]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]        CLIMATE OF FEAR       [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[
           The Greenhouse Effect May Be Mostly Hot Air    (2/28/89)
                      by Jonathan R. Laing
     From Barron's, vol. 69, no. 9 (27 February 1989), p. 6

          [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   Weather and rain are on a  lot of Americans' minds these days.
The freakishly warm  and dry January  in much of  the U.S. seemed
only to reinforce a conviction that Mother Nature was somehow out
of kilter.  Reservoir levels and water tables are dangerously low
from New England to Georgia. Communities in eastern Massachusetts
are already  bracing for water-conservation  programs because the
reservoir problem has  only been compounded  by the likelihood of
inadequate snow run-off.  Likewise a poor snow pack in the Sierra
Madre mountains imperils  cotton and alfalfa  farming next summer
in some areas of Southern California.
   Meanwhile,  a  large  area  of  the  Corn  Belt  west  of  the
Mississippi  continues   to  suffer   from  insufficient  subsoil
moisture despite mostly  adequate rain and  snow cover since last
summer's drought. Proper soybean  and corn root development can't
take place without this reserve  being replenished.  And the U.S.
winter wheat crop, now lying  dormant in the southern tier Plains
States  of  Texas,  Oklahoma, Kansas  and  Nebraska  could suffer
irreversible damage if spring rains fail to materialize. Moisture
was  mostly  poor  when  the crop  was  planted  in  the  fall --
particularly in  the key growing  area of Kansas,  which has been
dry ever since.  Conditions are  even worse in the northern Great
Plains, where the spring wheat crop has yet to be planted. ``This
may be the biggest problem area  of all because moisture is never
abundant here in  the best of circumstances  and droughts tend to
persist,'' observes  Peter Leavitt,  executive vice  president of
Weather   Services   Corp.,   a   private   Bedford,  Mass.-based
meteorological  service used  by  many commodity  speculators and
   Of  course, as  any  grizzled commodity  traders  [sic] knows,
crops  are often  killed  many times  on  their way  to bountiful
harvests.  But adding  an edge  to the  general concern  over the
weather  is  the  hysteria that  developed  last  summer  after a
handful of prominent scientists and environmentalists warned of a
nascent  pattern  of  uncontrollable   global  warming.   In  the
hothouse  atmosphere of  the summer  heat  wave, the  once quaint
scientific   notion   of  the   ``greenhouse   effect''  flowered
luxuriantly into accepted fact.
   Simply put, the  theory holds that  ever-increasing amounts of
carbon dioxide  (CO2), methane  and other  ``trace gases'' spewed
into  the atmosphere  by  industry, agriculture  and  other human
activities is  trapping too  much solar  heat and  reflecting the
warmth back to earth.   According to some greenhouse researchers,
global  mean temperatures  have already  risen nearly  one degree
Fahrenheit in the  past century and could  climb another three to
eight degrees by the middle of  the next century.  This, in turn,
could  unleash an  Old  Testament succession  of  calamities from
endemic droughts and heat waves  to rising seas and killer floods
and typhoons.  The fact that the  1988 drought also was the first
since  the Depression  to coincide  with a  national Presidential
election year only served to heighten the hubbub.
   To some scientists,  even a return  to the dismal  days of the
Dust Bowl would be preferable to the long-term climate conditions
they see lying ahead.  For they fear that the Drought of 1988 was
merely a  prologue to a  dangerous trend in  global warming.  The
Armageddon  of  the  greenhouse  effect  is  deemed  the ultimate
payback for mankind's abuse of  the environment in the same sense
that  depression is  the  ultimate consequence  of indiscriminate
credit practices and  AIDS the punishment  for promiscuous sexual
habits.  One gets what one deserves.
   The theory of global warming  was first propounded in the late
19th century by Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius [1859-1927; 1903
Nobel Prize in  Chemistry].  He predicted  that as the Industrial
Revolution gathered force and more coal-burning factories boosted
the amount of  CO2 released into the  atmosphere, the earth would
warm  markedly.   It  wasn't all  bad  news  for  Scandinavia, of
course.  Northern  climes would  benefit from  warmer weather and
longer growing seasons.
   The greenhouse theory enjoyed a  new vogue during the 'Fifties
when the summers grew hotter  than normal.  Its leading proponent
then was Roger  Revelle, the director  of Scripps Institution for
Oceanography.  And though cooling  temperatures in the subsequent
two decades sent  the theory into hibernation,  it was kept alive
by environmentalists and ``soft energy path'' supporters.
