The Fluid Envelope: A Case Against Climate Alarmism

Industrial Smokestacks and Smog
It’s easy to imagine such an impressive
output of gas could be harming the earth.
(Photo: US

Editor’s Note: Our charter to report on clean technology and the status of species and ecosystems seems to always bring us back to one overriding distraction – global warming alarm – and small wonder. We are in the midst of one of the most dramatic transformations of political economy in the history of the world – and nobody is watching. “The debate is over on global warming,” goes the consensus, and even if that were a healthy or accurate notion, why has this consensus translated into hardly any vigorous debate over what would be a rational response?

Despite ongoing rhetoric to the contrary from virtually every environmental nonprofit in existance, the United States has been an extraordinarily responsible nation. We listened to our environmental movement; we institutionalized it. On every front there has been huge progress over the past 30-40 years. Our air and water are orders of magnitude cleaner even though our population has doubled. Our landfills our ultra-safe. We have set aside vast tracts of wilderness, rescued countless endangered species. Our food supply is scrupulously monitored. And every year our technology and our prosperity delivers new options to eliminate more pollution and live healthier lives. So what happened?

In the rest of the world there is also reason for great optimism, despite some discouraging challenges that continue to grip humanity. Human population is voluntarily leveling off, so that within 25-30 years the number of people on planet earth will peak at around 8.5 billion – and every time the projection is revisited, that estimate drops. At an even faster pace, humanity is urbanizing – and this voluntary movement is taking people out of the vast and potentially endangered forests and other biomes faster than population increase replaces them. Land is becoming abundant again. So what’s wrong?

Technology promises abundant energy within a few decades, using clean fossil fuel as we systematically replace it with solar, nuclear, run-of-river hydroelectric, enhanced geothermal, wind, possibly biofuel. Technology promises abundant water within a few decades, as we learn how to recycle every drop of water used in the urban environment, convert many crops to drip irrigation, and develop massive desalination capacity. So why don’t we get to work?

The reason is because of global warming alarm. The bells of warning are ringing so loud that CO2 is all that matters anymore. Want to stop using petroleum? Then burn the rainforests for biofuel. Want to stop using coal? Then forget about installing affordable scrubbers to remove the soot that billows from coal fired power plants across burgeoning Asia – why clean up something that needs to be shut down? Want to save allegedly scarce open space? Then cram everyone into ultra-high density “infill” and destroy every semi rural neighborhood in the western world. Make housing unaffordable, then mandate taxpayer-subsidized affordable housing. And do it all in the name of reducing CO2 emissions.

Today, after reading two documents from the website of the Attorney General of California, “Mitigation Measures,” and “Global Warming Contrarians and the Falsehoods they Promote,” I became so alarmed at what we are willingly, blindly bringing upon ourselves because of all this CO2 alarm that I contacted Dr. Richard Lindzen, who has already contributed two lengthy articles to EcoWorld, “Current Behavior of Global Mean Surface Temperature,” and “Is There a Basis for Global Warming Alarm?” I asked Dr. Lindzen if he still held the views he does. He replied emphatically in the affirmative, and sent me the article that follows. Dr. Lindzen, along with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr., with whom EcoWorld recently published the exclusive “Interview with Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr.,” are both internationally respected atmospheric scientists. And both of them, in somewhat different ways, are quite concerned about the overemphasis on CO2.

Anyone who is championing extreme measures to reduce anthropogenic CO2 should attempt for themselves to understand the science. As Dr. Lindzen wrote me earlier today, policymakers such as Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger “can be excused given the degree to which the environmental movement has taken over the professional societies.”

“Science” has become the trump card that drowns out reason – what great irony. And the scientific establishment itself has become politicized. And if you read the mitigation measures being proposed, just imagine if there was nothing we could do to affect global warming – which even some of the lead authors of the IPCC studies themselves acknowlege – and see if you want to live in the brave new world we are leading ourselves into by our own gullible noses.

Dramatic and positive global economic and technological developments, along with voluntary and irreversible global demographic trends, are about to deliver us a future where we enjoy unprecedented environmental health, abundance and prosperity. But to do this we need to preserve our economic and personal freedoms. Will the measures being proposed – especially in trendsetting California – fruitlessly combat a problem that doesn’t exist, crush economic growth and trample on individual freedom, and rob humanity of this hopeful destiny?

