Published November 01, 2002
No treaty will prevent global warming, says a key scientist who believes manmade climate change is happening. That's bad news for the United Nations' bureaucrats who are meeting in New Dehli to conclude a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Perhaps instead of alarming the public about global warming, the international "climatocracy" should sweat its own dim prospects.
"The fossil fuel greenhouse effect is an energy problem that cannot be simply regulated away," wrote 18 scientists in the Nov. 1 edition of Science. Notable among the authors is Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research -- a longtime and prominent promoter of global warming fever.
Wigley et al. still maintain we're headed toward a major warm-up. They claim unchecked greenhouse gas emissions -- primarily carbon dioxide -- "could eventually produce global warming comparable in magnitude but opposite in sign to the global cooling of the last Ice Age."
Such alarmism has been the political excuse for the Kyoto global warming treaty, though many scientists dispute the notion that humans significantly affect global climate.
Wigley et al. now agree with the skeptics that a treaty requiring greenhouse gas emissions -- even in the most stringent form -- would have no significant effect on global climate and only cause economic harm.
Worldwide power consumption is now about 12 trillion watts, 85 percent of which is provided by carbon dioxide-producing coal, oil and gas. By 2050, our power need will be 30 trillion watts.
Wigley et al. flatly admit no regulation will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and triple energy output. The only hope, they say, is technology. But the requisite technology doesn't exist -- and won't any time soon.
The U.N. claims, "known technological options … that exist in operation or pilot plant stage could stabilize atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide over the next 100 years."
But Wigley et al. counter, "Energy sources that can produce 100 to 300 percent of present world power consumption without greenhouse emissions do not exist operationally or as pilot plants."
Some increased energy efficiency is certainly possible, but isn't very promising for mitigating global warming say Wigley et al.
It might be feasible to double the fuel efficiency of SUVs, for example. But "the effects of such efficiency could be overwhelmed if China and India follow the U.S. path from bicycles and mass transit to cars. Asia already accounts for more than 80 percent of petroleum consumption growth."
What about solar power?
Wigley et al. say current U.S. energy consumption might require an array of photovoltaic cells covering 26,000 square kilometers (km2); worldwide energy consumption might require about 220,000 km2 of photovoltaic cells. These requirements would triple by 2050.
"However, all the photovoltaic cells shipped from 1982 to 1998 would only cover about 3 km2."
Space-based solar power might require less than 25 percent of the area of land-based photovoltaic cells. But even with adequate research investments, that technology wouldn't deliver energy to global markets until the latter half of the century.
That schedule might be cutting it close for Manhattan, which will be under water by 2080, according to Greenpeace raving.
Wind power? Forget it. "It's often available only from remote or offshore locations."
Bio-fuels aren't the answer either, for the same reason as all other forms of "renewable" energy -- they take a lot of space to produce only a little energy, says Wigley et al.
Global-scale nuclear power from fission isn't a solution for energy needs as there's only a 30-year supply of uranium for fuel -- "hardly a basis for energy policy," according to Wigley et al.
Fusion is "the most promising long-term nuclear power source," but is in an embryonic stage of research and "cannot be relied on to aid carbon dioxide stabilization by mid-century."
My favorite technology option discussed by Wigley et al. is "planetary engineering" --blocking the sun's rays to alter the "planetary radiation balance to affect climate."
It's quite nutty. Options include putting layers of reflective dust in the upper atmosphere, increasing cloud cover by seeding, and placing a giant mirror (2,000 kilometers wide) to act like a permanent sunspot and deflect about 2 percent of solar flux.
"Of course, large-scale geophysical interventions are inherently risky and need to be approached with caution," say Wigley et al.
Indeed. And those that propose them need to be approached with a butterfly net.
Wigley et al. conclude, "If Earth continues to warm, people may turn to advanced technologies for solutions."
Yes, they may.
On the other hand, Wigley et al.'s gloomy assessment of regulatory and technology-based solutions might just encourage policy makers to pay more attention to the junk science underlying the fantasy of manmade global warming.
Steven Milloy is the publisher of JunkScience.com , an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001).