MIT president’s letter repeats standard climate alarm claims. Here are the facts.
by Istvan Marko, J. Scott Armstrong, William M. Briggs, Kesten Green, Hermann Harde, David R. Legates, Christopher Monckton of Brenchley, and Willie Soon
In a recent letter to the MIT community, Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Rafael Reif criticized President Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement, for ignoring “consensus” climate change science. “Other nations have made it clear that the deal is not open for renegotiation,” he asserted. “And unfortunately there is no negotiating with the scientific facts. I believe all of us have a responsibility to stand up for concerted global action to combat and adapt to climate change.”
Fortunately, contrary to Professor Reif’s claims, the actual current scientific understanding of Earth’s climate dispels the popular delusion that any global warming is manmade and will be dangerous. That means adhering to the Paris agreement would be “a bad deal for America,” and not only on economic and equity grounds, as President Trump stated.
It would also be a terrible deal on scientific grounds, because evidence-based science clearly shows that the agreement would do nothing to prevent or control global warming or climate change, despite the trillions of dollars it would cost the United States and world.
CO2 did not cause the warming since the Little Ice Age
There is no science unambiguously establishing that the tiny portion of carbon dioxide (CO2) in our Earth’s atmosphere (400 parts per million or 0.04%) is the primary cause of the warming observed since the Little Ice Age ended in the mid-nineteenth century. In fact, science has repeatedly demonstrated the opposite, while also showing the benefits of more carbon dioxide and warming.
Ice cores have revealed that changes in CO2 concentration follow rather than precede changes in temperature. As the latest high-resolution records show, during the last deglaciation, atmospheric CO2 lagged temperature increases by 50 to 500 years.
Professor Ole Humlum and colleagues have demonstrated that changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration follow changes in temperature in the short term too, after about 8-11 months. There is a time-lag between changes in temperature and consequent changes in CO2 concentration, caused by outgassing of carbon dioxide from the oceans when they warm and uptake by the oceans as they cool.
Human activities and industries are actually restoring some of the CO2 that was formerly present in the atmosphere, prior to the five-century Little Ice Age, and a little warming may be expected from that small amount of carbon dioxide. But that warming will be small and beneficial, further helping the extra CO2 to spur flower garden, food crop and wild plant growth.
Indeed, plant life has a role in determining atmospheric CO2 concentrations. As higher concentrations help plants grow faster and bigger, and become more plentiful, the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 has slowed down , because plants are absorbing and utilizing prodigious amounts of this “gas of life.” Human contributions to atmospheric CO2 thus affect fluctuations in atmospheric CO2, but not much. This article’s coauthor Hermann Harde has reached similar conclusions.
Professor Reif’s assertion that global temperatures can be controlled by an international agreement that regulates our “sins of emission” is thus at odds with scientific knowledge on cause and effect. King Canute’s warning to his English courtiers in 1032 AD – that even the divinely-anointed monarch could not command sea level – should be heeded by intergovernmental agencies a millennium later.
The Professor’s assertion is also logically invalid, since the Paris Agreement permits China, India and other developing countries to industrialize and burn fossil fuels, with no limit on their emissions and no date by which they must stop. That means major energy and economic sacrifices by the USA and other industrialized nations would not “save humanity” even if the “dangerous manmade global warming” hypothesis were true.
The Paris treaty is not about climate change
In actual intent and practice, the Paris Agreement is a political tool for suppressing growth, instituting global governance over energy use and economic growth, and redistributing wealth.
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, former chairman of the IPCC, clearly spelled out that aim. Ms. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change until last year, openly stated that it was not about climate but that, for the first time, it gave them the tools to replace capitalism. Former UNFCCC section director Ottmar Edenhofer bluntly said climate agreements are actually about how “we de facto redistribute the world’s wealth by climate policy.”
Under the Paris accords, developed nation payments to the “Green Climate Fund” (for redistribution to underdeveloped countries) are to begin at $100 billion per year, of which the US share would have been $23.5 billion had President Trump not taken the United States out of the agreement. Ms. Figueres has suggested that $450 billion a year by 2030 would be appropriate, Competitive Enterprise Institute climate expert Myron Ebell notes.
