Environment: Climate Change



Peter Orne writes: After the Buenos Aires summit at which the Kyoto Protocol became even more a dead letter, certainly something much more profound must replace it. To stabilize climate, the world must cut its use of coal and oil by 70 percent in a very short time. But trusting in an emerging 20- to 40-year, Bush-backed technology-push approach is somewhat infantile. For starters, Washington's interpretations of climate science are too misleading and contorted to really gain it real trust for a leadership role. And its lord-of-the-rings-styled love affair with Big Oil, Big Coal and Saudi Aeabia is simply too dangerous. Europe is the best we’ve got for leadership right now, and they’re going to start holding US subsidiaries to task on European soil. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher than they’ve been in 420,000 years. Yet Paula Dobriansky who led the US delegation to Buenos Aires says that “science tells us that we cannot say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided.” Paula must know how to swim. Perhaps the insurance lobby can convince her and the White House that current levels were to be avoided long ago. Munich Re estimates that the cost of disasters will rise to as much as $95 billion annually. You may have read recently of faint hope in California, where Governor Schwarzenegger has shown leadership in the greenhouse-gas-emissions arena (despite his love of the 10-mpg Hummer). Led by state assemblywoman Fran Pavley, the state will push for a 30 percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks sold in California by the 2016 model year. Half a dozen east-coast states and Canada are joining in. The automakers are suing.

RH: We must distinguish between smog, about which there is no valid argument, and global warming, about which there is.

Peter Orne wrote: Paula Dobriansky,who led the US delegation to Buenos Aires,says that 'science tells us that we cannot say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided.' Paula must know how to swim." Cameron Sawyer comments: This style of smug assumption that this or that issue is beyond debate, and the presumption that everyone who disagrees is a moron, is one of the main things which make leftists more and more unelectable in the U.S.  In fact what Dobriansky says is eminently reasonable.  Implementing the Kyoto Protocol in its present form -- simply restricting CO2 emissions -- will cost trillions and trillions of dollars and will set back economic development of the world for decades.  The main impact will be on the billions of the poor of developing countries who just now have a chance to get out of poverty if economic development is allowed to proceed.   Are you sure enough, Peter, about the affect of CO2 emissions on the climate to be willing to pay this price to stop it?   The science is extraordinarily complicated; no amount of supercomputer time has yet been able to produce even a crude model of the earth's climate with predictive value.  I do not pretend to understand even the most superficial aspects of it, and there is certainly no real consensus among climate scientists.  

And meanwhile the stridently ideological, anti-scientific nature of the debate on climate change makes me doubt seriously that there is much good sense behind it.  I note that Kyoto advocates seem to be quite happy to throw away the world's economic prospects in favor of their cause -- they think, probably, that rich countries and big business (Down with Big Oil!  Down with Big Coal!) will pay for it, just like the Bolsheviks promised that the rich would pay for socialism.  Yet they are strangely silent about nuclear power which, if CO2 emissions were really the greatest threat to mankind, ought to be in center stage now, as a fully developed, realistic technology which can be implemented quickly, with problems and risks which are quite minor compared to the doomsday threat supposedly represented by CO2.  In fact, the development of nuclear power as a way to reduce greenhouse emissions -- certainly the most effective short- to medium-term measure which could be effected (OECD countries emit fully one-third less CO2 than they would without their nuclear power facilities -- http://www.nea.fr/html/ndd/reports/2002/nea3808-kyoto.pdf). Yet Kyoto discourages this, giving no credit in its emissions trading mechanisms for countries that do use nuclear power to reduce their emissions.

We've been spewing CO2 into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.  I don't think that another ten years of careful, objective and non-ideological research is going to make any difference.  Meanwhile, the Bush administration proposal to press technological change, if implemented, might very well bring as good or better results as simple restrictions of CO2 emissions, with positive economic benefit rather than cost.   This idea is worth a lot more than the sneer it gets from Peter.

Peter Orne writes: After the Buenos Aires summit at which the Kyoto Protocol became ever more a dead letter, certainly something much more profound must replace it. To stabilize climate, the world must cut its use of coal and oil by 70 percent in a very short time. But trusting in an emerging 20- to 40-year, Bush-backed, technology-push approach is somewhat infantile. For starters, Washington's interpretations of climate science are too misleading and contorted to really gain it real trust for a leadership role. And its lord-of-the-rings-styled love affair with Big Oil, Big Coal and Saudi is simply too dangerous. Europe is the best we‚ve got for leadership right now, and they‚re going to start holding US subsidiaries to task on European soil.

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher than they have been in 420,000 years. Yet Paula Dobriansky, who led the US delegation to Buenos Aires, says that „science tells us that we cannot say with any certainty what constitutes a dangerous level of warming, and therefore what level must be avoided.‰ Paula must know how to swim. Perhaps the insurance lobby can convince her and the White House that current levels were to be avoided long ago. Munich Re estimates that the cost of disasters will rise to as much as $95 billion annually.
You may have read recently of faint hope in California, where Governor Schwarzenegger has shown leadership in the greenhouse-gas-emissions arena (despite his love of the 10-mpg Hummer). Led by state assemblywoman Fran Pavley, the state will push for a 30 percent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks sold in California by the 2016 model year. Half a dozen east-coast states and Canada are joining in. The automakers are suing.

RH: I pleas ignorance. Air pollution and global warming are two related but different things. All this talk about global warming seems to be contradicted by the present harsh winter.

