A Service of The Greening Earth Society   

Panel Discussion Following Premier
November 13, 1998
Bismarck, North Dakota

FRED PALMER: President, Greening Earth Society.  We’re back live in Bismarck. Thank you all very much.  I hope you enjoyed it. I want to acknowledge the viewing audience at the sixty-five different sites around the country who are with us today. We’re delighted that you are.

Our format for the panelists will be a question and answer format. We will first take questions from the reporters in the National Press Club in Washington, DC. We have fax machines open for questions from the viewing audience and the media in other parts of the country. Of course we will take questions, following the National Press Club, from the audience and the media here with us today.

Before we do that, let me introduce to you our panelists. All of them, obviously, appeared in the video that we just saw.

First, let me introduce Dr. Sallie Baliunas who is the Senior Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Sitting next to Sallie is Dr. Patrick Michaels who is a Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia and also the editor of the [bi-weekly] newsletter World Climate Report that we sponsor.

Sitting next to Dr. Michaels is Dr. Sylvan Wittwer. Sylvan, this in many ways could be said to be your video. Sylvan is the "dean" of the CO2 research – the positive impact on the biosphere – that so many people today are studying. He is also Director Emeritus and Professor of Horticulture of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Michigan State University.

And finally, Dr. Robert Balling, who will be forgiven for having on an Arizona State University shirt [in the video]. As you all know, I graduated from the Arizona State University. Dr. Balling runs the Climate Department at Arizona State University.

Thank you all for being with us, today. We will now take questions from the National Press Club in Washington.

ERIC ALLEN: America’s Voice.  Thank you. My name is Eric Allen, with America’s Voice in Washington, DC. My question is about the Vice President. Yesterday, he signed the Kyoto global warming treaty. I’m curious to get your take on this treaty although it likely will not pass in the Senate. What is your take on the treaty?

FRED PALMER:  We are in opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. We are not in the political business, but we have been doing business in this part of the country for a very long time. The people here, today, rely on coal and coal-fired electricity to heat their homes, to run their businesses, to run their ranches and farms. The people in this part of the country rely on fossil fuels for their very existence. If you were here three days ago, you would know what I am talking about.

The Basin Electric family serves in an eight-state region of the country, 1.5 million consumers. They rely on coal-fired electricity. Over $3 billion worth of coal-fired power plants were put in for the benefit of the people here and the institutions they represent. It’s our lifeblood. It’s that simple.

The Clinton Administration – as I say, we don’t come at this from a political standpoint, but from the standpoint of what is good for electric consumers – is pursuing an agenda that would, in their words, "dial out" coal-fired electricity from our energy future in the United States. [Coal-fired electricity is] not only 56 percent of the generating capacity in the country that we rely upon. In this part of the country it approaches 80 percent. We can’t exist without it.

We do this, we engage in this advocacy activity, to put all of the facts on the table, to let the American people decide as a society how we go forward in making energy and electricity in our country, trusting in their wisdom. So it doesn’t give us any pleasure (and it’s not really our job) to be in opposition to the Administration.

We rely on the Federal government out here. These [coal-fired power] plants were built in partnership with the Federal government. We still are in partnership with the Federal government. But, on this issue, we just simply part ways. We have a disagreement in good faith with the Vice President with respect to the Kyoto Protocol.

MIGUEL SANDOVAL: MS News Service.  My name is Miguel Sandoval, a member of MS News ServiceI would like to know what do you think the media can do in order to disseminate the knowledge in order to let the people know the fact, not the fallacy, about the CO2 increase in the atmosphere for the enjoyment or better living on our planet, and also in our way to contribute to the greatness, prosperity, peace and security in the world? What is your response?

FRED PALMER:  Was the question what the media can do with respect to the carbon dioxide issue and this point of view in disseminating it? Is that the question?


FRED PALMER:  Panelists, let’s bring you in on this. Sallie, you’ve been doing this a while. What is your impression of how this issue gets played in the media with respect to the vision of the apocalypse, as I like to call it, and also the kind of message that we’ve heard here, today?

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  Well, the media can and should report the facts, which is what the business is about.

PAT MICHAELS:  I think that a great deal more critical analysis of rather facile reports of gloom and doom would help. I’ll give you an example.

There was intense coverage of a paper in Science magazine (about a year ago) for temperatures around the polar region. All the headlines said, "This research shows that human-induced global warming is warming up the polar regions and it’s a terrible thing!"