Concerning the transition away from fossil fuels, during its October 7-9, 2016 annual group meeting, the IMF and World Bank declared: “One estimate suggests that around US $90 trillion will need to be invested by 2030 in infrastructure, agriculture and energy systems, to accomplish the Paris Agreement. …[S]et against the US $300 trillion of assets – held by banks, capital markets and institutional investors – we’re faced with a problem of allocation, rather than outright scarcity.”
Consensus science is not science
Professor Reif’s letter further states, “At MIT we take great care to get the science right. The scientific consensus is overwhelming.”
The late physician, researcher and author Michael Crichton said in his 2003 Caltech Michelin Lecture: “In science consensus is irrelevant. … There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”
Indeed, consensus is a political notion. Doubt is the seed corn of science. As Abu Ali ibn al-Haytham explained the role of scientists in the eleventh century,
“The seeker after truth does not place his faith in any mere consensus, however venerable or widespread. Instead, he subjects what he has learned of it to his hard-won scientific knowledge, and to investigation, inspection, inquiry, checking, checking and checking again. The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.”
The alleged “consensus” about climate is nothing more than an agreement that temperatures have warmed in the past 300 years, and perhaps an agreement that human activities may have played some role. However, the degree and causes of warming are hotly debated among climatologists. Even today, measuring global temperature is subject to errors, biases, missing data and subjective adjustments.
The use of satellite data to estimate global average temperature is relatively new, and employs a completely different temperature measurement method than used by older methods. Nevertheless, the satellite data and balloon data have provided essentially identical estimates. Neither displays a worrying trend.
In addition, both satellite and balloon data are increasingly at odds with surface temperature records, many of which have been adjusted to show more warming than presented in the original raw data. They are also contrary to the alarming projections of computer climate models on which the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and many national governments have relied.
Scientists agree that climate changes. It has done so since the first wisps of the Earth’s atmosphere formed. However, they disagree on the causes of climate changes, including the mild warming since the Little Ice Age. Coauthor David Legates found that only 0.3% of 11,944 peer-reviewed articles on climate and related topics, published from 1991 to 2011, explicitly stated that recent warming was mostly manmade. His finding reflects other analyses that also debunked claims of consensus.
The world is not experiencing the predicted warming
Professor Reif also wrote: “As human activities emit more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the global average surface temperature will continue to rise, driving rising sea levels and extreme weather.” His assertions are at odds with actual observations and scientific forecasting.
In the last 20 years, humans have released over a third of all the CO2 produced since the beginning of the industrial period. Yet global mean surface temperature has remained essentially constant for at least 15 years – a fact that has been acknowledged by the IPCC, whose models failed to predict it.
NOAA’s State of the Climate report for 2008 said that periods of 15 years or more without warming would indicate a discrepancy between prediction and observation – i.e., that the models were wrong. Just before the recent natural el Niño event raised global temperature, there had been 18 years 9 months without any global warming at all. The reliance on computer models and predictions, instead of real world observations, is thus misplaced.
In fact, the climate models relied upon by the IPCC and the politicians they advise have predicted warming at about twice the rate actually observed over the past 27 years. During that time, the Earth has warmed at 0.4° C. That is about half of the 0.75° C 27-year warming rate implicit in the IPCC’s 1990 prediction that there would be 1.0° C of warming from 1990 to 2025. (See Table 1.)
Table 1. Observed global warming, 1990-2016, compared with IPCC predictions made in 1990
Green and Armstrong (2014) conducted longer-term validation tests of the models and found that forecasts from them were much less accurate than assuming there had been no global warming at all. The relative inaccuracy of the IPCC projections increased with longer (multi-decadal) horizons. Even forecasts of natural global cooling at a rate of 1ºC per century were much more accurate over long periods than the IPCC’s projections of dangerous manmade global warming.
Ten years ago, former U.S. Vice President and prominent climate alarmist Al Gore asserted that global temperatures had reached a dangerous “tipping point,” with extreme warming imminent and unavoidable. Professor Scott Armstrong challenged Mr. Gore to a ten-year bet based on the Green-Armstrong-Soon (2009) scientific no-change forecast for global mean temperatures.
