One of the most enduring joint scientific and political debates
in recent times has been the debate between those who believe that
human influences on climate are warming the earth, with consequences
that may be detrimental to humankind, and those who believe that
earth dynamic systems are too large to be significantly influenced
by human activities. It is unfortunate that the debate was initiated
by political action before scientific research had formulated, constrained,
and data-backed the concept. The present U. S. debate was initiated
in 1988 from testimony of one scientist before the U. S. Congress,
who argued that human activity was changing climate. International
political action resulted in the Kyoto protocol, signed by the executive
branch over the objections of the U. S. Senate, which holds absolute
authority to ratify international treaties (95-0, Byrd-Hagel resolution,1997).
Many sincere scientists and non-governmental environmental organizations
have participated in the debate. All have good intentions, working
to advance their positions. The problem remains the lack of science
to substantiate either side of the debate. Science must progress
unhampered by politics if it is to be effective in helping shape
public policy. The writer has no vested economic interest in the
eventual outcome of the debate, but requires that all data and theory
be carefully considered before the debate is considered resolved.
The debate can be likened to a complex forest ecosystem. Identifying
a few trees cannot characterize the forest.
The Basis Of the Scientific Debate
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have been rising since
the end of the Little Ice Age, circa 1850. Best estimates of initial
concentration are about 280 PPM (parts per million). Current Mauna
Loa measurements are about 356 PPM. Since the late 1800’s the
global temperature is estimated to have risen, perhaps 0.6 degree
Celsius. The coincidence of the two events is the basis of the argument
that human greenhouse emissions are driving the climate. Computer
models of several groups project that earth temperatures will rise
anywhere from 2 to 6 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years as
a consequence of these emissions.
Laws of physics require that increases of greenhouse gas in the
atmosphere increase temperature. The same laws require that if greenhouse
gases are driving climate, the effect must be seen first in the
upper atmosphere. Satellite data, now vetted, do not show that effect.
Therefore, on that basis, any current climate change cannot be attributed
dominantly to greenhouse gas increases.
Carbon dioxide levels of the Late Precambrian (600 MYBP) are estimated
to be 18 times present concentration and the Cretaceous (63 MYBP)
concentration was 3 to 4 times present concentration. Low estimates
during glaciation are around 170 PPM. Recent research has demonstrated
that there is historically up to a 400-year lag between temperature
changes and consequent carbon dioxide concentration changes (Fischer,
et al, 1999). That hypothesis requires climate drivers other than
The single most important basis for human impact on climate is
computer modeling. Current general circulation models are sophisticated
compared to former efforts, but are still primitive compared to
the complexities of real climate control. The computer models are
as yet unable to simultaneously back model 1500 years, encompass
modern measurements, and project the same temperature predictions.
Computer models result in hypotheses, not information. Placed in
a petroleum context, if computer models were real information we
would never again drill a dry development well.
The general consensus of those who do not subscribe to human control
of Earth’s climate is that the climate changes observed are
natural variations in climate, well within range of recorded geological
history. Although artificial increases in greenhouse gas concentrations
will have some effect on climate, the argument is that any such
increases will be overwhelmed by natural variations, so that any
human effect will be masked and not measureable. Solar and orbital
controls on climate are frequently cited as being the most likely
large-scale natural climate controls.
Climate change tends toward regional change, not global change.
Even the current computer projections are truly Northern Hemisphere
predictions, not global. There are disconnects between north and
south and between regions. Many of these are oceanographic disconnects,
as the oceans are the major heat transfer device. At any time in
history, it is clear that some regions warm, others cool, and others
may see little change. We do not yet understand why.
Geological, archeological, and human historical records demonstrate
that climate is naturally unstable. It is constantly changing. Climate
science has not progressed far enough to predict those natural changes,
either in direction or magnitude. There is hope that computer simulation
of orbital, solar, and oceanographic dynamics may shed light on
some natural climate change drivers and effects. Natural climate
change demonstrated in geological and archeological records has
been much greater than any reasonable forecast of human-induced
change. Whatever the human component of climate change may be, it
is likely dwarfed by the amplitude of natural change.
Ice core data suggests that there has been long term cooling over
the last 8,000 years, interrupted by large and small scale thermal
events that rapidly increase and then more slowly decrease temperature.
Human historical records show the same patterns of large-scale change,
with pockets of little change or negative change.
There is much study and research to do before this debate is settled.
The Political Science Debate
Against this backdrop of incomplete science, there are several
major issues that dominate the public debate about climate change.
Since the public debate was initiated in a political setting, we
must deal with public perception, for in politics, perceptions are
In the last few decades, public perception of the importance of
humanity in earth processes has changed. Evolution of the perceived
importance of humankind has come full circle, from a Ptolomeic geocentric
universe (the sun orbits around the earth), to the science-based
heliocentric universe (the earth orbits around the sun), to the
latest, the "humanocentric universe," in which the universe revolves
around humankind. Belief systems drive opinion on science issues.
