TCS Daily

A Not-So-Silent Spring

By Willie Soon - April 12, 2002 12:00 AM

CAMBRIDGE -- Thanks to the immutable laws of the natural world, Spring has dutifully returned again. But the predictability of seasonal change is quite unlike many of the climate predictions reported in the media over the last two months.

So, what is really in store this wonderful Spring and for the foreseeable future? Depends on whom you ask.

"Pollen production may rise over next 50 years," says a new study just published by several Harvard University researchers in the March issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. In two enclosed laboratory environments, the researchers found that ragweed grown in an atmosphere with double the current carbon dioxide concentration at 700 parts of CO2 per one million parts of air (or ppm) produced 61% more pollen.

The spokesman for this study, Dr. Paul Epstein of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard Medical School, said that "[r]ising carbon dioxide levels may skew the whole ecological community by affecting reproductive power. We're outside the envelope, we're pushing the envelope on the terrestrial feedback mechanisms that have drawn down carbon dioxide." Since carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are expected to increase in part thanks to energy generation, Epstein continues: "I believe that this study can help us understand the true costs of burning fossil fuels" and "this all points to our need to change our energy diet."

A climate scientist, Jonathan Overpeck, made headlines recently by predicting "climate change of 10 degrees" before the year 2100. He also said that new computer simulations showed global warming this century will be four times greater than what the planet experienced in the 1900s.

Overpeck is the director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth at the University of Arizona. Since he is not known as a climate modeler, he apparently based his warming on the report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) issued last year that said 10.4 degree Fahrenheit warming (or 5.8 Celsius) before 2100 was likely. Overpeck also said: "I've been studying climate change for 23 years, and I'm convinced if we don't stop global warming, we're going to mess up this Earth in a way that we've never seen before."

Last but not least, as the air warms there are predictions of more dust or tiny fragments of rock and soil being stirred up by the winds and swirls. Now, it's is usually assumed that greater amounts of dust swirling will lessen global warming threats. Why? Biological productivity in many parts of the world's oceans is sensitive to the supply of aeolian iron, which comes from the air-borne dust. Ocean productivity is crucial in determining how much the anthropogenic [i.e. human-induced] emission of CO2 will be taken up by the ocean - the more productive the oceans, the more CO2 will be removed from the atmosphere.

But a warning has just been issued by a group of cautious researchers from the University of East Anglia who published a study in the Geophysical Research Letters. They claim that optimism about increased ocean productivity is unwarranted.

The researchers' caveat is based on the UN IPCC's climate mitigation strategy that calls for "the deliberate large-scale modification of terrestrial ecosystems by measures such as improved agricultural practices [i.e., reduced tillage to avoid soil erosion or improved soil fertility] and forestation [i.e., restoration of previously degraded lands]." Andy Ridgwell, the lead author of the new study, pointed out an important possible side effect from such actions: "[T]hese measures may speed up global warming by ensuring less dust falls on the sea."

By deliberately reducing the amount of air-borne dust, less iron will be fed into the oceans. Hence ocean productivity would be reduced. So humans would inadvertently cause the ocean to absorb less of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide.

(There's an obvious irony to this study, of course. If you want less global warming, a "dirty" planet may be preferable. Indeed it's possible that the designation as "win-win" or "no regrets" those improved agricultural practices advocated by the UN IPCC may have to be reconsidered.)

Problems With the UN IPCC

Regardless of what may or may not happen with pollen, dust, and warming in the coming seasons and years, there has been some interesting news in the world of climate science. Recent revelations and developments cast grave doubts about the accuracy of the UN IPCC reports upon which the above fears for the natural world are based. In particular, the predicted warming of 10.4 Fahrenheit (5.8 Celsius), touted by Jonathan Overpeck and others, is withering under closer scrutiny.

In the April 4 National Post, Ross McKitrick, an economist from the University of Guelph, said that the updated extreme warming scenario was generated not as a result of improvements in the understanding of global warming science. The predicted extreme warming of 10 degrees Fahrenheit was actually based on fictional "storylines" of the next 100 years of greenhouse gas emissions. In order to produce that incredible global warming of 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit, IPCC modelers had to artificially impose about 825 to 1250 ppm CO2 in their climate models -- and they did so with little or no regard for how probable the invented scenarios are.