- Ed “Redwood” Ring

The Fluid Envelope – A Case Against Climate Alarmism
by Dr. Richard Lindzen, February 2008
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Schwarzenegger Portrait with California Flag
What will be his legacy?

The notion of a static, unchanging climate is foreign to the history of the earth or any other planet with a fluid envelope. The fact that the developed world went into hysterics over changes in global mean temperature of a few tenths of a degree will astound future generations.

Such hysteria simply represents the scientific illiteracy of much of the public, the susceptibility of the public to the Goebbelian substitution of repetition for truth, and the exploitation of these weaknesses by politicians, environmental promoters, and, after 20 years of media drum beating, many others as well.

Climate is always changing. We have had ice ages and warmer periods when alligators were found in Spitzbergen. Ice ages have occurred in a hundred thousand year cycle for the last 700 thousand years, and previous warm periods appear to have been warmer than the present despite CO2 levels being lower than they are now. More recently, we have had the medieval warm period and the little ice age. During the latter, alpine glaciers advanced to the chagrin of overrun villages.

Since the beginning of the 19th Century these glaciers have been retreating. Frankly, we don’t fully understand either the advance or the retreat. For small changes in climate associated with tenths of a degree, there is no need for any external cause. The earth is never exactly in equilibrium. The motions of the massive oceans where heat is moved between deep layers and the surface provides variability on time scales from years to centuries. Recent work (Tsonis et al, 2007), suggests that this variability is enough to account for all climate change since the 19th Century. Supporting the notion that man has not been the cause of this unexceptional change in temperature is the fact that there is a distinct signature to greenhouse warming: surface warming should be accompanied by warming in the tropics around an altitude of about 9km that is about 2.5 times greater than at the surface.

Measurements show that warming at these levels is only about 3/4 of what is seen at the surface, implying that only about a third of the surface warming is associated with the greenhouse effect, and, quite possibly, not all of even this really small warming is due to man. This further implies that all models predicting significant warming are greatly overestimating warming. This should not be surprising. According to the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the greenhouse forcing from man made greenhouse gases is already about 86 % of what one expects from a doubling of CO2 (with about half coming from methane, nitrous oxide, freons and ozone), and alarming predictions depend on models for which the sensitivity to a doubling for CO2 is greater than 2C which implies that we should already have seen much more warming than we have seen thus far, even if all the warming we have seen so far were due to man.

This contradiction is rendered more acute by the fact that there has been no significant global warming for the last ten years. Modelers defend this situation by arguing that aerosols have cancelled much of the warming, and that models adequately account for natural unforced internal variability. However, a recent paper (Ramanathan, 2007) points out that aerosols can warm as well as cool, while scientists at the UKs Hadley Centre for Climate Research recently noted that their model did not appropriately deal with natural internal variability thus demolishing the basis for the IPCCs iconic attribution. Interestingly (though not unexpectedly), the British paper did not stress this. Rather, they speculated that natural internal variability might step aside in 2009, allowing warming to resume. Resume? Thus, the fact that warming has ceased for the past decade is acknowledged.

Santa Cruz Mountains and Redwood Forests
Whether or not someone is a climate alarmist should have no
bearing on the strength or purity of their environmentalist convictions.
(Read “Global Warming Questions”)

Given that the evidence (and I have noted only a few of many pieces of evidence) strongly suggests that anthropogenic warming has been greatly exaggerated, the basis for alarm due to such warming is similarly diminished.

However, the really important point is that the case for alarm would still be weak even if anthropogenic global warming were significant. Polar bears, arctic summer sea ice, regional droughts and floods, coral bleaching, hurricanes, alpine glaciers, malaria, etc. etc. all depend not on some global average of surface temperature, but on a huge number of regional variables including temperature, humidity, cloud cover, precipitation, and direction and magnitude of wind.

The state of the ocean is also often crucial. Our ability to forecast any of these over periods beyond a few days is minimal. Yet, each catastrophic forecast depends on each of these being in a specific range. The odds of any specific catastrophe actually occurring is almost zero. This was equally true for earlier forecasts: famine for the 1980′s, global cooling in the 1970′s, Y2K and many others. Regionally, year to year fluctuations in temperature are over four times larger than fluctuations in the global mean. Much of this variation has to be independent of the global mean; otherwise the global mean would vary much more.

