On June 23, 1988, Doctor James Hansen testified before a congressional committee that he believed with a "high degree of confidence" that the greenhouse effect had already caused global warming. After that testimony, there has been an increasingly acrimonious debate between those who see the problem as the most serious one facing humans today and those who refuse to believe there is any problem at all. Accusations and counteraccusations have spilled over into such august publications as Nature and Science. Some accused one of the principal authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Third Assessment Report1 of changing the intent of that report to reflect much more confidence that warming has already been detected than many of the participating scientists are comfortable with. But the Fourth Assessment Report goes even further, stating that humans are responsible for global warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases (mostly carbon dioxide [CO2]) with 95% confidence. On the other side of the debate, the doubters are often accused of being financially dependent (for research money) on the coal or oil industry. Ross Gelbspan, in his recent book The Heat is On,1 implies that just about everyone who doubts the seriousness of global warming is being paid by the coal industry to obfuscate things. Environmental groups are accused of being alarmists, whereas scientists on the other side of the debate are accused of being only worried about their own self-interests rather than about future generations. Newspapers, television reporters, and newsmagazines love it when this happens. It makes for great stories. Kevin Sweeney issued a commentary (http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2001/03/29/kyoto/) calling President Bush's decision to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol "a national disgrace." Doctor Fred Seitz, president emeritus of Rockefeller University, states flatly that "Research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is helpful" (http://www.sepp.org/pressrel/petition.html). The average citizen is simply confused.
This is generally not a good way to inform the public about what scientists know about potentially important scientific questions. When scientific matters and science itself enter the political stage, particularly when scientists know (or hope) that their views will influence policy in important ways, there is a strong and perhaps natural urge for them to become ideologues and to emphasize that part of the science that supports their political views. Although scientists have an obligation to explain important discoveries to the public in ways that they can understand, telling exaggerated versions of the dangers of environmental problems may not convince people of the need to radically reconstruct government or change their behavior.
Several years ago, I was asked by a local environmentalist group to participate in a news conference heralding the dangers of greenhouse warming. During my conversation with the organizer, I was asked whether I was alarmed about the prospect of global warming. I replied that I was concerned, but not alarmed. I was quickly uninvited. It reminded me of a time when I was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and was asked to become a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. I declined, saying that I did not like to be associated with groups that made blanket proclamations about things that I did not necessarily believe. Groups are like that. But it occurred to me when I spoke to the organizer of the news conference that it was no longer politically correct to be concerned. One must now be alarmed!
For the public to responsibly put a value on environmental concerns, it must be educated about the prospects of environmental degradation due to energy production, including possible climate change. There is, however, a danger that must be recognized at the outset. Education is not the same as indoctrination. In his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,3 Charles MacKay recalls Schiller's dictum: "Anyone taken as an individual is tolerably sensible and reasonable—as a member of a crowd, he at once becomes a blockhead." We need to avoid "crowd thinking" when we seek solutions to problems such as global warming. There are few guidelines as to how to do this. The average person, even those who think global warming is a problem, thinks of it as a long-term problem. Faced with the more immediate and visible problems of unemployment, poverty, famine, and war, the public tends to quickly tire of hearing about what they perceive as longer term, less certain, and certainly less visible problems such as global warming. Furthermore, it does not help to single out events such as a given very hot summer or a season of unusual floods and lay the blame definitely on global warming. Climate is noisy; it varies from year to year and from decade to decade. It is not unlikely for a hot summer to be followed by a couple of cool ones, and when that happens those who doubt that global warming is real will have a heyday. On the other hand, confronting problems such as the prospect of global warming can only be effectively done in a democratic society if the constituency (the public) is willing to confront the problem and endure the personal sacrifice that may be necessary to overcome it. The best thing for scientists to do is to present what we know, clearly separating what is known from what is suspected, in a nonapocalyptic manner. "Crowd thinking" tends to have a short lifetime.
If matters are clearly and impassionately presented to the public, we must be prepared to accept the will of the people. This presents the scientific community with an enormous responsibility, perhaps unlike any we have had in the past. This is particularly true of the engineering community, which has for the most part based designs almost entirely on such constraints as economy of sales, the immediate safety of the consumer (to prevent lawsuits, for example), and federal guidelines when they exist (and they almost always do). If global warming is a real threat, we now need to begin to think in terms of global environmental constraints as we design new power plants, factories, automobiles, buildings, and homes.
