Published June 28, 2007
Should conservatives give up the fight just as the tide is turning in their favor in the debate over global warming?
In the cover story of the June 25 National Review, software company CEO Jim Manzi wrote that conservatives should stop “denying” that humans are warming the planet and instead figure out how to use global warming to “peel off” 1 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election. Manzi claims that this strategy could represent a “principled stand” for a “clever candidate.”
But Manzi’s strategy, in fact, represents the snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory — and all for relatively few votes of uncertain, if any, political value.
Manzi says conservatives should believe in global warming, not because of “liberal scaremongering … but because of the underlying physics” — which he apparently doesn’t grasp in the least.
“All else being equal, the more carbon dioxide molecules we have in the atmosphere, the hotter it gets,” writes Manzi.
Wrong. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not likely to significantly contribute to the greenhouse effect.
Clouds and greenhouse gases (GHGs), like water vapor and carbon dioxide, absorb radiation of varying wavelengths emitted by the earth. Some of these absorption bands overlap. In a sense, clouds and the various GHGs “compete” to absorb the earth’s radiation. Because of this competition, the heat-trapping potentials of clouds and GHGs don’t simply add up in a linear fashion.
As explained in greater detail on the Department of Energy Web site, there is — and has been since before the industrial revolution — enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to absorb about 36 percent of the radiation emitted by the earth.
But because of the “competition” for the earth’s radiation from clouds and other GHGs, the heat-trapping contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect is reduced to about 12 percent.
“By itself, however, carbon dioxide is capable of trapping three times as much radiation as it actually does in the earth’s atmosphere,” the DOE said.
Adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, then, can do little to trap more of the earth’s radiation and so won’t contribute much to higher temperatures or more global warming.
No doubt this phenomenon explains, at least in part, why global temperatures can decline as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels steadily increase — as happened, for example, during the period from 1940 to 1975. And let’s not forget Antarctic ice core samples indicate that increases in global temperature have historically preceded increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide by hundreds of years.
Despite Manzi’s “all else being equal” qualification, the reality is that in the real world of radiation absorption by clouds and GHGs, all things are not equal. And why anyone should pretend to the contrary is not at all clear.
Manzi apparently has taken to heart Al Gore’s main message delivered to Congress on March 21, 2007 — that is, “There is no longer any serious debate over the basic points that make up the consensus on global warming.”
But despite Gore’s box-office success with “An Inconvenient Truth,” his related Oscar award and nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, his global-warming crusade that seems to have brought him back from the political junkyard, the public doesn’t buy his sort of junk science after being presented with alternative views.
In March, the prestigious debating society Intelligence Squared sponsored a debate on global warming in New York City. The proposition debate was, “Global warming is not a crisis.” While the vast majority of the audience thought global warming was a crisis before the debate, a survey taken after the debate showed that the audience had reversed its position.
In April, CNBC Squawk Box anchor Joe Kernen famously interviewed Gore acolytes Laurie David and singer Sheryl Crow, about global warming. In addition to refusing to respond to Kernen’s repeated questions about the underlying science of global warming, David contemptuously reiterated Gore’s mantra, “The debate is over.”
But the debate apparently is not over, at least according to the Squawk Box viewers who commented about the interview. Eighty percent of the viewer responses generated by the interview supported Kernen’s effort to delve into the science.
Keeping the debate alive is all the more important given that the political dynamic of the climate controversy is slowly and subtly starting to turn away from Gore-wrought hysteria.
When NASA head Michael Griffin stated on National Public Radio on May 31 that “I am not sure that it is fair to say that [global warming] is a problem we must wrestle with,” it was NASA’s climate-alarmist-in-chief, Jim Hansen, who looked foolish for criticizing Griffin — who holds a doctorate in aerospace engineering and master’s degrees in aerospace science, electrical engineering, applied physics, civil engineering and business administration — as being “ignorant.”
The UK newspaper Financial Times recently broke out of its self-imposed, long-standing tunnel vision in favor of climate alarmism in running an op-ed by Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, who questioned global-warming orthodoxy from science to politics in a piece entitled “What Is at Risk Is Not the Climate but Freedom.”
Finally, for all its alleged concerns about catastrophic global warming, what is the alarmist-friendly Democratic Congress doing about it? The answer is nothing.
Though the Senate passed an energy bill last week, it didn’t dare approach the question of mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It seems that burdening the economy because of Al Gore’s dubious science may, after all, be bad politics.
The more scientists research global climate, the more we learn how much they don’t know about it. The more alarmists talk, the more we realize that they don’t know what they’re talking about. The debate is over? We need it now more than ever.
Steven Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and CSRWatch.com. He is a junk science expert, and advocate of free enterprise and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.