Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Age Of Global Warming: A History

Review by Martin Hutchinson from Good Reads

Errors have been key to global warming’s trajectory. Rupert Darwall’s book “The Age of Global Warming” shows how politicians locked us into global warming belief before scientists had credible evidence for it. Then a self-perpetuating U.N. bureaucracy and conflicted scientists manufactured evidence to order. The result has been toxic both for the modestly warming globe and for its economy.

The first study explaining how carbon dioxide emissions might produce global warming was published by the British meteorologist Guy Callendar in 1938, following a temperature upswing in the first third of the century. The unfortunate Callendar spent the rest of his life losing confidence in his theory as global temperatures declined, his last years coinciding with the sharp British winters of 1961-63.

Warming temperatures in the 1970s and 1980s gave new credibility to the Callendar Effect, but the breakthrough for atmospheric environmentalism was the three treaties on chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) agreed between 1987 and 1990. All production was eliminated by 2000 at a moderate cost on the global economy.

The political success of this effort helped launch global warming as a political issue. The United Nations established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, after the topic been discussed earlier in the year at a G7 meeting, presented to the U.S. Senate by James Hansen, a leading scientist, and promoted by Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister. The 1992 Rio Declaration included a commitment by governments to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, although no legally binding targets were set.

Once governments were committed and a U.N. bureaucracy was bent on self-perpetuation, production of the necessary evidence by the scientific community was all but inevitable. Although Darwall does not draw the analogy, financially aware readers will think of banks’ Value at Risk models, which were designed to minimize apparent risk to top management and regulators. Global warming computer models were likewise custom-built for their purpose. Most notorious was Michael Mann’s 1998 Hockey Stick graph, purporting to show that the 20th century’s rise in global temperature was far in excess of fluctuations of the preceding millennium.

Darwall goes painstakingly through the conceptual errors of this paper, notably the use of an algorithm that would produce a hockey-stick shape from almost anything. He tells of its rapturous acceptance by the Third IPCC Report in 2001 and its gradual debunking, against fierce opposition from the scientific establishment, in subsequent years. Even the IPCC was compelled to largely disown it in its 2007 Fourth Report.

Darwall shows how the traditional scientific method was abandoned by scientists who were rewarded for the promotion of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. He criticizes the confident promotion as undoubted fact a thesis which cannot be falsified for a century. He also makes good points about the failings of a peer-review system in which the peers’ livelihood depends on the scientific points being asserted.

His description of the politics of climate change is compelling, from the 1998 Kyoto conference to the abject failure at Copenhagen in 2009. The lesson is that after Copenhagen, both a global agreement on hard targets for emissions’ reduction and a watertight permit trading system to achieve such a reduction were chimeras.

Darwall rejects the more extreme claims of the global warming scientists, but appears agnostic as to whether human activity is actually warming the atmosphere. That is probably enough doubt to cause climate change believers to reject the book out of hand. To a less biased reader, it appears well-written, fair and even-toned.

After reading “The Age of Global Warming”, this reviewer would favor a modest carbon tax, adopted country by country, to encourage research and investment in lower-carbon technologies. The more urgent lesson, however, is the need to dismantle the birds’ nest of trading schemes, subsidies, crony capitalist contracts and regulations which have slowed global economic growth without doing much to slow whatever global warming actually exists.

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