Comments on Wall Street Journal “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” Editorial

This editorial is a pastiche of anti global warming ideas.  There are already 134 responses to it listed on Google.  Not being a climate scientist, I leave it up to them to respond to the details, but I would like to add a few comments.

First, I did not like the comparison of the climate scientists to Lysenko, who ruled Soviet biology.  They also accused the scientists of being slaves of money, research funding, and for some reason wanting to grow government bureaucracies, raise taxes, procure taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses, and lure big donations to charitable foundations.  In fact, two of the authors of the editorial have been directors of research for Exxon, and several others are connected to anti-climate change institutes (which were left out of the descriptions of their affiliations).  If the guest editorial wanted to really argue a scientific case, it should leave off the insults and implied motivations.  This discredits some of the authors who really do have admired scientific or engineering credentials, though not in climate science.

As part of the pastiche, they then go on to praise climate scientists and call for more research and funding.  In the next sentence they call for critical review of government investment in “climate”.  Did they really mean climate science?  In any case, since this small group of nay sayers is in marked contrast to the overwhelming opinion of the national and world wide scientific communities, if they were to be in charge of the critical review, it would in fact be the Lysenko situation all over again.  If this sounds like an absurd possibility, one only has to remember the Bush administration rewriting scientific reports in the White House and requiring government scientists to get approval from supervisors before giving reports at conferences or dealing with the press.  The other question about critical review is whether quid pro quo is allowed.  If an anti climate change administration can cut funding for solar and wind power research and development, and subsidies for electric cars, can an administration that adopts climate change cancel subsidies for oil exploration and ethanol production?

They are also calling the scientists “alarmists” and saying “No Need to Panic”, implying that anyone interested in acting is an extremist, and helping to justify their approach of not acting at all, it seems.

On another point, they say that CO2 is actually good for plant growth, and may have helped with the increased growth of crops in the past century.  But they ignored that the warmth already caused by CO2 is leading to the loss of enormous forests of pine trees to pine bark beetles.  These forests contain large amounts of sequestered carbon and a diversity of wildlife.  They also support the mountain slopes that they are on.  When these catch fire, even more CO2 will be released, and wildlife and soil will be lost.  The cause of their destruction is the increasing lack of many sequential days of below freezing temperature to penetrate the bark and kill the beetles.  Also, I recall studies that test plant life under twice the historic CO2, which only lead to a small amount of increased growth, but are especially good for weeds.

Finally we get to the temperature curve, which I can comment on having experience with statistics.  This is the GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) current temperature curve with five year moving average:

Global Temperature History and Five Year Average

Global Temperature History and Five Year Average

An unbiased characterization is that the temperature oscillates with many fits and starts, but with an overall growth of around a degree Centigrade.  The mean starts increasing dramatically after 1975.  In 1979, 80, and 81 there is a dramatic upward jump, which is not caught up to again until a decade later.  In 1998, there is another great jump, which is not caught up to until 2005 and 2010.  This sort of flatness over that term since 1998 is what climate deniers refer to as global warming has stopped over the past decade or so.  They never state that the average of the 1998-2010 period of 0.7 degree Centigrade anomaly is a vast increase over the 0.3 degree anomaly just two decades previously!  The 0.3 degree anomaly is also a vast increase over the two decades previous to that.  (Does the use of the word “vast” qualify me as an alarmist?)  So the Wall Street Journal editorial does not deny warming, only claiming rather speciously that it is halted.  We see that the recent fit and start aspect is not any different from the past.  The five year average still shows a steady increase.

One of the main causes of the fits and starts is the El Nino – La Nina oscillation of warm and cold temperatures between the Western and Eastern sides of the Pacific ocean.  Recently, this has been shown to cause oscillations to the temperature distribution deeper into the ocean.  The Global Temperature average is only on the surface, so it may oscillate as the heat moves up and down.  The five year average helps to correct for this.

Some final questions concern the reputation and cost of the Wall Street Journal as being a source of expert financial advice that is worth paying a lot for and reading assiduously.  If they blatantly ignore the most likely science in one field, how good is their advice in other scientific areas, since science developments often lead to new industries or developing ones?  If they imply that renewable energy and electric cars will not be needed, are they not killing off industries and misleading investors?  If they imply that last year’s anomalously high insurance costs to the US of weather and climate damage of $50 billion will not be repeated, are they misleading investors in insurance companies and food companies?  If they don’t square with investors in these industries, have they sold out to the fossil fuel companies?

 

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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