MIT president’s letter repeats standard climate alarm claims. Here are the facts (also see Part I yesterday).
The world is not experiencing unprecedented rising seas or extreme weather
Professor Reif further states that rising manmade greenhouse gases are “driving rising sea levels and extreme weather.” Neither is happening.
The average sea level rise since 1870 has been 1.3-1.5 mm (about a twentieth of an inch) per year, or five inches per century. Professor Nils-Axel Mörner, a renowned sea-level researcher who has published more than 500 peer-reviewed articles on this topic, has been unable to find observational evidence that supports the models’ predictions of dramatically accelerating sea level rise.
Observations over the last few decades indicate that extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes, have been decreasing, rather than increasing, both in number and in intensity. Moreover, total accumulated cyclonic energy has also been declining. As MIT Emeritus Professor Richard Lindzen has explained, the decline in storminess is a consequence of reduced temperature differentials between the tropics and exo-tropics that arise when global average temperatures are slightly warmer.
Looking at the United States, major hurricane activity is at a record low. As of June 1, 2017, it had been eleven years and seven months since a category 3 to 5 hurricane last struck the U.S. mainland. According to NOAA Hurricane Research Division data, the previous record was nine years, set in 1860-1869.
Climate Change: Not a Military “Threat Multiplier”
Professor Reif further asserts: “As the Pentagon describes it, climate change is a ‘threat multiplier,’ because its direct effects intensify other challenges, including mass migrations and zero-sum conflicts over existential resources like water and food.” That may have been the official position during the Obama years, but the assertions are not supported by real world evidence.
Milder temperatures and increased CO2 levels green the planet, not brown it. Deserts are retreating and vegetation cover has increased over recent decades. The production of maize (corn), wheat, rice and soybeans is at a record high. Overall, our planet has seen more than 20% greening over the past three decades, half of which is due to the fertilization effects of more atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Forecasts of droughts are likewise not born out by experience. For example, since the now former Australian Chief Climate Commissioner Professor Tim Flannery warned that dams would no longer fill owing to lack of rain, Australia has been subjected to a series of dramatic floods, and overflowing dams. Governments’ naïve belief in Professor Flannery’s warnings appear to have led to policy actions and omissions that exacerbated flooding and failed to take full advantage of the rainfall when it came.
The most comprehensive recent study of the worldwide extent of droughts (Hao et al., 2014) found that for 30 years the percentage of the Earth’s land area suffering from drought has been declining. The latest news from South Africa is that the country is expecting the biggest maize harvest since 1981, following the high rainfall there in January and February 2017.
Although the UN Environment Program published a 2005 report predicting 50 million climate refugees by 2010, to date there have been no bona fide climate or global warming refugees or mass migrations. The one person we know of who asked to be recognized as a climate refugee had his demand rejected by the Supreme Court of New Zealand; he has since returned to his island home, where he remains safe from inundation.
While the world is currently experiencing mass migrations of refugees, they are fleeing religious persecution and violence, especially in the Middle East, and seeking freedom and prosperity. We are not aware of any evidence that they would have stayed where they were if the weather were cooler
Carbon Dioxide Will Not Linger for 1,000 Years
Professor Reif asserts that “… the carbon dioxide our cars and power plants emit today will linger in the atmosphere for a thousand years.”
Moreover, as already noted, instead of being a problem, atmospheric carbon dioxide is the prime nutrient for plants. Indeed, plants grow more quickly and strongly, with better water-use efficiency and improved drought tolerance, when CO2 concentrations are much higher than they currently are. That is why commercial growers add extra CO2 to the air in their greenhouses.
The current atmospheric CO2 concentration is higher than it has been for 800,000 years, but it is still far lower than at almost any time in the previous pre-ice-age history of our planet. The pre-industrial age CO2 levels of 280 parts per million were practically starving plants, botanists say, while the current level of 400 ppm is “greening the planet.”
Far from being a pollutant, CO2 is a colorless, odorless gas that is not toxic to humans and other animals even at concentrations much higher than we are currently experiencing. It is also one of the most important fuels for phytoplankton, which use carbon dioxide for energy and raw materials to grow, and release oxygen as a product of that process. Up to 75% of the oxygen present in the air originates in freshwater and oceanic phytoplanktons’ photosynthetic water-splitting process.