Because the current climate paradigm is based on a belief system,
it has ignored data that conflicts with belief, and promulgates
those information sets and models that sustain the belief.
For example, recent reports illustrate anthropogenic warming of
the global climate by a graph showing that global temperature is
rapidly rising. The same report that provided that graph (Goddard
Institute for Space Studies, 1999) also provided the climate chart
for the United States that shows that the U. S. today is cooler
than it was in the 1930s. The first is cited as evidence of global
warming. When both are viewed together, however, there are several
other probable interpretations. The data clearly show that the United
States is cooler than it was during the 1930s, the previous "sawtooth"
jump. Therefore, one conclusion is that a "heat island effect" is
shown in the global data, knowing that the United States has placed
its thermometers so minimize the heat island effect of cities, but
much of the rest of the world has yet to do so. Another interpretation
might be that there is no global climate - each continent and ocean
has its own climate, and some are warming while others are cooling.
When all the data is examined, the conclusions may change, and the
debate fundamentally altered.
Selective use of data is also an issue. The draft IPCC report (Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, an international governmental body) uses
Mann et al’s (1999) tree ring temperature analysis for the
last 1,000 years. The draft report, normally not quotable prior
to an official release, was released in draft form near the end
of the last U.S. national election. The Mann et al result is the
well-known "hockey stick" diagram that shows slight cooling
for most of the last thousand years with an abrupt and large warming
only since about 1930. Most scientists recognize that the "Medieval
Climate Optimum" multi-century rapid warming event, followed by
the Little Ice Age, hampers computer modeling of future climate
change because models can't back-model through these historical
observations and still maintain current climate projections. The
IPCC draft report disposes of this inconvenience by using the Mann
et al paper to explain that the Medieval Climate Optimum never existed.
There is overwhelming well-documented evidence that it did exist,
such as the voluminous historical record of Lamb (1996). All other
temperature curves show the same event (Bluemle et al, 1999). To
take the IPCC position is to ignore the Viking agricultural settlements
on Greenland, restriction of alpine glaciers, advent of wineries
in England, and distribution of Native American cultures, among
many other well-documented events. Daly (2000) discusses the Mann
hypothesis in detail. All data must be presented in a scientific
argument, not just selected portions that support specific viewpoint.
On the other side of the debate, some still insist that the earth
temperature is stable and has not been rising. The crux of their
debate lies in temperature data that they assume is biased by proximity
to heat islands and inaccurate measurements.
Other arguments raised by contrarians are mostly about relative
benefits of climate warming and inability of proposed policies (Kyoto)
to mitigate any human induced change. In some ways this debate has
become more philosophical than scientific.
In reviewing scientific arguments, an explanation that best fits
all the evidence is the most likely. An explanation that
accounts for only part of the evidence is likely to be fallacious.
Political spin is also present in the debate. For instance, after
using standard scientific notation of degrees temperature in Celsius
for its last two reports, the IPCC has been widely quoted in the
media as issuing statements about its latest report in degrees Fahrenheit.
This makes the forecast making nearly double, 9/5 greater, than
if they had continued standard Celsius notation. Readers may recall
the uproar after the last report because the consultants to the
project issued an executive summary that differed from the original
The reason for the climate issue may be simply economic. The nations
most favoring a carbon tax to reduce use of fossil fuels are the
oil importing countries. The climate issue may be useful for reducing
imports that are economically damaging, and for raising revenue.
In 1980 the United States had a $400 billion net positive foreign
investment position. By 1997, latest data available to the writer,
the United States was in a negative $1.3 trillion position. That
change results in foreign ownership of United States assets and
means of production. Recent buyouts of United States corporations
by foreign investors illustrate the issue. Daimler Benz bought Chrysler,
British Petroleum bought Amoco and Arco, the concrete industry is
dominated by foreign enterprises, the pharmaceutical industry is
heavily internationalized, and foreign investors now own much farmland.
The list continues to grow. The United States is being bought with
its own money, the result of profligate spending for imports, a
significant portion of which is imported oil and the cars to burn
According to U. S. Energy Information Administration figures, a
carbon tax of about $348 US per ton of carbon would be necessary
to increase the price of oil and other fossil energy sufficiently
to reduce demand and thus carbon emissions. This translates to an
annual tax of about $325 million US on oil alone, about $42 new
tax per barrel, on oil that now sells at the relatively high price
of $33 per barrel. Oil would then cost the consumer $75 per barrel.
Coupled with taxes on natural gas and coal, this writer estimates
that the new federal tax revenues would be about $750 million per
year. Nearly all countries favoring the Kyoto Protocol plan increased
energy taxes to enforce the agreement. The climate debate becomes
an economic debate, of governmental revenues versus consumer expense.
The reader may recall that one of the earliest programs of the current
(1992-2000) administration was to enact a carbon tax, prior to the
debate over climate. The proposed solution to a hypothetical climate
problem is a carbon tax.
Some of the intended consequences of forced climate change mitigation
appear to be to raise revenues and to decrease the nation's reliance
on imported energy. Intended consequences may have little to do
with any environmental issue or climate change. Europeans push the
U. S. to reduce energy consumption, not for environmental reasons,
but for competitive economic advantage.