This is simply to note that factors other than global warming are more important to any specific situation. This is not to say that disasters will not occur; they always have occurred and this will not change in the future. Fighting global warming with symbolic gestures will certainly not change this. However, history tells us that greater wealth and development can profoundly increase our resilience.

Given the above, one may reasonably ask why there is the current alarm, and, in particular, why the astounding upsurge in alarmism of the past 2 years. When an issue like global warming is around for over twenty years, numerous agendas are developed to exploit the issue.

California Attorney General
Jerry Brown
Jerry Brown Portrait
What is his dream?

The interests of the environmental movement in acquiring more power and influence are reasonably clear. So too are the interests of bureaucrats for whom control of CO2 is a dream-come-true.

After all, CO2 is a product of breathing itself. Politicians can see the possibility of taxation that will be cheerfully accepted because it is necessary for saving the world. Nations have seen how to exploit this issue in order to gain competitive advantages. But, by now, things have gone much further.

The case of ENRON is illustrative in this respect. Before disintegrating in a pyrotechnic display of unscrupulous manipulation, ENRON had been one of the most intense lobbyists for Kyoto. It had hoped to become a trading firm dealing in carbon emission rights. This was no small hope. These rights are likely to amount to over a trillion dollars, and the commissions will run into many billions. Hedge funds are actively examining the possibilities. It is probably no accident that Gore, himself, is associated with such activities . The sale of indulgences is already in full swing with organizations selling offsets to ones carbon footprint while sometimes acknowledging that the offsets are irrelevant.

The possibilities for corruption are immense. Archer Daniels Midland (Americas largest agribusiness) has successfully lobbied for ethanol requirements for gasoline, and the resulting demand for ethanol is already leading to large increases in corn prices and associated hardship in the developing world (not to mention poorer car performance).

And finally, there are the numerous well meaning individuals who have allowed propagandists to convince them that in accepting the alarmist view of anthropogenic climate change, they are displaying intelligence and virtue For them, their psychic welfare is at stake.

With all this at stake, one can readily suspect that there might be a sense of urgency provoked by the possibility that warming may have ceased. For those committed to the more venal agendas, the need to act soon, before the public appreciates the situation, is real indeed.

Richard Lindzen Portrait

About the Author: Richard S. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This article is reprinted here with permission from the author.

EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

11 Responses to “The Fluid Envelope: A Case Against Climate Alarmism”
  1. Glenn says:

    Common sense, the least common thing to be found in the climate debate. Thank you Dr. Lindzen.

  2. Bill Weaver says:

    Professor Lindzen,

    You make some good points in this political-scientific article. However, your references to scientific papers which would support many of your controversial claims are scarce. I note that you referenced a 2007 science paper by Ramanathan, (whom I knew at Nasa, Langley Research Center), but did not reference your own article, Global Warming Facts,which was published at ECOworld in 2006 (link below).

    Your analysis of temperature data from the US and the UK, although spiced with, what looks, like a pinch of bias here and there, still looks like it has merit. And to your credit, you concede , athough grudgingly, and not without your own spin, that the data show that tempratures have increased during the last century.

    “The point of all this is not to claim that there has been no warming. After all, the system’s temperature is always varying. However, when dealing with small temperature changes in a turbulent system, there is little appropriateness to dogmatism. Perhaps the most important message one gets from the data is that the change in temperature has been on the order of 0.5 centigrade, and the main question should be whether we have any solid basis for considering such a change to be large or small, serious or inconsequential.”

    You have apparently already decided – and wish to convice others – that this global temperature change should be considered both small and inconsequential. Or else, why would you be so vocal in your attempts to convince others that essentially no response is required


  3. Cool Electra says:

    I would venture that the real danger of alarmism is the danger of creating a space for the Shock-and-Awe tacticians to move in and exploit genuine fears about environmental catastrophe. The Right have always been experts at this, as outlined by Naomi Klein. Already, the nuclear industry is trying to rebrand itself as a green technology and is positioning itself to replace fossil fuel electricity. This would be an enviromnetal travesty for future generations.

    Likewise, the GM food sector is trying to represent itself as the solution to world food shortages.

