Climate Change Alarmism - Hurting Clean Energy?

The following information was written for Mapawatt by the folks over at and is an interesting look at the Climate Change debate.  I've expressed my feelings on the topic in my post, "I've solved Climate Change!".  Read the article below for a take on the topic you may not expect to be posted on a site whose whole purpose is to promote using less fossil fuel energy and live more sustainably!


What’s the Real Motivation Behind Climate Change Alarms?

Contrary to what you will hear on the evening news, the controversy over the reality of man-made global warming is far from settled. Recent events have seriously called into question the “science” behind climate-change claims. These same events have also illustrated the lengths to which scientist will go to preserve their funding, and brought to light the relationship between global warming and the emergence of a new commodities market.


In November and December 2009 a hacker disclosed information obtained from emails in the files of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit. The correspondence revealed a pattern of behavior from 1996 to 2000 showing that climate scientists filtered the data they released to preserve their funding on projects intended to prove the reality of man-made global warming. In the wake of the scandal, Phil Jones, the CRU director, resigned.


At the United Nations Climate Change Conference held from December 7-18, 2009 in Copenhagen, the 45,000 delegates were unable to arrive at a binding accord for emissions limits. The meeting was marked by conflicts between representatives from developed and undeveloped nations and did not adequately address discrepancies in existing climate models. Although many pundits predict catastrophic disasters if global warming is not held to 2 degrees C, the fact remains that in spite of record high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, the planet is, on average, no warmer than it was in 1998.

(Mapawatt note: I had to do a little digging on this last fact because I'm not a fan of sites that post facts but don't show their data.  Turns out that they're right on.  Data from the NOAA does indeed show that since 1998 the ground temperature, as well as the stratosphere and troposphere have gotten slightly cooler.  I will say that 1998 was El Nino, and this skews the data. )


A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change included an assertion that the Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035. Although cited to a 2005 WWF study, “An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts on Nepal, India, and China,” the original claim was nothing but a speculative comment included in 1999 magazine article. The prediction, made by an Indian scientist, Syed Hasnain, was never formally published or subjected to peer review.

Disputed Sea Levels

Just before the Copenhagen Conference, Stefan Rahmstorf, professor of ocean physics at Potsdam, published a prediction that the world’s oceans would rise six feet by 2100. He based his claim on a recorded 7-inch sea level rise between 1881 and 2001.

Glaciologists pointed out that if the glaciers in the Alps and Himalayas were indeed gone by 2035, or even by 2050 as others claim, the remaining water to account for such a dramatic increase would have to come from the Antarctic and Greenland where melt is negligible at best. Critics dismissed Rahmstorf’s methods as “simplistic” and denounced the timing of his publication as designed to “attract headlines.”

The Elephant in the Middle of the Room

In the midst of all this controversy, an undeniably huge elephant settled in the middle of the room. Calls to create a cap and trade systems for greenhouse gas emissions depend on the belief that man-made global warming is real and that catastrophic climate change is imminent.

In the United States, the House of Representatives has proposed reducing such emissions 17% by 2020 and 83% by 2050. Regional carbon markets have already evolved in the U.S. where carbon credits are bought and sold. The idea is that companies unable to meet emissions caps purchase credits from cleaner entities to offset their own “bad” behavior. Europe already has a fully functional carbon trading market. Essentially, we are seeing the evolution of a new, highly lucrative commodities market completely predicated on worst-case climate scenarios.

None of this, however, detracts from the validity of renewable energy efforts like residential wind power or the need for solid energy conservation tips for average households. It is not necessary to engage in alarmist tactics to illustrate all the good reasons to work for cleaner air and water, to protect endangered ecosystems, or to liberate ourselves from a dangerous political dependence on foreign oil. Alarmism is required, however, to justify new climate taxes and to create a new class of commodities traded on the basis of emission limits.


So there you have it.  My worries, which are expressed in the above piece, are that the public will tire of endless debate about Climate Change and lose focus of the big picture:  Clean Energy is good for society no matter what the outcome of the Climate Change debate is!

We need more intelligent discussion on this topic because I'm sick and tired of politicians who aren't engineers or scientists talking about something they aren't qualified to talk about!  Instead of politicians arguing about what to do about climate change, they need to focus on why clean energy makes us all healthier, more prosperous, and happier; and then sell all those reasons to the voting public.  It shouldn't be a hard sell.  I'd love to see your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

***Update 2/12/10 - Warning: I like to play devil's advocate.  I have to hand it to RePower America and their great page, "Climate Change causes more severe weather".  Not only do they provide a really great clip from the Daily Show that mocks Global Warming deniers, but they also cite their facts, which include:

  • Climate change causes more frequent and severe snowstorms

  • We can expect more extreme weather

  • The world is warming at a quickening pace

I only mention this to show that this is a complicated debate, and continuing to just debate it will only slow efforts to move to a clean energy future.  I think we all can agree that fossil fuels dirty our air, pollute our land and water (during extraction) and oil keeps us reliant on the middle east.  Let's us all get behind getting off fossil fuels for this reason!

