Tags: The | Emperor's | New | Climate | Part | IV: | Disaster

The Emperor's New Climate, Part IV: Disaster Does Not Loom

Wednesday, 18 February 2004 12:00 AM

A funny thing happened as James Hansen was fielding questions from reporters in Washington, D.C., in 1988, terrifying senators with global warming predictions: The forests of eastern North America—no doubt including the Blue Ridge Mountains 60 miles to the west of the capital—were quietly absorbing CO2.

A study by Princeton University, Columbia University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted between 1988 and 1992 showed that the eastern forests were so efficient a “sink” or absorber of carbon dioxide that they more than made up for all the emissions from America’s factories, power plants, campfires—even its SUVs.

Published in Science in 1998, it got comparatively little notice, but if the years covered by the study are typical, the implications for the world’s climate could be enormous. It would mean that America, rather than being a force oppressing the rest of the world with its huge economy and its greenhouse emissions, is actually picking up other countries’ greenhouse “trash.” If CO2 is a problem, it’s the rest of the world that’s causing it.

Peter Huber, a fellow of the Manhattan Institute, shares the environmentalists’ desire for a cleaner, wilder planet less dominated by man—but he says their solutions are all wrong. Fossil fuels are good, he says, because they take up so little space. Solar cells are bad, because they block out the sun over an area that can’t be a habitat for trees or animals.

He even says that to go a given distance, an SUV is more earth-friendly than a guy on a bicycle, because the extra food consumed by the cyclist to make the journey takes more area to grow than all the space consumed by the SUV, its gasoline, and its share of the road.

America, not the low-tech world, is earth-friendly, because our farms are so efficient that they leave more room for the wilderness that heals the world’s air and serves as wildlife habitat. America’s forests, he points out, have been expanding every year since 1920, as people have left farms to live in cities, while our agricultural production has vastly increased.

Another factor: Feeding the horses and donkeys formerly needed for transportation and farming tied up twice the acreage used today by all our roads and highways, oil pipelines, refineries, and wells. Much of that extra acreage has reverted to trees.

The environmentalists can say, “If everyone lived like Americans, we’d need two planets—one to live on and one to exploit.” But turnabout is fair play: If the whole world farmed as efficiently as Americans—using fossil fuels, productive cultivars, and modern tillage techniques—and most of the population lived in cities, as in America, there would be no environmental problems.

People would have plenty to eat, even in the Third World, and tropical forests everywhere would be expanding, instead of getting slashed and burned for primitive agriculture. The air would be clean, as it is even in America’s industrial cities, instead of choked with ozone, as it is in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria. Instead of trying to shackle enterprise in rich countries, Huber says, the greens should be promoting American-style democracy and entrepreneurship in the Third World—which is fast becoming the source of most of the world’s pollution.

Out there in the media, the meltdown is still just around the corner. In the December 5, 2003, issue of Science, NCDC’s Thomas Karl and NCAR’s Kevin Trenberth say the “likely result” of human activity on earth is “more frequent heat waves, droughts, extreme precipitation events, and related impacts, e.g., wildfires, heat stress, vegetation changes, and sea-level rise.”

Yawn. I’m sorry, but “likely” is pretty tepid soup 16 years after James Hansen promised us disaster, standing in the sun by the Capitol. If Hansen could say that global warming is “affecting our climate now,” shouldn’t we now be seeing a sign or two that even a nonscientist would recognize? A mass extinction, maybe? A news story about someone’s tires melting in a parking lot in Akron in April. No? How about a 15 percent falloff in snowblower sales?

Global-warming believers place their hopes, so to speak, on disasters in the future. Which is to say, on their computer simulations—the limitations of which are creaking audibly. It’s not a good sign if sunspot patterns predict the climate better than the UN’s favorite scientists, as Soon and Baliunas contend.

The surface of the planet has warmed one Fahrenheit degree over the past century. If that warming had been caused by a blanket of CO2 trapping heat and transferring it back to Earth, the atmosphere should heat up first, then the surface.

Is that what actually happened? At the end of the 20th century (1976-2000), the surface of the planet was heating up 0.27 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. To warm the earth at that rate, the atmosphere should have been heating up even faster, at 0.41 degrees per decade.

But according to independent readings from weather satellites and weather balloons, the atmosphere warmed more slowly than the surface, at 0.13 degrees per decade. The model is off by a mere 200 percent. It’s a pagan temptation to think, as some environmentalists seem to, that God is angry at us for enjoying the comforts of civilization—rather than to accept human ingenuity as His gift to us.

The global-warming believers’ vision seems to be for everyone to live like graduate students on a hiking trip: bringing the latest, lightest, high-tech gear, but eating only gorp and dried tofu and bearing no children.

The Emperor’s New Climate promised by the computer models should be so warm, we can all go around naked. If you must believe the scare stories, you can plant some palm trees and buy extra sunblock. But I don’t suggest you spend much. And if you live where I live, I promise you that for at least one season every year, you can expect to shovel some snow. Thanks be to God, spring is just around the corner.

Duncan Maxwell Anderson writes on science, religion and politics when he is not splitting firewood to heat his house in upstate New York.

Reprinted with special permission from Crisis Magazine.

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