Well, if you took a straight-edge or ruler and looked at the graph of warming, it’s clear that the warming stopped about 40 years ago. Almost all the warming occurred before human beings could have caused it. And it was cooling for the last 50 years, in the paper.

Now anyone, any journalist, could have done that and had a story that would have scooped everyone else. But, it didn’t happen.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  This video, of course, emphasizes the positive aspects of a rising level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. I fear that this is not of general interest to most of the people in the world and in this nation. It is not a horror story It’s a good story, and one that the media ought to extend and expand. But it hasn’t happened.

BOB BALLING:  I would combine both questions.

We’ve seen a reporter, Eric, ask us about the effect of Kyoto and I think we’re often told that if Kyoto is adopted that we will stop global warming. But climate scientists know full well that if we do nothing at all, we’ll achieve about 1° of warming by the middle of the next century – a number that could be debated forever. But what is known, if we adopt Kyoto and if we adopt it today, [is that] we’ll achieve 93 percent of that warming anyway. It barely slows up global warming. That’s the type of message that needs to be conveyed to the media.

PAT MICHAELS:  I would add another point right here that I think is germane to the first and second questions.

When the Rio climate treaty (which is the progenitor of the Kyoto agreement) was signed in 1992, the United Nations had produced a large first scientific assessment of climate change that had a median warming of about 3.2° over the course of the next century. That warming is now down to 2° and, frankly, if you take into consideration new findings in the science literature such as the methane increase stopping, and CO2 not warming the atmosphere directly as much as it was supposed to, that number has to drop further – maybe to 1.5° or 1.25°.

Ask yourself the question: If we had said that would be a little bit over 1° of warming in the next 100 years, would we have the [Framework] Convention on Climate Change, would we have the Kyoto Protocol? The answer will give you pause to wonder for some time.

FRED PALMER:  We have another question from Washington.

JULIA BIRDSALL: USIA.  Yes, Julia Birdsall from the United States Information Agency. Dr. Balling said in the video, and I quote, "Increased CO2 worldwide with few exceptions means plants grow better, period." Dr. Balling, could you please elaborate on the few exceptions?

BOB BALLING:  Absolutely. If you were to go to the library you would find that there’s an enormous literature, literally 5000 or more articles have been written on what happens to plants when you increase CO2. There are a few isolated examples where people have found deleterious effects on certain plants. Certain seeding processes in a very few plants would not be benefiting from the increase in CO2.

But I think the point of the documentary is one that needs to be restated. If you were to go weigh the evidence that shows the effects of CO2 that are beneficial versus those that are detrimental, the overwhelming evidence shows increasing CO2 is helpful to the plants.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  In all my earlier work, I found no exceptions whatever as far as the response to carbon dioxide is concerned in a positive way. Now, there are exceptions. If you search long enough, you will find environmental conditions under which there may be no response to carbon dioxide. But those are very exceptional and in unusual places.

FRED PALMER:  We have another question in Washington.

JEFF JOHNSON:  Family News & Focus.  Jeff Johnson with Family News and Focus. Those who support the theory of carbon dioxide causing global warming are using models – hypothetical situations. Your evidence that you’ve presented seems to be historical data, factual evidence. What is your response as scientists when you’re talking about facts and your opposition is talking about theory?

FRED PALMER:  An open question for each of the panelists to respond to. And try to restrain yourself, Dr. Michaels.

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  Science starts out with a speculation, developed into a hypothesis and then is weighed against the facts. That’s what science is. There’s no exception to that.

PAT MICHAELS:  It’s unfortunate that we really rely upon models an incredible amount.

Here’s a brand new paper from the Max Planck Institute in Germany. The title is "Why Is the Global Warming Proceeding Much Slower Than Expected?" In this case, it uses a computer model.

The model says that surface temperature should be warming even less than it is; and the temperature in the free atmosphere should be warming more than it is. The paper concludes, therefore, that there is something wrong with all the data!

Well, that’s not science. If we are basing our policy upon models like that, we are not basing them upon science. Science requires verification of models with reality.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  As far as the plant world is concerned – the experiments that have been conducted with plants and their behavior as far as rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide are concerned – there are controls and there are replications. There’s no computer that has yet been designed that can model climate with all the variables. There may never be. Climate is too variable and too unpredictable. Volcanoes are just an example of that and what one of those will do in the case of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines.

BOB BALLING:  I don’t know that I have much to add. This has been the controversy all along. You’ve got theoretical models predicting something of an apocalypse and you have datasets that are collected that don’t show a pattern that’s altogether consistent with the models. It’s not to say that there aren’t some patterns consistent with the models.

