Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Doomsday Book, An Environmental Nightmare — Part II

It would be ingenuous to believe that this or any article on environmentalism immediately captivates the attention of, and enthralls all prospective readers. Yet, the apparent popularity of the Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, whether one agrees with its premise or not, certainly propelled the subject into the forefront and initiated a dialog on what most will agree, is an important subject. Therefore, in an effort to seduce even the most disinterested reader to at least continue to read on, as most public speakers do, we will attempt to warm up the reading audience with a few jokes. So, here goes. Yuk! Yuk!

Julius Henry Marx died in late 1977, almost 30 years ago at the age of 87. Yet, he is still remembered fondly, and even with reverence, by those who saw him and his brothers scamper wildly through a number of hilarious movies such as Animal Crackers (1929), Monkey Business (1930), Horse Feathers (1932), Duck soup (1933), and several others. Of course I’m referring to “Groucho” Marx who also hosted the TV series, “You Bet Your Life” in the 1950’s. In addition to their acting insanities and inanities, the brothers, especially Groucho, are known for reciting some of the most amusing comedy lines ever written for films.

As entertaining as these lines were, most interesting are several that have serious connotations and applications today. For example, it’s easy to think of any number of recent and current events to which the following can be applied: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” (WOW! If ever the shoe fit.) — or this cruder line relating to Vietnam, “We should pull out, which is what Nixon’s father should have done.” Another is, “The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake these you’ve got it made.” (Politicians, take note). How about, “Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men. The other 999 follow women.” (How about those who now follow men?) In the race for the presidential primary, I love these two: “Those are my principles, If you don’t like them, I have others;” and, “In America, you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.” Here is one for Dick Cheney: “You know I could rent you out as a decoy for duck hunters.” While this next one might have been funny in the film Duck Soup in 1933, it is sadly ominous today, “You’re a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you’re out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we’ll be in here thinking what a sucker you are.” And this one can be applied to politicians of opposite parties, “Whatever it is, I’m opposed to it!”

But there is one line from Duck Soup that has special resonance with the subject of climate change — (Gotcha!) — a line usually misattributed to Groucho that was actually recited by his brother Chico: “Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

The Fundamentals

Almost every climate scientist who participated in a recent United Nations report released on April 8 th would probably ascribe that statement to those who are termed “skeptics,” or even “deniers” regarding what has been announced as a “broad scientific consensus” reflected in the February and April 2007 United Nations reports stating that recent climate changes will have potentially catastrophic results, and have been exacerbated by human activities.

The fundamental issue relating to climate change is described as follows in Wikipedia: “The existence of global warming since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid 1800s is not controversial. It is accepted by virtually all scientists in climate-related fields. The controversy focuses on the causes of that warming, especially the warming after World War II; the likelihood and magnitude of future warming, and whether additional warming would be harmful or beneficial.”

Actions have been proposed to slow down warming, based on the assumption that (1) it's likely to be large enough to cause harm, (2) that it's because of human activities and (3) that it's possible to curtail those activities sufficiently to prevent predicted harm. In addition to the scientific controversy, these proposals are controversial on political, ideological, economic and even religious grounds.

The Mystery of the Missing Report

It is not well recognized that despite its belligerence toward the concept of global warming (and environmentalism in general), in mid-2002 the Bush administration, abiding by an agreement, sent a document to the United Nations titled, “U.S. Climate Action Report 2002” that detailed the specific and far-reaching effect that global warming will inflict on the environment.

As described in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2002, “In the report, the administration also for the first time places most of the blame for recent global warming on human actions — mainly the burning of fossil fuels that send heat trapping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.” The Chronicle article continued, “But while the report says the United states will be substantially changed in the next few decades — very likely seeing the disruption of snow-fed water supplies, more stifling heat waves and the permanent disappearance of Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes, for example — it does not propose any major shift in the administration’s policy on greenhouse gases.”

Although that report was approved by senior White House and State Department officials, Mr. Bush quickly distanced himself from it, saying it was “put out by the bureaucracy”— but obviously, it was his bureaucracy. Of course Mr. Bush’s comment reflects his Administration’s attitude that has continued to pervade the subject — until a few weeks ago — when a new U.S. Climate Action report, overdue by over a year, (it had a U.N. deadline due date of January 1, 2006), was leaked to The New York Times. [Rick] Piltz, a former senior associate with the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and now director of Climate Science Watch, a non-profit watchdog program was quoted: “I think it is very likely that the main reason the report has been held up for more than a year beyond the deadline is because the administration is reluctant to make an honest statement about likely climate change impacts on this country.”