   But all that changed  on June 23 of  last year [1988] during a
Senate Committee hearing  on global warming.   That day, James E.
Hansen, a  physicist and  chief of  NASA's Goddard  Institute for
Space Studies,  testified to a  hushed, crowded  chamber that the
greenhouse effect,  far from  being a  theoretical construct, had
arrived  with stunning  certainty.  He  based his  conclusions on
global   temperature   and  climate   data   showing   that  mean
temperatures  had  risen  by nearly  one  degree  since  the 19th
century.  Moreover, he maintained that an elaborate NASA computer
model indicated a consistent relationship between the rise in CO2
and other trace gases in the atmosphere and temperatures.
   The  appearance was  a  bombshell, and  the  greenhouse theory
attracted plenty of media attention  in the weeks ahead.  For the
fit between  scientific theory and  reality seemed  too close for
coincidence with the drought ravaging  the corn and soybean crops
in the Midwest  and the heat  wave withering much  of the rest of
the country.
   Climate experts and conservationists  repeated the notion that
the decade of the 'Eighties had seen four of the hottest years on
record.  This was  a consequence of  a 25% rise  in CO2 levels in
the atmosphere since  the dawn of  the Industrial Revolution, and
the situation was destined  only to get worse  as the gas buildup
doubled by the middle of  the next century.  According to several
oft-cited computer models,  these elevated gas  levels would mean
an increase in global mean temperature of three to 10 degrees.
   The news stories left little  to the imagination.  The verdant
growing areas of  the Midwest might  migrate to Canada, rendering
Iowa a parched wasteland.  Ocean levels might rise six to 10 feet
as the  polar icecap melted  and water  expanded, threatening not
only the Netherlands and Bagladesh [sic] but also Malibu and Cape
Cod.  Eastern  cities would  be choked  with smog  while the West
faced blazing temperatures and  raging forest fires.  Devastating
typhoons  and hurricanes  would visit  many  areas of  the globe.
Aquifiers from Florida  to Long Island  would become tainted with
sea water.  In short, ecological disaster loomed.
   Contributing to  the greenhouse effect  are a  myriad of human
activities,  according  to  the  theory.   CO2,  for  example, is
discharged  variously by  automobiles,  and by  power  plants and
factories powered  by coal, oil  and natural gas.   Adding to the
effluvium in the atmosphere is  methane gas, which is a byproduct
of  wood  burning,  rice  farming,  garbage  dumps  and livestock
flatulence.  Chemical fertilizers and car emissions are, in turn,
releasing nitrous oxides into the atmosphere.  And finally, there
are  chlorofluorocarbons from  plastic foam,  industrial solvents
and refrigerator coolants thaj`r&cNot only blamed for shredding
the earth'͗zone  layer in the stratosphere  but also for adding
to the gaseous witches' brew in the atmosphere below.
   Of course, naturally occurring CO2  in the atmosphere is a key
element in making the  earth habitable.  Without this atmospheric
blanket,  which both  admits sunlight  and  then reflects  back a
portion of the  infra-red radiation emitted  by earth, the planet
would suffer the icy temperatures of a Mars.
   But  more  than a  century  of fossil-fuel  burning  and other
pollution  has  irretrievably  upset  this  natural  balance, say
greenhouse theorists.  To make matters worse, warming oceans will
give  off  rather  than  soak   up  CO2.   Further,  the  earth's
fast-disappearing rain forests  can't be counted  on to absorb as
much CO2 as formerly.
   The greenhouse furor already has sparked a flurry of activity.
Several Senate bills have  been introduced proposing drastic cuts
in the emission of fossil  fuels.  An international conference in
Canada last summer  attended by a  number of government officials
featured  speeches  by the  prime  ministers of  both  Canada and
Norway  calling for  an international  agreement on  the problem.
Much pressure  is being  applied to  Brazil and  other developing
nations by  international agencies  to curb  their destruction of
the  environment  in industrializing.   Funding  is  building for
additional academic research on the question.
   Even  the nuclear  lobby is  quietly galvanizing,  for nuclear
reactors emit no CO2.  Nuclear proponents make strange bedfellows
with  their  erstwhile  environmentalist  opponents.   Kinder and
gentler  reactor  designs  using  safer  materials  and virtually
immune to meltdowns are  under active development (Barron's, Feb.
20).  However,  plans for the  new nukes are  being kept somewhat
under wraps  until the  industry succeeds  in getting  all of its
existing dinosaur plants activated and into the rate base.