Mr. Gore declined the bet. However, TheClimateBet.com website keeps track of how the bet would have turned out. With the ten-year life of the bet due to conclude at the end of this year, the cumulative monthly error in the IPCC’s business-as-usual 0.3 ºC per decade prediction is 22% larger than the error from the benchmark prediction of no warming at all.
These facts help explain why even alarmist scientists like Ben Santer now recognize that there has been a global warming “hiatus” for more than 15 years. The facts also suggest that it makes little sense to promote “dangerous manmade global warming” that is increasingly at odds with observations.
The world is not experiencing unprecedented rising seas or extreme weather
Professor Reif further states that rising manmade greenhouse gases are “driving rising sea levels and extreme weather.” Neither is happening.
The average sea level rise since 1870 has been 1.3-1.5 mm (about a twentieth of an inch) per year, or five inches per century. Professor Nils-Axel Mörner, a renowned sea-level researcher who has published more than 500 peer-reviewed articles on this topic, has been unable to find observational evidence that supports the models’ predictions of dramatically accelerating sea level rise.
Observations over the last few decades indicate that extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes, have been decreasing, rather than increasing, both in number and in intensity. Moreover, total accumulated cyclonic energy has also been declining. As MIT Emeritus Professor Richard Lindzen has explained, the decline in storminess is a consequence of reduced temperature differentials between the tropics and exo-tropics that arise when global average temperatures are slightly warmer.
Looking at the United States, major hurricane activity is at a record low. As of June 1, 2017, it had been eleven years and seven months since a category 3 to 5 hurricane last struck the U.S. mainland. According to NOAA Hurricane Research Division data, the previous record was nine years, set in 1860-1869.
Climate change is not a military “threat multiplier”
Professor Reif further asserts: “As the Pentagon describes it, climate change is a ‘threat multiplier,’ because its direct effects intensify other challenges, including mass migrations and zero-sum conflicts over existential resources like water and food.” That may have been the official position during the Obama years, but the assertions are not supported by real world evidence.
Milder temperatures and increased CO2 levels green the planet, not brown it. Deserts are retreating and vegetation cover has increased over recent decades. The production of maize (corn), wheat, rice and soybeans is at a record high. Overall, our planet has seen more than 20% greening over the past three decades, half of which is due to the fertilization effects of more atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Forecasts of droughts are likewise not born out by experience. For example, since the now former Australian Chief Climate Commissioner Professor Tim Flannery warned that dams would no longer fill owing to lack of rain, Australia has been subjected to a series of dramatic floods, and overflowing dams. Governments’ naïve belief in Professor Flannery’s warnings appear to have led to policy actions and omissions that exacerbated flooding and failed to take full advantage of the rainfall when it came.
The most comprehensive recent study of the worldwide extent of droughts (Hao et al., 2014) found that for 30 years the percentage of the Earth’s land area suffering from drought has been declining. The latest news from South Africa is that the country is expecting the biggest maize harvest since 1981, following the high rainfall there in January and February 2017.
Although the UN Environment Program published a 2005 report predicting 50 million climate refugees by 2010, to date there have been no bona fide climate or global warming refugees or mass migrations. The one person we know of who asked to be recognized as a climate refugee had his demand rejected by the Supreme Court of New Zealand; he has since returned to his island home, where he remains safe from inundation.
While the world is currently experiencing mass migrations of refugees, they are fleeing religious persecution and violence, especially in the Middle East, and seeking freedom and prosperity. We are not aware of any evidence that they would have stayed where they were if the weather were cooler
Carbon dioxide will not linger for 1,000 years
Professor Reif asserts that “… the carbon dioxide our cars and power plants emit today will linger in the atmosphere for a thousand years.”
Moreover, as already noted, instead of being a problem, atmospheric carbon dioxide is the prime nutrient for plants. Indeed, plants grow more quickly and strongly, with better water-use efficiency and improved drought tolerance, when CO2 concentrations are much higher than they currently are. That is why commercial growers add extra CO2 to the air in their greenhouses.
The current atmospheric CO2 concentration is higher than it has been for 800,000 years, but it is still far lower than at almost any time in the previous pre-ice-age history of our planet. The pre-industrial age CO2 levels of 280 parts per million were practically starving plants, botanists say, while the current level of 400 ppm is “greening the planet.”
