Mark's environmentsal panic attack

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Jun 7 21:17:50 MDT 2000

Jose, one of the values of a newspaper like the NY Times, or an institution
like Columbia University (my employer), is that it is expected to do
serious research so that the ruling class can make political decisions.
Columbia has a Center for International Studies that has experts who can
tell you exactly what the Kurds are up to. Of course, the political
conclusions drawn from that will probably be the opposite of our own. The
Lamont-Doherty Laboratory does the same thing with respect to the climate.
Anybody who was producing "hysterical" findings at a place like
Lamont-Doherty would lose their job.

NY Times reporter William K. Stevens covers the "global warming" beat and
has a new book out on the topic. Judge for yourself if this excerpt from
his May 16th article sounds "hysterical":

Over the last 150 years, the burning of coal, oil and natural gas has
released some 270 billion tons of carbon into the air in the form of
heat-trapping carbon dioxide. If all that had stayed in the atmosphere,
much of the substantial global warming predicted for a century from now
might have already taken place.

Luckily, more than half the carbon dioxide emitted by fossil-fuel burning
is absorbed from the air by the oceans, by plants (which use it in
converting sunlight to chemical energy) and by soils. Fewer than half the
emissions, scientists believe, remain airborne to warm the earth.

All of this is part of one of nature's grand and endlessly complicated
global recycling networks. In it, carbon is constantly exchanged among the
air, the terrestrial biosphere, the oceans and the solid rock of the earth
at varying rates on time scales ranging from hours to millions of years.

Now, as the economic and political difficulty of reducing carbon dioxide
emissions at the source becomes ever more obvious, a broad-based move is
under way to manipulate the carbon cycle so that it will remove more of the
heat-trapping gases from the air. It is an ambitious idea, but on closer
inspection one surrounded by questions, potential risks and obstacles. . .

But experts associated with the report questioned how much of that
potential could be achieved, given the difficulty of actually expanding the
world's carbon sinks in practice.

"Judging the technical potential is easy," said Dr. Robert T. Watson,
chairman of the intergovernmental panel, who is also the chief atmospheric
scientist and environmental adviser of the World Bank. "The real question
is, what is the likelihood of realizing that technical potential?"

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the rich industrial countries as a group are
obligated to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions 5 percent below 1990
levels by about 2010. The reductions are widely seen as a first step in
eventually stabilizing atmospheric concentrations. If emissions are not
reduced, prominent scientists say, the average global temperature will rise
by about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. (By comparison, the world
is now 5 to 9 degrees warmer than in the depths of the last ice age 18,000
to 20,000 years ago.)

This much warming, the experts say, would bring rising seas, more severe
droughts, rainstorms, heat waves and floods, along with broad shifts in
climatic and agricultural zones that would benefit some regions but
seriously harm others.


Here is something from Lamont-Doherty. I fail to see any "hysteria" at work

Study Finds Warmer Climate in Alaska Decreases Tree Growth

A warmer climate in Alaska is not producing ever-increasing tree growth, as
expected. Instead, warmer temperatures may be slowing tree growth by
promoting moisture loss in trees and increases in tree-attacking insects
and diseases, a new study by scientists at Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth
Observatory shows.

Analyzing annual growth rings in Alaskan trees that date back to the
1680's, the scientists found that temperatures became unusually warmer
starting in the 1930's. The warming trend, which actually began early this
century, initially caused increased tree growth, but despite continuing
warm temperatures, the growth increase has declined since the 1970's, said
Gordon Jacoby and Rosanne D'Arrigo, dendrochronologists at Lamont-Doherty,
Columbia's earth sciences research institute in Palisades, N.Y.

Their report--in the June issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles, published
by the American Geophysical Union--suggests that global warming may produce
complex side effects and that cause ecosystems to respond to warming in
unanticipated ways. . .

After a cooler interval from the 1950's to the early 1970's, annual
temperatures, as recorded by instruments, are returning to the peak 1940's
level, "but these trees are not responding to the renewed warming that
started in the mid-1970's," the scientists said. Instead, the trees show
evidence since the 1970's of suffering from "moisture stress." Warmer
temperatures increase evaporation of water from the leaves and needles of
trees, increasing the trees' demand for water. Even with normal
precipitation, continued warmer temperatures can lead to relatively drier
conditions at the sites sampled, diminishing the water in the soil that is
available to the trees and thus slowing their growth.

In addition, warmer temperatures may be beneficial for insects and diseases
that attack trees. "There is . . . evidence of increasing insect damage and
disease, possibly related to warmer temperatures," the Lamont-Doherty
scientists said. "Dramatic bark beetle infestations and tree mortality are
taking place in south-central Alaska. Spruce bark beetles benefit from
warmer temperatures."

The scientists concluded: "The recent increase in temperatures combined
with drier years may be changing the tree response to climate and raising
the potential for some forest changes in Alaskan and other boreal forests
within decades.'

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation's Climate
Dynamics Program and the NSF's ARRCC (Analysis of Recent and Rapid Climate
Change) project.

Louis Proyect
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