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The Independent Institute
Commentary

Climate Science vs. Politics
The Road Ahead


There is good news and bad news about climate. The good news is that science evidence has made it quite clear that the human contribution to a possible global warming is minor; in fact it cannot even be identified in the data record. The bad news is that the media and politicians pay no attention whatsoever to the science and are marching ahead full-speed with efforts to control CO2 emissions—thereby hurting the economy, destroying jobs, and stunting economic growth. They are under the illusion that there is a nearly complete scientific consensus in support of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW).

First, the good news

As one of the many official “expert reviewers” of the UN-IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), I have had a chance to examine the so-called evidence to back up the IPCC conclusion (with claimed >95% certainty!!) that a reported global warming of the 1980s and 1990s is anthropogenic and that models can be used to predict a future temperature increase of around 2-3 degrees by 2100. I found that IPCC uses the same flimsy evidence in its fifth assessment report (AR5), due in 2013, as they did in AR4 (Assessment Report #4, published in 2007); except that there they only claimed 90% certainty.

If there is to be an IPCC-AR6, it will surely claim 99%, based on the same flimsy “evidence”—a comparison of uncertain model results with even less certain global surface temperature data. In AR5, this comparison involves just one graph in a chapter on “Attribution.” Yet the IPCC studiously avoids discussing the several striking examples where observations disagree with climate models: no global warming during at least the past decade—in spite of rapidly rising CO2 levels; Antarctic is cooling—not warming; absence of the model-predicted “hot spot” in the tropical atmosphere, and others.

All of this is detailed in peer-reviewed publications and summarized in the reports of NIPCC (Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change), which directly contradict the results of the IPCC. Since NIPCC’s founding in 2007, its voluminous reports have been published by the Heartland Institute www.NIPCCreport.org. During 2013, NIPCC will publish a final summary report at about the same time as the IPCC-AR5. Important news: The Chinese Academy of Sciences has translated these NIPCC reports for publication in 2013—the first national academy to do so.

The other good news is that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which has been slowly dying since the UN conference in Copenhagen in Dec. 2009, is finally going to be officially buried this month, in December 2012. Judging from the latest UN gabfest in Doha, Qatar, it is unlikely that another international control regime will be constituted by 2015 as planned, because of opposition to such international agreements from China, India, and other rapidly developing countries. Among the poorer countries, there is growing talk about the need for “climate reparations” to reimburse them for some claimed damage caused by CO2 emissions in the past, mainly from the United States. We should keep in mind, of course, that the major effect of the increase in CO2 has been to improve agricultural performance. Perhaps these countries should be thankful to China and India for rapidly increasing CO2 emissions, thereby greening the planet.

The bad news

While the international control effort may be dead, we aren’t getting rid of the national efforts to control emissions. The situation in the EU is sort of ludicrous with unrealistic future targets of 20%, 50%, and even up to 80% reduction being bandied about. But the future is coming closer—and so is some degree of realism. In some nations, particularly Britain, there has been serious rethinking on the matter of CO2 emissions targets, with U-turns being announced frequently.

It is particularly disturbing that the World Bank has commissioned a thoroughly alarmist report on Global Warming—and that this report could lead to a substantial misallocation of multi-billions of development funds. Poor countries badly need reliable low-cost electric power; they may instead be forced into dubious windmill and solar projects that claim “sustainability” and zero-CO2 emissions—but are uneconomic, intermittent, and not suitable for industrial development

In the United States, there has been a determined effort by the EPA to abolish the use of abundant domestic coal in power plants. This is in line with the president’s promise to make electricity prices “skyrocket” and his plan to make climate-change policy a centerpiece in his second term.

His efforts to push through cap and trade legislation failed in 2009, after barely passing the House. But the EPA has been issuing regulation after regulation that impinge on the use of coal, such as requiring Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to control mercury emissions. This is a hopeless task as most mercury is now emitted by China into the global atmosphere where it’ll spread worldwide.

What has saved the situation in the US is the bonanza of cheap natural gas, which is rapidly replacing coal as the fuel for power plants. But we don’t know if the price of natural gas will remain at the current low level once EPA issues more regulations concerning fracking technology.

EPA Endangerment Finding (EF)

The basic driver of EPA efforts to control CO2 emissions is their proposed Endangerment Finding (EF). It was issued on Dec 7, 2009 (another “day that shall live in infamy”) in response to the 2007 decision of the US Supreme Court, declaring CO2 a pollutant subject to regulation under the 1970 Clean Air Act (CAA)—provided EPA can demonstrate by independent analysis that it has a harmful impact on human health and welfare.

The EF was challenged immediately since it used flawed IPCC science to claim a deleterious impact on climate. Unfortunately, we lost our lawsuit in the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. In June 2012, the Court’s 3-judge panel ruled in favor of the EPA; it said in essence “we’re not scientists, we cannot decide between EPA’s scientific claims and those of the plaintiff, and therefore we give deference to the administrative agency.” In Dec. 2012, the same Court rejected our request for an en banc hearing—but with two important dissents.

Fortunately, we have resourceful lawyers. They have pointed out that EPA did not do the “independent analysis” required by the Supreme Court; they should be required to go back to the drawing board and then submit their findings to their Scientific Advisory Board. I think this will simply delay another challengeable EF, but such a delay might be useful in educating the media and the public, particularly once EPA regulations start to raise energy prices.

Another promising approach to fighting the EPA on this issue is to go back to the 1970 Clean Air Act, the basic law. After all, the purpose of emission controls is to achieve an ambient air quality that will not harm human health and welfare. The CAA (Section 108) therefore requires the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for “criteria pollutants.” We need to challenge the EPA to set such a standard for CO2, to justify it by “independent analysis,” and to demonstrate how their proposed CO2-control regulations will achieve such a NAAQS standard. I would imagine that this would be an impossible task for the EPA; bearing in mind that they have no control over China or other rapidly developing countries.

As Marlo Lewis (Competitive Enterprise Institute) has reminded us, the activist Center for Biological Diversity and 350.Org petitioned the EPA more than two years ago to establish a NAAQS for CO2 at 350 parts per million (roughly 50 parts per million below current concentrations)—and for other GH gases at pre-industrial levels. Yet the EPA has not responded; Perhaps they realize that any level selected may be considered “arbitrary and capricious”—or unobtainable.

Finally, there is the remedy of last resort. Congress can simply amend the Clean Air Act and forbid the EPA from regulating CO2. The next election is in November 2014, and there is a possibility that both House and Senate would vote for such an amendment in 2015.

But then again, with Obama still in the White House, such an amendment can be vetoed. However, there is always the possibility that a veto can be overridden, so that some sort of political accommodation between the Congress and the President may result.

Whatever the outcome of this legal maneuvering, the science says fairly clearly that CO2 is not a significant climate driver but a boon to global agriculture. It is hoped that this message can be spread in the media and to the public—and produce a desirable political impact.


Atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and former founding Director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service. He is author of Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate (The Independent Institute).

Hot Talk, Cold ScienceFrom S. Fred Singer
HOT TALK, COLD SCIENCE: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate
S. Fred Singer is a distinguished astrophysicist who has taken a hard, scientific look at the evidence. In this book, Dr. Singer explores the inaccuracies in historical climate data, the limitations of attempting to model climate on computers, solar variability and its impact on climate, the effects of clouds, ocean currents, and sea levels on global climate, and factors that could mitigate any human impacts on world climate. Learn More »»