|The Week That Was
May 22, 2004
1. New on the Web: JAMES LOVELOCK ANALYZES IN A PERCEPTIVE WAY WHY THE PUBLIC FEARS RADIOACTIVITY. JOHN CAMERON CITES SOME OF THE EVIDENCE FOR BENEFICIAL HEALTH EFFECTS FROM MODEST AMOUNTS OF RADIATION.
2. NUCLEAR SECURITY AGAINST TERRORIST ATTACKS
3. NUCLEAR FEARS DOWN UNDER: Chernobyl revisited
4. ALASKA GAS PIPELINE IN CONTENTION
5. COPENHAGEN CONSENSUS, TDAT AND GLOBAL WARMING: Bjorn Lomborg and Some Responses
6. IDAG CONTROVERSY OVER GLOBAL WARMING: Review Paper and Responses
7. READERS RESPOND TO TDAT
The article, "Nuclear Protective Measures Under Heat" was thorough
but misleading because it lumped together security concerns at the Department
of Energy's (DOE) nuclear facilities with security at the nation's commercial
nuclear power plant sites. That's like comparing apples to oranges, and
the perceived deficiencies you point out at the DOE sites are not germane
to the 103 commercial nuclear reactors on 64 sites in 31 states that provide
one-fifth of the nation's electricity.
Australian Greens party has itself proved again that "evidence-based scientific research'' is actually something it ignores as desperately as Big Tobacco ever does when its vital interests are threatened, and facts trump its faith. The Australian public broadcaster, the ABC, reported that the Greens were marking the 18th anniversary of the explosion at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear reactor by demanding the Ranger uranium mine in Australia be shut down.
The ABC went on: "The Greens claim thousands of people have died and are still dying as a result of radioactive poisoning after a nuclear meltdown at the plant."
Of course, this is far from the first time journalists of Australia's elite media have repeated green falsehoods as fact, never thinking to check the truth for themselves. How often have wide-eyed reporters echoed that, yes indeed, the world has never been hotter, Tuvalu is drowning in rising seas, genetically modified food is dangerous, wind farms really will stop global warming, children's plastic dummies are toxic, we're losing thousands of species each year and on and scarily on.
All false, naturally, but there's something about Chernobyl that makes Greens glow with untruths that are even bigger and more shameless still. "Thousands'' have died at Chernobyl, say Greens. Try 2500, says Greenpeace. Or more.
Yes, more, says Peter Garrett, singer for pop group Midnight Oil and President of the Australian Conservation Foundation: "The accident caused the deaths of more than 30,000 people.'' Wait, it was actually predicted to cause "75,000 deaths from radiation'' by 2001, insisted an excited reporter from another ABC program a few years ago.
Keep going, says Britain's Green Party: "We know that 15,000 people were killed in the immediate aftermath'' and "the total number of deaths is now 12 times that."
Still too few, says the Green Left Weekly, a mini circulation newspaper published by the neo-communist Socialist Alliance party in Australia. In fact, "97,000 clean-up workers have died from radiation poisoning'', and "between 1986 and 1993, 12,000 children died.''
Any advance on 109,000?
Why, yes, I do believe there is. It's the Australian Conservation Foundation again, this time claiming in its publication "Australia at the Nuclear Crossroads" that "250,000 people have died as a result of the Chernobyl tragedy." Gosh, see how numbers mutate when they're exposed to satanic radiation.
But what does the evidence-based scientific research actually tell us about Chernobyl? In 1996, a United Nation's body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, wrote a definitive summary of the scientific evidence of the effects of the Chernobyl explosion, and concluded that just 28 workers at the plant died from radiation exposure, two from the blast, one from a heart attack. Another 14 people later died of suspicious illnesses that in fact "may not be directly attributable to the radiation exposure."
The IAEA added: "The only evidence to date of a public health impact of radiation exposure'' since then has been an "increase in thyroid cancer in those exposed as children'.' Three of those children, tragically, died, after not getting the right medical treatment.
No reputable study has challenged those conclusions, which were presented to a Vienna conference called by various UN and European Union agencies to learn from this disaster.
So that's the best evidence of the toll of Chernobyl -- fewer than 50 dead.
Not 250,000, or 109,000, or 75,000, or 30,000 or even 2500. But fewer than 50, or a tiny fraction of the number of workers killed each year in coalmines.
