The Case for Doing Nothing on Global Warming

Lawrence Solomon

October 21, 2009

A Presentation to the Centre for National Security of the Conference Board of Canada Winnipeg, Oct 21 and Oct 22, 2009

I am grateful to be here this morning to discuss threats to public safety and national security.  Threats often come from unexpected sources. This may be the case with global warming.

You will be hearing at this conference that there is little doubt that human activity is responsible for profound and negative changes to our climate. Distinguished speakers will warn of enormous fresh water decreases, of disappearing glaciers, of the potential extinction of 70% of all species, of an ecosystem stressed to the breaking point.

You will hear of droughts and starvation and sea level rises that will very likely flood millions of people living in coastal areas from their homes each year, and that Canada will need to be prepared for the chaos to follow, chaos that could include mass migrations of refugees, social unrest, pandemics, war and terrorism and riots born of social injustice.

I’m here to tell you that there are no such likelihoods. That there is no consensus on climate change. That the science that the doomsayers describe cannot credibly be seen as having the weight of scientific opinion behind it. Often, the science has no credibility whatsoever.

Here is one example, from a doomsayer claim that will be made to you tomorrow. You will hear that malaria and other vector borne diseases are likely to spread as the planet warms.  This claim dates back to 1995, when it was a theme in one of the major reports put out by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body that has organized much of the world’s research on global warming. The IPCC reported that global warming could lead to 80 million additional cases of malaria worldwide – 80 million each year. Without this UN body — the IPCC — there would have been no such estimate, and no such fear of the public health consequences of global warming. In fact, without the IPCC, there would be no global warming scare at all.

Was that 80 million figure the result of a broad consensus in the field, as those who represent the IPCC claim? Did the world’s top scientists endorse that 80 million figure, as the press continually reported at the time?

Let me tell you about Paul Reiter and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. The Pasteur Institute is as credible an organization as you can get in this field, and not just because it was founded by Louis Pasteur himself. This institute’s excellence over more than a century led its scientists to receive eight Nobel Prizes.

Now let me tell you about Professor Paul Reiter, who heads the Pasteur Institute’s Insects and Infectious Disease Unit.

Reiter is also as credible as you can get in this field. Before joining the Pasteur Institute, Reiter directed the entomology section at the Dengue Branch of the Centers for Disease Control, which as you know is a preeminent U.S. government agency. Reiter is also known for his work as an officer of the Harvard School of Public Health, his membership on the World Health Organization’s Expert Advisory Committee on Vector Biology and Control, and, among administrative positions, his role as lead author of the Health Section of the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change.

What does Paul Reiter think of the IPCC’s work in his field of malaria and vector borne diseases? He described the scientists who worked on it as having “glaring ignorance.” These scientists claimed that malarial mosquitoes cannot ordinarily survive temperatures below 16C to 18C, not realizing that many tropical species do and that many temperate species survive temperatures of – 25C. Likewise, these scientists didn’t know at what altitudes mosquitoes can be found.

The UN’s report was so ignorant, in fact, that Reiter says there is not one major scientist in the field, anywhere in the world, who accepts the findings in this report.

Who were these scientists, who had produced this report for the UN body, who made news around the world that global warming could kill 80 million people a year through the spread of malaria and other vector-borne diseases?

For starters, none of the lead authors had ever written a single research paper on the subject. Two of the authors had spent their entire careers as environmental activists. Another had as his chief interest the effectiveness of motorcycle crash helmets.

This was the caliber of scientist who produced the most influential public policy document ever written on malaria and vector borne diseases, a document that came up with this completely bogus figure of 80 million deaths a year from vector borne diseases without understanding the first thing about them, a document that still has currency today for one reason only – because it was produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Did the UN Panel try to make amends for having misled the world so egregiously on this subject? As you can imagine, it came in for a lot of criticism – remember, not one credible scientist in the field, in the world, agreed with the UN’s position. Because credible scientists were so alarmed that the mistake would be repeated, they put forward Paul Reiter’s name to be a lead scientist in the IPCC’s next report. The US State Department even recommended Reiter.

To no avail. The IPCC did not accept Reiter as lead author of its next report. Instead, the IPCC chose two other candidates, neither of whom had ever published a peer-reviewed article dealing with mosquito-borne disease.

Now, you might think that the case of Paul Reiter was an aberration, that in the other areas of important research concerning global warming, the people at the IPCC could be counted on to act with scruples and scientific integrity.

Well, think again. Reiter’s case, unfortunately, was no aberration. Many, many scientists associated with the IPCC are no doubt scrupulous. But too often that is not the case.