Dr. Michaels and I have published about winter warming in the coldest airmasses over land areas in Siberia. That seems to be consistent with the models. But when somebody tells me that Siberia is about to warm up slightly in the winter, I’m not ready to go out and draft a Convention to stop it.

[Audience laughter and applause]

FRED PALMER:  We have another question from Washington.

ETHAN HOLMES:  Mining Week.  Ethan Holmes, National Mining Association, Mining Week. I was wondering if any of you could address the study that recently came out on the United States and North America being a larger sink for carbon dioxide than it is actually expelling?

FRED PALMER:  North America as a CO2 sink is the question, correct? Did you read my press release?


FRED PALMER:  Go ahead. If the panel will address that.

BOB BALLING:  There was an article in Science magazine that came out several weeks ago that caught many of us by surprise. Calculations were done about how much carbon we put out in North America from industrial activity. The number is somewhere around 1.6 billion tons of carbon per year.

The calculation was then made of how much CO2 is being taken up by the plants that are flourishing. We’ve had a forestation taking place in America. We know the plants are being fertilized by carbon dioxide. They’re being fertilized by nitrogen in the soil. We know that plants are now moving into marginal areas. And the number is as large, or larger!

It’s an amazing finding to think that America could become a sink – or may be a sink – for CO2 right now. Maybe we’re putting out just the amount of CO2 that we take right back up in plants.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  North America and northern Europe, and the Northern Hemisphere in general, provide a tremendous sink for carbon dioxide. That is indicated by the changes in amplitude in the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which goes down in the spring and the summertime and goes up in the fall and the winter.

That amplitude is increasing each year. It means simply this: the biological productivity of the plant world in the Northern Hemisphere is either increasing or remaining constant. It certainly is not decreasing.

PAT MICHAELS:  I might add, the criticism of this point of view is: Yes, that’s fine, you’ll take up the carbon dioxide but eventually the forest will get so large that it will fall over and die and release its CO2 back. In America, at least, we’ve sort of gone beyond that.

If you take a look at the amount of this timber that is farmed – America is really a large managed forest ecosystem mainly for timber. A lot of this stuff gets turned into houses and into permanent structures that last for hundreds of years. We’re in the business now of almost creating a closed ecosystem where we recycle the carbon that was emitted from the burning of fossil fuels and turn it into homes.

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  One might speculate whether this effect may soon happen to the rest of the world as well.

FRED PALMER:  We call it "the greening of planet earth." We also have a suggestion for the Administration. If we’re going to negotiate an emissions trading scheme under Kyoto, that we charge the rest of the world money to burn fossil fuels since we are a sink in the United States.

We have a faxed question from Kansas from Sunflower Electric [Power Corporation]. Hello everybody in Kansas. "The video concentrates on the benefits of carbon dioxide increases, disregarding the temperature effects. Are there any negative aspects due to higher CO2 itself, disease, impact on human health, etc.?"

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  The projected temperature impacts have been exaggerated and, as the video makes clear (and much research), the expected temperatures are too high. The future temperatures are presumably also too high. So the impacts have been exaggerated. When one corrects for those exaggerations, one finds little negative in terms of a small warming that may well be hidden by the natural variability of the climate in any case.

PAT MICHAELS:  We do see, I believe (in the work that Bob and I have done), a human-like signal in the warming of the very coldest, driest airmasses. That is what you would expect and that’s mainly in Siberia and northwestern North America.

With regard to mortality and the spread of disease, data from the US government shows that the weather-related mortality "cold deaths" exceed the number of "heat deaths" by a factor of about four to one. So, if you slightly warm the winter and you don’t warm the summer very much, you reduce the mortality.

With regard to diseases, there is great fear about a couple [and] one of them in particular, dengue fever. [There was] a massive outbreak of dengue fever in northern Mexico in 1995, two thousand cases in the city of Reynosa, which is along the Rio Grande. At Hidalgo, Texas, right across the river from Reynosa, there was one case. The fact of the matter is that sanitation trumps climate change every time.

I think we ought to spend our resources helping people achieve greater levels of sanitation and infrastructure development rather than taxing away their energy.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  With respect to the plant world, getting away from animal diseases and human diseases, higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere enable the plants to deal more effectively with all the stresses encountered in the plant world. [They are] more resistant to low moisture levels, more resistant to air pollution and deficiencies in nutrients. The stress, as far as the plant world is concerned, is certainly alleviated by higher levels of atmospheric CO2.

