Diviners of the future have always commanded audiences eager to have a leg up on what’s about to go down. Even kings and presidents hang on to the words handed down by prophets of Earth’s coming climate. With a fresh forecast for the state of the planet due, it is only fair to Americans who must deal with its conclusions that the predictions lack nothing in validity.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is set to release one of its periodic assessments on Monday, this one explaining the physical science undergirding its global- warming theory. Americans should welcome clarification. No matter how often they’re told modern civilization is threatening the planet’s delicate ecosystem by releasing heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the evidence doesn’t fully add up.
The theory faces several shortcomings: For one, computerized climate models have been forecasting temperatures rising at unrealistically steep rates, forcing scientists to search for explanations that can rescue their credibility. “It’s become clear over the last year or so that we can’t avoid this,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, tells the journal Science.
The models project global warming, triggered by rising carbon dioxide emissions, climbing as much as 5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels — almost double the warming indicated by currently observed patterns, according to the publication. And when fed carbon dioxide readings extracted from air bubbles trapped in Ice Age glaciers, the models calculate a drop in atmospheric temperature twice as deep as the 6 degrees Celsius that actual geological records indicate. Something is amiss.
Secondly, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether the white-hot ball in the sky has some effect on the Earth’s climate. Cyclical solar intensity indicated by regular rhythms in sunspot activity has been associated with rising and falling temperature patterns during periods long before atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations began to rise in tandem with the advent of industrialization. Concluding current warming is all the doing of unnatural human activity may overlook the larger cycles of nature itself.
If climate models exaggerate the effect of carbon dioxide on planetary temperatures, then the periodic IPCC reports could end up serving as a faulty basis for extreme countermeasures. Global restrictions on the use of carbon-based energy — discretionary now – could become mandatory, resulting in restrictions on the use of affordable oil and natural gas and a net decline in humanity’s overall well-being.
Ominously, the costs of the so-called “green” revolution are coming into focus. South Africa asserted recently that developed nations ought to boost their contributions for climate-change mitigation projects in poorer countries from $100 billion to $750 billion annually. Similar wealth-redistribution schemes are due for negotiation when the U.N.’s 26th Conference of the Parties kicks off in Scotland on Oct. 31.
It is only fair that the global body makes a full accounting for the causes of climate change. Anything less would leave the world shortchanged.