   Skepticism  of  the  greenhouse  theory  runs  rampant  in the
scientific  community.  The  voices of  dissent have  been mostly
silent, though, because  of the natural  reluctance of scientists
to  dismiss  new  claims  without  investigation  and  deliberate
   One not so inhibited, however,  is Reid Bryson, a professor of
geology,  geography,   meteorology  and   several  other  related
disciplines  at  the  University of  Wisconsin  at  Madison.  The
69-year-old self-proclaimed  curmudgeon is  a towering  figure in
the climate field,  well-known not only  for articles in National
Geographic and his  'Seventies book classic,  Climates of Hunger,
but  also for  a large  body  of academic  work.  To  Bryson, the
memorable Senate  testimony of  NASA's Hansen  was a ``phenomenal
snow job''  and the  greenhouse theory  ``a triumph  of sociology
over science.''
   According to Bryson, a number of problems exist with the world
temperature data  used by  researchers at  NASA and  elsewhere as
evidence of global warming over the past century.  For one thing,
there  are  large  gaps  in  the  geographical  coverage  of  the
readings, including  the vast  reaches of  the south  Pacific and
south Indian oceans.
   In his testimony  last June, Hansen  confidently asserted that
1988 was  likely to  be the  warmest year  on record  barring any
``remarkable and improbable''  cooling over the  remainder of the
year.  Well, the tropical Pacific Ocean did cool drastically even
as he was speaking.   An enormous cold front  also settled over a
remote area of Siberia as large as the Great Plains.  So did 1988
set a global heat record?  It  depends on what data set one looks
at and which  ``experts'' one consults.   ``People's myopia about
climate occurrences is amazing,'' huffs Bryson.
   At  the  same  time,  a  goodly  part  of  any  rise  in  U.S.
temperatures is  apparently due to  a phenomenon  called the heat
island effect.  Namely, large heat-radiating cities have grown up
around once isolated  temperature-reading stations.  Airports are
not only popular thermometer sites but hot ones.
   Bryson  is  also  disdainful  of  the  global-climate computer
models  of NASA  and other  research  groups.  And  indeed, these
models   have  stumbled   in  a   number  of   respects.   Global
temperatures in the past hundred  years have risen less than half
as  much as  the models  would  have imputed,  given the  rise in
atmospheric CO2  levels.  Also, a  number of  telltale effects of
global  warming predicted  by the  models  haven't come  to pass.
More warming  seems to have  occurred in  the Southern Hemisphere
(which is 90% covered by  water) than in the Northern Hemisphere,
even though water is supposed to take longer to warm than land.
   ``The  models also  claim  that far-northern  latitudes should
warm the most because of  diminished heat-reflecting ice and snow
cover,  and  yet Alaska  had  record cold  this  winter,'' Bryson
observes.   ``So  here we  have  the new  computer  models, which
neither back test nor  explain contemporary weather patterns very
well, being used by the researchers and the media to make 50-year
weather forecasts.  The  models, in my  estimation, are just mule
   Even  among experts  who  accept the  greenhouse  theory, much
controversy rages over  the consequences of  the phenomenon. Some
researchers, such as Patrick Michaels, professor of environmental
sciences at  the University  of Virginia,  expect that increasing
clouds  and precipitation  could  mitigate much  of  the negative
impact of any  further temperature rise.   Several eminent Soviet
climatologists agree with this position.  ``We are already seeing
some  of  this   pattern  in  the   drastic  reduction  in  daily
temperature  ranges noted  in the  U.S. in  the past  50 years,''
Michaels asserts.  ``But the  resulting warmer nights and cooler,
cloudier days,  if it continues,  is something we  can live with.
It's  not   worth  changing   the  world's   energy  policy  for.
Particularly, when reliance on fossil fuels is likely to give way
to  cheap nuclear  power  and electrical  transmission exploiting
superconductivity and God knows what else in the next century.''
   Through the eons, nothing seems  more protean than the earth's
climate.   The  Rockies  stand now  where  an  inland  ocean once
existed.   Mysterious  changes  in   climate  have  sparked  mass
extinctions like  the disappearance  of the  dinosaurs 65 million
years  ago.   Much  of  North America  was  covered  with  ice as
recently as 12,000 years ago.
