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Posturing and reality on warming

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

For the first time, the Senate is about to vote on whether to restrict national emissions of carbon dioxide -- the respiration of our civilization and our economy -- in an attempt to control the world's uncontrollable climate. This legislation has absolutely no basis in science.

The bill in question is S.139, sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican. Both are global-warming hawks who see an opportunity to bring about the Kyoto Protocol through a legislative back door. Both also know it won't do a measurable thing about the Earth's temperature and that it hasn't a snowball's chance in a Washington summer of passage.

But that's not the point. S.139 is designed to embarrass President Bush and to embolden the Senate's green posturers by neutralizing the 1997 Byrd-Hagel "Sense of the Senate" Resolution which, 95-0, stated the Senate would never entertain any climate change treaty that would cost American jobs. Instead, expect S.139 to get between 30 and 40 votes. No doubt, the green lobby will crow about rapidly growing support for instruments like the Kyoto Protocol and (egad) beyond.

Besides limiting emissions, S. 139 requires business and industry to tell the government precisely how much energy they are using, and in what forms. The purpose is to then allow businesses to "trade" their emissions with each other, for a price. Who do you think is going to pay for this? How few years does anyone think it will be before this is applied to individuals and their homes, in the form of some "environmentally responsible tax credit"? Do you want Uncle Sam knowing how you run your domicile?

All this is intrusion into business, the economy, and, eventually, into your home, is totally unnecessary.

Here's what every American needs to know about global warming. Contrary to almost every news report and every staged hearing, including one held by Mr. McCain on Oct. 1, scientists know quite precisely how much the planet will warm in the foreseeable future, a modest three-quarters of a degree (C), plus or minus a mere quarter-degree, according to scientific figures as disparate as this author and NASA scientist James Hansen. The uncertainty is so small, in fact, that publicly crowing this figure is liable to result in a substantial cut in our research funding, which is why the hundreds of other scientists who know this have been so reluctant to disgorge the truth in public.

All this has to do with basic physics, which isn't real hard to understand. It has been known since 1872 that as we emit more and more carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, each increment results in less and less warming. In other words, the first changes produce the most warming, and subsequent ones produce a bit less, and so on.

But we also assume carbon dioxide continues to go into the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate. In other words, the increase from year-to-year isn't constant, but itself is increasing. The effect of increasing the rate of carbon dioxide emissions, coupled with the fact that more and more carbon dioxide produces less and less warming compels our climate projections for the future warming to be pretty much a straight line.

Translation: Once human beings start to warm the climate, they do so at a constant rate. And yes, it's a sad fact that it took $10 billion of taxpayer money to "prove" something so obvious it can be written in a mere 100 words.

So, once you demonstrate humans are indeed warming the climate, you know the amount of future warming. This is where the greens (and Mr. Lieberman and Mr. McCain) made a major miscalculation: They assumed that once you could demonstrate a human influence on the Earth's surface temperature that people would be panicked into something like Kyoto. But, in reality, people are smart enough to know that a modest warming is a likely benefit, which is why they tend to move South as soon as they can afford it.

Some more pretty straight physics, also known for a long time, is that human warming will be strongest and most obvious in very cold and dry air, such as in Siberia and northwestern North America in the dead of winter. And, not surprisingly, that's where the lion's share of warming is, which proves the human influence. (This is also one of the reasons Vladimir Putin opposes the Kyoto Protocol: Warming Siberia just doesn't seem so bad to the Russians).

So, now having proven humans are warming the atmosphere, ask the simple question: Is the warming indeed the straight-line predicted by $10 billion dollars?

As shown in our chart, it couldn't be straighter. Since the warming of the excessively cold air of winter began in earnest (how too bad), the deviations from a straight-line are vanishingly small, and projected future warming is right at the lower limit projected by the United Nations.

Before sending me the hate mail claiming scientists would never exaggerate for political effect, let me submit it's not just my idea this has been going on. Back in 1988, NASA's Mr. Hansen lit the bonfire of the greenhouse vanities with some pretty incendiary testimony on the first day of summer, in the middle of a terrible and hot drought in the Midwestern and Eastern U.S. He later wrote he did this because he felt the need to call global warming to the attention of the public and the president.

But, after a decade-and-a-half of reality, which resists exaggeration, it has become apparent that warming is indeed pretty modest. Jim wrote this in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2001:

"Future global warming can be predicted much more accurately then is generally realized ... we predict additional warming in the next 50 years of 0.75 C [plus or minus] 0.25C, a warming rate of 0.15C [plus or minus] 0.05C per decade."

This warming rate -- the real one -- is approximately 4 times less than the lurid top figure widely trumpeted by the United Nations and repeated ad infinitum in the press. And, just to drive my point home, here's what Mr. Hansen wrote last month in his latest paper in the online journal Natural Science:

Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decisionmakers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate ... scenarios consistent with what is realistic under current conditions. ...

Which brings us back to S.139. It's easy to run the numbers on how much warming it "prevents," because it's very similar to the Kyoto Protocol, whose futility is well-known. The effect of both is included in our figure. You may need glasses to see the difference between doing nothing and S.139. It's 6/100 of a degree Celsius in 50 years. That's the amount of climate change you experience, on the average, every 10 seconds.

Obviously, S.139 does nothing about climate, while intruding greatly into the economic life of this nation, as everyone voting for the Lieberman-McCain bill knows.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of "The Satanic Gases."