Arnold Schwarzenegger, California actor turned governor, recently turned scientist, too, or so you might guess from the definitive, self-assured language he used in an op-ed article in Britain’s Independent newspaper.
In that article, he said human-induced, catastrophic global warming is a fact, no ifs, maybes or buts. “The debate is over,” he informed the paper’s readers. “We know the science. We see the threat posed by changes in our climate. And we know the time for action is now.”
Among those with the presumption to disagree is Richard Lindzen, who happens to be one of the world’s foremost authorities on global warming, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who served on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“Our primary conclusion,” he once wrote in the Wall Street Journal of the panel’s much-quoted report, “was that despite some knowledge and some agreement, the science is by no means settled. We are quite confident (1) that global mean temperature is about 0.5 degrees Celsius higher than a century ago; (2) that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have risen over the past two centuries; and (3) that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas whose increase is likely to warm the Earth.”
But he said he could not emphasize enough that “We are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to carbon dioxide or to forecast what the climate will be in the future” and that “agreement with the three basic statements tells us almost nothing relevant to the policy discussions.”
While Mr. Lindzen wrote those words some years ago, he is still battling convincingly with the prophets of gloom and doom, arguing for instance that any increased warming could well be nullified by increased cloud cover, which would bounce the sun’s heat back toward the sun.
Still other scientists chime in with various arguments against fears the worst will happen, among them that the warming over the next half-century will be measly.
So despite the claims of Mr. Schwarzenegger and others, the debate is far from concluded. We have much yet to learn, and that is important because of the pressure — often more ideological and self-interested than scientific — for the United States to join with Europe and others in signing on to something akin to the Kyoto Protocols limiting emission of greenhouse gases produced by energy consumption.
President Bush, much to his credit, has argued there is plenty of time to act, that technological developments ultimately will rescue us and that Kyoto, which does not apply to developing nations, would do little good and great harm.
All this assured he would be a loner at the G-8 conference in Scotland, where other major players ballyhooed Kyoto as the Earth’s salvation. They overlook a few things.
They overlook the projection of Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish statistician, that Kyoto would postpone warming no more than six years over the next 100. They overlook its nevertheless enormous costs: the Wharton Econometrics Forecasting Associates calculated Kyoto would cost 2.4 million American jobs by 2010 if adopted here. They overlook the fact Kyoto signatories aren’t living up to their pledges: By 2010, virtually all will be well over their stated goals in reduced emissions, according to one official estimate. Let’s call that estimate a hypocrisy detector.
For his part, Mr. Schwarzenegger insists he is walking his talk through rules requiring California to increasingly obtain energy from nonemitting sources. Some see a difficulty: Neither he nor any other politician can mandate the immediate technological means to that end. Noting that California autos are responsible for well under 1 percent of all global warming, a commentary by Investors.com warns that an overly hard push against auto emissions could cause the price of the average auto in California to inflate by thousands of dollars, while negligibly lowering temperatures.
Mr. Schwarzenegger might know as much were he truly devoted to scientific analysis. That observation brings me to another quote from Mr. Lindzen I found in a survey of newspaper articles: “Science, in the public arena, is commonly used as a source of authority with which to bludgeon political opponents and propagandize uninformed citizens.”
Not so bad a debating point in a debate that’s supposedly over.
Jay Ambrose is former Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard News Service.