As I noted in my last speech, there is a perception, especially among media and environmental elites, that the scientific community has reached a “consensus” on global warming. As Sir David King, the chief science adviser to the British government, recently said, “There is a very clear consensus from the scientific community on the problems of global warming and our use of fossil fuels.”
Those “problems” amount to rising sea levels, floods, tsunamis, droughts, hurricanes, disease, and mass extinction of species, all caused by ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The alarmists confidently assert that “most scientists” agree with this. And they vehemently dispute claims of uncertainty about whether these catastrophes will occur.
Therefore questioning the science of catastrophic global warming is considered illegitimate. Consider Dr. Naomi Oreskes, who wrote in the Washington Post last December: “We need to stop repeating nonsense about the uncertainty of global warming and start talking seriously about the right approach to address it.” Global warming, then, is no longer an issue for scientific debate. It appears to have soared into the realm of metaphysics, reaching the status of revealed truth.
Although more than 17,000 scientists have signed the Oregon Petition, stating that fears of catastrophic global warming are groundless, these and other scientists who do not subscribe to the so-called consensus are condemned as “skeptics” and tools of industry. In order to avoid professional excommunication, one must subscribe to the four principal beliefs underlying the alarmist consensus. These are the Four Pillars of Climate Alarmism, all of which, it is said, provide unequivocal support for the consensus view.
The Four Pillars are as follows: 1) the 2001 National Academy of Sciences NAS report summarizing the latest science of climate change, requested by the Bush Administration; 2) the scientific work of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, most especially its Third Assessment Report, released in 2001; 3) the recent report of the international Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; and 4) the data produced by climate models.
I will show over the next several weeks that none of these pillars support the consensus view. Today I will begin my Four Pillars series with the NAS.
Before I delve into the NAS report, some historical context is in order. Back in early 2001, the Kyoto treaty was on the verge of collapse. President Bush announced his rejection of Kyoto, calling it “fatally flawed in fundamental ways.” Our friends in Europe expressed outrage, even shock, though it was never in doubt where the U.S. stood.
In 1997, the U.S. Senate voted 95 to 0 in favor of the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which required that any international climate change treaty that excluded developing countries such as China, India, and Mexico from mandatory greenhouse gas commitments or that caused significant harm to the American economy was unacceptable. Kyoto easily failed on both counts. It still does today. On June 11, 2001, President Bush delivered a speech detailing Kyoto’s flaws. He also provided an overview of the current state of climate science, as described in a report, which he requested, by the National Academy of Sciences. Though the report offered very modest conclusions about the state of climate science, alarmists repeatedly invoke it as ironclad proof of their consensus. So let’s take a closer look at what the NAS had to say.
THE 2001 NAS REPORT
The NAS report was wide-ranging and generally informative about the state of climate science. It stated that, “Because there is considerable uncertainty in current understanding of how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warming should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or downward).”
Let me repeat that: “Considerable uncertainty in current understanding.” “Estimates should be regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments.” Does this sound like solid support for the consensus view? Surely there must be more. Well, in fact there is.
Under the headline “The Effect of Human Activities,” the NAS addressed the potential impact of anthropogenic emissions on the climate system. Here’s what it said: “Because of the large and still uncertain level of natural variability inherent in the climate record and the uncertainties in the time histories of various forcing agents (and particularly aerosols), a causal linkage between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes in the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.”
Again, that’s worth repeating: “Because of the large and still uncertain level of natural variability.” “Uncertainties in the time histories of various forcing agents.” “Cannot be unequivocally established.” I read numerous press accounts of the NAS report, yet I failed to come across reporting of this quote. Is this what the consensus peddlers have in mind when they assert that everything is “settled”?
The NAS also addressed the relationship between climate change and aerosols, which are particles from processes such as dust storms, forest fires, the use of fossil fuels, and volcanic eruptions. To be sure, there is limited knowledge of how aerosols influence the climate system. This, said the NAS, represents “a large source of uncertainty about future climate change.”
By any conceivable standard, this and other statements made by NAS cannot possibly be considered unequivocal affirmations that man-made global warming is a threat, or that man-made emissions are the sole or most important factor driving climate change. It certainly cannot provide the basis for the United States Congress to adopt economically harmful reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
It would be a grand folly to do that, especially considering what the NAS had to say about global climate models. The NAS believes much of the uncertainty about climate change stems from those models, which researchers rely on to make projections about future climate changes. These models, as the NAS wrote, contain serious technological limitations that cast doubt on their ability to simulate the climate system: “[the models] simulation skill is limited by uncertainties in their formulation, the limited size of their calculations, and the difficulty of interpreting their answers that exhibit as much complexity as in nature.” Model projections, as the NAS pointed out, rest on a raft of uncertain assumptions. "Projecting future climate change first requires projecting the fossil-fuel and land-use sources of CO2 and other gases and aerosols,” the NAS found. “However, there are large uncertainties”—please note the phrasing again, “large uncertainties”—“in underlying assumption about population growth, economic development, life style choices, technological change and energy alternatives, so that it is useful to examine scenarios developed from multiple perspectives in considering strategies for dealing with climate change."
For this reason, simulations produced by climate models provide insufficient proof of an absolute link between anthropogenic emissions and global warming. “The fact that the magnitude of the observed warming is large in comparison to natural variability as simulated in climate models is suggestive of such a linkage,” according to NAS, “but it does not constitute proof of one because the model simulations could be deficient in natural variability on the decadal to century time scale.”