Actually, that's not quite right. We should add to the toll the 200,000 abortions the IAEA estimates were performed on European mothers who were so terrified by Green fear-mongering over Chernobyl that they feared they'd give birth to mutants.
No wonder that a disillusioned founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore,
says many Green activists now are anti-science, with "too many of
the hallmarks of the Hitler youth or the religious Right."
These Hollywood special effects may cost the world $15 trillion
In the final minutes of the Hollywood doomsday spectacular The Day After Tomorrow, which opens in Britain at the end of the month, the US president makes a ludicrously over-the-top State of the Nation speech. It is a great deal less realistic than the performance by the undoubted star of this $125 million blockbuster of a film: a 100 ft high tidal wave that engulfs New York.
Indeed, the film loses any credibility long before that. This is not because of any one of the far-fetched incidents that occur in the course of its 125 minutes. It isn't the flash freezing of a presidential motorcade, or even the escape of man-eating wolves from New York Zoo. No, this extremely enjoyable film has been let down by the simple fact that it has got its science all wrong. None of it could happen.
The story goes like this. As a consequence of global warming, the polar caps melt, sending vast quantities of fresh water into the world's salty oceans. The torrent stops the Gulf Stream, a major current in the North Atlantic, precipitating a global storm that instantly creates a new Ice Age. This is an excuse for breathtaking special effects: Manhattan is buried in 30-storey snowdrifts, Los Angeles is hit by 250 mph tornadoes, and a fearless paleoclimatologist, played by Denis Quaid, straps on his snow shoes to trek from Washington, DC to New York to rescue his son.
The bad guy is the vice president, who bears a striking resemblance to the real one. This Dick Cheney doppelganger arrogantly dismisses the Kyoto Protocol - it is too expensive - and rejects concern about climate change as fear-mongering. The scriptwriters save him from death only to subject him to a mea culpa public address at the movie's climax, saying roughly, "We thought that we could affect the Earth's delicate systems without suffering the consequences. We were wrong. I was wrong." This State of the Nation address is broadcast live on the Weather Channel.
If The Day After Tomorrow had no claims to be anything more than another cheesy Hollywood movie with some fabulous special effects, we could happily turn a blind eye to its bogus science and concentrate on the sight of the Statue of Liberty up to her armpits in the water. But the film claims to be offering something more than this.
"There's more truth than hype," the film-makers promise in their publicity. The German director, Roland Emmerich, claims he tried to present us with a valuable fund of scientific information. The film's website provides links to news stories published in February about "a secret report prepared by the Pentagon" which warned that climate change would "lead to global catastrophe costing millions of lives". What this publicity does not reveal is that the Pentagon report was merely a hypothetical worst-case scenario - and one that has already been thoroughly debunked. In fact, the respected magazine Science has reviewed this Pentagon report and the alleged scientific support for The Day After Tomorrow and concludes that "it is highly unlikely that global warming will lead to a widespread collapse" of the Gulf Stream, and "it is safe to say that global warming will not lead to the onset of a new Ice Age".
In Nature, another highly-respected scientific journal, a researcher finds that halting the Gulf Stream would be impossible, arguing that "the only way to produce an ocean circulation without the Gulf Stream would be to turn off the wind system or stop the Earth's rotation, or both."
Now, although it is not going to kill us the day after tomorrow, global warming certainly is a reality. It is caused at least partly by mankind's use of fossil fuels. The effects will be predominantly adverse - although high-latitude nations might prosper in a warmer world, tropical countries will have to deal with more heat-days, altered precipitation and higher sea-levels. So what is wrong with using a piece of popular entertainment to campaign for action to save people from that? As the NASA research oceanographer William Patzert says: "The science is bad, but perhaps it's an opportunity to crank up the dialogue on our role in climate change."
The problem is that if we overestimate the risk that climate change poses, then we will pay less attention to the other challenges that face us. That appears to be exactly the aim of the movie's creators. Emmerich believes that global warming is "the only problem big enough to force all the countries of the world to stop fighting and work together to save the planet"; he says that his great dream is that "this film will force politicians to act".
If politicians were to see The Day After Tomorrow and act on its agenda, what would happen? Implementing the Kyoto agreement on climate change would cost at least $150 billion each year, yet would do no more than postpone global warming for six years by 2100. That is to say, it would cause temperatures to increase slightly more slowly - the temperature we would have reached in 2100 without Kyoto, we would now reach in 2106. Those families in Bangladesh who will get flooded will have an extra six years to move. Even if the film's creators are right - and the scientists are wrong - and the Gulf Stream current does collapse within a decade, then Kyoto would have made no difference.
