On October 8, the Ayn Rand Institute hosted a panel discussion featuring scholars from the Heartland Institute, who emphasized the need to put the climate change debate into context.
Every five years or so, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a report with a detailed assessment of the current state of the climate. These reports, and the analysis of computer models they contain, predict a bleak future. Dr. Keith Lockitch, fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and moderator of the panel, points out that the climate change debate “tends to be dominated by the reports of the IPCC.” He adds that these reports declare, “in ever more shrill terms that because we drive cars and use electricity, we are destroying ourselves and the planet.”
It is these claims of global catastrophe that have become the foundation for a public policy geared toward severely limiting and politically controlling the world’s use of energy. But is it good science?
The IPCC “represents itself as the consensus on climate change,” said panelist Joe Bast, President and CEO of The Heartland Institute. But according to Bast, other scientists have pointed out serious flaws in the IPCC reports, raising questions as to the veracity of some of the IPCC’s claims. Bast decided to rally a team of scientists willing to impartially examine the evidence and findings of climate scientists across the peer-reviewed literature. They called it the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), and it brought together some of the world’s most respected climate scientists, such as panelists Dr. S. Fred Singer and Dr. Robert M. Carter.
Both Carter and Singer were present at the panel to discuss the NIPCC’s fourth and latest report: Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science. At over 1000 pages, put together by 47 geologists, astrophysicists and climate scientists in over 15 countries, with 4,000 references to peer-reviewed literature, the NIPCC report and most recent IPCC report may look similar on the surface, but they have one important difference.
Both reports rely on the same corpus of peer-reviewed literature, but the NIPCC, according to Bast, “comes to just the opposite conclusion . . . specifically, that the human impact [on the climate] is very small [and] that future warming is probably very modest and very hard to tell from background variations.” He added that based on the science, “there really is no justification for governments’ attempting to reduce energy consumption and emissions.”
Carter, a marine geologist and one of three lead authors on the NIPCC report, was the first panelist to dive into the science. What’s missing from the public debate on climate science? According to Carter, it is captured in a single word: context. Carter sheds light on this missing context by first making clear the difference between weather and climate. Whereas weather is the changes in Earth’s surface conditions that occur on a day-to-day or month-to-month basis, climate is the thirty-year-average of weather. Over the past 150 years of accurate weather station data, that means that we have just five of these 30-year climate data points.
“Frankly, for me,” Carter said, “it is utterly astonishing that on the basis of five data points the world has been talked into revolutionizing its energy economy . . . .”
Showing the same graphs that are shown to first-year geology students, Carter puts those last five data points into context with the last 6 million years of climate data. Looking over these millennia, he says he has come to the conclusion that today’s temperature is not unusually warm—despite what is often heard on the news.
Another lead author on the NIPCC report, Singer, who at 89 is still a prolific writer, concentrated his remarks on what he considers to be an issue of greater importance to most people than fluctuating temperatures: sea-level rise.
Sea level rise is important—during the last ice age, 18,000 years ago, sea level was about 400 feet lower. You could walk from England to France. There was no North Sea. Sea level has been rising about 7 inches a century and will continue to rise until the next ice age.
After examining the data, Singer has come to the conclusion that sea-level rise is not accelerating (as is claimed in the IPCC report) and “like the tides, there is nothing we can do about it, we just have to adjust to it.”
During the audience Q&A, panelists observed that past periods of relative warmth, like the one we appear to be entering, have been a boon for agriculture and society in general. Regardless of which way the temperature goes, people have been adapting to the climate for thousands of years—even without the buildings, machinery, automobiles, technology, and indoor heating and air conditioning that make it relatively easy to adjust today.
Listening to the panel, it struck me that this “ability to adjust” is exactly what is at stake in the climate change debate. The one thing that gives people the best chance of adapting to changes in climate is the one thing that environmentalists want to see taken away: access to plentiful and reliable energy, whether that be coal, oil or nuclear. It is this energy, combined with the wealth it enables us to produce, that keeps us safest from changes in weather, temperature, climate and changing sea levels. Considering that the changes, as well as the impact of human CO2 emissions on the climate, have so far been modest, there seems to be no justification for plans to starve the world of this life-saving energy—especially if the climate change debate is put into its proper context.