Let me describe what happened to Christopher Landsea, a top scientist who worked on hurricanes, an area of the highest concern for those who must deal in emergency preparedness.

Landsea wasn’t just any top scientist. He was the IPCC’s own top scientist. Landsea was the one who had earlier written the IPCC’s chapter on hurricanes on two major reports, six years apart. What he found both times was that there is no connection between hurricanes and global warming. In 2004, he was working on the next major IPCC report, his third. And his updated research in 2004 was showing the same thing – that there is no connection between hurricanes and global warming.

So you can imagine his surprise when he discovered that his boss at the IPCC was about to hold a press conference announcing a connection between hurricanes and global warming.

As you’ll recall, the 2004 hurricane season was fierce. Many in the public and press were speculating that global warming was the cause. And those in power at the IPCC didn’t want to disappoint them. So they decided to hold a press conference to confirm their suspicions.

When Landsea found out about the press conference, he initially thought that some horrible misunderstanding had occurred. But there was no misunderstanding. His boss wanted to hold the press conference, regardless of what the science might say. Landsea’s pleas to have the press conference called off failed. The press conference went ahead.

And it was a success. Huge headlines around the world, confirming that global warming was responsible for hurricanes. Based on NO science.

Landsea resigned after that press conference, but not directly because of the press conference. After the press conference, he asked the IPCC for assurances that the IPCC would never again distort the science as it had done with the press conference. The IPCC refused to give him that assurance. That’s when he resigned.

In every single area that the IPCC points to catastrophe – you name it, the disappearing Arctic ice cap or the Antarctic melting or the glaciers melting or the oceans rising – in every single area you will find no shortage of reputable scientists who dispute IPCC’s catastrophic scenarios.

If the IPCC scenarios are in such dispute, you might wonder why the IPCC has such credibility, with so many.

Let me tell you why. It comes down to one number that the press reports over and over – the number of 2500. That’s the number of scientists associated with the IPCC, the number that the press reports has endorsed the IPCC’s conclusions.

If you do a Google search on news articles that claim that the science is settled on climate change, you’ll see that the reporters almost always rely on this number.

“2500 scientists can’t be wrong,” they always say, explicitly or implicitly. If they didn’t have that number, they would have no basis for the claim that they repeat over and over again – the claim that there’s a consensus on climate change.

2500 is an impressive number of scientists. I wondered who, exactly, were these 2500 scientists associated with the UN. To find out, I contacted the Secretariat of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and asked for their names. I intended to survey them and find out exactly what they thought.

The answer that came back from the secretariat was negative. I learned that the names were not public, so I couldn’t have them. And I learned that the 2500 scientists were reviewers, not endorsers.

Those scientists hadn’t endorsed anything. They were merely people who had reviewed some small part of the inputs that went into the bureaucratic maw. They did not review the final report or endorse it.

Their reviews weren’t even all favorable. I know that from many sources, including from among some of the scientists that I profiled — several of the deniers in my book are among those 2500. And those deniers, and others, generally consider the UN’s work a travesty.

So there is no endorsement by 2500 top UN scientists. The press has been taken. And so the public has been taken.

The extent to which the public has been taken may surprise you. Not only is there no consensus, the scientists who are skeptics — the deniers — have extraordinary credentials. They are the Who’s Who of Science.

They include Antonino Zichichi, the president of the World Federation of Scientists and the discoverer of nuclear anti-matter. He is Italy’s best known scientist.

They include Claude Allegre, who is France’s best known scientist. And they include one of Germany’s best known scientists and Britain’s and America’s, Freeman Dyson, the physicist, the inventor of the TRIGA, the nuclear reactor used in hospitals and university labs around the world to create isotopes.

They include Syun Akasofu of the International Arctic Research Center, the discoverer of the causes of the storms of the aurora borealis.

And they include Edward Wegman, who has an impressive background in climate science as well as being one of the top statisticians in the world. He was, for example, a former Chair of the Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics for the National Academy of Sciences.

In some ways, statistics is the most important discipline in the global warming debate because, in the end, all the catastrophic scenarios that we hear about are nothing more than output from computer models that have been fed what-if scenarios.

Well, Wegman was called in by a US Congressional committee to assess the statistics used in the IPCC’s Hockey Stick Graph.

You may not all have heard of the Hockey Stick Graph but you’ve heard of the claims made because of it. This graph claimed to show that Earth’s temperatures have been fairly constant over the last 1000 years — that’s the long handle of the hockey stick — and then in the last 100 years the temperatures shot up — that’s the blade of the hockey stick.

