Kyoto Protocol and Global Warming
Baliunas, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian
Center for Astrophysics and deputy directory of Mount
Wilson Observatory, received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees
in astrophysics from Harvard University. She is co-host
of the Web site www.TechCentralStation.com, a senior
scientist and chair of the Science Advisory Board at
the George C. Marshall Institute, and past contributing
editor to World Climate Report. Her awards include the
Newton-Lacy-Pierce Prize of the American Astronomical
Society, the Petr Beckmann Awards for Scientific Freedom,
and the Bok Prize from Harvard University. The author
of over 200 scientific articles, Dr. Baliunas served
as technical consultant for a science-fiction television
series, Gene Roddenberry's Earth Final Conflict. Her
research interests include solar variability, magnetohydrodynamics
of the sun and sun-like stars, expoplanets, and the
use of laser electro-optics for the correction of turbulence
due to the earth's atmosphere in astronomical images.
following is abridged from a speech delivered at Hillsdale College
on February 5, 2002, at a seminar co-sponsored by the Center
for Constructive Alternatives and the Ludwig von Mises Lecture
evolution from fire to fossil fuels to nuclear energy is a
path of improved human health and welfare arising from efficient
and effective access to energy. One trade-off is that energy
use by human beings has always produced environmental change.
For example, it has resulted in human artifacts marking the
landscape, the removal of trees from major areas for wood
burning, and region-wide noxious air pollution from coal burning.
On the other hand, ready availability of energy that produces
wealth through the free market system provides ways to remedy
or minimize environmental damage from energy use.
widespread industrialization, human use of coal, oil and natural
gas has become the centerpiece in an international debate
over a global environmental impact, viz., global warming.
Fossil fuels provide roughly 84 percent of the energy consumed
in the United States and 80 percent of the energy produced
worldwide. An attempt to address the risk of deleterious global
warming from the use of these carbon dioxide-emitting fuels
is embodied in the Kyoto Protocol and its attendant series
of international negotiations. But on scientific, economic
and political grounds, the Kyoto Protocol as an attempt to
control this risk while improving the human condition is flawed.
Would Kyoto Do?
of future energy use, applied to the most advanced computer
simulations of climate, have yielded wide-ranging forecasts
of future warming from a continued increase of carbon dioxide
concentration in the air. The middle range forecast of the
estimates of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, based on expected growth in fossil fuel use
without any curbs, consists of a one degree Celsius increase
over the next half century. A climate simulation including
the effect of implementing the Kyoto Protocol -- negotiated
in 1997 and calling for a worldwide five percent cut in carbon
dioxide emissions from 1990 levels -- would reduce that increase
to 0.94 degree Celsius. This amounts to an insignificant 0.06
degree Celsius averted temperature increase. [See
Chart 1. The jagged line tracks the forecast of increasing
temperatures through 2050, based on the Hadley Center's model.
The upper straight line is the linear trend fit to the model's
forecast temperature rise without implementation of Kyoto,
and the lower straight line is the linear trend with implementation.]
achieve the carbon dioxide emission cuts by 2012 that are
required under the Kyoto agreement, the United States would
have to slash its projected 2012 energy use by about 25 percent.
Why, then, are the temperature forecasts so minimal in terms
of averted global warming? The answer is that countries like
China, India and Mexico are exempt from making emission cuts,
and China alone will become the world's leading emitter of
carbon dioxide in just a few years.
