What global warming?

Readers' Views No 234, October 2002
OECD Observer

In his article, "Global warming: What comes after Kyoto?", Professor Burton Richter's arguments are based on two incorrect premises–one explicit, the other implied (OECD Observer No 233, August 2002).

His very first sentence asserts "Every study of global climate change has concluded that world average temperatures are rising…" This is quite clearly contradicted by the best available data, which come from weather satellites: global atmospheric temperatures show no perceptible warming trend since 1979. This surprising result is confirmed independently by radiosondes launched worldwide daily by weather balloons.

Not only do these observations contradict the results of theoretical climate models, but these same models also demand that the atmosphere warm faster than the surface. We must therefore conclude that the models have not been validated and cannot be relied on to predict future warming.

The implied premise in Professor Richter's article is that global warming is harmful or even catastrophic. Economists, many of them on his Stanford campus, disagree with this assessment. Their published studies indicate a rise in GDP, with the agricultural and forest sectors benefiting most from a warmer climate and higher levels of carbon dioxide.

The Kyoto Protocol, even if punctiliously observed, is virtually ineffective. There is general scientific agreement that by 2050 it would lower the calculated temperature by only 0.05°C, one-twentieth of a degree. This value drops to 0.02°C, if the US abstains from Kyoto, as seems likely after the unanimous vote against it by the US Senate in 1997 and after President George Bush termed the treaty "fatally flawed".

Finally, the replacement of fossil fuels by the large-scale use of nuclear energy will, in my view, be the inevitable outcome of the gradual depletion of low-cost sources of oil and gas. High values of atmospheric CO2 will be a transient event in the history of industrial civilization.

Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, United States

Comments and letters may be edited for publishing. Send your letters to observer@oecd.org or post your comments at these portals: www.oecdobserver.orgwww.oecdinsights.org, or at the other OECD portals on this page. 

©OECD Observer No 234, October 2002 

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