National Academy of Sciences Global Warming Report Fails to Live Up to Its Billing


National Academy of Sciences Global Warming Report Fails to Live Up to Its Billing

LCV Ads Target Members of Congress on ANWR

New Legislation Would End National Academy of Sciences Study of Safe Arsenic Levels

National Academy of Sciences Global Warming Report Fails to Live Up to Its Billing

"Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise."

Thus begins the summary of the June 2001 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report "Climate Change Science," which made headlines across the world for (supposedly) providing additional "proof" that mankind is causing global warming.

But the headline writers didn’t read the fine print.

This often quoted, categorical statement is not supported by the rest of the NAS report – or the scientific report of Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body frequently cited as a key authority on global warming.

Two sentences later in the NAS summary, readers are told that "The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes are also a reflection of natural variability." "Likely mostly due to human activities"? "Some significant part"? Given these qualifications, and the very large uncertainties in the science, how could the National Research Council (NRC) – the research arm of the NAS – approve such a categorical opening sentence?

The NAS report is a summary rather than a critical review of the IPCC reports. It was prepared and approved in less than a month after the White House submitted its formal request. NRC reports, to quote Richard Lewontin of Harvard University, "always speak with one voice. Such reports… can produce only a slight rocking of the extremely well gyrostabilized ship of state, no matter how high the winds and waves. Any member of the crew who mutinies is put off at the first port of call." In other words, there is a forced consensus, one that tends to provide an oversimplified picture of the state of scientific research and of the uncertainties.

One must dig carefully through the report to discover that water vapor and cloud droplets are in fact the dominant cause of greenhouse warming. We are not told, however, what fraction of the greenhouse effect is due to water vapor and clouds. Nor are we told that carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas – one that accounts for less than ten percent of the greenhouse effect – whose ability to absorb heat is quite limited. Adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere only increases greenhouse warming very slowly. Similarly, decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere only decreases greenhouse warming very slowly.

Thus, the relatively small changes in the emission of carbon dioxide agreed to in the Kyoto Protocol would have an insignificant impact on global warming. The provisions of the Protocol seem singularly innocent of this fact.

The NAS study also notes that increased radiation from the sun could be responsible for a significant part of climate change during part of the industrial era. But the study does not tell us that the warming due to the increase in solar output is comparable to that alleged to be a consequence of the 25% rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration since the end of the 18th century. Because carbon dioxide is a minor greenhouse gas, and increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere does not proportionately increase its greenhouse effect, this rise has had only a minimal impact on the earth’s temperature.

Most people assume that the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide is due to human activity. However, our understanding of the carbon cycle is so poor that we cannot be certain this is the case. Nonetheless, deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels (which, on a yearly basis, comprises only some three-and-a-half percent of the two-way exchange of carbon between the earth and its atmosphere), most likely does contribute to the increased concentration of this gas.

In 1976, when the earth had been cooling for some three decades, "mainstream scientists" believed that we were sliding into a new ice age. There has been significant improvement in modeling the ocean and atmosphere since then, but the predictions of these models still do not form a sound basis for public policy decisions. As put by Ahilleas Maurellis of the Space Research Organization Netherlands, "Until we understand the full picture, perhaps the best reaction to global warming is for everybody to just keep their cool."

by Gerald Marsh

LCV Ads Target Members of Congress on ANWR

The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has begun running radio and print ads designed to encourage voters to call their representatives and voice opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Southwest Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is urging its members to contact U.S. representatives and urge them to vote "NO" on the energy bill as it goes to the U.S. House floor this week.

Ads by LCV have targeted three Republican congressmen: Reps. Greg Ganske (R-IA), Mark Kennedy (R-MN) and Rob Simmons (R-CT) with spots running in Des Moines, Iowa; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Hartford, Connecticut. Also supporting the ads are the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, US Public Interest Research Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Today there are safe ways of drilling for oil that leave a very small footprint and that do not harm wildlife. Caribou have flourished on Alaska’s North Slope with the pipeline overhead. Opening ANWR to oil production would use only a small amount of land out of 19.5 million acres. It is crucial for our national security that we not rely too heavily on foreign sources of energy.

(For a list of charges in the ad, and response to each, see

by Gretchen Randall

New Legislation Would End National Academy of Sciences Study of Safe Arsenic Levels

President Bush has asked the National Academy of Sciences to take nine months to determine the safe level of arsenic in drinking water. His intention is to use the information for setting the new arsenic standard that will go into effect in 2006. Congressman David Bonior of Michigan (D) has introduced an amendment, H.R. 1413, that would arbitrarily set the new standard at 10 parts per billion – months before the NAS report is due.

It is foolish and dangerous to introduce legislation to arbitrarily set the maximum arsenic levels in water when, in a few months, we will have sound scientific information for setting this number. It is important to base this environmental decision on sound science and not politics. If we set the level too high, Americans will be at risk; too low and many municipal and private water companies will be forced out of business, causing Americans to rely on more risky personal wells.

After 25 years of study by various administations, the Clinton administration set the permitted level of arsenic at 10 parts per million, down from the current 50 – without asking the National Academy of Sciences precisely what the new level should be. The new regulation set forth by the Clinton administration would not have gone into effect until the year 2006 — the same year as the Bush standard.

(For more information, see the Ten Second Response newsletter on this topic at

by Tom Randall

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.