economic studies indicate that the cost of the Kyoto carbon
dioxide emission cuts to the U.S. would amount to between
$100 billion and $400 billion per year. One major reason these
costs are so high is that past U.S. energy policy has been
constrained by political influences. For example, substantially
expanding the number of U.S. nuclear power plants and reducing
the number of coal plants would enable the U.S. to meet both
its future energy needs and Kyoto's mandated carbon dioxide
emission reductions. But no nuclear power plants have been
built in the U.S. in over 20 years, owing to non-technical
the same period, renewable energy sources like wind and solar
power have been discussed to the point of distraction. But
these are boutique energy sources: they produce relatively
minute amounts of energy and do so intermittently. While they
may be cost-effective in limited locales, they are unreliable
for large-scale electricity generation. (As a side note, often
overlooked is the enormous environmental footprint that wind
and solar farms would require. For example, to replace a conventional
1000 megawatt coal plant that spans tens of acres would require
an isolated, uninhabited area with correct meteorological
conditions of roughly 400 square miles on which to place over
2,000 wind turbines, not to mention the associated imprint
of high-power transmission lines, roads, etc. Solar panel
farms would produce environmental blight and degradation over
a similarly sized landscape.)
Kyoto Protocol also has the potential to worsen international
relations. The struggling economies of the world rely on the
U.S. to maintain stability and to provide aid and economic
opportunity as a trading partner. While the developing nations
are exempt from making carbon dioxide emission cuts, the severe
economic impact on the U.S. would dramatically curtail its
ability to continue to promote international stability and
to help improve those nations' economies.
Does Science Say?
the economic catastrophe that would occur as a result of implementing
the Kyoto Protocol is a certainty, the likelihood of an environmental
catastrophe resulting from a failure to implement Kyoto is
extremely speculative. The facts in scientific agreement concerning
global warming are as follows:
a result of the human use of coal, oil and natural gas,
the air's carbon dioxide content (along with the content
of other human-produced greenhouse gases like methane) is
increasing. € The greenhouse gases absorb infrared radiation
and, as a result, should retain some energy near the surface
of the earth that would otherwise escape to space.
on current ideas about how climate should work, the surface
temperature should warm in response to the addition of the
small amount of energy arising from a benchmark doubling
of the air's carbon dioxide content.
main greenhouse effect is natural and is caused by water
vapor and clouds. But the impacts of these greenhouse factors
are for now greatly uncertain. In other words, the reliability
of even the most sophisticated computer simulations of the
climate impacts of increased carbon dioxide concentration
rests heavily on the use of factors that science does not
understand. To put this in perspective, the uncertainties
surrounding the use of clouds and water vapor in climate
simulations -- not to mention other important factors like
sea-ice changes -- are at least ten times greater than the
effect of the variable being tracked, i.e., the temperature
rise caused by increased carbon dioxide levels in the air.
in the absence of any counterpoising or magnifying responses
in the climate system, the global average rise in temperature
is roughly one degree Celsius or less at equilibrium for
a doubling of the air's carbon dioxide concentration. That
is meager warming for so profound a change in the air's
carbon dioxide content. Indeed, it is within the range of
climate's natural variability.
key question in the debate over global warming is the following:
What has been the response of the climate thus far to the
small amount of energy added by humans from increased carbon
dioxide in the air? This question is important because, in
order to prove the reliability of future climate forecasts
from computer simulations, those simulations need to prove
that they are reliable at explaining past temperature change.
They have not yet done so.
the twentieth century, the global average surface temperature
rose about 0.5 degrees Celsius. At first glance, one might
think this attributable to human fossil fuel use, which increased
sharply over the past 100 years. But a closer look at twentieth
century temperatures shows three distinct trends: First, a
strong warming trend of about 0.5 degrees Celsius began in
the late nineteenth century and peaked around 1940. Then,
oddly, there was a cooling trend from 1940 until the late
1970s. And a modest warming trend occurred from the late 1970s
to the present. [See Chart
2, illustrating surface temperature changes sampled worldwide
and analyzed by Cambridge Research Unit (solid line) and NASA-Goddard
Institute of Space Studies (dotted line). Both lines show
these three distinct phases.]
do we interpret this data? We know that about 80 percent of
the carbon dioxide from human activities was added to the
air after 1940. Thus increased carbon dioxide in the air cannot
account for the pre-1940 warming trend. That trend had to
be largely natural. Then, as the air's carbon dioxide content
increased most rapidly, temperatures dropped for nearly 40
years. And it seems that human effects amount at most to about
0.1 degree Celsius per decade -- the maximum increase in warming
seen after the 1970s.
