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U.N. Scientist Rejects Nobel
U.N. Scientist Professor John Christy Rejects sharing
the Nobel Peace Prize with climate alarmist Albert Gore Jr.
My Nobel Moment
By JOHN R. CHRISTY
November 1, 2007
I've had a lot of fun recently with my tiny (and unofficial) slice
of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC). But, though I was one of thousands of IPCC
participants, I don't think I will add "0.0001 Nobel Laureate"
to my resume.
The other half of the prize was awarded to former Vice President Al
Gore, whose carbon footprint would stomp my neighborhood flat. But that's
another story.Large icebergs in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Winter
sea ice around the continent set a record maximum last month.
Both halves of the award honor promoting the message that Earth's temperature
is rising due to human-based emissions of greenhouse gases. The Nobel
committee praises Mr. Gore and the IPCC for alerting us to a potential
catastrophe and for spurring us to a carbonless economy.
I'm sure the majority (but not all) of my IPCC colleagues cringe when
I say this, but I see neither the developing catastrophe nor the smoking
gun proving that human activity is to blame for most of the warming
we see. Rather, I see a reliance on climate models (useful but never
"proof") and the coincidence that changes in carbon dioxide
and global temperatures have loose similarity over time.
There are some of us who remain so humbled by the task of measuring
and understanding the extraordinarily complex climate system that we
are skeptical of our ability to know what it is doing and why. As we
build climate data sets from scratch and look into the guts of the climate
system, however, we don't find the alarmist theory matching observations.
(The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite data
we analyze at the University of Alabama in Huntsville does show modest
warming -- around 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit per century, if current warming
trends of 0.25 degrees per decade continue.)
It is my turn to cringe when I hear overstated-confidence from those
who describe the projected evolution of global weather patterns over
the next 100 years, especially when I consider how difficult it is to
accurately predict that system's behavior over the next five days.
Mother Nature simply operates at a level of complexity that is, at this
point, beyond the mastery of mere mortals (such as scientists) and the
tools available to us. As my high-school physics teacher admonished
us in those we-shall-conquer-the-world-with-a-slide-rule days, "Begin
all of your scientific pronouncements with 'At our present level of
ignorance, we think we know ...'"
I haven't seen that type of climate humility lately. Rather I see jump-to-conclusions
advocates and, unfortunately, some scientists who see in every weather
anomaly the specter of a global-warming apocalypse. Explaining each
successive phenomenon as a result of human action gives them comfort
and an easy answer.
Others of us scratch our heads and try to understand the real causes
behind what we see. We discount the possibility that everything is caused
by human actions, because everything we've seen the climate do has happened
before. Sea levels rise and fall continually. The Arctic ice cap has
shrunk before. One millennium there are hippos swimming in the Thames,
and a geological blink later there is an ice bridge linking Asia and
One of the challenges in studying global climate is keeping a global
perspective, especially when much of the research focuses on data gathered
from spots around the globe. Often observations from one region get
more attention than equally valid data from another.
The recent CNN report "Planet in Peril," for instance, spent
considerable time discussing shrinking Arctic sea ice cover. CNN did
not note that winter sea ice around Antarctica last month set a record
maximum (yes, maximum) for coverage since aerial measurements started.
Then there is the challenge of translating global trends to local climate.
For instance, hasn't global warming led to the five-year drought and
fires in the U.S. Southwest?
There has been a drought, but it would be a stretch to link this drought
to carbon dioxide. If you look at the 1,000-year climate record for
the western U.S. you will see not five-year but 50-year-long droughts.
The 12th and 13th centuries were particularly dry. The inconvenient
truth is that the last century has been fairly benign in the American
West. A return to the region's long-term "normal" climate
would present huge challenges for urban planners.
Without a doubt, atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing due primarily
to carbon-based energy production (with its undisputed benefits to humanity)
and many people ardently believe we must "do something" about
its alleged consequence, global warming. This might seem like a legitimate
concern given the potential disasters that are announced almost daily,
so I've looked at a couple of ways in which humans might reduce CO2
emissions and their impact on temperatures.
California and some Northeastern states have decided to force their
residents to buy cars that average 43 miles-per-gallon within the next
decade. Even if you applied this law to the entire world, the net effect
would reduce projected warming by about 0.05 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100,
an amount so minuscule as to be undetectable. Global temperatures vary
more than that from day to day.
Suppose you are very serious about making a dent in carbon emissions
and could replace about 10% of the world's energy sources with non-CO2-emitting
nuclear power by 2020 -- roughly equivalent to halving U.S. emissions.
Based on IPCC-like projections, the required 1,000 new nuclear power
plants would slow the warming by about 0.2 ?176 degrees Fahrenheit per
century. It's a dent.
But what is the economic and human price, and what is it worth given
the scientific uncertainty?
My experience as a missionary teacher in Africa opened my eyes to this
simple fact: Without access to energy, life is brutal and short. The
uncertain impacts of global warming far in the future must be weighed
against disasters at our doorsteps today. Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen
Consensus 2004, a cost-benefit analysis of health issues by leading
economists (including three Nobelists), calculated that spending on
health issues such as micronutrients for children, HIV/AIDS and water
purification has benefits 50 to 200 times those of attempting to marginally
limit "global warming."
Given the scientific uncertainty and our relative impotence regarding
climate change, the moral imperative here seems clear to me.
Mr. Christy is director of the Earth System Science Center at the University
of Alabama in Huntsville and a participant in the U.N.'s Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, co-recipient of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr. Christy is director of the Earth System Science
Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a participant
in the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, co-recipient
of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. ~ Source
- Wall Street Journal
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