Written testimony to the U.S. House Committee on
Resources, 13 May 2003
Kyoto Global Warming Treaty's Impact on Ohio's Coal Dependent Communities
John R. Christy
I am John Christy, Professor of Atmospheric
Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center at the
University of Alabama in Huntsville or UAH. I am also Alabama's
State Climatologist and recently served as a Lead Author of the
U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The concentration of carbon dioxide CO2 is increasing
in the atmosphere due primarily to the combustion of fossil fuels.
Fortunately (because we produce so much of it) CO2 is not a pollutant.
In simple terms, CO2 is the lifeblood of the planet. The vegetation
we see around us would disappear if not for atmospheric CO2. This green
world largely evolved during a period when the atmospheric CO2 concentration
was many times what it is today. Indeed, numerous studies indicate
the present biosphere is being invigorated by the human-induced
rise of CO2.
In and of itself, therefore, the increasing concentration of CO2 does not pose
a toxic risk to the planet. In other words, carbon dioxide means
life itself. CO2 is not a pollutant.
As an aside, it is clear that other emissions
may be called pollutants, e.g. sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides
and mercury. Controlling these is a completely separate issue
from controlling emissions of CO2 and so will not be discussed here.
It is the secondary impact of increasing
that may present challenges to human life in the future. It has
been proposed that CO2 increases could cause climate change of a magnitude
beyond what naturally occurs in the climate system so that costly
adaptation or significant ecological stress might occur. For example,
enhanced sea level rise and/or reduced rainfall would be two possible
effects likely to be costly to those regions so affected. Data
from the past and projections from climate models are employed
to provide insight on these concerns.
Will increases in CO2 affect the climate significantly?
Are significant changes occurring now? Climate models suggest
the answer is yes, real data suggests otherwise.
Climate models attempt to describe the ocean/atmospheric
system with equations which approximate the processes of nature.
No model is perfect because the natural system is incredibly complex.
One modest goal of model simulations is to describe and predict
the evolution of the ocean/atmospheric system in a way that is
useful to discover possible environmental hazards which lie ahead.
The goal is not to achieve a perfect forecast for every type of
weather in every unique geographic region, but to provide information
on changes in large-scale features. If in testing models one finds
conflict with even the observed large scale features, this would
suggest that at least some fundamental processes, for example
heat transfer, are not adequately described in the models.
A common feature of climate model projections
increases is a rise in the global surface temperature as well
as an even more rapid rise in the layer up to 30,000 feet called
Over the past 24+ years various calculations
of surface temperature indeed show a rise of about 0.7 ºF.
This is roughly half of the total rise observed since the 19th
century. In the lower troposphere, however, various estimates
which include the satellite data Dr. Roy Spencer of UAH and I
produce, show much less warming, about 0.3 ºF---an amount
less than half that observed at the surface. The real world shows
less warming in the atmosphere, not more as models predict. Are
these data reliable?
A new version of the microwave satellite data has
been produced, but not yet published, by Remote Sensing Systems
or RSS of California. Two weeks ago a paper was published in Science
magazine's electronic edition which used a curious means of testing
our UAH version against RSS.
The paper cited climate model results which agreed more with RSS,
because RSS data showed about 0.4ºF more warming than UAH's
data for this same layer called the mid-troposphere. UAH's total
warming for this layer was about 0.05ºF. (This layer is higher
in the atmosphere than the lower troposphere mentioned earlier
with its 0.7ºF warming.) The strong implication of the paper
was that since RSS was more consistent with the model output,
it was likely a more accurate dataset than ours.
That same week, with much less fanfare, my latest
paper appeared in the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology. Unlike the paper in Science
magazine, I performed several rigorous tests to estimate the potential
error of our UAH satellite data. I used real observations from
balloon datasets created by independent organizations, some with
data from as many as 400 different balloon stations. Our UAH satellite
data and the balloon data corroborated each other with remarkable
consistency, showing only a slow warming of the bulk of the atmosphere.
This evidence indicates that the projected warming of the climate
model had little consistency with the real world. This is important
because the quantity examined here, lower tropospheric temperature,
is not a minor aspect of the climate system. This represents most
of the bulk mass of the atmosphere, and hence the climate system.
The inability of climate models to achieve consistency on this
scale is a serious shortcoming and suggests projections from such
models be viewed with great skepticism.
