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Notebook Science

The climate nonconsensus

John Christy at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (Eric Schultz/AL.COM/Landov)

Nickel Institute

Bjorn Lomborg


The climate nonconsensus

While politicians push for carbon cuts, some experts point to unsettled science

Envoys from around the world congregated nine miles from the Eiffel Tower in Paris during the first two weeks of December. Their goal: to negotiate an international compact at the United Nations Climate Change Conference that would limit greenhouse gas emissions. Reaching such an agreement has been a major objective of President Barack Obama, who warned attendees to take action against global warming before it was “too late.”

Yet while Obama pushes carbon limits, women in his father’s home country, Kenya, often get up before dawn, walk three miles to the edge of the nearest forest, chop down 50 pounds of wood, carry it home on their backs, and burn it for heat, light, and cooking. Dangerous particulates in the smoke cause respiratory illnesses that claim the lives of nearly 3 million children per year.

Some scientists warn of the lack of climate science consensus and the harm an international treaty could do to the world’s poor—and risk their careers in the process. John Christy, a former missionary in Kenya and now a climatologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, concedes that governments should invest in ways to adapt to possible mild increases in temperatures, but says it’s a “moral outrage” to prohibit developing countries from using more fossil fuels. He says green energy sources are expensive and unreliable because they cannot supply energy on demand. (“When you can fly a 747 on solar panels, come talk to me,” he jokes.)

Christy received the NASA medal for exceptional scientific achievement in 1991. He was lead author of a section of the 2001 report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Yet, because he believes computer models have grossly overestimated future global warming, climate activists have so professionally denigrated him that a colleague refused to even shake his hand at a recent conference.

Similarly, the University of Delaware has banned professor David Legates—another skeptic of mainstream global warming science—from advising graduate students or teaching classes in climatology. The university asked him to step down from his role as Delaware state climatologist and removed him from the state weather network he was instrumental in organizing and operating. Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado climatologist, has also come under investigation for criticizing global warming theory.

The Obama administration and climate change activists repeatedly insist that “97 percent of scientists” agree man-made global warming is a crisis. Those endorsing this “settled science” theory warn of an environmental apocalypse if global warming is more than 2 degrees Celsius. They say the earth has warmed 0.85 C since the preindustrial age, and that if we don’t stop spewing carbon that figure could reach 4 C or more.

But James Taylor, senior fellow for environment and energy policy at the Heartland Institute, says researchers attempting to make the data fit their political ideology manufactured the 97 percent consensus idea. Taylor wrote for Forbes that researchers, in the study environmentalists use most often to prove there is a consensus, deliberately twisted responses to a meaningless survey question and misrepresented many scientific papers. More reliable research has found no consensus, he said.

Some climate experts who don’t buy the “settled science” believe the past 18 years have had no global warming, and that natural climate cycles account for previous warming. Others see some slight warming but say computer models have grossly exaggerated projections for future warming. Many agree carbon emissions have caused some warming, but think the amount is negligible and carbon emission limits will have little effect on global temperatures.

Some say additional concentrations of carbon dioxide are not bad, anyway. E. Calvin Beisner, founder of the Cornwall Alliance, a conservative Christian public policy group (WORLD founder Joel Belz is an advisory board member), argues that doubling CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere would produce an average increase of 34 percent in plant growth. Past CO2 increases contributed an estimated $3.2 trillion in extra crop yields from 1960 to 2012.

Experts on both sides of the climate debate agree on one point: Poor, developing countries are most likely to be harmed if the wrong side wins. Climate activists say the poor do not have the infrastructure and capabilities to deal with the disasters unchecked global warming will cause. Those who disagree with mainstream views on global warming believe unnecessary carbon emission limits will keep undeveloped countries trapped in poverty because they do not have the funds to build wind, solar, or hydroelectric power plants.

Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that more than 60 million people in poor nations could gain access to electricity if the United States would allow investment in natural gas projects, not just renewables.

At the Copenhagen climate summit six years ago, developed countries promised to spend $100 billion per year by 2020 on climate aid for the world’s poor, but Lomborg wrote, “In a world in which malnourishment continues to claim at least 1.4 million children’s lives each year, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and 2.6 billion lack clean drinking water and sanitation, this growing emphasis on climate aid is immoral.”

Environmentalists do not target academics only. Organizing for Action (OFA), a nonprofit group that pushes the Obama agenda, attacks elected officials who reject “settled science. … Along with their polluter allies, they are blocking progress in the fight against climate change.” OFA’s website lists 162 elected officials it calls “deniers” and includes a search tool to help viewers “call them out today.”

The OFA sent unicorn trophies to elected officials “in honor of their fantasy-like view on climate science.” One of the unicorns went to the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who is battling the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Smith says the government weather agency altered the temperature record and eliminated data that show there has been no global warming over the past 18 years. Despite a subpoena, the agency refuses to supply the requested documents, The Hill reported.