Perhaps no environmental issue arouses more fierce partisan debate than global warming.
On the one side are environmentalists and many scientists, on the other many governments and businessmen, who decry both the phenomena and the attendant costs in dealing with it. The debate was opened by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol climate treaty and has raged ever since. While the Clinton administration supported it, the Bush administration simply walked away from it.
On 7 June 2005 the U.S. National Academy of Sciences posted a statement on its website noting, “The U.S. National Academy of Sciences joined 10 other national science academies today in calling on world leaders, particularly those of the G8 countries meeting next month in Scotland, to acknowledge that the threat of climate change is clear and increasing, to address its causes, and to prepare for its consequences. Sufficient scientific understanding of climate change exists for all nations to identify cost-effective steps that can be taken now to contribute to substantial and long-term reductions in net global greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. The statement echoes the findings and recommendations of several previous reports by the U.S. National Academies.”
The other signators included the Academia Brasileira de Ciéncias, Royal Society of Canada, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Académie des Sciences (France), Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher (Germany), Indian National Science Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy), Science Council of Japan, Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Royal Society (Britain.)
The joint statement emphasized that climate change was occurring and could be attributed mostly to human activities, and calling for efforts to tackle both the causes of climate change and the inevitable consequences of past and unavoidable future emissions.
Under the heading “Climate change is real,” using United Nations defines climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods,” the declaration stated, “There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring. The evidence comes from direct measurements of rising surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures and from phenomena such as increases in average global sea levels, retreating glaciers, and changes to many physical and biological systems. It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities.”
The report noted, “As nations and economies develop over the next 25 years, world primary energy demand is estimated to increase by almost 60%. Fossil fuels, which are responsible for the majority of carbon dioxide emissions produced by human activities, provide valuable resources for many nations and are projected to provide 85% of this demand. Minimizing the amount of this carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere presents a huge challenge.”
It was this emphasis on fossil fuels producing the majority of CO2 emissions that drove detractors of the concept of global warming, especially energy companies, into fits, seeing the concept as a direct threat to their profits. Other notable greenhouse gases generated by human activity include methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), per fluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which are generated in a variety of industrial processes.
Interestingly, the day after the report was issued The New York Times reported that Philip A. Cooney, chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the administration of President George W. Bush, “In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003… Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports. The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of the phrase ‘significant and fundamental’ before the word ‘uncertainties,’ tend to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust.”
The New York Times reported of Cooney’s background, “Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the ‘climate team leader’ and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific training.”
Two days after the New York Times piece was published Cooney resigned his post even as claimed that Cooney’s decision was in no way influenced by the New York Times disclosures.
A week later it was announced that Cooney was going to work for ExxonMobil.
While a favorite phrase of President Bush's was "sound science," detractors of global warming quickly came to label the research underpinning the concept as “fuzzy science,” a label that has stuck ever since, much to the fury of the scientific community and environmentalists.
Let us leave the last word on the topic for the moment to the academicians, who in 2005 ended their appeal with “Mobilize the science and technology community to enhance research and development efforts, which can better inform climate change decisions.” But the declaration also included a proffered hand to the energy community if they are astute enough to grasp it - “Show leadership in developing and deploying clean energy technologies and approaches to energy efficiency, and share this knowledge with all other nations.”
Seven years later, the world’s leading scientists are still waiting for international energy companies to cease being obstructionist and to show some “leadership.” If the past is anything to go by, the scientists will need to exercise the patience of Job.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com