The Persistent Mismatches Between Claims by IPCC And Reality:
On Global Carbon Emissions, Carbon Sinks and CO2 in Air

"As the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere increases, ocean and land will take up a decreasing fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The net effect of land and ocean climate feedbacks as indicated by models is to further increase projected atmospheric CO2 concentrations, by reducing both the ocean and land uptakes of CO2." p 12 of Summary for Policymakers of the UN IPCC Third Assessment Report (2001)

Quantity 1970-1979 1980-1989 1990-1999
Fossil Fuel Emissions (Gt C/yr) 4.7 5.4 6.3
10-year Average of CO2 in Air (ppm) OR Rate of Increase (Gt C/yr) 331
CO2 Uptake by ocean+land (Gt C/yr) in % of Fossil Fuel Emissions 2.3

"[T]he [IPCC TAR's] SRES report instructed modelers to assume peak 21st century global emission levels from a low of 11.7 billion tonnes to a high of (get this) 29 billion tonnes. The "up to 6 degrees" warming forecast follow directly from feeding this range of emissions into climate models. ... The projected increase in coal use for the three decades from 200 to 2030 ranges from a low of 50% to a high of 160%. By comparison, actual world coal consumption grew only 40% in the three decades from 1970-1999. ... So the world could warm up six degrees this century. It is equally true that pigs can fly up to six miles a day." Ross McKitrick, National Post, April 4, 2002

McKitrick's analysis of the UN IPCC update is summarized in the above CHARTiFACT. McKitrick revealed the emission storylines used to predict greater warming by 2100, calling them completely unrealistic. "[If] the world could warm up six degrees this century," McKitrick said, then "[i]t is equally true that pigs can fly up to six miles a day."

And McKitrick's not alone. James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the well-known promoter of the global warming theory, also scolded the unrealistic IPCC "storyline" in a March paper in the journal Climatic Change.

"One problem with IPCC reports is that each report produces new (and more numerous) greenhouse gas scenarios with little attempt to discuss what went wrong with the previous ones. ... We note that growth rate of CO2 (fossil fuel) emissions has declined from about 4% per year to 1% per year in recent decades. It is noteworthy that the current IPCC (2001) scenarios have a growth rate in the 1990s that is almost double the observed rate of 0.8%/year... but it is consistent with their failure to emphasize data."

Furthermore, note in the above CHARTiFACT the casual claim in the IPCC's Summary for Policymakers that as more and more CO2 is emitted to the air, the change in climate will prompt reductions in the uptake of that carbon dioxide by both the ocean and land biosphere. But the IPCC's statement cannot be trusted or verified.

The data in the CHARTiFACT show that from 1970-1999, the anthropogenic emission of carbon dioxide has been increasing systematically from about 4.7 billion tons of carbon (or Gt C) per year in the 1970s to about 6.3 billion tons of carbon per year in the 1990s.

But the table also shows that the rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the air has been slowing in the 1990s. This fact undermines the IPCC's claim that as more CO2 is emitted, less of that CO2 is taken up by the ocean and land. The CHARTiFACT demonstrates that, in fact, the opposite is true, at least for the two most recent decades: The 1980s (46% uptake) versus the 1990s (54% uptake).

The UN IPCC reports are often riddled with problems, inconsistencies, and errors that suggest the IPCC is as much a political bureaucracy agitating for social change as it is an objective scientific arbiter. But since it drives the debate on climate science, its reports and pronouncements are significant, and they enable an emotionally-charged scientist like Overpeck to bark with a straight face: "I think it is going to be pretty hard to avoid the sixth mass extinction in Earth's history. Countries are going out of business. Cultures are going to be put out of business."

That is, of course, an exaggeration. But some things do, indeed, need to be put out of business, namely the practitioners of shoddy science who misleads the public and cloud a sensible debate on environmental and climate policy.

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