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We Think the Scientist Doth Protest Too Much
Volume 3, Number 28: 25 October 2000

In "An Open Letter on Global Warming" dated 15 October 2000 and posted on the web, NASA's James Hansen complains about what he considers to be the negative spin put on a paper that he and several colleagues wrote, which was published in the 15 August 2000 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (see our Journal Review Then Again ? Rethinking Climate Change).  He objects to the interpretations of several journalists, science writers and the leadership of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who suggest his most recent work provides fodder for climate realists (such as us) who say there is no need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to prevent potential global warming.  Hansen's own assessment of the implications of his paper, however, is perhaps the most egregious misinterpretation of them all.

As we have noted previously (see our Editorial of 16 August 2000), we have no problem with the scientific findings of the Hansen et al. article, just as we have no problem with Hansen's restatement of the findings in his Open Letter: (1) climate forcing by CO2, the primary greenhouse gas produced by the burning of fossil fuels, is about 1.4 Wm-2, (2) climate forcing by other greenhouse gases is also about 1.4 Wm-2, (3) the net climate forcing of aerosols produced by the burning of fossil fuels is of approximately the same value but of opposite sign, i.e., -1.4 Wm-2, and (4) the net aerosol climate forcing compensates, on average, for about one-half of the total greenhouse gas-induced climate forcing.

These are the answers produced by the important work of Hansen and his colleagues.  The key question that must be asked, however, is this: for which of the two positive greenhouse gas-induced climate forcings does the negative aerosol-induced climate forcing compensate?  We say, and we assume all rational persons would agree, that it is the CO2-induced forcing that is produced by the burning of fossil fuels; for it is the burning of fossil fuels that also produces the aerosols!

It's really a no-brainer: the burning of fossil fuels produces a CO2-induced climate forcing of 1.4 Wm-2, while it simultaneously produces an aerosol-induced climate forcing of -1.4 Wm-2.  Is there anybody who cannot add these two numbers correctly? ... who cannot see that the net climate forcing provided by the singular phenomenon of the burning of fossil fuels is zero?

Yes, the journalists, science writers and even (dare we say it?) the Union of Concerned Scientists are right: the facts of the Hansen et al. paper argue most emphatically that the burning of fossil fuels has had, continues to have, and will in the future have, essentially no impact on global climate.  One small caveat that Hansen notes in his letter is that some non-CO2 greenhouse gases are also produced by the burning of fossil fuels; but he rightly states that they are "not essential products of fossil fuel burning," which means that with improvements in technology they can be eliminated, so that the primary conclusion of the Hansen et al. paper still stands: the net climatic forcing produced by the complete and proper burning of fossil fuels is zero.

This being the case, why does Hansen state in his Open Letter that he and his colleagues "recommend immediate attention" to three policy matters, namely, "improved energy efficiency, continuing decarbonization of the fuel source, and development of renewable energy sources," when their own data show that the burning of fossil fuels has no net impact on the temperature of the planet?  And why does he further say that "governments may want to consider limiting subsidies for fossil fuels and perhaps gradually adding an assessment to fuel price?"  [How hard it is to say tax!]

The only explanation that presents itself to our minds is that the story told by the data of Hansen et al. is about as politically incorrect as it can possibly be, and that it therefore cannot be tolerated by the establishment.  The insidious forces that hold the leaders of so many of the nations of the world so tightly in their grip have advanced so far along in their campaign to restructure the nature of humanity's presence on the planet that they will not retreat, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that totally contradicts their primary thesis, i.e., their claim that the burning of fossil fuels is anathema to the welfare of the world.  It is extremely difficult to hold to the truth in the face of such widespread and intense opposition; and it would appear that Dr. Hansen has failed this important test by attempting to repudiate what his own facts clearly indicate to be the case, i.e., that the burning of fossil fuels produces no net impetus for global warming.

We are sorry to have to produce such a sad commentary on Hansen's machinations with respect to the implications of the original Hansen et al. paper, which elicited our deserved commendation when it first appeared.  But the truth must be told.

Dr. Craig D. Idso
Dr. Keith E. Idso
Vice President

Hansen, J., Sato, M., Ruedy, R., Lacis, A. and Oinas, V.  2000.  Global warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA  97: 9875-9880.