Science behind the times?
b y Patrick J. Michaels
for Washington Times
Everyone who reads Science — the journal of the lobbying
organization the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(AAAS) — knows it only accepts one side of the global warming story
in its "Compass" and "Perspectives" sections,
and in its more opinionated, mainline articles. Anyone who writes
otherwise for those sections gets a quick rejection. That's understandable
because global warming is scheduled to pay U.S. scientists about $4.2
billion next year, and the AAAS is just doing its job keeping the
But sometimes they go a little overboard in their one-sided zeal,
particularly when they schedule so-called bombshell articles to coincide
with the periodic meetings of the signatories to the United Nations'
Climate Change treaty, discussing implementation of the (dead?) Kyoto
Protocol. The most recent case of this funereal dance just ended in
For Milan, Science published, and then heavily publicized, an article
by federal climatologists Tom Karl and Kevin Trenberth, titled "Modern
global climate change." This reveals that Science, in its plumping
for Kyoto, is now publishing material that is decades behind the global
warming power curve.
Karl and Trenberth repeat the usual United Nations saw that there's
"a 90 percent probability interval for warming from... 1.7 degrees
to 4.9 degrees C" in the next century." In fact, the 21st
century warming rate is now well-known to be confined to a much lower
and smaller range, about 0.75 plus or minus 0.25 degree Centigrade
per 50 years, and may be lower than that.
You can't even generate a constant rate of global warming unless carbon
dioxide goes up exponentially. In other words, a constant increase
in carbon dioxide must lead to a damped (slowing) response in warming.
This has been known since 1872.
Mr. Karl and Mr. Trenberth give the impression this exponential increase
is happening. It's not. But they write: "Recent greenhouse gas
emission trends in the United States are upward, as are global emission
trends, with increases between 0.5 and 1 percent per year over the
past few decades."
The problem here is one of purposeful imprecision, as in "past
few decades." In reality, data from the Energy Information Administration
show there was some substantially exponential growth in emissions,
but since 1980 it has been much closer to a simple linear change.
Twenty-four years of recent linearity comprises "a few decades,"
This change in emissions is reflected in changes in the growth rate
of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which stabilized nearly 30 years ago.
That's right. While all scientists have glibly assumed an exponential
increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, that stopped, in the statistical
sense, three decades ago. But an exponential increase is required
to generate constant warming.
What happened? Per capita emissions of carbon dioxide peaked around
1980 and have been in statistically significant decline ever since.
What perpetuates the tired myth of exponentially increasing carbon
dioxide? It's the oft-repeated saw that "Everyone in the world
aspires to a U.S. lifestyle." Since we used to emit about 30
percent of the world's industrial belching of CO2, the math becomes
obvious if everyone emulates us.
People who assumed increases in per capita carbon dioxide were wrong
25 years ago, and they are wrong now. But this is precisely what is
input into every general circulation climate model, and these models
serve as the basis for Mr. Karl and Mr. Trenberth's projections for
warming. They've been run with the wrong data for a quarter-century.
If you put in the right data, warming drops dramatically, to about
1.6 degrees C in the next 100 years. A while ago, in a statement he
would probably like to withdraw, Robert Watson, then head of the U.N.'s
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, allowed such slight warming
might actually be beneficial.
Why was everyone wrong? Well, it turns out the world is largely emulating
the United States. Per capita incomes are increasing. As they increase,
per capita emissions drop because people can invest in more efficient
technology. In what large nation did the drop first take place? The
good ol' U.S.A.
How on Earth did Science become so derriere in the face of so much
reality? Perhaps that's what happens when one's political goals get
in the way of one's science.
Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at
the Cato Institute and author of "The Satanic Gases."