Changes in surface temperature have also been a
topic of controversy. The conclusion in IPCC 2001 that human induced
global warming was clearly evident was partly based on a depiction
of the Northern Hemisphere temperature since 1000 A.D. This depiction
showed little change until about 1850, then contains a sharp upward
rise, suggesting that recent warming was dramatic and linked to
human effects. Since
IPCC 2001, two important papers have shown something else. Using a wider range of information
from new sources these studies now indicate large temperature
swings have been common in the past 1000 years and that temperatures
warmer than today's were common in 50-year periods about 1000
years ago. These studies suggest that the climate we see today
is not unusual at all.
Weather Extremes and Climate
I want to encourage the committee to be
suspicious of media reports in which weather extremes are given
as proof of human-induced climate change. Weather extremes occur
somewhere all the time. For example, in the year 2000, in the
48 conterminous states, the U.S. experienced the coldest combined
November and December in 106 years. We've just again witnessed
a colder than average winter in the Eastern US with some record
snowfalls here and there, while the California mountains had one
of the coldest and snowiest April's ever. However, looking at
these events does not prove the country is experiencing global
cooling any more than a hot July represents global warming.
Has hot weather occurred before in the US?
In my region of Alabama, the 19 hottest summers of the past 108
years occurred prior to 1955. In the midwest, of the 10 worst
heatwaves, only two have occurred since 1970, and they are placed
7th and 8th. Hot weather has happened before and will happen again.
Such events do not prove climate change is occurring.
Similar findings appear from an examination of destructive
weather events. The intensity and frequency of hurricanes have
not increased. The intensity and frequency of tornadoes have not
increased. The same is true for thunderstorms and hail. (Let me
quickly add that we now have more people and much more wealth
in the paths of these destructive events so that the losses have
certainly risen, but that is not due to climate change but to
progress.) Droughts and wet spells have not statistically increased
or decreased. In a paper published last year, I demonstrated from
a rigorously constructed temperature dataset for North Alabama
that summer temperatures there have actually declined since the
19th century. Similar
results have been found within states from California to Georgia.
One century is a relatively short time in
terms of climate time scales. When looking at proxy records of
the last 2000 years for drought in the Southwest, the record suggests
the worst droughts occurred prior to 1600. The dust bowl of the
1930's appears as a minor event on such a time scale. This should
be a warning that with or without any human influence on climate
we should be prepared for a significant, multi-year drought. (Low
cost energy would help mitigate the costs of transporting water
to the stricken areas.)
When considering information such as indicated
above, one finds it difficult to conclude the climate change is
occurring in the US and that it is exceedingly difficult to conclude
that part of that change might have been caused by human factors.
In the past 150 years, sea level has risen
at a rate of 6 in. ± 4 in. (15 cm ± 10 cm) per century
and is apparently not accelerating. Sea level also rose in the
17th and 18th centuries, obviously due to natural causes, but
not as much. Sea level has been rising naturally for thousands
of years (about 2 in. per century in the past 6,000 years). If
we look at ice volumes of past interglacial periods and realize
how slowly ice responds to climate, we know that in the current
interglacial period (which began about 11,000 years ago) there
is still more land ice available for melting, implying continued
sea level rise with or without climate change.
One of my duties in the office of the State
Climatologist is to inform developers and industries of the potential
climate risks and rewards in Alabama. I am very frank in pointing
out the dangers of beach front property along the Gulf Coast.
A sea level rise of 6 in. over 100 years, or even 50 years is
minuscule compared with the storm surge of a powerful hurricane
like Fredrick or Camille. Coastal areas threatened today will
be threatened in the future. The sea level rise, which will continue,
will be very slow and thus give decades of opportunity for adaptation,
if one is able to survive the storms.
The main point I stress to state and local
agencies as well as industries is that they invest today in infrastructure
that can withstand the severe weather events that we know are
going to continue. These investments include extending flood way
easements, improvements in storm water drainage systems and avoiding
hurricane-prone coastal development, among other actions. There
are ways to reduce our vulnerabilities (i.e. enhancing our resilience)
by increasing the investment today in the proper infrastructure
or by avoiding future disasters with common sense building regulations.
Our economy is affected much more by these extreme events which
arrive every few years or decades versus whatever slow changes
may occur due to human-induced climate change. The economic payoff
would be tangible for such investments. The payoff for restricting
energy use and economic activity for an unknown (and likely unknowable)
future based on climate change scenarios is much less profitable
for all concerned.
on Climate and the Economy
One week ago today, the BBC published a
report noting that the European Union has again exceeded their
annual carbon dioxide targets under the Kyoto agreement. So in
countries with apparently strong motivation for reducing carbon
dioxide the treaty is failing. But that really is not a problem.
