|The Week That Was
Oct. 1, 2005
New on the Web: Much to do about the shrinking of Arctic sea ice (but not in the Antarctic). William Kininmonth, former head of Australia's Climate Center and author of Climate Change: A Natural Hazard (ISBN 0 906522 26) gives a common-sense explanation of Arctic warming, why it occurs in cycles, and why we should not fear a run-away warming.
The Sunday Telegraph breaks the news in Britain on Blair's U-turn on Kyoto. Alister McFarquhar asks: What made him do it? (Item #1)
USA TODAY editorial: Scientists mostly agree: Katrina and Rita not caused by Global Warming. With comments by Roger Pielke, Sr. and Marlo Lewis (Item #2)
A distinguished professor of physical chemistry tells why efforts to tame hurricanes were abandoned in the US. (Item #3)
Preparing for climate disasters : "The truth is, the number and scale of disasters worldwide has been rising rapidly in recent decades because of changes in society, not global warming." (Item #4)
Scientists in Europe are increasingly speaking out against irrational climate fears (Item #5) And public opinion in New Zealand is changing as the US-sponsored Asian Technology Initiative takes shape (Item #6).
Highly recommended: Researchers at the University of Calgary,
in cooperation with the Friends of Science Society, have released a video
entitled: Climate Catastrophe Cancelled: What you're not being told about
the science of climate change
And finally, a must-read: Michael Crichton's testimony to the
US Senate about how climate science should be conducted - and isn't:
Tony Blair has admitted that the fight to prevent global warming by ordering countries to cut greenhouse gases will never be won. The Prime Minister said "no country is going to cut its growth or consumption" despite environmental fears.
Mr Blair's comments, which he said were "brutally honest",
mark a big environmental U-turn and will dismay Labour activists. They
were made earlier this month in New York, at a conference on facing up
to "global challenges" organised by Bill Clinton, the former
United States president.
Letter to Editor, Sunday Telegraph
Sir, Now that PM Blair has dug a grave for Kyoto at the Clinton NY Jamboree, [15 September], not reported in the alert UK press until today, 25 Sept, Kyoto is all but dead. Blair says there will never be another Kyoto -- though his scientist advisers and Cabinet Ministers want another ten Kyotos to supplement its measly five percent reduction in carbon gases by 2012. "No country,"-he twists the knife- "will give up growth for environment" so we must rely like GWB on technology.
Where is PM Blair getting his advice? Not from his usual retinue! Not Bono, not Geldoff, not his chief scientific adviser Sir David King, not [environment minister] Margaret Beckett currently in Ottawa planning a new Kyoto with the fundamentalist Left. He can't be reading the original data. Transcript from his NY speech smacks of inspired hip shots. Who loaded his revolver?
Kyoto must have seemed a good idea at the time, especially in EU and Japan with ailing economies competing "unfairly" with a buoyant US economy driven by cheap, relatively untaxed energy. Some hangers-on like Russia once hoped to get a few bucks from trading emission permits. But think of the other winners: The environment lobbies, the burgeoning bureaucracies, national and international, scientists who depend on broadcasting alarm for sustaining their research grants, media gurus recycling second-hand information and the news vampires sucking all sources dry. And in this media-dependent age everyone is politicized, including the scientists. So environmental piety is used ruthlessly by the Left to batter the Right for their irreligious behaviour.
Blair supported all this irrational exuberance; so what triggered the change?
Hurricanes feed off of warm water. So the one-two punch to the Gulf Coast from Katrina and Rita has naturally led many people to wonder: Is global warming to blame for back-to-back major hurricanes slamming into the United States? (Related: Opposing view)
European officials and some environmentalists have been quick to assert a connection. After Katrina, Germany's environmental minister, Jurgen Trittin, called America "climate-polluter headquarters." As Rita bore down on the Texas coast, British scientist John Lawton cited it as evidence that the United States' policies on curbing pollution were responsible.
Not so fast. The science backing a link between global warming and devastating storms is preliminary, skimpy, and contradicted by many hurricane experts. Even the researchers who suggest there may be a link caution against leaping to conclusions without lots more study.
That sensible restraint hasn't slowed those who would exploit a tragedy to score political points and advance their agendas. Global warming is real, and reducing emissions from burning fossil fuels requires urgent action worldwide, according to the National Academy of Sciences and 10 other leading world bodies. But jumping out ahead of the science sensationalizes the issue, polarizes the debate and damages the credibility of those who make outlandish claims.
Because hurricanes form and intensify over warm ocean water, and water temperatures have risen slightly in recent years, it's understandable why there's much speculation that global warming is causing the increased number and ferocity of storms. But there's far more reason to be skeptical:
* Science doesn't support a link between global warming and recent hurricane activity, notes Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center. Katrina and Rita are part of a natural cycle. The increase in number and intensity of storms since 1995 is hardly unprecedented, says William Gray, a leading hurricane expert based at Colorado State University. He points out that two major hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast only six weeks apart in 1915, mimicking the doubly whammy of Katrina and Rita.