BOB BALLING:  Just a quick point: If you ask a plant would I rather be warm than cold, you’ll know the answer.

FRED PALMER:  We have another question in Washington.

JULIA BIRDSALL:  Julia Birdsall again. One of running themes in Argentina is curbing emissions. Do you think we should be making any effort both in the private sector and big business to curb emissions?

FRED PALMER:  I’ll start with the panel on this, then I’ll have an observation. Let’s start with Bob Balling.

BOB BALLING:  Well, this is no longer a climate question or a botanical question. I think that no matter what answer you come up with you’ll have to ask yourself, "Is that the right answer whether the world is warming, cooling, or about to stay the same?"

SYLVAN WITTWER:  As far as curbing emissions are concerned, plants would benefit considerably more if [the emissions] were not banned or reduced. Plants love carbon dioxide. As indicated in the Netherlands and elsewhere, at levels of carbon dioxide up to a thousand parts per million or fifteen hundred parts per million, plants respond beautifully – the entire plant world, not just plants in greenhouses. We have a long way to go to reach that level.

PAT MICHAELS:  Federal climatologist Tom Wigley recently calculated that if all the nations of the world lived up to their agreements under the Kyoto Protocol, the change in atmospheric temperature between now and 2050 would be 0.06°C. That’s six one-hundredths of a degree Celsius. You couldn’t find it. You wouldn’t notice it. Yet everybody would notice a substantial economic cost.

The real question here is whether it even makes sense to reduce emissions because you’re not going to get any climate differential out of it. I would argue that one hundred years from now we probably won’t be a fossil fuel-based economy. But it won’t have to do with global warming. It will be because of technological innovations such as fuel cells, etc. that will radically change the way that we live our lives.

One hundred years ago, we were riding around on horses. Two hundred years ago, you would have thought we were going to evolve toward a network of barge canals. The change in 100 years is phenomenal and trying to force change 100 years in the future is probably foolhardy.

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  It is not a question of significant climate change or significant climate impacts, at this point.

FRED PALMER:  The question is, "Should we undertake efforts to reduce emissions?" From our standpoint, the advocacy work that we do and the positions that we take, let me capsulize where we come out on that question.

We do believe that the Federal government has a large and important role in research and development dollars for renewable electric technologies. Anything that makes energy for people in a less expensive way is important. Anything that adds to energy capacity for our future is important because we are going to need additional capacity. For sure there is a role for renewables just as there is a vital role for our coal plants, going forward.

The individuals and the governments involved in these negotiations might turn their focus toward food for people. In the United States we have a capacity to make food on a low-cost basis. We have abundant food. We have more than enough food. There are people in the world that do not have food. It seems to me that the focus might shift to food and poverty questions for the billions of people on earth that live in squalor. Two billion people on earth do not have electricity, for example.

Research and development for efficiencies in energy consumption – absolutely. I think the Clinton Administration’s approach on the "super car" is one that ought to be applauded. Anything that allows us to drive our cars in more affordable and clean ways is something that we should be in favor of. The Clinton Administration’s involvement with the automotive industry in coming up with a super car is something that we are for.

Research and development for climate research, including the computer models – absolutely. What we say "no" to are taxes, caps and limits on the way we live our lives in the United States.

We have another question in Washington.

JEFF JOHNSON:  Jeff Johnson with Family News and Focus, again. Would anyone on the panel care to speculate as to why this issue has been so politicized and why there are scientists on the other side of it despite the empirical evidence?

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  I have no special knowledge of human nature. It is purely a scientific question.

PAT MICHAELS:  I think that James Buchanan across the river from you over there at George Mason University wrote a book on something called "public choice theory" which, if extended, would predict that if large amounts of resources were directed towards a problem, that it becomes defined as a problem by the people who receive the resource.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  Why this division and this conflict, both politically and scientifically exists, I cannot understand. When we conducted the first experiments on elevated levels of CO2 in the 1940s and 1950s, there was no political, there was no scientific, controversy. The scientific controversy came along in about the mid-1970s along with the environmental movement; the political controversy, of course, since then. [There’s] no reason. I can’t understand it.

PAT MICHAELS:  I should say that in the mid-1970s when I was taking plant physiology courses, Sylvan Wittwer was viewed as a "bad name." I never, ever, understood why. There was clear evidence that things were already politicized, [even] then.

