Good News for Nobel Laureates
Remember the statement released on 7 December last in Oslo,
at the centenary celebrations for the Nobel Peace Prize? It was
edited by John C. Polyani of Canada (1986 Chemistry Prize), although
it sounds rather like what the Swedish Royal Academy of Science
has been saying recently. The 108 signatory Nobel Laureates (30
didn't sign) tell us that:
The most profound danger to world peace in the coming years
will stem not from the irrational acts of states or individuals
but from the legitimate demands of the world's dispossessed.
Of these poor and disenfranchised, the majority live a marginal
existence in equatorial climates. Global warming, not of their
making but originating with the wealthy few, will affect their
fragile ecologies most.... It cannot be expected, therefore,
that in all cases they will be content to await the beneficence
of the rich. If then we permit the devastating power of modern
weaponry to spread through this combustible human landscape,
we invite a conflagration that can engulf both rich and poor....
(W)e must persist in the quest for united action to counter both
global warming and a weaponized world.
Never mind that over the last 20 years and more, almost all
warming has been north of 30 ºN, with little or none in 'equatorial
climates' or in the Southern Hemisphere. Never mind that Osama
(long may he live in peace) was not 'poor'; although, as the seventeenth
of 52 siblings, he may well have suffered from a lack of paternal
quality-time when young. However, you can see why the Laureates
are worried. When the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change released its Third Assessment Report in 2000, the
most-publicized conclusions were: an average global surface temperature
increase of up to 5.8 degrees Celsius between 1990 and 2100, and
(because warm water expands) resultant sea level rise up to 88
Greenhouse warming is a phenomenon of the atmosphere. Human-caused
emissions (for example, carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations)
supplement the dominant greenhouse gas, naturally-occurring water
vapour, in the atmosphere---and thus intercept a little more of
the heat leaving Earth. The lower atmosphere is supposed to warm
as a result; and some of this extra warmth should then be redistributed
back to the surface, rather than onward to Space. We call this
consequent surface warming the 'greenhouse effect'.
But from 1979 we have satellite records; and the lower atmosphere
has warmed only a third as fast as the surface. The simplest explanation
is that for this 23 years, at least, most surface warming is not
'greenhouse effect' warming! Human-caused greenhouse warming appears
confined to places like Alaska/Yukon, and particularly Siberia,
under the very cold (and bone dry) high-pressure cells of winter.
The result is a slightly longer growing-season---and stronger
growth, too, because of a CO2-enriched
atmosphere (think commercial greenhouses).
In Europe, the latest manifestations of a long-running ca
1500-year warm/cold cycle are the Roman Empire Warm Period, Dark
Ages, Mediaeval Warm Period, and Little Ice Age. The last cold
snap of the Little Ice Age was AD1800-20, with a warming trend
since. Warmth is better.
Overprinted on this trend are marked warming from the 1920s,
slight cooling from the 1940s, and renewed warming from the 1970s.
In fact, the Great Pacific Climate Shift of 1976/77, with its
sharp reduction in the upwelling of cold water in the NE Pacific,
was the climatic event of the twentieth century.
This remarkable warming step was followed by physical and biological
changes far beyond the Pacific. The modest 0.6 ºC warming
since measurements began in 1860 mostly looks like rebound from
the Little Ice Age---overlain by shorter-term cyclicity. What
drives these natural cycles? We don't really know; but I'll bet
it's the Sun.
The UN's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg
discussed at length how to stabilize global climate. And in Mozambique
on 1 September, PM Tony Blair said in support 'we can defeat climate
change if we want to'. But all such efforts must fail; because,
inevitably, climate will continue to fluctuate on many time-scales.
Let me repeat: we can't stabilize climate. The same
applies to extreme weather events: of course they will keep coming.
Prevention is not on; and mitigation is the only plausible answer.
Vain attempts to stabilize climate by restricting emission
of greenhouse gases will hurt us all economically, and the poor
will suffer most. Instead of tilting at greenhouse windmills,
the Summit might better follow the 'Skeptical Environmentalist'
Bjørn Lomborg (New York Times, August 26). He wants
it to concentrate on ways to 'provide every person in the world
with access to basic health, education, family planning, and water
and sanitation services'.
But, 0.6 ºC in the past is not the problem, surely---it
is 5.8 ºC in the future. I bring good news. Ian Castles,
Australian National University Visiting Fellow and former Australian
Statistician, has teased-out the economic assumptions underpinning
that menacing projection, and finds them extremely implausible.
IPCC invokes a worst-case 'storyline' incorporating a whole-world
per-capita growth in goods and services of an unimaginable 35
times between 1990 and 2100---goodbye poverty, everyone
will be rich! It then builds a scenario in which that growth is
largely powered by coal; and, after calculating how much carbon
dioxide might end up in the atmosphere as a consequence, applies
the most sensitive of 7 numerical climate models to achieve its
5.8 ºC. This is just quantified arm-waving. For instance,
the high-end scenario has world coal consumption growing 31% in
1990--2000. Actually, it fell slightly.
But IPPC gives a range for 2100, with its lowest-emission
scenario yielding a rise of 1.4 ºC. The 'right' answer still
could be bad, couldn't it? I have more good news.
Ian Castles finds that the low-end projection is also extremely
implausible. Here, although growth in the OECD is assumed to be
modest, per-capita real-terms GDP grows 70 times in Asia (excluding
Japan) in 1990--2100. Even for the rest of the developing world
(Latin America, Africa and Middle East) it is nearly 30 times---and
yet in 2002, this train is still at the station. The mother of
all economic miracles gives context: Japan's twentieth century
growth was below 20 times.
Come clean, IPCC! Tell people in Oslo and Johannesburg that
neither end of the range you give for AD2100 has
any plausible basis. Instead, concentrate on the here-and-now.
For instance, 100 million people already live within 1 metre of
mean sea level. Also, the UN's Arab Human Development Report
2002 tells us that in the 22 countries studied, half the women
still can't read and write; and population is expected to increase
from 280 to over 410 million by 2020. Finally, destruction of
natural habitat continues apace, including in our own Queensland.
With problems like these for Laureates to address, greenhouse
will never be missed.
|Lavoisier the Man|
Bio and Image
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