* If global warming were to blame for recent storms, there should have been more typhoons in the Pacific and Indian oceans since 1995, Gray says. Instead, there has been a slight decrease - at the same time, China and India have increased their industrial output and emissions of greenhouse gases.
* The impact of hurricanes might seem more severe because of the intensity of news coverage and because more people are living in hurricane alley. That means more property damage and more loss of life.
The current cycle of more and deadlier storms could last 15 to 20 more
years, notes the National Hurricane Center. It's worth researching whether
global warming is affecting the frequency and intensity of those storms,
but there's certainly no proof at the moment. Reducing greenhouse gas
emissions without wrecking economic growth is an important challenge.
Blaming Katrina and Rita on global warming just adds to the hot air surrounding
A Science Comment By Roger Pielke, Sr..
Global Warming Didn't Generate Storms
USA TODAY is right: Activists who blame Katrina on global warming may gain short-term publicity, but risk losing long-term credibility.
The increasing frequency of hurricane activity in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico since 1995 is due to a natural, multi-decadal shift in the Atlantic Ocean thermohaline circulation (THC), the oceanic "conveyor belt" that pulls warm water from the tropics northward to the British Isles.
When the THC shifts into its strong phase, as it did in the mid-1990s, the North Atlantic warms and generates more hurricanes. Mankind's use of fossil fuels has nothing to do with this process.
More important, global warming was not responsible for Katrina's destructive fury. Any tropical storm traversing waters of 82 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer has the potential to become a category 4 or 5 hurricane. Gulf waters routinely exceed that temperature in August, and did so long before mankind began using fossil fuels.
Consequently, regulatory policies such as the Kyoto Protocol offer no
protection from future Katrina's. Indeed, by making energy more costly,
such policies would only aggravate the economic losses and hardship from
energy-infrastructure damage inflicted by Katrina, Rita and other major
Once upon a time when I was young and optimistic, I worked on a high-level committee of which a very distinguished expert on fluid mechanics (the late George Carrier from Harvard) was chair and which had the mission to study the possibility of reducing the destructive wind forces that accompany hurricanes.
My recollection is that there was a good deal of justified optimism that this approach could be used to reduce storm severity. The program died as the result of an unholy alliance between ill-informed environmentalists who objected on principle to interfering with the "benign activities of mother nature" (hurricanes have a good side because they bring rain to wide areas that might otherwise be deserts) and lawyers who smelled one of their potentially most rewarding opportunities for making money by arguing in court that after a hurricane hit, it was clear that the seeding program had precipitated the worst of the disaster. My recollection is that the principals from the severe storm center moved to the Philippines where then-president Ferdinand Marcos supported them until his demise because he believed that using modern science in the form of fluid mechanics could likely mitigate the severity of storm damage.
You should study this issue and inform your readers of what an unholy
alliance between fanatical environmentalists and greedy attorneys may
well have contributed to the damage wrought by Katrina.
LIKE A BAD horror movie in which the villain keeps coming back, Hurricane Rita, the 18th storm of the season, is spinning toward an inevitable rendezvous with the Gulf Coast. We've already seen more death and destruction than the last 35 hurricane seasons combined. And many people, including some European and U.S. politicians, are hoping that the carnage represented most poignantly by the destruction in New Orleans will help bring this country to its senses on dealing with global warming.
But understanding what this hurricane season is really telling us about why we're so vulnerable to climate-related catastrophes means facing up to an unavoidable fact: Efforts to slow global warming will have no discernible effect on hurricanes for the foreseeable future. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adequately preparing for future disasters are essentially separate problems.
Reducing emissions is a crucial environmental, economic and geopolitical goal. But if we are concerned about hurricanes, then we need to manage what is within our control on the ground, not what is proving to be beyond our control in the atmosphere.
The truth is, the number and scale of disasters worldwide has been rising rapidly in recent decades because of changes in society, not global warming. In the case of hurricanes, the continuing development and urbanization of coastal regions around the world accounts for all of the increases in economic and human losses that we have experienced.
Even if tomorrow we could somehow magically put an end to global warming, the frequency and magnitude of climate-related disasters would continue to rise unabated into the indefinite future as more people inhabit vulnerable locations around the world. Our research suggests that for every $1 of future hurricane damage that scientists expect in 2050 related to climate change, we should expect an additional $22 to $60 in damage resulting from putting more people and property in harm's way.