There is another reason why it is wrong - I would even say amoral - to overplay the case for combatting climate change. We cannot do everything. Our resources are limited, and our attention is quickly diverted from one fashionable cause to another. We must ask ourselves if spending $150 billion every year for the rest of the century to postpone warming for six years is really the best use of that money.
For the cost of implementing Kyoto in just one year, we could permanently provide clean drinking water and sanitation to everyone on the planet. Of course, it is unlikely that Emmerich will cast Brad Pitt as a sewage engineer in Kenya for his next glamorous movie. Nor are there many good plotlines to be made from tales of a government that invests in malarial vaccines, or of a global conference called to remove trade barriers. But these are real options that policy-makers face every time they spend a dollar with the intention of easing human suffering.
The world needs a rational basis for making such priorities. That is the aim of a new project, Copenhagen Consensus, which will bring together nine economists - including four Nobel Prize winners - to prioritise solutions to 10 great challenges facing humanity. They will look at problems ranging from financial instability to communicable diseases, examining several different solutions to each challenge. The experts will produce a ranked list - at the top will be the solution that will achieve the most for humanity.
In an ideal world, we would be able to achieve everything - we should
halt global warming and eradicate corruption, end malnutrition and win
the war against communicable diseases. Because we cannot do everything,
we need sound reasoning and high quality information to defeat the hysteria
of Hollywood. I believe there is more hope in truth than in hype.
A Partial Response to the Copenhagen Consensus?
It is not a simple matter to address the "10 greatest challenges facing humanity" (or just to identify them). Allocating resources to remedial projects so as to maximize total net benefits to humanity is a grand academic exercise. Reaching a consensus will be a monumental challenge for the nine economists convening in Copenhagen this month at the invitation of Bjorn Lomborg [Sunday Telegraph, 9 May] -- even if they do include four Nobel Laureates.
Everyone sees Great Challenges differently. Certainly, malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and water, and even communicable diseases could all be subsumed under the heading of poverty. And most would agree that tackling any problems of climate change require adaptation -- again best handled by overcoming poverty. There is lively ongoing scientific debate on whether the climate is really warming, whether human influence is significant, and whether a future warming is good or bad. On that last question, a group of prestigious economists has already concluded that a modest greenhouse warming is on the whole beneficial and will raise standards of living. Lomborg seems to have come to a different conclusion about the science - although he is absolutely correct about the high cost and complete ineffectiveness of mitigation schemes like the Kyoto Protocol and similar efforts to restrict the use of energy fuels.
Curiously, the Copenhagen list omits "terrorism." There are
indeed some, like science adviser Sir David King, who consider it a lesser
threat than global warming. Former UN weapons inspector in Iraq Hans Blix
fears global warming more than WMDs! One wonders about his judgment in
the face of existential threats to Western nations. Perhaps the Copenhagen
meeting, a laudable exercise in rational decision-making, will put global-warming
fears to rest. One can always hope that the climate-horror film The Day
after Tomorrow, so well satirized by Lomborg, will convince the public
that global warming is mostly science fiction.
S Fred Singer Arlington, VA
Sir, Bjorn Lomborg is correct on at least one point. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are increasing as the result of fossil-fuel burning to drive cars, heat homes, and generate electric power. CO2 will continue to increase, especially as China and India become more prosperous. At best, we might be able to slow somewhat the rate of increase --- at great cost. But is it worth doing?
The issues here are scientific, economic, and political. Will the temperature increase be insignificant, important, or (as science-fiction addicts imagine) catastrophic? We can study the result of the current 50 percent rise in greenhouse gases. The data are still in dispute but I believe, along with many other scientists, that the effect has been minor. We can expect a warming of perhaps 0.5 deg C by 2100, at most one degree --- detectable but not unusual (climate warmed by 0.6 deg between 1900 and 1940).
Is a warmer climate good or bad? Many credible economists calculate that a modest warming, coupled with higher levels of CO2, will raise GDP and standards of living [see R. Mendelsohn and 23 co-authors, Cambridge University Press, 1999.] Lomborg's Copenhagen group of economists may be able to achieve consensus on this issue.
