January 2010 Navy
by CDR Robert C. Whitten, USNR (Ret)
Climate change caused by increased abundances of “greenhouse gases” (GHG), e.g., carbon dioxide and methane, has been a cause of concern in many forums for the future of the planet. Among these is the prestigious Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) which has published reports advocating severe reductions in such gases because, in their words, “We must do something before it’s too late. National security is threatened.”1 This author has performed a detailed study of the problem to assess its severity, if any. I found that following the recommendations of the CNA study would, in itself, lead to reduced national security. Now, let’s look at the reliability of the predictions of catastrophe.
The conclusions of the environmentalists and the CNA is based not on observations of actual atmospheric temperatures, sea level changes, etc., but on the predictions of theoretical “general circulation models.” These models are of necessity simplified simulations of atmospheric dynamics. They cannot simulate cloud cover, precipitation, and the enormously chaotic behavior of the atmosphere nor can they take account of solar variability and the presence of natural oscillations or “resonances” in the atmosphere and the oceans. Indeed, climate is never stable but is subject to more or less periodic cyclical variations (e.g., the 1,500 year cycle2). Atmospheric temperatures have been higher in the past as in the Medieval Warm Period (about 950 to 1250 AD) when they were higher than is predicted by the atmospheric models for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Living standards rose, famine disappeared, the Vikings voyaged to North America, Greenland was settled, and the great European cathedrals were built.
According to basic greenhouse theory, temperatures in the tropical upper troposphere should rise about 2.5 times as much as the surface temperature.3 Observations by satellites and balloons since the 70’s show that the temperature rise is less than observed at the surface. This implies that most of the surface change is not due to greenhouse warming. Investigations of the influence of solar variability have strongly supported the alternative that solar variability is the responsible factor.4
Atmospheric heating by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and water vapor is extremely complex. Visible and some ultraviolet radiation from the sun penetrates Earth’s atmosphere and is absorbed by the surface although part of it is reflected by clouds. The energy is then reemitted as infrared radiation that corresponds to the temperature of the surface and the lower atmosphere, roughly 20o to 30oC. Water vapor is by far the dominant greenhouse gas, even in deserts, and thus causes nearly all of the GHG heating. The atmosphere is heated mainly at tropical and subtropical latitudes and the heat is transported poleward by atmospheric circulation, causing a latitudinal temperature difference or gradient. Increases in temperature due to greenhouse gases should be apparent not so much at the surface but at altitudes of 4 to 15 km.3,5 Smaller temperature differences between the tropics and polar regions that would be caused by higher temperatures above the surface layer are expected to lead to less violent weather, not more, as cited in the CNA report. Moreover, the smaller temperature gradients between the tropics and the polar regions that are predicted by the models are not observed, neither by satellite nor by balloon-borne radiosondes. As for observed mean surface temperatures, they were constant from 1998 to 2007 and have declined since.
The protagonists of greenhouse gas/global warming often cite the “great consensus” among scientists that the effect is already a serious threat. This claim should be regarded with great skepticism since the great majority of the scientific community has little or no expertise in atmospheric science; and among atmospheric scientists, especially climatologists, there is no such consensus. Science is an extremely authoritarian venture with the authority residing in reproducible experiment and observation. Theory must support the experimental/ observational data, not the other way round as climate alarmists would have us believe.
The Kyoto Protocol, which became effective with Russia’s signing (opposed by climatologists in the Russian Academy of Science), requires signature nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 5.2 percent below a 1990 baseline.The economic costs to the United States for adhering to Kyoto are acknowledged by most economists to be horrendous with no discernable effect on atmospheric temperature. Suggested successors to Kyoto would be much more costly with no likely measurable effect on atmospheric temperature. Moreover, most of the current signatories in the developed world have not met their required cuts in greenhouse gas emissions; the only exceptions are former Communist countries such as Russia that have shut down most of their inefficient industry. Signatories in the developing world (including India, China, and Brazil) are not called upon to make any cuts and, indeed, have refused to do so.
Efforts to stabilize the climate are futile and would reduce national security by requiring drastic reductions in the availability of fossil fuels, especially for the Navy and the Air Force. The present reliance on forward naval deployments and high degrees of training that are the hallmark of the current defense stance of this nation would become impossible because of fuel reductions. In fact, the production of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by the armed forces due to burning fossil fuels is only about 0.3 percent of the total national output. Thus, strenuous efforts to reduce emissions by the armed services would contribute almost nothing to the national effort. Nevertheless, it is inconceivable that the American people would accept the enormous reductions in fuel consumption necessary to comply with projected treaties without exacting corresponding reductions in fossil fuel use by the armed services. This is not to say that the armed services should not try to become more energy efficient, which should be done for strategic and economic reasons. It is still wise from a national security standpoint to continue efforts toward greater efficiency in energy use and to obtain substitutes for Middle Eastern oil. However, reducing the American economy by enforcing drastic reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases6 would be counterproductive with respect to national security because the tax base necessary to fund the armed forces would decrease enormously. The ability to respond to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the Indonesian tsunami would be impossible.
The author holds a Ph.D. in Physics from Duke University and an M.S. in Meteorology from San Jose State University. He is a research scientist, NASA-retired, author or editor of five books and author or co-author of about 120 papers in the archival literature on various aspects of atmospheric science and has recently published papers on the electrical properties of the atmospheres of Titan (part of research related to the Huygens probe) and Jupiter.
1 Center for Naval Analysis, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, April 2007.
2 Singer, S. F., and Avery, D. T., Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, Plymouth, U.K.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007, pp. 260. Also see Robinson, A. B., N. E. Robinson and W. Soon, Environmental effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide.
3 Lindzen, R. S., Understanding common climate claims, in Proceedings of the 34th International Seminar on Nuclear War and Planetary Emergencies, R. Raigaini, editor, Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., pp. 189-210, 2005.
4 Scafetta, N. and B. J. West, Is climate sensitive to solar variability? Physics Today (American Institute of Physics), vol. 61(3), 50-51, 2008.
5 The author has made a statistical analysis of the upper air temperatures as recorded by the National Climatic Data Center and found essentially no change between 1979 (when satellite measurements began) and 1998. The data show a high degree of variability.
6 Klaus, Vacslav, Blue Planet in Green Shackles, Washington, DC: Competitive Enterprise Institute, 2008. A professional economist, the author is President of the Czech Republic.