Far from being a pollutant, CO2 is a colorless, odorless gas that is not toxic to humans and other animals even at concentrations much higher than we are currently experiencing. It is also one of the most important fuels for phytoplankton, which use carbon dioxide for energy and raw materials to grow, and release oxygen as a product of that process. Up to 75% of the oxygen present in the air originates in freshwater and oceanic phytoplanktons’ photosynthetic water-splitting process.
Carbon dioxide is actually the miracle molecule that makes life as we know it on Earth possible.
Moreover, during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras there were long periods during which the levels of CO2 were much higher than today, but the temperatures were far colder. We are not aware of any explanation that squares that fact with the manmade global warming theory.
Job growth statistics are highly misleading
Professor Reif says, “In 2016 alone, solar industry employment grew by 25 percent, while wind jobs grew 32%.” These numbers are highly misleading. In fact, they underscore how deficient these energy sources are as job creators.
Growing jobs by subsidy is easy, provided that one cares nothing for the far greater number of jobs destroyed by the additional taxation, energy price hikes or public borrowing necessary to pay for the subsidy. Several studies have shown that the creation of one “green” job results in the loss of two to four jobs elsewhere in the economy. In Spain the estimated ratio was two jobs lost for each one created by renewable energy, prompting the government to finally end most renewable subsidies.
And yet, despite all those subsidies, wind and solar power generation expensively and unreliably account for 5.6% and 0.9% of total U.S. electricity production, respectively. On its own, electricity provides only a small fraction of total energy consumption, including transportation, industrial processes, heating and electricity generation, so these numbers actually exaggerate the contribution of wind and solar facilities to overall energy consumption.
Viewed from another perspective, EIA data reveal it took nearly 400,000 solar workers (about 20% of electric power payrolls) to produce just 0.9% of all the electric power generated in the United States in 2016. About the same number of natural gas workers (398,000) produced 37 times more electricity – and just 160,000 coal workers produced almost as much electricity as those gas workers. Moreover, gas and coal provide power nearly 100% of the time, compared to 15-25% of the time for most solar (and wind) installations. Wind employment numbers reflect this same pattern.
The so-called alternative energy companies survive only because of heavy subsidies, power purchase mandates, supportive regulations, and exemptions from endangered species and other rules that are applied forcefully to fossil fuel industries. Wind and solar electricity is cripplingly expensive for families, hospitals, schools, churches, small businesses and other customers.
In fact, “alternative” or “renewable” energy is often unprofitable even after massive subsidies from taxpayers. For example, SunEdison received $1.5 billion in subsidies and loan guarantees, and yet it was compelled to file for bankruptcy. Solyndra is another example. This is unsustainable.
Europe is suffering from growing political rejection of fossil fuels: energy prices have soared, millions of poor people are unable to pay their energy bills, and elderly people are dying because they cannot afford adequate heating in the winter. Energy-intensive businesses are relocating to countries where energy is cheaper – thereby transferring fossil fuel use, carbon dioxide emissions and job creation to other nations, especially in Asia. Theirs is not an example the United States should wish to follow.
By withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, President Trump did a wonderful thing for America and the world. He showed that advocacy masquerading as science should not be the basis for public policy decisions. We hope others will follow his lead.
Update: Since a version of this article originally appeared as an “open letter” to President Reif, his office has issued a follow-up letter, once again invoking the argument that his position is supported by a “consensus” of climate scientists. William M. Briggs and Christopher Monckton of Brenchley offer their answer to his office here.
Istvan Marko is professor of organic chemistry and medicine at the Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium; he did his post-doctoral work organometallic catalysis with Nobel Prize Laureate K. Barry Sharpless at MIT. Scott Armstrong is an author, forecasting and marketing expert, and professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; he received his PhD from MIT. William Briggs is a data philosopher, epistemologist, probability puzzler, bioethicist and statistician to the stars. Kesten Green researches and writes on forecasting methods and applications at the University of South Australia Business School.
Hermann Harde is professor of atomic, molecular and optical physics, experimental physics and optics at Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg, Germany. David R. Legates is professor of climatology at the University of Delaware and a former Delaware State Climatologist. Christopher Monckton received his BA in journalism studies from University College, Cardiff, England; he served as special advisor to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, 1982-1986. Willie Soon is a scientist based in Cambridge, MA.