While the UN, business and government goes green, reports Roger Bate, more scientists are questioning eco-dogma on global warming
Scientists cool on global warming
We are used to phrases like Big Government and Big Business, but what about Big Environment? The bearded sandal-wearing environ- mentalist of the past is being replaced by the clean-shaven smooth-talking sound-biting environmentalist of today. The environmental movement has big budgets, employing public relations giants like US-based Fenton Communications to coordinate glossy green press conferences and media stunts.
Not only have environmental pressure groups substantial financial clout of their own, but their lobbying has helped persuade governmental and international bureaucracies to squeeze vast sums from taxpayers to pursue green agendas. The global warming issue clearly demonstrates this spending largesse.
I recently returned from holidaying in Trinidad which, coincidentally, was the venue chosen by scientists from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to discuss 'Aviation and the global atmosphere'. The scientists' spokesman, Sir John Houghton, has been demanding a tax on aviation to reduce the demand for international travel, which is adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The fact that there are no climate researchers based in the Caribbean, or that more fuel would have been used getting to Trinidad than to London or the east coast of America (where most of the researchers are based) seemed to have escaped the organisers of this meeting. What obviously didn't was that the weather was a lot nicer in Trinidad than in Boston.
The hypocrisy of UN bureaucrats demanding policies which will make people pay even more for their own holidays and the green elite's trips is simply astounding. For example, gasoline and heating-fuel tax rises in the UK in the name of the environment have already harmed the poor and pensioners, who now use less fuel in winter for fear of the bills. Aviation tax hikes will just be the next elitist policy to come from the greens.
What is perhaps most ironic is that the UN climate dogma is now coming under attack from scientists. Last December world leaders received a letter signed by over 500 scientists who argued against limiting energy use to control greenhouse gas emissions. The signatures, which now number over 900, were collected by two not-for-profits groups - the Advancement for Sound Science Coalition (based in Washington DC), and the European Science and Environment Forum (based in England, which I direct).
Specifically, the signatories, who come from 20 countries, urge world leaders not to support the Kyoto accord agreed in principle at December's UN climate conference. They recommend that 'the world's governments defer taking action on a climate change protocol until the science shows limiting greenhouse gas emissions will benefit, not harm, the global environment and public health'.
But of course the media regularly refers to the famous UN-backed 1995 statement that 'the balance of the evidence suggests that man has had an impact on climate'. This statement came from a chapter written by Ben Santer in a UN report, which was heavily criticised by Frederick Seitz for containing 'the worst corruption of the peer review process' that he had seen in 60 years. Seitz, a former president of the American Academy of Sciences, was incensed that conclusions should be drawn from a report subject to what he saw as methodological trickery. Nevertheless, Santer's conclusions were widely reported. They were based on climate models, one of which was designed by Joyce Penner, then of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the USA. Penner was also co-author with Santer of the key paper referred to by the UN report. The paper concluded that 'our results suggest that the similarities between observed and model-predicted change....are unlikely to have resulted from natural internally generated variability of the climate system'.
Penner's new work at the University of Michigan shows that some human emissions cool the planet and others warm it. Her recent press release from a paper she gave in December to the American Geophysical Union, states that 'contrary to conventional wisdom, new computer modelling....suggests that global warming might not be the product of human activity'.
Nearly two years ago Tim Wirth, then US under-secretary of state, told the UN that 'the science is settled'; yet now that the green movement has the protocol it wanted, it turns out that this century's warming is probably just due to natural variability.
A further irony is playing out in the business community, for just as scientists are expressing serious doubts over the proclaimed dangers of global warming, multinationals, including some oil companies, are clamouring to show their concern and take action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The first step for them was to change their rhetoric and for that they turned to environmentalists.
Leaked internal memoranda from the Washington-based eco-pressure group National Environmental Trust (NET) claim credit for opinion articles on climate change apparently written by Enron Corporation's CEO, Ken Lay. From Houston, Enron spokesperson Carol Hensley confirmed NET's involvement in the Lay story, which was placed in several newspapers by Knight-Ridder. But industry is not alone in calling on NET to write or edit its speeches in order to appease the green movement. UK environment minister Michael Meacher readily acknowledges NET's help, as did his Conservative predecessor, John Gummer, whose article attacking US business, in the Washington Post of 2 December, was among NET's claimed 'successes'.
Inherent dangers arise from these collaborations. With the debate all but extinguished, regulations and taxes, proposed with the aim of helping the environment (whether or not they have a hope of succeeding) will inevitably be biased towards protecting the large business and political interests involved in the collaborative process, at the expense of smaller, newer companies, the poor and consumers - groups that are inevitably less well-organised at placing news stories and at lobbying.
Roger Bate is director of the European Science and Environment Forum and editor of Global Warming: The Continuing Debate published by ESEF (see web site - "www.esef.org)
Reproduced from LM issue 110, May 1998