June 23, 2004

Promises, Promises

“Scientific research based on fact—not ideology.” That’s what Democratic hopeful John Kerry is promising. But there are some pertinent facts about global warming that Kerry will probably ignore.

Kerry has recently attacked President Bush’s record on science, including his actions on the issue of climate change. He accuses Bush of underplaying the threats climate change poses and the role humans play in it, and ignoring the scientific consensus on the issue.

Yet if Kerry his true to his word, it will only be a matter of time before Kerry stands alongside the President on the issue of anthropogenic climate change—for scientific facts stand in stark contrast to the climate-change-is-catastrophic ideology.

Fact No. 1. The rate of global warming during the past several decades has been about 0.18ºC per decade. There is no evidence that this rate is increasing. If this continues to the end of the 21st century, the temperature increase will be about 1.8ºC. Some fraction of this warming is a result of natural fluctuations in the earth’s climate as well as from other non-greenhouse-related changes (changes in land use, urbanization, industrialization, data quality, etc.); there is evidence that controls on black carbon (soot) pollution could result in less warming. A warming of this magnitude is near the low end of the range of projections issued in 2001 by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Associated with a low-end warming are low-end projections of sea-level rise and other types of environmental changes.

Fact No. 2. During the past several decades, the earth’s vegetation has responded in an overwhelmingly positive fashion to changes in the earth’s climate. On average the growing season has lengthened (primarily by beginning earlier in the spring) and the total plant biomass has increased by about 10 percent. This remarkable growth enhancement has been due both to the fertilization effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide as well as the beneficial effects of the patterns of climate change across the globe.

Fact No. 3. During the past several decades, anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide have continued to rise, but the rate of build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has leveled off. That means that the earth’s biosphere has responded by increasing the rate of carbon dioxide uptake. This is evidenced by Fact No. 2—enhanced global plant growth.

Fact No. 4. During the past several decades (and more), human technological advances have kept pace with, and in most cases exceeded the rate of climate change—no matter what the cause. For example, in major U.S. cities, where the thermal effects of urbanization are many times larger than the effects of any climate change, the population has become less sensitive to periods of extremely high temperature (heat waves). This is documented through declining heat wave mortality. In fact, today, many U.S. urban areas experience no increases in mortality during heat waves—a situation that was vastly different only 20 to 30 years ago.

These general observations and undisputed facts are enough to cast doubt on the projections of catastrophic climate change scenarios. They are enough to warrant a cautious approach to measures aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions that will cost several percentage points of the U.S. GDP. They are enough to invoke considerations of adaptive measures to prepare for and to take advantage of changing climate conditions.

But more than anything else, they are enough to justify the Bush Administration’s actions of global climate change. For Kerry and his Nobel Laureate supporters to think otherwise is to turn their backs on science based upon facts, not to embrace it.

SIDEBAR

48 Nobel Prize Winners Toss Aside The Scientific Method of Political Purposes

All of us learned the “scientific method” in grade school—hypothesize, test, conclude. Those among us who are judged to make the greatest contributions to human knowledge while following that basic principle are awarded the Nobel Prize in fields such as chemistry, physics, and medicine. Forty-eight such individuals have signed a letter of support of the candidacy of John Kerry. After listing a bunch of things that they think the Bush Administration is doing to suppress sound science, they write the following as if they are givens:

“John Kerry will change all this. He will support strong investments in science and technology as he restores fiscal responsibility. He will stimulate the development and development of technologies to meet out economic, energy, environmental, health, and security needs. He will recreate an America that provides opportunity to all at home and abroad who can help us make progress together. John Kerry will restore science to its appropriate place in government and bring it back into the White House.” (emphasis added)

We’ll refrain from commenting on the programs within the Bush Administration that are aimed at these same objectives, and simply state that such a proclamation is wholly unscientific—astonishingly so, considering who it came from. As such, the statement is reduced to being merely political, and nothing more—not authoritative, not scientific, not persuasive. The signatories have put their conclusions before their hypothesis and testing.

As we all know, using “will” in a description of future action in the world of American politics is nothing more that a rhetorical device. The percentage of “wills” that become reality is exceedingly small. Therefore, our hypothesis is that these Nobel Laureates are wrong. Pay close attention to the tests in November and beyond to see if our hypothesis proves correct.




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