Commentary

How Now, Brown Cloud?

The United Nations will throw its biggest environmental party in 10 years later this month in Johannesburg. In preparation, the U.N. has rushed to publication a preliminary report about a new environmental pestilence, the so-called Asian Brown Cloud (ABC). The U.N. says the Brown Cloud will kill millions and wreck the Asian Monsoon, which is responsible for feeding about 2 billion people in one way or another. But like many U.N. environmental reports this one fails to mention some crucial points.

Nightmarish reports like the ABC have a way of appearing right before big U.N. environmental conferences — and being proven wrong not long thereafter. In 1995, a Geneva meeting, which gave rise to the infamous Kyoto Protocol on global warming, was prefaced with a breathless pronouncement that we now had climate models that matched the real atmosphere, lending credibility to gloom-and-doom forecasts of climate change. Months later, Nature magazine was compelled to publish a paper showing that the data which the U.N. cited was incomplete, and when all the numbers were put in, the correspondence vanished.

The U.N.’s most recent world environment confab occurred last fall in Marrakech. Days before that one, we learned that the poor islanders of Tuvalu were being drowned by sea level rises caused by global warming. Within days, an article appeared in Science magazine showing that sea level around Tuvalu has been falling, not rising, for most of the last 50 years.

Lest anyone think the U.N. has learned anything about its environmental misrepresentations, let’s examine the Brown Cloud story.

Summarizing the U.N.’s report, CNN said that the ABC is so awful that it has “scientists warning that it could kill millions of people in the area, and pose a global threat.” Further, the cloud “could cut rainfall over northwest Pakistan, Afghanistan, western China and west Central Asia by up to 40%.”

Sleazy air exiting Asia is nothing new to climatologists. Reid Bryson, the eminent scientist who many believe is the progenitor of the modern notion of human-induced climate change, wrote about it in the 1950s. Since then, climate scientists have searched and searched through Indian monsoon data to try to find any systematic changes, and there have been none.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at page 144 of the 2001 compendium on climate change published by the selfsame United Nations, and you won’t find any systematic changes in South Asian rainfall.

The U.N.’s pre-Johannesburg hype prompted CNN to write that the ABC “has led to some erratic weather, including flooding in Bangladesh, Nepal, and northeastern India, [and] drought in Pakistan, and northwestern India.” The fact is that there isn’t a single shred of scientific evidence to back up those claims. In fact, in its 2001 report, the U.N. noted that there’s no evidence for any systematic changes in extreme weather around the planet.

What’s really killing people in Bangladesh and causing the ABC is poverty. The place is so low-lying and poor that a tropical storm, which would harm no one in America, kills 10,000 in the Ganges Delta.

Speaking of tropical storms, they feed on the heat of the surface of the ocean. The more it warms, the more energy can be directed to spin up their fearsome winds. But the ABC blocks out sunlight, reducing the amount of warming at the ocean surface. Everything else being equal, it would reduce the frequency or magnitude of tropical storms in Bangladesh.

When we get near these worldwide gatherings, there isn’t a piece of U.N. science that isn’t political. That’s because what these meetings are about is blaming the West (read: the United States) for environmental degradation, and holding us up for money. Poverty — not America — is the cause of the ABC. Poverty requires the use of cheap fuels, such as dung, and lousy, inefficient ways of combustion, such as cooking fires. And, more than any of my green friends do, poverty recycles: Families grow, which leads to more and more dung fires, and lousier and lousier air.

Rather than shaking down the United States, the U.N. would be better advised to encourage free market development — -which everyone knows is highly correlated with cleanliness — -and discourage its favorite form of political economy, socialism. The history of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and present-day China show a clear correlation between Big Government socialism, pollution and poverty. In freer societies, there is less government, less poverty and less pollution.

It’s time for the U.N. to stop hyping pseudo-science in support of inefficient, dirty governments, and to get on with the future — -where free markets breed efficiency and environmental protection.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of “The Satanic Gases.”