A Free-Market Energy Blog

Pioneer Press Op-ed: We’re Warming, but not so Fast

By Chip Knappenberger -- January 16, 2010

I recently had an opinion-page editorial in the St. Paul/Minneapolis Pioneer Press in which I pointed out that the recent behavior of the earth’s weather/climate system was not much in accordance with some of the rather alarming predictions/projections coming from climate models or interpretations thereof. Perhaps we don’t understand the inner workings of the earth’s complex climate system as well as some people think we do.

A large collection of observations are indicating that our forecasts seem to be erring on the high side (notice I didn’t say that observations suggest that climate change wasn’t occurring, but that they suggest that the projections of climate change are too extreme). As such, I suggested that we ought not rush headlong into efforts aimed at attempting to restrict carbon dioxide emissions for the sake of trying to alter the course of future climate, considering that a) the future course of climate doesn’t seem to be all that bad, and b) that any impact that we may make would likely be minimal.

Here is an excerpt:

There’s a certain urgency these days to take action to mitigate climate change. World leaders assembled last month at the U.N. conference in Copenhagen to try to forge a global plan aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Back home, Congress, the EPA, and individual states (including Minnesota) are considering their own plans to do the same. All in an effort to steer the Earth’s climate in a direction other than the one in which it is projected to be heading.

But what if the climate projections are wrong? What if the earth’s climate isn’t plotting a course of death and destruction? Would it still make sense to restrict the kinds of energy we use even if it has little impact on the climate and/or future climate change was benign or possibly beneficial (for example, longer growing seasons, more precipitation)? . . . .

But many people respond that when it comes to climate change the “science is settled” — human emissions of carbon dioxide, primarily as a result from burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas, are leading to catastrophic global warming. That without intervention, the list of impending disasters is long, including stronger hurricanes, rapid sea-level rise, widespread species extinctions, more intense heat waves, more frequent severe weather, and increasing droughts and floods as the Earth’s average temperature rises ever faster.

Recent events, however, conspire against these certainties.

Global hurricane activity has been near a half-century low, the current rate of sea-level rise is modest, averaging only about one foot per 100 years, fewer Americans are dying from heat waves, fatalities from tornadoes in the U.S. are declining (the 2009 total was the lowest in more than two decades), and Minnesota and much of the upper Midwest had one of their coldest summers on record. Most importantly, the pace of global warming has dramatically slowed in recent years, even in the face of rocketing global carbon dioxide emissions.

Collectively, this suggests a need to re-examine the inner workings of our current climate models and our expectations of climate change. The din of the alarm bells should be quelled. . . .  

It boils down to this: Current climate models overestimate the amount of warming we should expect from our carbon dioxide emissions, and thus actions aimed at limiting carbon dioxide emissions will have less of an impact on climate than is anticipated. In other words, we’ll be going through a lot of effort for little result — if mitigating climate change is the name of the game.

For the complete article, please visit the Pioneer Press Opinions page and my article We’re warming. But not so fast.

Leave a Reply