None of this means that we should not pursue reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or that mitigating climate change is a bad idea. But we simply cannot expect to control the climate's behavior through energy policies aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
The current international policy framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions the Kyoto Protocol is far too modest to have any meaningful effect on the behavior of the climate system. And even the modest agreements reached under Kyoto are failing.
For example, the European Environment Agency reported in 2004 that 11 of the 15 European Union signatories to Kyoto "are heading toward overshooting their emission targets, some by a substantial margin." And the other four are meeting their targets only because of non-repeatable circumstances, such as Britain's long-term move away from coal-based energy generation. To make matters much worse, most of the growth in emissions in coming decades will occur in rapidly industrializing nations such as China and India, which are exempt from Kyoto targets.
To make matters still worse, because of the way that greenhouse gases behave in the atmosphere, even emissions reductions far more rapid and radical than those mandated under Kyoto would have little or no effect on the behavior of the climate for decades. As James Hurrell, a scientist at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, testified before the U.S. Senate in July, "It should be recognized that [emissions reductions actions] taken now mainly have benefits 50 years and beyond now."
The implications are clear: More storms like Katrina are inevitable. And the effects of future Katrinas and Ritas will be determined not by our efforts to manage changes in the climate but by the decisions we make now about where and how to build and rebuild in vulnerable locations.
Do we have the will to pay the upfront economic and political costs of strict building-code enforcement and prudent land-use restrictions? Will we have the imagination to build resilience into the local economy, rewarding companies that find ways to preserve jobs after a disaster and contribute to a faster recovery? Do we have the decency to counter the market forces that cause poor people to live in the most vulnerable areas?
As we learn the lessons of this terrible hurricane season, the answers
we give to these kinds of questions will create the conditions that determine
the effects of future hurricanes. We are, that is, about to begin the
process of managing the next disaster. What kind of disaster do we want
it to be?
The violent, ravaging hurricanes are terrible but they can hardly be attributed to any increasing Greenhouse Effect.
From government departments to kindergartens, from Right to Left, from Swedish industry to Greenpeace, from UN to local environmental advisers and from Canada to Australia - the identical message: "Carbon dioxide is the curse of the planet, something has to done."
The message is called "consensus" and is dangerous. It is similar to mass hysteria. Politicians, bureaucracy, media and the environmental movements are playing "follow John" according to the motto "Why think individually when you can think like the others?" Climate change is a real Jack Pot for fanatic politicians and bureaucrats inclined to rules and supervision.
Within the scientific community the narrow-minded are fewer but many skeptics are keeping a low profile. They care about funding, risk to get smeared by activists, or mastered by colleagues with the correct faith.
What then, is carbon dioxide? Carbon dioxide is the gas of life. The plant kingdom is consuming it with frenzy.
Thank God, there are effective processes returning it to the atmosphere. But some is lost and life on Earth has been starving for it since long. A multitude of studies have shown that plants are benefiting from more carbon dioxide. They grew bigger and quicker, and will survive with less water. Increasing harvests and shrinking deserts can be expected.
How is climate affected by carbon dioxide? Little -- is a good estimate.
The constantly voiced threats of stronger storms and inundations as a consequence of rising carbon dioxide are mere fantasies. On the contrary, the expected result of a more even global temperature should lessen the occurrence of extreme storms. The threat from rising sea level doesn't seem to materialize: Sea level continues to rise but slowly and at a constant rate.
What are the arguments of the alarmists? Gigantic computers are trying to simulate the evolution of real climate. The result usually shows a warmer future, sometimes a lot warmer. The result is also called "projections" or "scenarios," meaning that predictive capacity is totally lacking. I consider it a sign of megalomania to believe that climate can be properly imaged by a computer
During the last decade a number of studies from tree rings popped up covering the last 1000 years. The result was presented as a temperature curve similar to a "Hockey-stick"; little variation during 900 years, followed by a sharp temperature increase during the last century. This curve had an enormous propaganda value because it was backed up by the UN climate panel IPCC. This curve is now obsolete - it was a result of dubious analytical methods. IPCC happened to buy it unchecked. An intensive debate is still going on but the Hockey-stick seems to by broken and beyond repair.
There is a continuous media flow of "symptoms" that are claimed to prove the ongoing and expected global warming. Just now the Arctic area is popular. The existence of polar bears is said to be threatened and everywhere "suitable" changes are observed. By selectivity, anything can be indicated.
Why and how has the carbon dioxide doctrine been created? In short:
Science delivers a hypothesis, which is then caught by ideological forces - mostly by an environment movement skilled in lobbying. The media follow this trail, and later politicians have to adjust. "Truth" is then established. They who dare speak up are declared as idiots or are claimed to be bought by special interests.
Just stop the propaganda against life, you who have the power to make
an impact on our society. Try to see the positive side of carbon dioxide
and calm down. There is no chance, anyway, that man can ever control the
Letter to Editor,