Carbon dioxide is actually the miracle molecule that makes life as we know it on Earth possible.
Moreover, during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras there were long periods during which the levels of CO2 were much higher than today, but the temperatures were far colder. We are not aware of any explanation that squares that fact with the manmade global warming theory.
Job Growth Statistics are Highly Misleading
Professor Reif says, “In 2016 alone, solar industry employment grew by 25 percent, while wind jobs grew 32%.” These numbers are highly misleading. In fact, they underscore how deficient these energy sources are as job creators.
Growing jobs by subsidy is easy, provided that one cares nothing for the far greater number of jobs destroyed by the additional taxation, energy price hikes or public borrowing necessary to pay for the subsidy. Several studies have shown that the creation of one “green” job results in the loss of two to four jobs elsewhere in the economy. In Spain the estimated ratio was two jobs lost for each one created by renewable energy, prompting the government to finally end most renewable subsidies.
And yet, despite all those subsidies, wind and solar power generation expensively and unreliably account for 5.6% and 0.9% of total U.S. electricity production, respectively. On its own, electricity provides only a small fraction of total energy consumption, including transportation, industrial processes, heating and electricity generation, so these numbers actually exaggerate the contribution of wind and solar facilities to overall energy consumption.
Viewed from another perspective, EIA data reveal it took nearly 400,000 solar workers (about 20% of electric power payrolls) to produce just 0.9% of all the electric power generated in the United States in 2016. About the same number of natural gas workers (398,000) produced 37 times more electricity – and just 160,000 coal workers produced almost as much electricity as those gas workers. Moreover, gas and coal provide power nearly 100% of the time, compared to 15-25% of the time for most solar (and wind) installations. Wind employment numbers reflect this same pattern.
The so-called alternative energy companies survive only because of heavy subsidies, power purchase mandates, supportive regulations, and exemptions from endangered species and other rules that are applied forcefully to fossil fuel industries. Wind and solar electricity is cripplingly expensive for families, hospitals, schools, churches, small businesses and other customers.
In fact, “alternative” or “renewable” energy is often unprofitable even after massive subsidies from taxpayers. For example, SunEdison received $1.5 billion in subsidies and loan guarantees, and yet it was compelled to file for bankruptcy. Solyndra is another example. This is unsustainable.
Europe is suffering from growing political rejection of fossil fuels: energy prices have soared, millions of poor people are unable to pay their energy bills, and elderly people are dying because they cannot afford adequate heating in the winter. Energy-intensive businesses are relocating to countries where energy is cheaper – thereby transferring fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide emissions and job creation to other nations, especially in Asia. Theirs is not an example the United States should wish to follow.
By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, President Trump did a wonderful thing for America and the world. He showed that advocacy masquerading as science should not be the basis for public policy decisions. We hope others will follow his lead.
Update: Since a version of this article originally appeared as an “open letter” to President Reif, his office has issued a follow-up letter, once again invoking the argument that his position is supported by a “consensus” of climate scientists. William M. Briggs and Christopher Monckton of Brenchley offer their answer to his office here.
Istvan Marko is professor of organic chemistry and medicine at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium; he did his post-doctoral work organometallic catalysis with Nobel Prize Laureate K. Barry Sharpless at MIT.
Scott Armstrong is an author, forecasting and marketing expert, and professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; he received his PhD from MIT.
William Briggs is a data philosopher, epistemologist, probability puzzler, bioethicist and statistician to the stars.
Kesten Green researches and writes on forecasting methods and applications at the University of South Australia Business School.
Hermann Harde is professor of atomic, molecular and optical physics, experimental physics and optics at Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg, Germany.
David R. Legates is professor of climatology at the University of Delaware and a former Delaware State Climatologist.
Christopher Monckton received his BA in journalism studies from University College, Cardiff, England; he served as special advisor to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, 1982-1986.
Willie Soon is a scientist based in Cambridge, MA.