Tuesday, July 1st 2008, 4:00 AM EDT
A very good news blog in the SundayPaper by Chuck Stanley he looks at the fine balance between being green and the economy.
The fight to prove the validity of global warming has been declared over by many in the media, but some scientists keep swinging.
On a recent Thursday morning in Marietta, with the sky clear and blue above them, members of Americans for Prosperity prepared for a stop on the group’s “hot air tour.” The purpose of the event is to raise awareness of the costs of so-called “global warming alarmism.” The tour, which has stops in more than a dozen cities, offers free rides on a 70-foot-high hot air balloon with the words “Global Warming Alarmism: Lost Jobs; Higher Taxes; Less Freedom” emblazoned on its side.
As the sun neared its apex above Jim R. Miller Park, my enthusiasm for hot air ballooning put me directly in the center of a global warming debate that seems to hinge largely on fish populations off the Canadian coast, cosmic rays from deep space, and light bulbs filled with toxic mercury.
According to Tim Phillips, its national director, Americans for Prosperity is a grassroots group that advocates free market solutions for most any problem. He says that the hot air tour was organized to fight solutions to climate change that might erode personal freedoms or imperil economic prosperity.
“No parent wants to destroy the environment for our kids,” he says. “But ... we have to try to make sure we don’t wreck our economy.”
Despite AFP’s official neutrality in the debate over climate change, the collective skepticism in Jim R. Miller Park was nearly tangible. Hut Avant, a retired restaurant owner from Sandersville, made the journey to Marietta with his wife, Joan. He believes it’s important for his grandchildren, who attended the event with him, to understand that they must get involved with decisions that will affect their future. He recalled opening a fast food establishment in 1954 and paying $5 for a city permit that encompassed the entirety of the taxes and fees necessary to open the restaurant.
After the Bell
“Now,” he grumbles, “they say it takes 16-and-a-half days of work just to cover regulation costs.”
Avant does not believe that global warming is an Earth-threatening trend caused by mankind’s wastefulness. He sees the global warming hype as camouflage for a government determined to increase its regulatory powers.
When asked what he thinks is motivating the frenzy over climate change, he does not mince words.
“Socialism,” he says. “They want to make us socialist.”
Hut Avant does not stand alone in his disbelief. Nor are his compatriots limited to the dozens of concerned citizens who descended on the park in Marietta for a free balloon ride and some anti-tax teeth-gnashing. Although many in the media have turned the page on the climate debate, there is still a contingent of the scientific community that disputes the notion that humans are driving irreversible changes to our environment. In December 2007, a report compiled by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works cited 400 scientists who dispute claims about anthropogenic, or manmade, global warming. The scientists didn’t dispute that the world is heating up a bit, but they’re not convinced that human beings are to blame.
Tim Patterson, a paleoclimatologist at Carleton University in Ottawa, is one of the scientists cited in the report. Patterson once subscribed to popular anthropogenic theories of climate change.
“The logic made sense,” he says. He had never personally examined the research, so he accepted the prevailing beliefs on global warming.
Patterson became increasingly skeptical, however, as he analyzed 5,000 years worth of mud extracted from the depths of fjords on the coast of British Colombia. He was overseeing a project funded by Canada’s National Research Council to determine whether variations in the size of commercial fish populations off the coast occur in predictable cycles, and why that might be. What he found was that changes in fish populations closely coincided with varying amounts of solar output—variations driven by changes in the number of sunspots, heavy concentrations of activity on the surface of the sun. Patterson contends that three concurrent sunspot cycles, lasting roughly 11 years, 75 to 80 years, and 250 to 500 years, have had a much closer link to fluctuations in global temperature than changes in carbon-dioxide (CO2) levels over the earth’s measurable history.
According to Patterson, the solar wind, a mass of electronically charged particles expelled by the sun, serves as a barrier against cosmic rays when the sun is burning its brightest. These cosmic rays enhance cloud formation, so their absence during periods of increased solar output amplifies the heating effect on Earth.
According to a February 2007 National Geographic article, some scientists believe NASA's observations of Mars' melting CO2 "ice caps" in 2005 show that a brighter sun has recently been raising planetary temperatures regardless of any human influence. If this is the case, the unique interactions of our planet with cosmic rays and the solar wind could make the effects here more pronounced than on the red planet.
As for the role of greenhouse gases like CO2, “It just doesn’t correlate, except a little bit in the end of the 20th century,” Patterson says.
Xiaochun He, a physicist at Georgia State University, corroborates Patterson’s claims about cosmic rays. Dr. He is currently working on methods linking cosmic rays with weather patterns. He says that a stronger solar wind is indeed likely to shield the earth from cosmic rays.
The rays, like the solar wind, are made up of fast-moving charged particles. However, while Earth’s magnetic field repels the solar wind, the high speed of the particles in cosmic rays allows them to penetrate through the magnetic field into our atmosphere, helping to bolster our cloud cover—unless, of course they collide with particles in the solar wind.
While mavericks like Tim Patterson attempt to voice their opinions over the roar of warnings about disastrous fallout from climate change, the general trend of thought in the scientific community is that humans are affecting climate change, and action needs to be taken.
