|The Week That Was
May 26, 2001
NEW ON THE SEPP WEB:
We support the suggestion by William Reilly (head of the World Wildlife Fund and former EPA administrator) for an independent review of the IPCC conclusions.
BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S POSITION ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE
"This financial math is important when considering some of the biggest environmental challenges one faces today. When confronting long-run challenges - and the environment is certainly one of these - investments in the research and development of new technologies, with actual applications decades in the future, are far more cost-effective than trying to act with existing technologies.
"It is for precisely this reason that the Administration opposes the Kyoto protocol. We believe the Kyoto protocol could damage our collective prosperity and, in so doing, actually put our long-term environmental health at risk. Fundamentally, we believe that the protocol both will fail to significantly reduce the long- term risks posed by climate change and, in the short run, will seriously impede our ability to meet our energy needs and economic growth. Further, by imposing high regulatory and economic costs, it may actually reduce our capacity both to find innovative ways out of the environmental consequences of global warming and to achieve the necessary increases in energy production.
AND A SIMILAR WARNING...
" we are talking about a gamble of trillions of dollars with our economy, based on the arguments of climate models. If they aren't right, we have no business taking any such gamble. If these models were treated as simply an intellectual exercise, being worked on until they really predicted reality, well then I certainly would have no problem with them. Instead, the UN-IPCC is blaring that the models foretell imminent doom unless we adopt some severe and very costly measures to save our planet from rising CO2 levels. For that purpose, those models have to be right, and they aren't, certifiably.
Ralph Mullinger (e-mail comment)
WHAT IS 'DANGEROUS' CLIMATE CHANGE
Stephen Schneider's article "What is 'dangerous' climate change?" (Nature, May 3) fails to address the question: What level of greenhouse gases avoids "dangerous interference with the climate system"? Note that Article 2 of the FCCC ("Climate Treaty") in spelling out this overarching goal mentions only the climate system but not ecological systems or the economy or human health.
We may presume that the drafters of the FCCC were chiefly concerned with the stability of the climate system, fearing that a higher level of greenhouse gases (GHG) might endanger this stability or increase the variability of global climate. This is a difficult scientific question, never addressed in the IPCC report. In preparing for the Kyoto negotiations, its chairman specifically requested the IPCC to provide scientific guidance on Article 2, but this request was never fulfilled.1 The goal of the Climate Treaty remains undefined to this day; we simply don't know whether a higher or a lower concentration of GHG represents a danger to the climate system.
All the evidence we have, however, going back to the recent Ice Age, suggests that the climate was more variable--or less stable--during colder periods than during the warmer period of the present Holocene (of the past ten thousand years).2 I have raised the issue in Forum articles in the Transactions of the American Geophysical Union ("Unknowns about Climate Variability Render Treaty Targets Premature"). The variability of the past climate is documented in references listed there.
S. Fred Singer
2. S.F. Singer Eos 78 : 584; Eos 79 : 188.
From Michael Paine <firstname.lastname@example.org> to CC Net
The latest issue of Nature (17 May 01) has a paper with an analysis of atmospheric CO2 concentrations over the past 300 million years. Unusually, the method appears to be able to detect spikes in the record. The author makes reference to a spike at the KT boundary [65 my ago] and attributes it to the Yucatan impact. He also refers to spikes at other major boundaries but attributes them to methane outbursts. I would think post-impact effects are just as likely a cause of the spikes as methane. Indeed, as raised previously on CC Net, one possible consequence of a large impact is the disturbance of methane hydrates in the oceans.
Nature 411, 287-290
Comment: Look for an analysis of climate consequences of this interesting result in a TWTW soon
In a just-published letter to Science [vol. 292, p. 1299, 18 May, 2001] SEPP-associated scientist Dr. Gerhard Stoehrer discusses the safe level of arsenic in drinking water. The Royal Commission on Arsenic Poisoning set it at 250 micrograms per liter nearly 100 years ago. This "safe" level, plus a fivefold safety margin make up of the present drinking water standard of 50 ug/l. After reviewing the literature of the last hundred years, he arrives at a safe level of roughly the same value [Arch. Toxicol. 65, 525, 1991]. He concludes that any change from the present standard of 50 micrograms per liter would be a political decision and not based on science.
Comment: This may not be the last word, however. The debate continues.
Two papers published during the same week, in Science and in Nature, present convincing evidence that the Sun is the main driver of climate change on a decadal-to-century timescale. The Science paper measures carbon and oxygen isotopes in a stalagmite in a cave in Oman. The carbon-14 value is a proxy for cosmic-ray intensity, which in turn is a proxy for solar activity. The oxygen-18 content measures rainfall intensity and thereby detects shifts of the equatorial intertropical convergence zone. The time interval covers from 6000 to 9,500 years BP. The correspondence between the two isotope curves is remarkable and leaves little doubt that solar activity is the main driver of climate change in the tropics, and by implication, for the whole Earth.
A [cross spectral] frequency analysis of the data shows a distinct peak at 206 years, which are close to one of the major periods of solar activity, as documented by studies of [cosmic-ray-produced] carbon-14 and beryllium-10.
The Nature paper studies droughts from records of sediments in Yucatan lakes during the past 2600 years. They also find a predominant frequency of 208 years that clearly reflects solar activity.
These two independent papers support the pioneering work of the Danish group (Svensmark, Friis-Christensen) that established strong correlations between solar activity and temperature over last several hundred years. The exact mechanism whereby the sun affects climate is not yet known. It could be through changes in cloud cover or through changes in stratospheric ozone. But whatever the mechanism, the correlation is almost 100 percent certain.
These results also vindicate the early suggestions by Jastrow, Nierenberg,
and Seitz that solar changes are the primary drivers of climate change.
D.A. Hodell et al. Solar forcing of drought frequency in the Maya Lowlands.
Science 292, 1367-1370, 18 May 2001.
At the instigation of the Royal Society (London), a number of academies of science have signed a statement that the "balance of the scientific evidence demands effective steps now to avert damaging changes to Earth's climate." The U.S. National Academy of Sciences was invited to sign but [acc. to Science 292, p.1275, 18 May 2001] the board felt it could not endorse a document it did not help draft "on a few days notice." [This revealing quote tells us something about the "careful deliberation" that the various academies gave to the statement after it was presented to them for signing.]
The driving force behind the statement was Sir Robert May, a theoretical zoologist (he didn't quite hack it as a physicist) whom Science labels an "advocate."
In the meantime, an 11-member panel of the NAS, containing only two climate
experts, will review the results of the IPCC. The panel report is expected
to be issued in early June. It will address the science but will not comment
on the Kyoto Protocol.
WHO SAID IT: AL GORE, THE UNABOMBER, OR THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF CANADA?
Al Gore Earth in the Balance P. 269