We need first to talk about weather and climate. Climate is not the same thing as weather, but climate affects weather. How does the climate machine work and how does it affect weather? What do we know about it and what are the limits of our knowledge? But there is more to the story. The environment, locally and globally, can be—is being—affected by the actions of people; few would argue against this. What are we doing that is likely to affect the climate? Is it necessarily bad? Can our industrial infrastructure, as well as our personal behavior, be changed in such a way that they are less environmentally destructive? If so, how, and at what cost? There is a need for the public to understand the whole of the current debate about climate change and its implications for our future.
One problem is that the science of climatic change is reported in specialist scientific journals (as it should be) in words, equations, and graphs that are largely impenetrable to the nonscientist, and often, even to scientists working in related fields. When extreme and, often, conflicting views are reported by the press or in popular magazines or books, the public tends to be dazzled and confused. What they tend to believe is that if such lettered experts disagree so widely, then they must all be either confused or making things up. There is a growing public perception that those who believe that the prospect of global warming is one of the great threats to future generations are "radical environmentalists," whereas those who do not believe the threat is real or serious are in bed with the coal companies.
Politicians are not helpful. Some recent statements by politicians regarding the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) serve to illustrate how public attitudes can be polarized by taking numbers out of context without giving the public supporting data. Awhile back, both Senator Tom Daschle and former Vice President Al Gore stated in speeches that the ANWR holds only enough oil to last the United States for 6 months. On the other hand, then-Senator John Breaux put the number much higher, perhaps 25 years. How can such diverse claims be justified? Actually, it is not very difficult if you do not tell where the numbers are coming from. A 1990s estimate of the amount of oil in the ANWR is 3.2 billion barrels. More recent estimates are between 5.7 and 16 billion barrels using currently available technology, and much more if drilling technology improves as expected. Total U.S. use of oil in 1999 was 20 million barrels per day. Imports from Saudi Arabia amounted to 1.566 million barrels per day. If you divide the smallest estimate of the available oil (3.2 billion barrels) by the largest estimate of oil use rate (20 million barrels per day) you get about 160 days, in line with the Daschle-Gore claims. On the other hand, if you divide the largest number (16 billion barrels) by the Saudi Arabia imports number (1.566 million barrels per day) you get about 28 years, in line with the Breaux claim. Daschle and Gore are against drilling in the ANWR, so they use the
4 global warming and the future of the earth former figure. Breaux is in favor of drilling, so he uses the latter figure. But are they in favor of or against drilling because they believe the figures, or are they for or against drilling for other reasons and simply using the figures as smoke and mirrors? The American people deserve better.
Let us now look at the evidence of whether global warming is real, whether it has already occurred, and whether, if it is going to happen, it will be bad or good or benign. In this book, I will examine, in what I hope will be clear arguments understandable to the layman, the evidence for and against the idea that global warming due to the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is a threat to the future of the planet. My aim is to present the evidence in a manner that allows people to make their own decisions about the threat and decide what if any difficult decisions we need to make as a society in the future. I will also give my own views and suggestions.
In addition, I have provided many references so that if the reader desires, he or she may go directly to the original source. In the words of Damon Runyon "You could look it up."
It will become clear to the reader that I believe that the problem of global warming is real and very serious. If it is, what solutions are available, short of shutting down the industrial infrastructure of the world? Energy use is necessary to run a prosperous and civilized society. Returning to a pre-industrial revolution lifestyle is simply not an option. One only needs to think of the difference in living conditions between developed and developing nations to see that to feed and house in reasonable comfort some 10 to 12 billions of people, one needs modern agricultural practice and a means for transporting food, as well as a reasonable manufacturing infrastructure at a minimum.
For many years I have time, I have been telling people during my many talks to professionals and lay audiences that the so-called tipping point, when our reluctance to stem global warming would surely lead to some very serious consequences regardless of our future actions, would come in 15 to 20 years. I now believe that we passed that point some years ago. I am alarmed! The late Doctor Ralph Rotty, one of my most important mentors, told me early in my career that I must not state the case of global warming so strongly that it turns people off. If you sound too apocalyptic, people will stop listening. Recent scientific evidence, however, has convinced me that the problem is so serious that scientists must sound the alarm loud and clear, and it must come from us, scientists who have seriously studied the subject. You will see why I feel this way when you read Chapter 3 (about observations of climate change) and Chapter 5 (about the consequences of future climate change). Much more observational data have come out in the scientific literature recently, and some are positively scary. In addition, all of the infrared herrings put forward by the so-called global warming skeptics are rather easily refuted, as I do in some detail in Chapter 4. The probability of dangerous sea level rise has increased substantially, as has the prospect of harm to the living environment, including sea creatures. There is an old Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times." I fear that my grandchildren, and perhaps even my children, will indeed live in interesting and environmentally disastrous times.
A wise man once said that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
If you think doing something about global warming will be expensive, try doing nothing. I fear that we are going to find out.
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