BOB BALLING:  There are scientists who go to bed every night and they really do believe there is a problem. They are good scientists and in their hearts, they’re trying their best. They think we have a problem on our hands. But there is another reality here.

We’re all in the climate business, those climate scientists. Dreaming up this global warming scare has been the best thing we could ever have come up with to stimulate interest in our field and stimulate grant dollars and all the rest, which have become such a big part of the issue.

PAT MICHAELS:  I can’t tell you how many telephone conversations I’ve had with my colleagues that go something like this – one of them won a MacArthur Prize, recently. "Yes, Michaels, we know. Yes, it’s exaggerated. Yes, it’s probably not going to be all that bad. But hasn’t it been good for research?" I’ve had a number of those conversations.

[Audience exclamation]

SYLVAN WITTWER:  Scientists have learned that frightening the public gets research dollars.

FRED PALMER:  Here’s a question from Missouri, the University of Missouri site, our friends at Associated Electric [Power Cooperative]. "CO2 concentrations have fluctuated in the past, long before humans were a factor. Presumably there are natural variations in CO2 caused by changes in land and oceanic uptake or release. Thus, can we confidently connect the increase in CO2 levels with human activity? Or could the current increase have a natural component as well?"

Dr. Balling, let’s start with you on this one.

BOB BALLING:  We’ve seen plots many times showing carbon dioxide levels over the past 160,000 years or over the past five billion years, or whatever. There is no doubt carbon dioxide levels go up. They come down. They go back up. They come down, long before any humans were interfering. So there is a background fluctuation in CO2 that would have to be taken into account. However, the bulk of the evidence points to the fact that it’s industrial activity that has caused the rise in CO2 during the period of the last 100 years.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  That’s true with respect to the current situation. There is a very definite correlation between the burning of fossil fuels and the rising level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. And that’s human activity.

PAT MICHAELS:  That’s known because when you burn fossil fuels, the ratio of two isotopes of carbon – C13 to C12 – is different than it is in ambient air. That fraction has been changing proportionately with the amount of fossil fuel that’s burned.

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  I agree with all those statements.

FRED PALMER:  OK, then let’s start with you on this, Sallie. This is from Kansas, too. I wish that as you address this that you would add a component to this question of whether any of you worry about catastrophic global warming. Should we live our lives based on that worry? The question is this, "What is the historic evidence of global warming or global cooling? What have been the benefits or detrimental effects in each cycle?"

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  I think the video addressed some of that. Over the last ten thousand years, the warmer intervals have been beneficial to humans and the ecosphere and the biosphere, especially in the days before technology, before we could turn up a thermostat. The cooler periods have been detrimental.

I do worry about this issue every night when I’m in bed. But every morning, I get up and say, "Let’s do some research to try to pin down some of the issues here and get a better estimate of what problem may appear in the future."

PAT MICHAELS:  My greatest fear about the whole issue of global warming is a catastrophic loss of public faith in science.

When there is a public notion that the world is about to come to some type of quasi-end because of climate change, and when it doesn’t occur and when people finally say, ten years from now, "Yes, it was over-predicted, we’re sorry," that could have disastrous consequences for the public’s faith in science.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  Looking at the overall warming versus cooling, warming is better than cooling as far as agriculture is concerned, as far as the plant world is concerned. I think as far as human welfare is concerned. People are migrating south and not going north.

[Audience laughter]

PAT MICHAELS:  I thought you were going to move to Winnipeg!

BOB BALLING:  There’s another element to that question that always needs to be raised. I did a Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma, finishing in 1979, and the great paradigm was the scare about global cooling. I never worried about it then and I’m not worried about global warming either.

FRED PALMER:  One question and then we’ll turn it over to the floor here for live-mike questions.

The point is often made in the debate that we – as a human species, as a society, as a world society – are conducting a great experiment on the planet by loading the atmosphere with CO2: the implication being that since it’s an experiment, we don’t know the outcome, that it’s coming from human causes, that we ought not to be engaged in activity that puts more CO2 in the air.

Starting again with Sallie, could you all comment on this concept of experiment and how you see that observation?

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  Well, it’s not quite an experiment, in the definition of a scientist’s view of experiments, which has controls to it. It is a change that is happening and one [that we] should take seriously and investigate the change. But that is what the bulk of the research is directed toward.

PAT MICHAELS:  It’s certainly not an experiment. It’s an evolution. It is an inevitable evolution. Once Zog walked out of the cave with fire and Homo sapiens became a more intelligent species, there was no doubt that they would begin to create their own energy systems.

