The Week That Was
November 27, 1999


This week we bring you this delightful essay by our friend John Daly in Tasmania. <> If you are fed up with hearing every ill of the world blamed on global warming, you'll appreciate his satire.

As you enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday (in the United States), you may want to chuckle about a footnote we received in response to our monumental opus on sea level rise of last week. "If the end of the Ice Age had not melted away the ice sheets that covered much of North America and Europe, you'd be writing this from an igloo." Indeed!

And how about that news release from the University of Washington, which talks about the "death throes" of the Antarctic ice sheet. Yeah, sure. It's been receding steadily for more than 10,000 years, and it will continue to shrink for more millennia, raising sea levels by another 15 feet, no matter what we do.


An experiment reported in Science (May 1999) found a significant increase in the growth rate of loblolly pine trees due to elevated levels of CO2. In a letter (Science, Sept. 17, 1999) responding to the article, a group of scientists complimented the researchers for their "excellent and much needed experimental work," but also. questioned the researchers' extrapolation from the experimental results.

But the most striking statement was concerned with politics. "In the current, post-Kyoto international political climate, scientific statements about the behavior of the terrestrial carbon cycle must be made with care...." This disturbing statement seems to suggest that political considerations should temper scientific predictions that more CO2 would benefit the growth of forests and agricultural crops

[The authors of the letter are Bert Bolin, Ex-Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Joseph Canadell, Executive Officer, Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems (GCTE), Berrien Moore III, Chairman of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), Ian Noble, Chairman of the GCTE, and Will Steffen, Executive Director of the IGBP. Four of the five authors are officers of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (GCTE is part of IGBP), which was set up by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU).]

Their letter prompted ICSU president Mihkel Arber to chastise the writers:

"Your letter on the need to temper scientific findings with political considerations, published in Science today, is a chilling testimonial to the current trend to limit objective reason in deference to political ambitions. Politics and science are fundamentally different beasts and whereas science can be harnessed to assist politics, the reverse has never been true....The open rebuke of a scientific, peer-reviewed paper on political unacceptable to the scientific community and serves only to tarnish the scientific reputation of the signatories and the scientific bodies they represent."

"As a past representative of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, I am particularly disappointed in the lead role two representatives of the Swedish scientific community have chosen to play in this tawdry spectacle…. Historically, we have seen periodic alignment of science with political mainstream thought in times which produced little of scientific note. Your letter confirms that we are now experiencing such times; a notion further augmented by the observation that a disturbing amount of politically correct research is being done with little care for scientific accuracy." [A copy of the letter is found at]


Citing the future's unpredictability, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will not forecast a "best guess" scenario for greenhouse-gas emissions for the next century. "There can be no best guess," according to the draft special report released by the IPCC. "The future is inherently unpredictable and views will differ on which of the scenarios could be more likely."

The report gives a range of possible CO2 emission scenarios by 2100 from five times today's levels, or 36.7 billion tons of carbon, down to 4.3 billion tons, slightly lower than today's levels. There are 40 scenarios in all, based on four different sets of assumptions about population, economic growth and technological advances. The main forecasts, for each set of assumptions, range from 6 billion tons to 29 billion tons. The report "extends the range significantly towards higher emissions," more so than the previous IPCC report, according to the New Scientist (Sept. 18, 1999).


Donald Kennedy, president emeritus of Stanford University and a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, has been appointed as the next Editor-in-Chief of Science. Published by the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science), it boasts the largest circulation of any scientific research and news journal.

Kennedy, a neurobiologist, is currently Bing Professor of Environmental Sciences at Stanford and concerned with environmental policy, including especially global climate change. Though independent-minded and reasonable (he gets good marks from Stanford colleagues we respect), we would classify him as a "true believer" in global warming. He is also in the same department and a close associate of Paul Ehrlich and Stephen Schneider, both known as activists.

How will this affect Science and its editorial policy? We don't know, but we are cautiously optimistic…

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