As described in an article by the Associated Press on March 3 rd 2007, this new Climate Action report stated, “By 2020, the United States will emit almost one-fifth more gases that lead to global warming than it did in 2000, increasing the risks of drought and scarce water supplies. The United States already is responsible for roughly one-quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases that scientists blame for global warming. The draft report, which is still being completed, projects that the current administration’s climate policy would result in the emission of 9.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases in 2020, a 19-per-cent increase from 7.7 billion tons in 2000.”

The article also referred to the recently released (April 6 th) summary of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group’s climate change scientific assessment report. Based on studies from hundreds of scientists and government officials, it said global warming is “very likely” caused by mankind and climate change that will continue for centuries, even if heat-trapping gases are reduced.

That UN report was endorsed by 113 countries including the United States. A previous February report by the same group, stated there was at least a 90 percent chance that most warming since 1950 was the result of continuing buildup of heat trapping emissions in the atmosphere.

The Pentagon Papers

You are probably familiar with the phrase, “A day late and a dollar short.” Last month’s Viewpointe was scheduled for delivery on April 16 th. In it, this column described a 2004 report commissioned by the Pentagon that strongly warned that “It is time to recognize it [global warming] as a national security issue.” That article was a day late in relation to an article that was datelined April 15 th (a Sunday) in the Washington Post.

The Post article reported on a brand new Pentagon study (also little publicized elsewhere) funded by The Army War College, and published in March of this year, titled, “The National Security Implications of Global Climate Change,” and as it turned out this new Pentagon report was indeed a dollar short. Why? Because ironically, it came to the exact same conclusions as the earlier 2004 report cited in Viewpointe — worldwide catastrophes. The new 63-page study boasts a list of contributors that included eight retired four-star generals and three three-stars including a former chief of Staff of the Army. One fact did stand out: Kent A. Butts, a professor of political military strategy at the War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership was quoted as saying, “It’s only in the last six months that climate change itself has surfaced as a term that’s commonly recognized as having security implications.” Only in the last six months? Professor Butts (apparently aptly named) better get off his butt and wake up to the fact that a report that exactly mirrored the new one has been sitting in some Pentagon drawer, obviously ignored by the Army, as well as the Bush administration, for the last three years.

Could the Skeptics Be Right?

Despite what is obviously the overwhelming consensus of a diverse group of climate scientific experts at the UN, there are still those who vehemently disagree with their conclusions, and even question whether or not there is a consensus. Amongst the strongest skeptics on manmade global warming is The Wall Street Journal. It has long been a vigorous opponent of the notion that mankind has in any way contributed to the problem. On April 4 th, in an editorial headed “Climate of Opinion,” the author, Holman W. Jenkins Jr. claims that “…evidence of warming is not evidence of manmade warning.” He is particularly critical of Al Gore’s Oscar winning film An Inconvenient Truth. He also questions its conclusions related to the above-mentioned “consensus” of UN scientists and their statement that human produced carbon dioxide is driving this dangerous warming thus validating this hypothesis. He also criticized the Supreme Court for using that same rationale in a recent decision that “invokes the magic word ‘consensus’ for a physical fact that itself is unproven, improvable and exists purely in the realm of speculation.” He himself hypothesizes that “The consensus that human activities are causing global warming is purely a social invention — there’s no way of showing it to be so, and no self-evident reason for preferring to believe it’s so. The ‘consensus’ is, in truth, a product of itself.” It should be pointed out while Mr. Jenkins may be qualified to express an opinion he is a journalist not a scientist.

On the other hand, Richard Lindzen is a true scientist and climate expert. He holds the position of Alfred Sloan Professor of Meteorology in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is considered one of the most respected skeptics on the subject of climate change, disagreeing with those other experts (the consensus) who express the opinion that recent climate changes are the result of human activities. Here is one of his comments on the subject:

“To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First, let's start where there is agreement. The public, press, and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming.” Professor Lindzen then states, “These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn't just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.”

Until recent years, most skeptics challenged the view that global warming existed, yet today, as acknowledged even by Professor Lindzen, this hypothesis is fully accepted. Mr. Lindzen’s doubts stem from his belief that since mankind did not create the global warming phenomenon, efforts to curtail the burning of fossil fuels and carbon emissions would only entail a huge cost and impede economic growth.

The subject of climate change has been heating up (no pun intended) in recent weeks with significantly increased media coverage. This, and more pros and cons will be addressed in next month’s issue as will, finally, the subject of the title, The Doomsday Book.


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