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@Chris - I love the Jon Stewart piece you linked to yesterday. :) Here is some food for thought that doesn't involve climate models, equations, or complex climate data. If we had reliable data from non-biased scientists that proved the climate was warming, we still have failed to prove the cause is from human activity. This is the central question to this entire global warming theme. Those that tell us global warming is from human activity want to tax that activity, sell products that reduce carbon output for businesses, and setup a carbon trading market. What if the Earth was getting warmer? Could it be caused from cyclical climate changes that have very little to do with us living here? We know the Earth has been through an Ice Age in the past. Obviously we have experienced some level of global warming to bring us to this point. Anyone think we came out of the Ice Age from prehistoric man lighting too many camp fires? Also there is evidence that shows Mars is getting warmer too. Anyone want to argue Martians are using too many fossil fuels? This is clear evidence that any climate changes we may be experiencing are caused from something other than our activity. Another thing is these scientists can't get their story straight. I vividly remember sitting in my fourth grade classroom reading a Weekly Reader that scared me into believing we were going to freeze to death if we didn't change our ways. Within a few years, the story had changed into how we were all going to die from the extreme heat. Today, Global Cooling and Global Warming are being called Climate Change, because it has become clear that no one can predict what changes are going to take place. It seems that supporters of this theory just latch on to whatever extreme weather conditions we are experiencing at the time and tell us it is the result of Climate Change. Sorry, that isn't to impressive from my perspective. The same people telling us these record snow falls are from Climate Change are the same bunch that told us we were going to bake like banana bread from the extreme temperatures just a few years ago. Another interesting point are the leaders at the head of this movement are doing very little to change their own lifestyle. I'm in middle Tennessee, home of the great champion of climate change Al Gore. In 2007, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research posted Al Gore's energy bills for his Nashville home showing he used more than 20 times more energy than the national average. This is just for his Nashville home. I also have a boat docked less than a hundred yards from him on Center Hill Lake. He has one of the biggest houseboats on that lake. He has attempted to camouflage it with a solar panel on top and named it Bio-Solar One, but he is plugged into shore power just like everyone else. He also travels the country on private jets. This is the man that wrote in "Earth in the Balance" that the combustible engine was a bigger threat to mankind that terrorism. Huh? I believe those that are truly for clean and renewable energy sources should stand up against this nonsense. There are plenty of reasons to move to alternative energy sources that don't involve carbon markets, carbon credits, and carbon taxes. These things only turn people away from seeking a solution. If we can develop clean energy sources that make economic sense, then consumers and businesses will begin to use these new energy supplies and there will be no new taxes required.
Brent, All excellent points and I've raised most of them in previous blogs. I think scientists and politicians have done a poor job framing their argument. In my post "<a href="" rel="nofollow">What you need to know about the Climate Change debate</a>"I made the case that any system that has an external force acting on it will eventually show some change as a result of that force. When humans put more CO2, SO2, methane, etc. into the air than what naturally occurs it is a scientific fact that eventually those actions will result in some sort of feedback. Now, I'm not saying it will be warming or cooling, only some result that wouldn't occur naturally. This points to the fact that we should do less of it, but it doesnt help us decide how much effort we should devote to doing less. I wrote a post on <a href="" rel="nofollow">seeing Al Gore in person</a> that touched on some of your complaints on him, but also praised him for some of the things he is doing. I do think we need a carbon tax in instances that aren't related to Climate Change. For instance, I think gasoline made from oil coming from the Middle East should have a much higher tax on it. Why are we funding terrorism? I also think coal derived from mountain-top coal removal should have a very heavy tax (I actually believe it should be illegal). My point is this: Like it or not, we are having an effect on the climate. It might be teeny tiny or larger than we think. It could be causing warming, or it could be causing cooling; but any study of a natural system will show that an external force (in this case air emissions) results in some form of changes. With that said, we should use that combined with all of the other reasons (air pollution, middle east, rising demand, etc.) to get off fossil fuels as a motivating factor to adopt clean energy. I think we're saying the same thing, we approaching it from two different ways. In any case, I think pragmatic approaches like we are talking about are the best path forward.
When I talk about energy saving designs and systems with my clients, I make sure to never say a word about climate change, or even carbon emissions, unless they're the first one to mention it or ask. As you put it, it's all in how you frame the conversation. Talking about societal benefits and less directly tangible benefits, you'll see many people glaze over. Instead, if you talk about saving money, return on investment, increasing property value (sheltered from property tax increases) and getting a sizable tax credit, there's almost universal excitement from property/business owners. If you frame it as a logical, and financial conversation, it'll be a guaranteed slam dunk . . . never mind that you're also reducing pollution and helping the environment (which my ultimate goal).
@Chris - Thanks for the thoughtful discussion. I've attempted to discuss these ideas with others in the past. It's amazing to me how many people have made up their mind one way or another and refuse to accept the possibility that they could be wrong. We certainly share the desire to rid ourselves of the middle eastern oil. How much sense does it make that we are funding people that are planning and praying for our destruction? I think ridding ourselves from our reliance on middle eastern oil is extremely important. I'd love to see us begin to drill right here at home for our own oil. I believe the price of oil would drop overnight even if it took a year before we ever got one barrel from our efforts. Instead of allowing the low price to cause demand to increase, I'd be for the government instituting a new tax that would regulate gasoline to $2.75 - $3.00 per gallon. That would keep consumption in check. This new tax could be used to persuade consumers and businesses through tax credits and financing to invest in renewable sources of energy. A great project to invest this new tax in would be creating bio-fuels for commercial airlines. In 2008, U.S. passenger and cargo planes used nearly 19 BILLION gallons of jet fuel. This translates to 449 million barrels of oil. That's roughly 12.5% of the 3.6 billion barrels of oil that we imported that same year. If we created an environment were it made sense for airlines to invest in engines that burned bio-fuels, a new industry would rise up in America overnight. I think it would rival the economic expansion we seen from the silicon chip. We just need to create a fuel that is cheaper than current jet fuels, doesn't interfere with our food supply, and is renewable. I think it may already exist. If the U.S. made up it's mind to accomplish something this specific and with the potential for this much impact, our world would be a much different place and we'd be well on our way to cars that ran on similar fuels.


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