Commentary

Kyoto’s Chilling Effects

The former head of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which bills itself as the “consensus of scientists,” has finally made it official: if your research indicates global warming isn’t such a big deal, then it shouldn’t be published.

Last May, Evan DeLucia and 10 colleagues placed a landmark study in the journal Science demonstrating that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide makes loblolly pine (perhaps the most important commercially grown tree species in the world) grow like topsy. Specifically, they found that, compared with today’s growth, the amount of annual growth will increase by a whopping 25 percent per year by 2050 if we continue to put more carbon dioxide into the air.

The study was doubly important because it also found that this “carbon dioxide fertilization effect” was over twice what computer models said it should be. These are the same models that predict climate gloom and doom if we don’t dramatically restrict our use of fossil fuels, and they are the beasts that provide the scientific cover for the onerous Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Climate Treaty. The Kyoto Protocol requires that late in the next decade the United States reduce emissions of carbon dioxide — the main greenhouse gas contributed by humans - by over 40 percent, compared with what we would emit if we just continued upon our merry Dow 11,000 economic way.

The Kyoto Protocol currently enjoys the support of 11 senators. Sixty-seven aye votes are required for ratification. Both Democrats and Republicans can agree that Kyoto will wreck our economy, according to just about every credible study that uses realistic policy assumptions. DeLucia’s study further implies that the overall scientific hypothesis of rapidly increasing atmospheric carbon is wrong because plants are so good at absorbing it and turning the earth greener. If the findings extend globally, by 2050 the world’s forests will eat up fully half of the CO2 emitted from the combustion of fossil fuels, thus making Kyoto irrelevant. An earlier study by S. Fan, also published in Science, found that North American forests are growing so rapidly that they are actually taking a bit more carbon dioxide out of the air every year than we put in! In other words, despite our humongous economic engine, our continent is a net “sink” (depository) for dreaded greenhouse gasses, rather than a source.

NASA global warming firebrand James Hansen, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, speculated that the reason rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has slowed in recent decades is because “apparently, the rate of uptake by CO2 sinks, either the ocean, or more likely, forests and soils, has increased.”

Enough of this, said Bert Bolin, the first head of the IPCC. Having held that position makes him, more than anyone else, largely responsible for the Kyoto Protocol. The initial 1988 charge from the General Assembly to the IPCC was “to initiate action leading as soon as possible … for elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on climate.”

The IPCC went on to describe itself as “an intergovernmental mechanism aimed at providing the basis for the development of a realistic and effective internationally accepted strategy for addressing climate change.” Our greening planet is becoming an impediment to the IPCC’s mission. So Bolin penned a letter to Science stating, “In the current, post-Kyoto international political climate, scientific statements about the behavior of the terrestrial carbon cycle must be made with care… .” It was also signed by four other very big wigs in global environmental science.

Translation: scientists had better consider not publishing results that might undermine support for Kyoto, signed, The Boss. But this chilling effect proved to be too much even for proponents of Kyoto, such as the International Council of Scientific Unions. Mihkel Arber, its head, shot back: “Your letter on the need to temper scientific findings with political considerations, published in Science today, is a chilling testimonial to the current trend to limit objective reason in deference to political ambitions… . The open rebuke of a scientific, peer-reviewed paper on political grounds … is unacceptable to the scientific community and serves only to tarnish the scientific reputation [of those who signed the letter]. Your letter confirms … the observation that a disturbing amount of politically correct research is being done with little care for scientific accuracy.”

For years the IPCC’s chief scientist was Sir John Houghton, who wrote in 1996 that climate change is a “moral issue.” Before an important 1996 UN conference in Geneva that greased the skids for the Kyoto Protocol, he wrote of his agreement with the World Council of Churches, calling on governments “to adopt firm, clear policies and targets [i.e., Kyoto] and [for] the public to accept the necessary consequences.” Going further, he stated that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will “contribute powerfully to the material salvation of the planet from mankind’s greed and indifference.”

This is the chilled environment in which the secular scientist now works. Leaders of the world’s premier scientific organizations on climate change publicly call for the suppression of research findings and invoke religion, not science, as the basis for policy.

But the truth of the matter is that those pine trees keep growing, and our continent continues to become greener. There’s no force in the world — not even the former head of the IPCC — that can stop this. Trees don’t care who or what is politically correct (even if wooden presidential candidates do).

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute.