Chart William D. Nordhaus/NY Review of Books

Responding To The Sceptics:

In the current issue of The New York Review of Books Nobel Laureate Economist Professor William D. Nordhaus responds to the contents of an article No Need to Panic About Global Warming written by sixteen well known scientists.  The article published in the Wall Street Journal in January raised the following key questions:

• Is the planet in fact warming?

• Are human influences an important contributor to warming?

• Is carbon dioxide a pollutant?

• Are we seeing a regime of fear for skeptical climate scientists?

To the primary question on whether the planet is in fact warming  Nordhaus responds: ‘The finding that global temperatures are rising over the last century-plus is one of the most robust findings of climate science and statistics.’  The above chart is testament to that conclusion.

The most worrying feature of the distortion of climate science:

Here the sceptic’s charge was that alarmism over climate change provides government funding for academic research, a reason for government bureaucracies to grow, excuses to raise taxes, taxpayer subsidies for business that know how to work the system and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet.

Nordhaus finds: ‘ This argument is inaccurate as scientific history and unsupported by any evidence… the first precise calculations about the impact of increased CO2 concentrations on the earth’s surface temperature were made by Svante Arrhenius in 1896, more than five decades before the NSF was founded. The skeptics’ account also misunderstands the incentives in academic research.IPCC authors are not paid. Scientists who serve on panels of the National Academy of Science do so without monetary compensation for their time and are subject to close scrutiny for conflicts of interest. Academic advancement occurs primarily from publication of original research and contributions to the advancement of knowledge, not from supporting “popular” views. Indeed, academics have often been subject to harsh political attacks when their views clashed with current political or religious teachings.…The attacks on the science of global warming are reminiscent of the well-documented resistance by cigarette companies to scientific findings on the dangers of smoking. Beginning in 1953, the largest tobacco companies launched a public relations campaign to convince the public and the government that there was no sound scientific basis for the claim that cigarette smoking was dangerous..’ 

Nordhaus finds the big money in climate change ‘involves firms, industries and individuals who worry that their economic interests will be harmed by policies to slow climate change … One of the most worrying features of the distortion of climate science is that the stakes are huge… expenditures on energy goods and services are close to $1000 billion. Restrictions on CO2 emissions large enough to bend downward the temperature curve from its current trajectory to a maximum of 2 to 3 degrees Centigrade would have large economic effects on many businesses…Scientists, citizens and our leaders will need to be extremely vigilant to prevent pollution of the scientific process by the merchants of doubt.


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