Will nations be willing to suffer the economic burden of energy rationing and higher prices? The United States, Australia, and Russia say No - and so do developing countries that want to overcome poverty.
I therefore continue to be puzzled by those who consider greenhouse warming
a major problem, requiring heroic measures --- beyond the traditional
adaptation to climate change that has worked well for humanity though
Copenhagen Consensus on World Problems? Tackling World's Problems:
Good Luck, Fellows
It takes a certain amount of hubris to plan on prioritizing opportunities "to solve the 10 greatest challenges facing humanity" (or even to identify them). Allocating resources to projects so as to maximize total net benefits to humanity is a grand academic exercise. Reaching a consensus will be a challenge for the nine economists convening in Copenhagen this month -- even if they include four Nobel Laureates.
The list of ten Great Challenges offered by convenor Bjorn Lomborg (WSJ 5/5/04) is qualified by "as we see them." The problem is that everyone sees them differently. Certainly, "malnutrition and hunger," "sanitation and water," and even "education" could all be subsumed under the heading of poverty (which is not listed). And most would agree that tackling the problems of "climate change" requires adaptation -- again best handled by overcoming poverty. There is lively ongoing scientific debate on whether the climate is really warming, whether human influence is significant, and whether a future warming is good or bad. On that last question, a group of prestigious economists has already concluded that a modest greenhouse warming is on the whole beneficial and will raise standards of living. Why then allocate resources to avoid a putative warming?
Many of these "Great Challenges" also tend to be ephemeral. A decade ago, ozone depletion and acid rain were all the rage; two decades ago it was "nuclear winter;" three decades ago, as global temperatures were dropping, there was great fear about a coming ice age. All throughout the past decades there have concerns about over-population, imminent resource depletion and famines, poisoning of the oceans, cancer epidemics from industrial chemicals, etc., etc. It is safe to predict that most such fears will continue even when all the evidence points the other way.
Curiously, the Copenhagen list omits "terrorism." There are
indeed some, like British science adviser Sir David King, who consider
it a lesser threat than global warming. Former UN weapons inspector in
Iraq Hans Blix fears global warming more than WMDs! One wonders about
the judgment of such people in the face of existential threats to Western
nations. Perhaps the Copenhagen meeting, a laudable exercise in rational
decision-making, will put global-warming fears to rest. One can always
It is rather amusing to see the same gang that brought us the flawed conclusions of the second and third IPCC reports try their "thing" again. Their motto seems to be "Who needs data based on observations when we have all these fancy statistical methods that can impress the unwary and bamboozle the public?"
They rehash the Summary for Policymakers of IPCC-TAR without adding any new features. They still claim a warming in the past 50 years but instead of just ignoring the satellite data (and balloon data) that contradict, they now latch on to a spurious re-analysis of the satellite data -- just published and almost certainly wrong.
They still maintain the fiction that the 20th century was the warmest in the past 1000 years - in spite of evidence that the data used was shown so riddled with errors that the conclusion cannot be taken seriously.
And they still claim that greenhouse-based models agree with observations - even while admitting that they have not included major climate forcings. But of course, they have claimed such agreement since the first IPCC report in 1990 - even as they try to introduce more realistic (but still inadequate) descriptions of forcings. Recall that the earlier models did not include aerosols or solar influences at all.
In fact, we can argue - and will -- that if "agreement" between models and observations is claimed with inadequate specification of forcings, this almost certainly means that a more realistic specification would not yield such agreement.
And without validation, models are of little use in predicting future
Complaint by IDAG Coordinator Tom Crowley (5/20/04}
As a co-author of the IDAG paper under review, I object to Mr. Timo Hameranta sending information about a submitted manuscript to a very large at-large mailing list. you have no business doing this!! it may not be illegal but it is certainly unethical!
Response to Crowley by Dr Zbigniew Jaworowski:
The full text of IDAG Review of Recent Advances I recovered easily from
GOOGLE. Is GOOGLE also "certainly unethical"? I believe that
Timo is doing an excellent service not just for climatology but for global
society, seriously endangered by corrupted science. I regard as unethical
presenting in IDAG's review two Mann et al. papers and the notorious hockeystick
graph, without mentioning the devastating criticisms by Soon et al. (2003),
Soon and Baliunas (2003) and McIntyre and McKitrick (2003). The message
of Thomas Crowley, whose apparent aim is to silence critics, presents
an even lower moral level than this IDAG review.