalition in
Norway tried to block a proposal to build two new gas-fired power
stations, claiming they would push Norway over its Kyoto
target. After a stormy debate in Parliament, the government
lost a no-confidence motion on the issue and was forced to
Obstacles to common sense
Alan Oxley, former chief Australian trade negotiator in Geneva, suggests the sensible course would be to forget about the Kyoto Protocol and concentrate on research to improve energy efficiency. More effort is also needed on real and urgent environmental problems - loss of biodiversity and habitat, salination, air and water pollution - that have been overshadowed and outfunded by greenhouse hype. http://www.lavoisier.com.au/, [Oxley article, at end.]
But a more likely outcome is some face-saving climbdown that commits governments to carbon inventories, monitoring, incentives, emissions trading pilot schemes and so on.
Such projects will at least keep the jobs of a growing army of
global warming bureaucrats around the world, many of whom pay no
attention to developments in what they call the
science of the greenhouse scenario. A senior
international official was recently asked off the record whether
he actually believed that growth in greenhouse gases posed a
serious threat to humanity. I hope so, he
chuckled. Otherwise Im out of a job.
The author, Simon Scott, is a former senior Australian public
servant who now advises on international environment and
development issues. Email Simon Scott at
Posted by Warwick Hughes, 20, September, 2000
© Simon Scott, 2000
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