    Environmentalists must be on guard against such exploitative and environmentally damaging ambushes from the corporate sector. Those of us who wish to protect the environment must also seek to protect the general public from being misinformned and bullied into false solutions proffered by vested interests.

  4. Eda says:

    People who write articles on this subject should be required to declare their interests, financial or otherwise, with the Death Penalty capable of being imposed by some relevant World Authority if the declared interests are found to be false or misleading in some significant way. Otherwise, ordinary individuals have about as much chance in coming to know the truth as an elephant trying to master algebra.

  5. Ed Ring says:

    Eda: To suggest the “death penalty” should be imposed on anyone who misrepresents their “interests, financial or otherwise,” is going way too far. Basically you are saying this issue is so huge that it’s ok to kill anyone who doesn’t accurately disclose their hidden agenda.

    There are better ways to get at the truth than this – such a policy would only frighten most people into not speaking out one way or the other. Who would this affect, anyway? Would Al Gore have to be executed if he didn’t disclose his financial ties to “green” venture capitalists who stand to profit from climate alarmism? Would all public sector bureaucrats who spread climate alarm have to be killed if they didn’t admit that policies to allegedly mitigate global warming will expand their revenues and grow their organizations?

    If the climate is in danger of catastrophically changing due to human activity, this is indeed an issue of historic importance, but as far as we can see, there are hidden agendas on both sides of this issue, and sincere people on both sides of this issue as well.

    With global warming, as with many other important issues, the truth will be more easily determined if we focus on honest debate over the ideas expressed, not over the motivations of those people who are offering their ideas and observations.

  6. Eda says:

    Agree that my suggestion is way over the top. I guess that is an indication of my frustration with the debate. However, wouldn’t it be great if we just had to assess the arguments of only the sincere people on both sides of the issue?

  7. John Galt says:

    It’s not just a question of hidden agendas and sincere people. There is also honest disagreement. Let’s remember, we only get these huge warming effects from computer models that have been adjusted to match past climate. None of them have ever demonstrated any ability to predict the future.

    I work in aerospace and we use any number of computer models. We try to model everything from complex structures to guided missile miss distances. I have found that those who work with these models all eventually begin to believe the model over reality. We have to constantly compare the models to laboratory measured data to maintain their usefulness. Any time a computer model starts putting out data that doens’t make sense, you can bet there’s a problem.

  8. Steven Douglas says:

    Bill Weaver wrote: “You have apparently already decided – and wish to convice others – that this global temperature change should be considered both small and inconsequential. Or else, why would you be so vocal in your attempts to convince others that essentially no response is required.”

    The answer to your rhetorical question should be obvious, Bill, once blinders are removed.

    Of the two – the pro-AGW alarmist community, and Prof. Lindzen, who is it that has gone to the most lengths to be “so vocal in [their] attempts to convince others”, as you put it, with regard to a response, or lack thereof, either way?

    There’s an apt analogy here, as you seem not to know the difference between a forcing and a feedback, a lead versus a lag, or a stimulus versus a response.

    Think on it.

  9. dave says:

    At an even faster pace, humanity is urbanizing – and this voluntary movement is taking people out of the vast and potentially endangered forests and other biomes faster than population increase replaces them. Land is becoming abundant again. So what’s wrong?

    it’s not the people who live in the forests that are endangering them, it is the city dwelling logging companies who take the trees down at a devastating rate.

  10. Izzy's Daddy says:

    “…it’s not the people who live in the forests that are endangering them, it is the city dwelling logging companies who take the trees down at a devastating rate”
    Perhaps a little more research would be in order.
    A. “City Dwelling Logging Companies” would be in for a short run and poor ongoing performance if they took the trees down “at a devastating rate.” Indeed, they plant more trees than they cut, since a logger can’t cut “Nothin.” In fact, there are more trees on this continent than there were when the “White Devil” arrived in force on three leaky old ships and began cutting down the noble trees for their own nefarious purposes.
    Since I know logic won’t convince you of the validity of any of this, or even the validity of the statements and considerations of the author of the article we’re commenting on, I’ll have to content myself with the remote possibility that you may, after reading this, work yourself up to such a fever pitch of righteous eco-indignation that your cranium may give way to elevated interior pressure. (Your head may explode, to bring it to terms an alarmist may be certain to ascertain.)

  11. I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so! I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.