(Under the Kyoto Treaty the U.S. was asked to reduced CO2 emissions
7% below 1990 levels.)
There have been many proposals to reduce
emissions, some in this country, both more and less harsh than
the Kyoto Protocol. In one way or another, each proposal seeks
to limit energy usage through direct or indirect increases of
the cost over market prices. A fundamental fact that our nation
needs to understand is that any of these proposals if implemented,
will have an effect on the climate so small that we would not
be able to detect it. This is something I can speak to as my work
focuses on precise measures of climate quantities. The evidence
convinces me that none of these proposals would change to a noticeable
degree whatever the climate is going to do. Raising the cost of
energy with no detectable result generally falls into the category
of a waste of American income.
I am decidedly an optimist about this situation.
Our country is often criticized for producing 25% of the world's
anthropogenic CO2. However, we are rarely recognized and applauded
for producing, with that same CO2, 31% of what the world wants and needs; its food,
technology, medical advances, defense of freedom, and so on. Today this is done primarily
with the burning of carbon, but in the future will come from other
inexpensive and efficient sources. For example, the US produces
a unit of GDP using about 55% of the energy required to produce
the same unit in 1970. The U.S. is decarbonizing its economy and
this will continue. Even though carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,
and energy from carbon allows people to live better lives, we
can look forward to new sources of energy as the genius of America
works on the next source of inexpensive energy.
I often mention that early in my career
I served as a missionary in Africa. I lived upcountry with people
who did not have access to useful energy. Put simply, access to
energy means life, it means a longer and better life. I watched
as women walked in the early morning to the forest edge, often
several miles away, to chop wet green wood for fuel. They became
beasts of burden as they carried the wood on their backs on the
return trip home. Wood and dung are terrible sources of energy,
with low useful output while creating high pollution levels. Burning
wood and dung inside the homes for cooking and heat created a
dangerously polluted indoor atmosphere for the family. I always
thought that if each home could be fitted with an electric light
bulb and a microwave oven electrified by a coal-fired power plant,
several good things would happen. The women would be freed to
work on other more productive pursuits, the indoor air would be
much cleaner so health would improve, food could be prepared more
safely, there would be light for reading and advancement, information
through television or radio would be received, and the forest
with its beautiful ecosystem could be saved. Access to inexpensive,
efficient energy would enhance the lives of the Africans while
at the same time enhance the environment.
There are parallels in this country. Any
of the proposals to reduce energy consumption by mandate (promoted
in the state legislatures and the congress) would do nothing measurable
to reduce the climate impacts of CO2. However, they would cause increases in energy
costs (i.e. taxes). These additional taxes would fall disproportionately
on the poor, who buy gasoline and home-heating at the same rate
as everyone else. Their lives would be made more precarious as
In Hearings such as this we are often asked at the
close, 'If you were a congressman for a day, what would you do
on this issue? ' My answer is two fold. First, I would do no harm,
I would not force energy prices up and thereby hurt the U.S. economy
in general and the poor in particular.
Second, I would help America do what the innovative people of
this nation do the best, help scientists and engineers discover
the next source of low carbon energy, while building up our resilience
to weather events, like floods, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes
that we know are going to continue, climate change or not.
B., et al., 2003. Influence of Satellite Data Uncertainties on
the Detection of Externally-Forced Climate Change. ScienceExpress,
J.R. et al., 2003. Error estimates of Version 5.0 of MSU-AMSU
bulk atmospheric temperatures. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic
M.E., R. S. Bradley, and M.K. Hughes, 1999: Northern Hemisphere
temperatures during the past millennium: Inferences, uncertainties,
and limitations. Geophys. Res. Lett., 26, 759-762.
Soon, W. and S. Baliunas, 2003: Proxy climatic and environmental
changes of the past 1000 years. Clim. Res., 23, 89-110. Esper,
J. E.R. Cook, F.H. Schweingruber, 2002: Low-frequency signals
in long tree-ring chronologies for reconstructing past temperature
variability. Science 295, 2250-2253.
J.R., 2002: When was the hottest summer? A State Climatologist
struggles for an answer. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 83, 723-734.
Development Indicators, World Bank 2001 (for year 2000), US
is $9,388B, World is $31,337B.
Information Administration, Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on U.S.
Energy and Economic Activity (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department
of Energy). Costs estimated for a reduction of CO2 by 3 % (not Kyoto's 7 %) below
1990 emissions are between $125 and $280 billion per year of an
economy of $9,425 billion, or about 1 to 3 %.