Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Beavers and Atoms

This article, from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, is another reminder of how quickly trends scientists are “sure about”, turn out to be wrong.

The global natural sciences are still in their infancy, and though we are able to do wondrous things, we still have difficulty predicting the weather accurately, which by itself, should remind us of that infancy and restore some humility to our lofty trend pronouncements calling for global action.

Straightforward technology however, such as dams and nucelar power, are what we are good at, produce clear results, come from the natural world--beavers and atoms--and need broader acceptance, in our country, as the vital tools they are.

Here is an excerpt.

Kyoto? No Go.
How to combat "global warming" without destroying the economy.
BY PETE DU PONT Tuesday, March 28, 2006 12:01 a.m.

Did the 1970s mark the beginning of an ice age? Scientists and the press thought so. In 1971 Global Ecology forecast the "continued rapid cooling of the earth." The New York Times reported in 1975 that "many signs" suggest that the "earth may be headed for another ice age," and Science magazine that this cooling could be the beginning of "a full-blown 10,000-year ice age." It seemed sensible because, as NASA data show, there was indeed a 30-year, 0.2-degree Celsius cooling trend from 1940 to 1970.

So are we now at the beginning of a global warming catastrophe? Again, scientists and the press think so: the same NASA data indicates a 0.7-degree warming trend from 1970 to 2000. The Washington Post's David Ignatius reflects the media view in saying that "human activity is accelerating dangerous changes in the world's climate."

But it is not clear that human activity is wholly responsible. The Washington Policy Center reports that Mount Rainier in Washington state grew cooler each year from 1960 to 2003, warming only in 2004. And Mars is warming significantly. NASA reported last September that the red planet's south polar ice cap has been shrinking for six years. As far as we know few Martians drive SUVs or heat their homes with coal, so its ice caps are being melted by the sun--just as our Earth's are. Duke University scientists have concluded that "at least 10 to 30 percent of global warming measured during the past two decades may be due to increased solar output."

So what is causing these cooling and warming increases? Normal temperature trends? Solar radiation changes? Or human-caused global warming? There is little we can do about historical temperature or solar heat cycles, but if human actions are in fact causing global warming, what could be done to reduce it?

One remedy is improved technology, and here America is making significant progress. Philip Deutch's article in the December edition of Foreign Policy lays it out: "Today's cars use only 60 percent of the gasoline they did in 1972; new refrigerators about one third the electricity; and it now takes 55 percent less oil and gas than in 1973 to generate the same amount of gross domestic product." The cost of wind power production is down 80% over 20 years, and "the cost of solar power has fallen from almost $1 per kilowatt to less than 18 cents."

On the other hand, there are some remedies that are not being pursued. "More than 50 percent of U.S. consumers," Deutch notes, "have the option of buying electricity generated from renewable energy sources. . . . Only 1 or 2 percent actually do." And while two dozen low-pollution nuclear power plants are under construction in nine nations (and another 40 are planned), in America government regulation has virtually stopped nuclear plant construction. Our last nuclear plant was ordered in 1973 and completed in 1996, and no others are under construction.