By John Zink, Ph.D., P.E.
Public relations (PR) efforts by the nuclear industry often tout the technology’s advantages with respect to global warming. Similarly, nuclear critics cite global warming as a reason to doubt nuclear plant safety; they postulate a catastrophic nuclear accident resulting from violent storms created by global warming. But new research results may make it hard to maintain the global warming facade. This could require both camps to make some adjustments to their PR.
For years, the scientific community has debated whether or not man’s activities are creating a warming trend in the earth’s atmosphere. Many scientists point out that we should expect a continuation of the natural warming trend which began about 300 years ago, and which gradually has pulled us out of the last Ice Age. This ancient phenomenon occurred independently of anything humans have done. Others insist that human activities are contributing significantly to the warming process.
The general public has missed out on this debate because the press and media-savvy politicians have treated the anthropogenic global warming theory as if it were a fact. I have referred to this as “junk science” many times in the past. Several recent developments should demolish the global warming myth, but only time will tell whether or not the press or the politicians will acknowledge these results and their implications.
Massive computer models, starting with small, imperceptible changes in the earth’s atmosphere, have forecasted a snowball effect, creating large changes in the atmosphere over the next 100 years or so. These calculations depend entirely upon the algorithms in the computer model and the data put into those algorithms. If the model is slightly wrong, and the data are slightly wrong, compounding those errors over and over for a hundred years’ worth of calculations can result in seriously mistaken conclusions. As scientists have refined the models over the years, the amount of the projected 100-year warming has continued to decrease. James Hansen of NASA recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which now predicts that the planet will warm only about 1.5 C from human activities over the next 100 years. In spite of this puny result, Hansen refuses to give up his commitment to the global warming theory and considers it important to continue programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Global warming models generally predict that the earth’s atmosphere will warm more quickly than its surface, and that the effect will be most pronounced at the poles. Contrary to what the models predict, satellite temperature measurements show no warming trend in the atmosphere, while surface temperature measurements, mostly from populated areas, seem to show a slight warming. Global warming advocates attempt to explain away this anomaly either by discrediting the satellite measurements, or simply by ignoring the contradiction.
The global warming image that has made the greatest public impact, however, is the dire prediction that the glaciers will melt and cause the ocean levels to rise, flooding major cities such as New York or Miami. Now, two new reports are throwing cold water on this idea, also.
Researchers from California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have published an article in Science detailing the results of their measurements of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS). Earlier studies led researchers to believe the WAIS was losing ice mass at a rate of 20.9 ± 13.7 gigatons per year. Now, the more-accurate measurements cited in the new study found “strong evidence for ice sheet growth (26.8 ± 14.9 gigatons per year.),” from 1986 to 1999.
Another Antarctic study, appearing in pre-publication form on the website of the journal Nature, concludes that, “Our spatial analysis of Antarctic meteorological data demonstrates a net cooling of the Antarctic continent between 1966 and 2000, particularly during summer and autumn.” The study team, led by Prof. Peter Doran of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, also concluded that, “Continental Antarctic cooling, especially the seasonality of cooling, poses challenges to models of climate, and ecosystem change.”
So, let’s examine the evidence. Global warming models predicted large temperature increases, with the atmosphere warming more than the surface, and the effect being more pronounced at the poles, melting polar glaciers. Experimental data now contradict these predictions. Direct scientific evidence is casting serious doubt on the doomsday scenarios from the garbage-in, garbage-out computer models.
If the public ever recognizes that global warming advocates have been “cooking the books” on the scientific research as badly as any Enron executive ever “cooked” his company’s books, then the nuclear critics lose one plank of their anti-nuclear platform. Unfortunately, since the nuclear industry seems to be building its case on only this one plank, its entire platform could collapse. It’s time for the industry to change its PR message. There are many good “green” arguments for nuclear power. Lack of greenhouse gas emissions just isn’t one of them.