That last point demands further elaboration and emphasis. The NAS thinks climate models could be off by as much as a decade, or perhaps 100 years. Why is this important? Global climate models constitute one of the Four Pillars. Alarmists frequently point to computer-generated simulations showing dramatic, even scary, pictures of what might happen decades from now: more floods, more hurricanes, more droughts, the Gulf Stream shutting down. In many cases, the media eagerly report what these models produce as pure fact, with little or no explanation of their considerable limitations.
THE IPCC THIRD ASSESSMENT
The NAS also addressed the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, another of the Four Pillars. The IPCC’s 2001 Third Assessment Report, particularly its Summary for Policymakers, is frequently cited as proof of the consensus view. But the NAS disagrees. “The IPCC Summary for Policymakers,” the NAS wrote, “could give an impression that the science of global warming is settled, even though many uncertainties still remain.” Here again, the NAS is saying the science is not settled. The NAS also addressed the IPCC’s future climate scenarios. These scenarios are the basis for the IPCC’s projection that temperatures could increase to between 2.7 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. The NAS said: “The IPCC scenarios cover a broad range of assumptions about future economic and technological development, including some that allow greenhouse gas emission reductions. However, there are large uncertainties in underlying assumptions about population growth, life style choices, technological change, and energy alternatives.” Once again, the NAS says “there are large uncertainties in underlying assumptions.”
The same is true, the NAS said, about future projections of CO2 emissions. As the NAS stated, “Scenarios for future greenhouse gas amounts, especially for CO2 and CH4, are a major source of uncertainty for projections of future climate.” To bolster the point, the NAS found that actual CO2 emissions contradicted the IPCC, stating that, “the increase of global fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the past decade, averaging 0.6% per year, has fallen below the IPCC scenarios.”
There are those troublesome words again: “Large uncertainties in underlying assumptions.” “Major source of uncertainty.” The NAS also expressed clear reservations about the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and how they interact with land and the atmosphere. “How much of the carbon from future use of fossil fuels will be seen as increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will depend on what fractions are taken up by land and by the oceans,” NAS wrote. “The exchanges with land occur on various time scales, out to centuries for soil decomposition in high latitudes, and they are sensitive to climate change. Their projection into the future is highly problematic.”
Let me offer one final quote from the study before I turn to the media. Taking stock of the many scientific uncertainties highlighted in the report, the NAS issued explicit advice to guide climate research—advice, by the way, that alarmists reject: “The most valuable contribution U.S. scientists can make is to continually question basic assumptions and conclusions, promote clear and careful appraisal and presentation of the uncertainties about climate change as well as those areas in which science is leading to robust conclusions, and work toward a significant improvement in the ability to project the future.”
THE MEDIA AND THE NAS REPORT
It’s not surprising that the media distorted and exaggerated the NAS report. The public was told that the NAS categorically accepted that carbon dioxide emissions were the overwhelming factor causing global warming, and that urgent action was needed. One factually challenged CNN reporter said the NAS study represented “a unanimous decision that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man. There is no wiggle room.” The New York Times opined that the report reaffirmed “the threat of global warming, declaring fearlessly that human activity is largely responsible for it.” Of course, as the preceding quotes from the report show, this is not true.
Unfortunately, the media wasn’t burdened with any actual knowledge of the report. Rather, it seized on a sentence fragment from the report’s summary, and then jumped to conclusions that, to be charitable, cannot be squared with the full report. That fragment from the summary reads as follows: “Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities…” There’s the smoking gun, we were told then and even now, proving a global warming consensus.
However, the second part of the sentence, along with much else in the report, was simply ignored: “we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability.”
And as we have seen, it is amazing how one could conclude that the NAS “left no wiggle room” that “global warming is due to man.” Dr. Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at MIT, and a member of the NAS panel that produced the report, expressed his astonishment in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on June 11, 2001. Dr. Lindzen wrote that the NAS report showed “there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends and what causes them.” Yet to this day, the media continues to report exactly the opposite.
It is not surprising that alarmists want to fabricate the perception that there is consensus about climate change. We know the costs of this would be enormous. Wharton Econometrics Forecasting Associates estimates that the costs of implementing Kyoto would cost an American family of four $2,700 annually. Acknowledging a full-fledged debate over global warming would undermine their agenda. And what is that agenda. Two international leaders have said it best. Margot Wallstrom, the EU’s Environment Commisioner states that Kyoto is “about leveling the playing field for big businesses worldwide.” French President Jacques Chirac said during a speech at the Hague in November 2000 that represents “the first component of authentic global governance.”
As I noted earlier, raising uncertainties or questioning basic assertions about global warming is considered “nonsense.” I wonder if the same applies to the NAS. For on just about every page of the 2001 report, the NAS did exactly that.
But for the alarmists, global warming has nothing to do with science or scientific inquiry. Science is not about the inquiry to discover truth, but a mask to achieve an ideological agenda. For some, this issue has become a secular religion, pure and simple.
Dr. Richard Lindzen has written eloquently and powerfully on this point, so I will end with his words: “Science, in the public arena, is commonly used as a source of authority with which to bludgeon political opponents and propagandize uninformed citizens. This is what has been done with both the reports of the IPCC and the NAS. It is a reprehensible practice that corrodes our ability to make rational decisions. A fairer view of the science will show that there is still a vast amount of uncertainty—far more than advocates of Kyoto would like to acknowledge—and that the NAS report has hardly ended the debate. Nor was it meant to.”