   Yet  nature  and   climate  are  also   ruled  by  cycles  and
periodicity. The counterpoint of day and night and the passage of
the seasons are the most  obvious examples.  Lunar tides follow a
distinct  monthly  pattern.  But  climatologists  have identified
many  other  cycles  that are  dictated  by  recondite, long-term
shifts and  wobbles in  the earth's orbiting  of the  sun and the
changing gravitational  pull of the  moon.  Among  the longest of
these  cycles   are  the   95,000-,  123,000-   and  413,000-year
Milankovich cycles.   The orbital  shifts and  other astronomical
activity are thought  to alter climate  by causing major movement
in  Earth's atmosphere,  seas and  continental plates,  which, in
turn, trigger ocean cooling and  warming, volcanoes and the like.
Compared with many  of these forces,  the greenhouse effect seems
ephemeral and trivial.
   One believer  in long-term weather  cycles is  Frank Koucky, a
professor of geology at College of Wooster in Ohio.  He claims to
have identified an approximate 570-year cycle of alternate global
warming and cooling in recent millennia.
   These cycles have  lasted long enough  to bring about dramatic
changes  in climate  to many  areas.   During the  cooling phase,
temperatures drop  and precipitation  increases, causing glaciers
to  advance in  northern  regions of  the  planet and  deserts to
retreat in the Middle East and elsewhere.  Then comes the warming
phase, when  glaciers recede,  deserts grow  and multiple drought
years reappear, causing farming to push Northward.
   Happily,  the  estimable professor's  data  indicate  that the
world has  reached the  peak of  the latest  warming cycle, which
extends back to the end of what came to be known in Europe as the
Little Ice Age  of the 18th  century.  And like  the previous hot
cycle in the  12th and 13th centuries  that effectively ended the
Crusades and brought decades of drought to the Great Plains, this
one will soon  give way to  a cooling phase.   ``Greenhouse or no
greenhouse, the Earth  is going to cool  noticeably over the next
50 years, by my calculations,'' Koucky told Barron's.
   His theory is the product  of years of geological surveying at
archaeological sites in  the now arid  regions of the Transjordan
desert and the Negev.  What intrigued him about many of the sites
were the corresponding  waves of occupation for  200 to 300 years
and then abandonment for several centuries that formed 500 to 500
cycles going back to Neolithic times.  History, of course, played
a role,  as some  of the  cities fell  to invading  Assyrians and
Persians in  the era before  Christ and to  Romans and Byzantines
after.  But  the seeming  metronome regularity  of the settlement
and relinquishment implied other factors.
   Koucky theorized that  these settlements, perched precariously
on the edge of  the desert, probably were  done in by drought and
cyclical advance of the desert.  ``Any single year of the drought
the inhabitants  could handle because  they always  kept seed and
breeding stock in reserve,''  he explained.  ``But multiple years
of dry weather left them no choice but to leave.''
   Buttressing  his  theory, he  says,  are  the dendrochronology
records of bristle-cone  pines in the  American Southwest.  After
carefully averaging the size of  the tree growth rings, a similar
pattern  of 560-year  cycles emerges,  according to  Koucky. Even
more  telling, Koucky  claims that  the  times of  occupation and
abandonment for the Middle Eastern  border areas and the American
Indian sites  in the Southwest  both closely matched  the wet and
dry cycles indicated by the tree rings.
   Some  years earlier,  Koucky  had done  extensive  studies and
carbon dating of  recessional moraines [moraine,  rock and debris
carried and finally deposited by  a glacier] in the U.S. Midwest.
The debris, left  layer by layer  as glaciers advanced, retreated
and readvanced between  22,000 and 12,000  B.C., yielded evidence
of a similar  550-to-600-year cycle of  warming and cooling.  The
moraines became accessible  for study only  after large cuts were
made through  them in the  early 'Sixties  during construction of
the Interstate Highway System.
   Finally, Koucky  asserts that the  rise and fall  of the water
level of Hudson Bay in Canada, as geologically preserved in beach
ridges, also shows  a matching 600-year  cycle.  In addition, the
beach  ridges  fill  in  the gap  between  the  glaciers  and the
bristle-cone pine  evidence, giving  what Koucky  asserts is more
than 20,000 years of supporting data.
   The cause of  the cycle Koucky  hypothesizes remains something
of  a  mystery.   Koucky  thinks  that  an  abstruse astronomical
phenomenon relating to  a 556-year variation  in the moon's orbit
path  around  the earth  may  trigger dramatic  changes  in ocean
currents and temperatures.  The world's  oceans, of course, are a
major   climatic   factor.    Some   other   geologists   note  a
550-to-600-year cycle in volcano  activity that might account for
the climate variations.
   If  Koucky  is   right,  the  Earth   would  escape  the  dire
consequences  of  further  global  warming.   And  that's  relief
enough.  Of  course, then people  might start  worrying about the
next great Ice Age.

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