then, does the observed surface-warming trend in recent decades
-- even assuming it is all due to human activity -- compare
to the results of climate change computer simulations?
back at Chart
1, climate simulations predict that a smooth, linear rise
of at least twice the observed trend should already be occurring,
and that it will continue through the next century. Given
that the warming trend has been observed to be at most 0.1
degree Celsius per decade from human activities, these future
forecasts appear greatly to exaggerate the future warming
and should be adjusted downward to, at most, one degree Celsius
warming by 2100. That amount of warming would be very similar
to natural variability, which humans have dealt with for thousands
of years. Indeed, it would likely return climate conditions
to those experienced in the early centuries of the second
millennium, when widespread warming is indicated by numerous
proxies of climate, such as glaciers, pollen deposits, boreholes,
ice cores, coral, tree growth, and sea and lake floor sediments.
(It is interesting to note that this so-called Medieval Climate
Optimum is associated with the settling of Greenland and Iceland,
travel by the Vikings to Newfoundland, higher crop yields
and generally rising life spans.)
addition to what we can deduce from surface temperature data,
U.S. leadership in new space instruments and in the funding
of global research has yielded atmospheric temperature data
that also indicates a lesser human-made global warming trend
than is forecast by climate simulations.
to these simulations, a readily detectable warming of the
lower troposphere (roughly 5,000 to 28,000 feet altitude)
must occur with the presence of increased atmospheric carbon
dioxide concentration. But records from NASA's microwave sounder
units aboard satellites show no such trend. These satellite
records are essentially global, in contrast with records of
surface temperatures, which cover a mere fifth of the planet.
And what emerges from them is that while the tropospheric
temperature does vary over short periods -- for example, with
the strong El Niño warming pulse of 1997 and 1998 -- no meaningful
warming trend is observed over the 21-year span of the record.
3, illustrating monthly averaged temperatures for the
lower troposophere from instruments onboard NASA satellites.
Even taking into account the 1997-98 El Nino event, the linear
trend is only +0.04 degree Celsius per decade. Data are from
should be noted in passing that there has been a proposed
explanation for the lack of a significant human-made warming
trend in the lower troposphere. This explanation contends
that human-induced global warming is masked because of soot
from sulfur dioxide and other human-made aerosols, which cool
the atmosphere. But this idea of a widespread aerosol shading
effect fails the test by the scientific method, because the
Southern Hemisphere -- which shows no long-term warming trend
at all -- is relatively free of aerosols.
addition to satellite records, we have a radiosonde record
from balloons that goes back over four decades. This record
obviously lacks the dense spatial coverage of satellite measurements.
Nevertheless, it too shows no warming trend in global average
temperature that can be attributed to human effects. It records
the strong warming in 1976-77 known as the Great Pacific Climate
Shift, resulting from a natural, periodic shift in the Pacific
-- the Pacific Decadal Oscillation -- which is so significant
that global average temperatures are affected. [See Chart
4, which illustrates the seasonal average temperature
anomaly sampled worldwide for the lower troposphere as measured
by radiosonde instruments carried aboard balloons. Although
a linear trend of +0.09 degree Celsius per decade is present
if fitted across the entire period of the record, the trends
before and after the abrupt warming of 1976-1977 (straight
horizontal lines) indicate no evidence of significant human-made
warming. Data are from http://cdiac.esd.ornl.gov/ftp/trends/temp/angell/
glob.dat.] Furthermore, the Pacific now seems to have shifted,
perhaps in 1998-99, back to its pre-1976 phase, which should
produce cooler temperatures, especially in Alaska and in the
according to our most reliable data, when compared to the
actual measurements of temperature over the past four decades,
computer simulations overestimate to some degree the warming
at the surface and decidedly exaggerate warming in the lower
troposphere. And given that the models have overestimated
past warming trends, they presumably also exaggerate the warming
to be expected in the future. This inaccuracy is not surprising.
