This Week’s Headlines
A change in the weather (Editorial)
(June 24, 2014) There’s never been any doubt that something is going on up there in the atmosphere. Something turbulent, something beyond ready understanding.
Its demonstrations here at ground level have been violent: Hurricanes, flooding rains, paralyzing snow storms, record breaking summer heat.
It was that often suffocating heat in many parts of the country from which evolved the first description of this phenomenon — global warming — and a cause celebre for the burgeoning environmental movement.
But clearly global warming as a description of the phenomenon was not an adequate moniker for folks digging out of a three-foot snowstorm in Illinois.
It became known, instead, as climate change, certainly a more precise description.
But for activist segments within the environmental movement, it was fresh fodder for campaigns warning against everything from global starvation to the flatulation of beef cattle.
As the scientific community continues to separate climate change fact from fiction, there has emerged a 1,062-page report from the NIPCC, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change.
The report is entitled “Climate Change Reconsidered II: Biological Impacts.” It contains thousands of citations to peer-reviewed scientific literature — and concludes that rising temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels are causing “no net harm to the global environment or to human health and often finds the opposite: net benefits to plants, including important food crops, and to animals and human health.”
Here are some of the specific findings:
Atmospheric carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is a non-toxic, non-irritating, and natural component of the atmosphere. Long-term CO2 enrichment studies confirm the findings of shorter-term experiments, demonstrating numerous growth-enhancing, water-conserving, and stress-alleviating effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 on plants growing in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. There is little or no risk of increasing food insecurity due to global warming or rising atmospheric CO2 levels.
Farmers and others who depend on rural livelihoods for income are benefitting from rising agricultural productivity around the world, including in parts of Asia and Africa where the need for increased food supplies is most critical. Rising temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels play a key role in the realization of such benefits.
Rising temperatures and atmospheric CO2 levels do not pose a significant threat to aquatic life. Many aquatic species have shown considerable tolerance to temperatures and CO2 values predicted for the next few centuries, and many have demonstrated a likelihood of positive responses in empirical studies. Any projected adverse impacts of rising temperatures or declining seawater and freshwater pH levels (“acidification”) will be largely mitigated through phenotypic adaptation or evolution during the many decades to centuries it is expected to take for pH levels to fall.
A modest warming of the planet will result in a net reduction of human mortality from temperature-related events. More lives are saved by global warming via the amelioration of cold-related deaths than are lost due to excessive heat. Global warming will have a negligible influence on human morbidity and the spread of infectious diseases.
We doubt that the stature of NIPCC can be successfully challenged. It is an international panel of scientists and scholars who first came together in 2003 to provide an independent review of the climate science cited by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. NIPCC so far has produced five major scientific reports. These reports have been endorsed by leading scientists from around the world, and have been cited in peer-reviewed journals.
And there is some evidence that the studies have altered the global debate over climate change, but certainly not to the extent of what we earthlings can do about it.
That answer may be nothing.