This graph is the single biggest reason that the public became persuaded that the Earth was heating up in a dangerous way. Because of that graph, we heard that 1998 was the hottest year of the hottest decade of the hottest century of the last 1000 years.

Were the statistical methods used in that hockey stick graph valid? To find out, the US Congressional Committee held hearings and called in Wegman. What he discovered dumbfounded him, and not just because the graph was bogus.

He was dumbfounded because the scientists who produced that Hockey Stick Graph had no serious grounding in statistics, even though the study depended entirely on an advanced understanding of statistics. Not only did they not understand statistics, they didn’t consult anyone with an advanced understanding. And the peer reviewers did not have an advanced understanding.

With no one knowledgeable in the use of statistics, it was no wonder that their results were invalid. The scientists who produced that graph used a model that would almost always produce a hockey stick shape. You could put almost any data into their model and get a hockey stick shape. You could throw baseball stats into that model and it would tell you that the Earth was burning up.

All scenarios of catastrophe are based on computer models and these models are not up to the job. The models can’t even model the past, let alone the future. The climate is simply too complex, with too many variables, to project it into the future with any degree of confidence.

Man has always faced emergencies and we need to be prepared for emergencies in the future. But we should base our preparations on real-world conditions, not the fantasies of climate modelers at computer keyboards.

In my view, the greatest threats to public safety and national security come not from man-made climate change but from man-made climate models. We don’t even need to project far into the future to see the nature of some of these threats – we already have a taste of them.

You want global warming-related riots? We’ve seen them in recent years in several Third World countries, where a doubling and tripling of grain prices led to food riots. Last year the poor in Egypt rioted after another round of price increases in bread. Food riots also occurred in Yemen and Pakistan and Indonesia. The previous year we saw the tortilla protest, where tens of thousands marched through the streets of Mexico City to protest increases of 400% in the price of tortillas, which is a staple for the poor and the main source of their calories.

These protests stemmed from policies designed to stop global warming, from crash programs converting food crops to fuel crops. With the West’s governments desperate to take action, any action, to be seen to be doing something on global warming, the world’s agriculture has been turned to the service of filling the gas tanks of the trendy. It is done in the name of sustainable development but this development has been anything but sustainable.

These food riots stemmed from a crash program to get off fossil fuels and onto biofuels. Other crash programs to get off fossil fuels have likewise caused upset. We are pushing hydro dams in the Third World on global warming rationales. Hydro dams take out river valleys that are typically fertile and populated. Each such dam robs people of their homes and their livelihoods and forcibly creates rootless migrants of what were once stable and self-sufficient farmers.

We are starting to see protests in the West, too, over attempts to deal with CO2. These are being called NUMBY protests, Not Under My Back Yard.

Governments in Canada, the U.S. and Europe plan to build carbon capture and storage facilities to take the carbon out of smokestacks and store it underground. This is hugely expensive and energy intensive but the cost isn’t the source of the protests. These facilities, which will be pumping billions of tons of CO2 underground, are predicted to become one of the major sources of induced earthquakes in the future. These facilities also create a risk of suffocation in the event of a major industrial accident because carbon dioxide is heavier than air. The fear is that people living in low lying areas would lose their oxygen if a cloud of CO2 descended on them. This is what happened to communities near Lake Nyos in the Cameroons in 1986, after a natural release of CO2.  1700 villagers were asphyxiated, along with 3500 livestock.

These carbon capture plants don’t make for welcome neighbours, hence the protests. Communities are organizing against these facilities wherever they’re proposed. In Ohio, after a long fight the government just called off a carbon capture and storage facility. In Germany, a $110-million carbon capture and storage facility that was actually built has never operated because of local opposition.

The opposition to these facilities isn’t all coming from the grassroots level. The American Water Works Association, a trade group representing 4,700 water utilities that produce 80% of America’s drinking water, opposes this technology because CO2 threatens to contaminate aquifers. As it starkly told Congress last year, “many communities don’t have alternative sources of affordable drinking water.”

Food shortages, riots and other civil unrest, loss of river valleys, loss of farmlands, loss of communities and livelihoods. To date, attempts to mitigate global warming have caused enormous human suffering and ecological harm, and threaten to cause much more. With the globe not having warmed in the last 11 years – once again, to the surprise of the computer modelers – the safest thing we can do on global warming until we know more may be to do nothing; the most dangerous thing would be to continue to act boldly and in ignorance.

Thank you.

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