Computer simulations of climate must track over five million
parameters relevant to the climate system. To simulate climate
change for a period of several decades is a computational
task that requires 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 degrees of freedom.
And to repeat, such simulations require accurate information
on two major natural greenhouse gas factors -- water vapor
and clouds -- whose effects we do not yet understand.
it should be mentioned that in looking for natural factors
influencing the climate, a new area of research centers on
the effects of the sun. Twentieth century temperature changes
show a strong correlation with the sun's changing energy output.
Although the causes of the sun's changing particle, magnetic
and energy outputs are uncertain -- as are the responses of
the climate to solar changes -- the correlation is pronounced.
It explains especially well the early twentieth century temperature
increase, which, as we have seen, could not have had much
human contribution. [See Chart
5, illustrating the change over four centuries of the
Sunspot Number, which is representative of the surface area
coverage of the sun by strong magnetic fields. The low magnetism
of the seventeenth century, a period called the Maunder Minimum,
coincides with the coldest century of the last millennium,
and there is sustained high magnetism in the latter twentieth
century. See also Chart
6, showing that changes in the sun's magnetism -- as evidenced
by the changing length of the 22-year or Hale Polarity Cycle
(dotted line) -- closely correlates with changes in Northern
Hemisphere land temperature (solid line). The sun's shorter
magnetic cycles are more intense, suggesting a brighter sun
during longer cycles. Lags or leads between the two curves
that are shorter than 20 years are not significant, owing
to the 22-year time frame of the proxy of brightness change.
In this chart, the record of reconstructed Northern Hemisphere
land temperature substitutes for global temperature, which
is unavailable back to 1700.]
conclusions can be drawn about global warming and human energy
catastrophic human-made global warming effects can be found
in the best measurements of climate that we presently have.
longevity, health, welfare and productivity of humans have
improved with the use of fossil fuels for energy, and the
resulting human wealth has helped produce environmental
improvements beneficial to health as well.
light of some of the hysterical language surrounding the issue
of greenhouse gases, it is also worth noting that carbon dioxide,
the primary greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels,
is not a toxic pollutant. To the contrary, it is essential
to life on earth. And plants have flourished -- agricultural
experts estimate a ten percent increase in crop growth in
recent decades -- due directly to the fertilization effect
of increased carbon dioxide in the air.
is good news, not bad, that the best current science offers
little justification for the rapid cuts in carbon dioxide
mandated by the Kyoto Protocol. This science indicates that
human-made global warming is relatively minor and will be
slow to develop, affording us an opportunity to continue to
improve observations and computer simulations of climate.
These will serve to better define the magnitude of human-made
warming, and allow development of an effective and cost-effective
this science, what is impelling the Kyoto Protocol's international
momentum? One strong factor is the "Precautionary Principle"
in environmental regulation. This principle disallows an action
that might harm the environment until the action is certain
to be environmentally harmless. It is antithetical to science
in practice, because it sets the impossible goal of proving
harmlessness with certainty. In addition, a policy of "doing
something" is promoted as "insurance" against
possible risk to the earth. This idea of insurance as a prudent
hedge is wrong on two counts, notwithstanding the lack of
scientific evidence of significant human-made warming. First,
the actuarial notion of insurance is that of a carefully calculated
premium, paid against a reasonably well-known risk in outcome
and probability of outcome. But in the case of human-made
global effects, the risk, premium and outcomes cannot be well
defined. Second, the notion that implementing the Kyoto Protocol
is effective insurance ignores the fact that the actual averted
warming that would result is inconsequential. Indeed, the
underlying basis for current international negotiations is
the Rio Treaty of 1992, which specifically states that concentrations
of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, not emissions, be stabilized.
In order to stabilize the air's concentration of greenhouse
gases, emissions would have to be cut some 60 to 80 percent.
the next several decades, fossil fuels are key to maintaining
Americans' way of life and improving the human condition.
According to the scientific facts as we know them today, there
is no environmental reason we should not continue using them.
to Hillsdale College