Bonner Cohen, Ph.D.
National Policy Analysis – A publication of the National Center for Public Policy Research
Determined to put the kibosh to those responsible for the scourge of global warming, California’s ever-vigilant Attorney General Bill Lockyer has sued six U.S. and Japanese automakers, including GM, Ford and Toyota, for “damages” related to greenhouse-gas emissions.
Claiming that emissions from vehicles manufactured by these companies are harming Californians’ health, damaging the environment, and costing the Golden State millions of dollars to curb their effects, Lockyer says his federal lawsuit is “part of a strategy to address global warming.”
“The goal of this one,” Lockyer declared September 20, 2006, “is to hold these automobile manufacturers accountable for the monies taxpayers are spending to address these harms.”1
Actually, it’s Mr. Lockyer who should be held accountable for the taxpayers’ funds he’s squandering on a frivolous lawsuit. But there’s more. Not to be outdone, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill approved by the Democratic-controlled legislature mandating a reduction in the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. “We simply must do everything we can to slow down global warming before it’s too late,” the “governator” declared.2
Lockyer’s lawsuit and Schwarzenegger & Co.’s initiative are both predicated on the assumption that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), are contributing significantly to a dangerous warming of the planet. As it turns out, this widespread view, enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol and repeated ceaselessly by the media, is being challenged by that pesky nemesis of political fashion known as science.
Exhaustive research of climatological data going back millions of years carried out by Lee Gerhard, senior scientist with the Kansas Geological Society, reveals an entirely different picture of the forces driving the myriad changes through which the earth’s climate has passed. Gerhard dismisses the notion that human emissions of carbon dioxide are a significant driver of climate and refutes the idea that climate change rates and today’s slight global warming are unprecedented. “They are not,” he flatly states. Instead, Gerhard makes two key points:
* Climate naturally changes constantly, from warmer to cooler and from cooler to warmer, and at many levels of intensity over time at many scales.
* Variation in solar activity closely correlates with global temperature variations, suggesting that the amount of solar energy reaching the surface of the earth is a primary climate driver at the time scale of decades to millennia.3
“Overall,” Gerhard says, “the earth’s climate has been cooling for 60 million years, but that is only an average — temperature goes up and down constantly.”4 Addressing a September 20 Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by the Center for Science and Public Policy, Gerhard, in a power point presentation, showed the highly variable nature of the earth’s climate over the past 16,000 years and, in more detail, during the last 2,000 years. “Depending on the period in earth’s history that is chosen,” he said, “the climate will either be warming or cooling. Choosing whether earth is warming or cooling is simply a matter of picking end points.”5
Gerhard, whose research took place under the auspices of the Kansas Geological Survey and was not funded by industry, points out that the geological record shows that rises in greenhouse gases do not precede rises in temperature. Indeed, CO2 levels actually rose prior to the advent of the Little Ice Age (circa 1400).6 Moreover, CO2, the greenhouse gas most prominently cited as contributing to global warming, represents only about 1/4 of 1 percent of the total greenhouse gas effect, “hardly a device to drive the massive energy system of earth’s climate,” he says.7
Gerhard’s conclusions are supported by findings released Sept. 29 by CO2 researechers Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso. “[E]arth’s mean near-surface air temperature is nowhere near the peak level of what it was a million or so years ago,” they write. “Neither is it as high as it was during the mid-Holocene [circe 5,000 years ago], which was itself much cooler than all four of the interglacials that preceded it. In fact, it’s not even as warm now as it was a mere 900 years ago, when the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration was fully 100 ppm (parts per million) less than it is today…”8 (emphasis in the original)
“Climate is always changing,” notes Philip Slott, professor of biogeography at the University of London. “Climate is governed by millions of factors, from the lightest waft of a monarch butterfly’s wing, through erupting volcanoes, shifting land surfaces, ocean currents, ocean salinity and atmospheric gases, to shifts in the geometry of the earth, solar cycles, meteors, and meteorites.” “The idea of global warming,” he continues, “is dangerous precisely because it gives the false impression that we might be able to halt climate change by fiddling with just one or two of the millions of factors involved.9
In Gerhard’s view, today’s climate debate has been dominated by those embracing the notion of “anthroprocentrism,” a mindset that identifies human beings as the source of all things “bad.”10 But the earth’s climate, and the larger geophysical forces of which it is a part, is a complex, still poorly understood mechanism that does not lend itself to simple explanations. The more we learn, the more we know what we don’t know. In the same vein, grandstanding politicians in California and elsewhere, eager to be seen doing the “right” thing, can do much harm if they don’t know what they don’t know.
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Bonner Cohen, Ph.D. is senior fellow at The National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. “Automakers Sued Over Vehicle Emissions,” Washington Times (Associated Press) 21. Sept. 2006: C9.
2. “Global Warming Initiative Signed,” Washington Times (Associated Press) 28 Sept. 2006: B1; Jeffrey Ball and Jim Carlton, “California Pact Would Place Caps on Emissions,” Wall Street Journal 31 Aug. 2006: A1.
3. Lee Gerhard, “Introduction to Geological Perspectives of Global Climate Change,” http://www.ff.org/centers/csspp/gerhardnotes.pdf.
4. “Introduction to Geological Perspectives”
5. “Introduction to Geological Perspectives”
7. “Introduction to Geological Perspectives”
8. Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso, “How Warm Is the Earth Nowadays?,” http://www.co2science.org/scripts/CO2ScienceB2C/articles/V9/N39/EDITB.jsp.
9. Quoted in Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave: Environmentalism and its Consequences (Washington, D.C. Capital Research Center 2006), page 47.
10. “Introduction to Geophysical Perspectives”