Jim Coakley Jr, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Oregon State University, strongly disputes the notion that studies linking CO2 emissions to climate change are overblown. Coakley holds a PhD in physics, and has researched how climate change is influenced by radiation coming into and going out of the atmosphere.
When I describe Patterson’s assertions about the limited role of greenhouse gasses in recent global climate shifts, Coakley says, “That’s way off base.” Skeptics who talk about solar variations and natural shifts in climate, he says, are not looking at the entire picture.
“They’re trying to get your attention away from the real problem,” which, he says, is rapid climate change spurred by human actions. “This is happening within our lifetime,” he says. “The earth has never seen anything like this.”
For Coakley, the science is clear. Computer models linking changes in global temperatures, he says, clearly conform with hypotheses about the effects of heightened greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and there is a single main contributor to that increase.
“We know fairly well how much [C02] we’ve been putting into the atmosphere [for the past two centuries], and that about half of it stays in the atmosphere,” he says. “It’s clear nothing else is contributing to the carbon dioxide increase the way humans are.”
As visitors enjoyed barbeque and bottled water in Jim R. Miller Park, the event’s speakers voiced their outrage over the $1.2 trillion tax hike that they say would be required by the proposed Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. The act, which directs the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to establish a program to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, was introduced last October. The legislation stalled in the Senate in early June, when a Republican-led filibuster blocked its consideration.
AFP members, pointing to the Energy Independence and Security Act signed into law by President Bush last December, say that more climate change legislation will further infringe on individual freedom. That act already effectively bans the use of incandescent light bulbs by the year 2014.
AFP’s Phillips, the first speaker of the afternoon, described his displeasure at being forced by the government to use compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, which contain small amounts of mercury. He described the complicated process the Environmental Protection Agency recommends to safely clean up a broken CFL bulb. He then noted how even bulbs that aren’t broken, but exhaust their natural life spans, must be disposed of through hazardous waste programs.
Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr and Republican State Senator Chip Rogers each returned to the topic during their addresses, using the same incredulously uttered phrase, “They’re telling us what kind of light bulbs we can use!”
After his speech, Barr told The Sunday Paper that climate change “is going to be a big part of [his] campaign. Because one, it hits people where it really hurts them, in their pocketbooks.”
Sources of information featured on the Web site for AFP’s hot air tour include the Heritage Foundation and the American Council for Capital Formation, two influential Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tanks, as well as the Copenhagen Consensus. The latter is a well-respected confederation of economists dedicated to a cost-benefit approach to tackling global humanitarian issues. The consensus was originally organized by Danish academic and author Bjorn Lomborg, an outspoken skeptic of global warming. AFP also relies on information from the Congressional Budget Office. However, when warning of the possible costs of legislation aimed at limiting climate change, AFP chooses to ignore studies such as the Richard Stern Report, commissioned by former English Prime Minister Tony Blair and released in 2006, which states that inaction on global warming could result in a world wide shrinkage of Gross Domestic Product of as much as 20 percent by the end of the century.
“We choose certain studies, no question,” says Tim Phillips. “We believe, and our analysts and policy folks believe those are better. But we’re absolutely willing to concede that you can have a really vigorous, healthy debate. But, let’s not, in a very vindictive way, attack those who don’t agree with us.”
Those like economist Gary Yohe, for example. Yohe, who teaches at Weslyan University in Connecticut, has researched climate change since 1982 and has worked with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He has also worked with the Copenhagen Consensus, which AFP cites as supporting its stance on climate legislation. Yohe believes that the economic catastrophe AFP warns of is greatly exaggerated. When talking about a cost-benefit analysis of the climate change problem, Yohe says it is a mistake to attempt to nail down the exact costs of climate fluctuation because too much is uncertain. He has criticized the 2006 Stern report for this very reason.
“[Stern] was right for the wrong reasons,” he says. “He was right for talking about the economic costs, but he should have been talking about risks rather than specific numbers.”
For Yohe, the question of human-caused climate change is “unequivocal.” However, he makes an analogy, for skeptics, to household smoke detectors. “You have to go buy it and change the batteries and it’s a pain in the ass,” he says. “But you keep it to avert a risk.”
Which is probably why the AFP kept its balloon tethered less than 100 feet off the ground: to avert the risk of enthusiasts like me getting carried away on a strong headwind. As Bob Barr departed the park to continue his presidential campaign, Jared Thomas, Georgia chapter president of AFP, handed out $8 bills bearing Al Gore’s face to those standing in line for the last round of hot air balloon rides. Across the bills was printed, “Good for one gallon of gas.” On stage, Tim Phillips announced AFP’s plans to fly their hot air balloon over Al Gore’s Tennessee estate to raucous applause.
Balloon flyovers of the former vice president’s home are not likely to influence any future tax legislation any more than Barr, overwhelmingly considered an underdog, is likely to ride this issue into the Oval Office. But perhaps that’s not what events like this are really meant to accomplish.
As Jim Jess, a long time Republican and supporter of AFP said while waiting in line for barbecue, “Forums like this give people information so they can accurately look at and make informed decisions, [and] I think a lot of people don’t have all the information about this collection of issues.”