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Global Warming Benefits Outweigh Harms

[Editor's note: This is the third article in a series by scientist/astronaut Walter Cunningham, who was the pilot of the Apollo 7 space mission and possesses a master's degree in physics. Cunningham has served on the Advisory Board for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  First Article  -  Second Article]

Without the greenhouse effect to keep our world warm, the planet would have an average temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius. Because we do have it, the temperature is a comfortable plus 15 degrees Celsius.

Other inconvenient facts ignored by the activists: Carbon dioxide is a non-polluting gas that is essential for plant photosynthesis. Higher concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere produce bigger crop harvests and larger and healthier forests--results environmentalists used to like.

There are legitimate reasons to restrict emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere. Recycling makes sense and protecting the environment is good for everyone. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking we can change the temperature of the Earth by doing these things.

The Missing Effects of Global Warming
For the past decade, according to highly accurate measurements taken from satellites, there has been no global warming. Even though atmospheric CO2 has continued to accumulate-up about 4 percent in the past 10 years-the global mean temperature has remained flat. That should raise obvious questions about CO2 being the cause of climate change.Orbiting satellites gather temperature readings around the globe, accurate to 0.1 degree Celsius. Warming in the upper atmosphere should occur before any surface warming effect, but NASA's data show that has not been happening. Interestingly, in the 18 years those satellites have been recording global temperatures, they actually have shown a slight decrease in average temperatures. The images shown in Figure 6 reveal that the expected "fingerprint" of warming in the upper atmosphere is missing.


In spite of warnings of severe consequences from rising seas, droughts, severe weather, species extinction, and other disasters, the record shows little if any evidence of such effects. With scientific evidence being ignored, emotional arguments and anecdotal data are ruling the day. The media subjects us to one frightening image of environmental nightmares after another, linking each to global warming. Journalists and activist scientists use hurricanes, wildfires, and starving polar bears to appeal to our emotions, not our reason. They are far more concerned with anecdotal observations of such things as frozen sea ice inside the Arctic Circle than they are with understanding why it is happening and how frequently it has occurred in the past.

Real-World Observations
A report by a team of 40 scientists from a dozen countries, released in June 2009, found the following:

  • "The average temperature history of Antarctica provides no evidence of twentieth century warming."
  • "The results of several research studies argue strongly against claims that CO2-induced global warming would cause catastrophic disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets.
  • "The mean rate of global sea level rise has not accelerated over the recent past. The determinants of sea level are poorly understood due to considerable uncertainty associated with a number of basic parameters that are related to the water balance of the world's oceans and the meltwater contribution of Greenland and Antarctica."
  • "[D]espite the supposedly "unprecedented" warming of the twentieth century, there has been no increase in the intensity or frequency of tropical cyclones globally or in any of the specific oceans."

After warnings that 2007 would be the hottest year on record and a record year for hurricanes, we experienced, in 2008, the coolest year since 2001 and, by some measures, the most benign hurricane season in the Northern Hemisphere in three decades.

Even though recent changes in our atmosphere are all within the bounds of the Earth's natural variability, a growing number of people seem willing to throw away trillions of dollars on fruitless solutions. It's ridiculous to allow emotional appeals and anecdotal data to shape our conclusions and influence our expenditures when real science and technology are at our fingertips.

Based on the seasonal and geographic distribution of any projected warming, a good case can be made that today's temperature is not as beneficial for humans as a warmer world temperature would be.


Walter Cunningham (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) maintains the Web site.

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