I am certain that distinguished WAISer Peter Orne is aware that President Clinton, along with President Bush, did not support the Kyoto Protocol, in that Bill Clinton did nothing to push the measure along over his eight years in office. Thus, Mr. Orne‚s criticism of President Bush rings hollow with his obvious bias when I consider his predecessor. Mr. Orne might be better served if he offered a more balanced political view that took both sides of the political spectrum to task since these are the facts.
 
I am also certain that Mr. Orne is aware than his so-called European leadership which he claims will Œhold US subsidiaries to task on European soil includes such Œleaders‚ as France‚s Jean-Marie Le Pen, who said today, Jan. 12, 2005, that the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two had not been "particularly inhumane."
 
For WAISers not in the know, the Nazis exterminated about 75,000 French Jews. So much for not Œinhumane.‚
 
Source: http://cnn.netscape.cnn.com/ns/news/story.jsp?id=2005011213480002132325&dt=20050112134800&w=RTR&coview <http://cnn.netscape.cnn.com/ns/news/story.jsp?id=2005011213480002132325&amp;dt=20050112134800&amp;w=RTR&amp;coview> =
 
Finally, Mr. Orne makes a rather dubious statement: Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are higher than they have been in 420,000 years.
 
Perhaps he will enlighten fellow WAISers as to on what science and from what sources such claims are based?

Prof. Hilton wrote:

All this talk about global warming seems to be contradicted by the present harsh winter.



Isn't extreme cold in areas that don't usually get it considered to actually be evidence of climate change prompted by global warming? Mr. Orne?

Glenye Cain

Read the home page of the World Association of International Studies (WAIS) by simply double-clicking on:  http://wais.stanford.edu/Please inform us of any change of e-mail address.

Following on the discussion of climate change, I thought you might be interested in this, which appeared Jan. 13 on BBCNews.com.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4171591.stm


<<Why the Sun seems to be 'dimming'


By David Sington

We are all seeing rather less of the Sun, according to scientists who have been looking at five decades of sunlight measurements. They have reached the disturbing conclusion that the amount of solar energy reaching the Earth's surface has been gradually falling.

Paradoxically, the decline in sunlight may mean that global warming is a far greater threat to society than previously thought.



The effect was first spotted by Gerry Stanhill, an English scientist working in Israel.

Cloud changes

Comparing Israeli sunlight records from the 1950s with current ones, Dr Stanhill was astonished to find a large fall in solar radiation.

"There was a staggering 22% drop in the sunlight, and that really amazed me." Intrigued, he searched records from all around the world, and found the same story almost everywhere he looked.

Sunlight was falling by 10% over the USA, nearly 30% in parts of the former Soviet Union, and even by 16% in parts of the British Isles.

Although the effect varied greatly from place to place, overall the decline amounted to one to two per cent globally every decade between the 1950s and the 1990s.

Dr Stanhill called it "global dimming", but his research, published in 2001, met a sceptical response from other scientists.

It was only recently, when his conclusions were confirmed by Australian scientists using a completely different method to estimate solar radiation, that climate scientists at last woke up to the reality of global dimming.

Dimming appears to be caused by air pollution.

Burning coal, oil and wood, whether in cars, power stations or cooking fires, produces not only invisible carbon dioxide - the principal greenhouse gas responsible for global warming - but also tiny airborne particles of soot, ash, sulphur compounds and other pollutants.

This visible air pollution reflects sunlight back into space, preventing it reaching the surface. But the pollution also changes the optical properties of clouds.

Because the particles seed the formation of water droplets, polluted clouds contain a larger number of droplets than unpolluted clouds.

Recent research shows that this makes them more reflective than they would otherwise be, again reflecting the Sun's rays back into space.

Scientists are now worried that dimming, by shielding the oceans from the full power of the Sun, may be disrupting the pattern of the world's rainfall.

There are suggestions that dimming was behind the droughts in sub-Saharan Africa which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the 1970s and 80s.

There are disturbing hints the same thing may be happening today in Asia, home to half the world's population.

"My main concern is global dimming is also having a detrimental impact on the Asian monsoon," says Professor Veerhabhadran Ramanathan, professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at the University of California, San Diego. "We are talking about billions of people."

Alarming energy

But perhaps the most alarming aspect of global dimming is that it may have led scientists to underestimate the true power of the greenhouse effect.

They know how much extra energy is being trapped in the Earth's atmosphere by the extra carbon dioxide we have placed there.

What has been surprising is that this extra energy has so far resulted in a temperature rise of just 0.6 degree Celsius.

This has led many scientists to conclude that the present-day climate is less sensitive to the effects of carbon dioxide than it was, say, during the ice age, when a similar rise in CO2 led to a temperature rise of six degrees Celsius.

But it now appears the warming from greenhouse gases has been offset by a strong cooling effect from dimming - in effect two of our pollutants have been cancelling each other out.

This means that the climate may in fact be more sensitive to the greenhouse effect than previously thought.

If so, then this is bad news, according to Dr Peter Cox, one of the world's leading climate modellers.

As things stand, CO2 levels are projected to rise strongly over coming decades, whereas there are encouraging signs that particle pollution is at last being brought under control.

"We're going to be in a situation unless we act where the cooling pollutant is dropping off while the warming pollutant is going up.

"That means we'll get reducing cooling and increased heating at the same time and that's a problem for us," says Dr Cox.

Even the most pessimistic forecasts of global warming may now have to be drastically revised upwards.

That means a temperature rise of 10 degrees Celsius by 2100 could be on the cards, giving the UK a climate like that of North Africa, and rendering many parts of the world uninhabitable.

That is unless we act urgently to curb our emissions of greenhouse gases.>>




Ronald Hilton 2004

Top

last updated: March 17, 2005