Many public policies and laws have unintended consequences. Despite
the best efforts of legislators, unintended consequences frequently
make problem solutions into new problems. Saving sand on your beach
from longshore drift by building a groin solves your problem, but
down-current erosion removes more sand from a neighbor. The loss
of sand from your neighbor's property is an unintended consequence.
The unintended consequence of the current paradigm of human induced
climate change is to make people believe that humans can control
climate. By raising false hope, the result is that people will believe
that changing energy use habits can ameliorate the rising sea level,
and a future cold period. But sea level is going to continue to
rise naturally, as it has episodically since the end of the Wisconsin
Glacial Stage, and there will be another very long, very cold period.
When that happens, how will we feed people? By failing to recognize
true climate drivers and plan for natural change, the current paradigm
may condemn humans to homelessness and starvation.
There is a bright side to the debate. The ferocity of the debate
has caused much more research in climate science, computer modeling,
and geologic analysis of past climates than otherwise would have
been accomplished. Science that is being published today contains
better data, much of it avoids taking sides in the debate, and sheds
much light on climate stability and drivers. The laws are applicable
equally to all sides of the debate. It is my hope that the laws
of physics will drive the debate, linked to observations, measurements,
and better analysis of apparently conflicting data.
What Is the Petroleum Industry To Do?
The petroleum industry should view this issue in terms of each
company’s national interest, linked to new scientific knowledge.
Since the European community is leading efforts to control carbon
dioxide emissions, it is important for those companies headquartered
in Europe to acknowledge their political realties. Both BP (Great
Britain) and Shell (Netherlands) have elected to support their countries’
positions on the issue through corporate policy. U.S. companies
have been less enthusiastic about accepting anthropogenic climate
change. The U. S. position, clearly spelled out in the overwhelming
vote in the Senate, is that efforts to control carbon dioxide emissions
by taxation of fossil fuels are not acceptable. Therefore, there
is little incentive to embrace expenditures that do not reflect
the direction of federal policy. Political realities will drive
On the other hand, the U. S. government is clearly encouraging
the substitution of natural gas for liquid petroleum where possible.
While natural gas is emission-benign compared to other fuels, let
us not forget that the United States has a larger potential natural
gas supply than much of the rest of the world, and exploitation
of that resource for transportation fuel could significantly reduce
our dependence on imported oil. Companies that produce natural gas
are reaping benefits of U. S. climate policy today.
The domestic industry should recognize political realities in the
U.S. from the U. S. viewpoint, as BP and Shell have in Europe from
a European perspective. The petroleum industry must address real
energy needs and concerns, and work to develop a national energy
Belief systems are appropriate to politics. They are less so to
science in the public interest. Beliefs drive agendas, and the agenda
of science should be to seek the truth. The common belief system
argues that the world is unchanging. Climate changes all the time,
in both directions at many scales, there is no flat line in climate.
The Earth’s climate is always either getting warmer or cooler.
Data clearly show that natural variability greatly exceeds any potential
human induced potential temperature change. One of our biggest jobs
is to separate natural change from human change. To believe that
humans control climate is to make people believe that humans can
prevent sea level from rising, and climate from changing.
If economics and revenues drive the climate debate, it should be
acknowledged. If not, then a much better scientific case must be
made for significant anthropogenic climate modification. Those who
are unconvinced of human impact on climate are willing to accept
the results of impartial and full scientific scrutiny of the entire
climate change issue, wherever it leads.
Collapse of the recent climate treaty implementation talks in Europe
creates an opportunity for enhancing climate science and rigorous
testing of hypotheses about climate change before embarking on additional
efforts to manipulate earth dynamic systems.
Yannacone (1999) argued that scientists have a non-delegable duty
to use their special skills and special knowledge for the good of
humanity. The scientific method demands no less. Are we meeting
the ethical standards society has a right to expect of us?
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delimiting the rate and magnitude of past global climate changes:
Environmental Geosciences, v. 6, n. 2.
Daly, John L., 2000, The ‘Hockey Stick’: A New Low in
Fischer, H., M. Wahlen, J. Smith, D. Mastoianni, and B. Deck, 1999,
Ice Core Records of Atmospheric CO2 Around the Last Three
Glacial Terminations: Science, v. 283, p.1712-1714.
Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 1999, Global Temperature Trends:
Continued Warmth in 1999: National Aeronautical and Space Administration..
Lamb, H. H., 1995, Climate, History, and the Modern World: 2nd
Ed., Routledge, NY, 433 p.
Mann, M. E., R. S. Bradley, and M. K. Hughes, 1999, Northern Hemisphere
Temperatures During the Past Millennium: Inferences, Uncertainties,
and Limitations: Geophysical Research Letters, v. 26, n. 6, p. 759-762.
Yannacone, Victor John, Jr., 1999, Science, Ethics, and Scientific
Ethics in the Modern World: Environmental Geosciences, v.6, n. 4,