So what we’re doing is we’re increasing the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere. The evidence is that we are, in this evolution, raising the winter temperatures a little bit, not doing too much to the summer temperatures, and making plants grow better. How much money do we want to spend to stop this?

SYLVAN WITTWER:  We are inadvertently conducting a global experiment, but change does not necessarily mean something bad. I’m not sure where we’re going. No one knows.

PAT MICHAELS:  I would add one point. The reason this issue generates such emotion is that there is an almost religious belief that whatever mankind does to the environment must necessarily be bad. If it turns out that man is doing something to the global environment that is good, that shakes an article of faith that drives many people to generate their own lifestyles, today. So it does create great consternation.

BOB BALLING:  If it is an experiment, we have done it before and things seem to work out alright. The documentary showed that in periods very long [ago] in the past, carbon dioxide levels were ten times higher than they are now. It appears that the biosphere flourished. So, if it is an experiment that we all sit back and watch unfold, I anticipate very beneficial effects.

FRED PALMER:  "Dr. Balling, could you address uncertainty and step functions in climate change?"

BOB BALLING:  One of the ways to argue this would be to say that maybe what will happen is that we will continue to push the climate threshold and press the threshold and press the threshold some more and, like a spring, one day the climate will jump to a new level.

There has been some evidence that the climate has done this in the past. However, the climate models do not show that behavior. If we were to jump to a new level we’d have to deal with it at that time and adapt to the climate cards we’re dealt. But, right now, I see no reason to anticipate some jump in a step-like fashion to a new equilibrium level that would be much different from what we have today.

FRED PALMER:  Any other observations from any of the panelists?

SYLVAN WITTWER:  I would say that the principle characteristic of climate is variability. We’re going to have this; we have in the past. It will continue in the future.

PAT MICHAELS:  Here’s a little story. In 1976, the temperature of the free atmosphere – that’s the atmosphere above the surface and below 50,000 feet – jumped about 0.2°. It didn’t come down. In fact, all the warming of the free atmosphere from 5000 to 50,000 feet in the weather balloon record occurred in that one brief period. No one noticed it until 22 years later.

[Audience murmurs and laughs]

SALLIE BALIUNAS:  Climate changes dramatically on short time-scales. It has in the past and it will in the future. The best defense this is to understand these changes.

FRED PALMER:  We have a question in the audience that we’ll take. Then, I want to go back to the fax questions because we go off the air in about ten minutes.

STAN STELTER:  My name is Stan Stelter. I’m a resident here in the Basin Electricnorthern climate. I’ll just read this question I’ve got. "Under some circumstances, you’ve shown that CO2 does promote plant growth. But, what about when other factors that limit growth are introduced? Doesn’t the fact that you grow plants without such factors as drought, high temperatures, pests and diseases throw off those results?" Whoever wants to answer that…

SYLVAN WITTWER:  I can respond to that.

The benefits of carbon dioxide are not just limited to the increase in photosynthetic efficiency and water use efficiency. When plants are exposed to elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, every kind of stress is alleviated to some extent that we’ve been able to examine. Papers have been written on this subject.

Whether it’s water stress, whether it’s temperature stress, whether it’s air pollution stress, whether it’s a deficiency of nutrients – if there’s any stress on plants exposed to elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide – that stress is alleviated to some extent. Not entirely [perhaps].

Many, many years ago in the Netherlands, it was found that in greenhouses that when plants were grown with elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, they were able to overcome, to some extent, the deficiency of light. In that instance, light was a stress. It’s true of all limiting factors.

FRED PALMER:  Let’s go to these fax questions. First, a question from Dave Loer at Minnkota [Power Cooperative]. "The Clinton Administration frequently cites the group of 2500 scientists who state that CO2 emissions will cause global warming. Who makes up this group of scientists and are there other groups of scientists who disagree with the 2500?" Let’s start with you, Dr. Balling, since you are with the IPCC group.

BOB BALLING:  You’ve heard about the 2500 scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who make all sorts of pronouncements. I believe everyone on the panel is member of the 2500. I have been. I know Pat has been. I’m sure Sallie has been for most of the decade. So we’re part of the 2500. It’s not a professional wrestling organization where you have "them and us." This is a large body that puts out a document every few years assessing the science.

I’ve really not been very critical of the IPCC. I believe if one were to sit down and look at what the IPCC really says in their documents, not what the press release and others tells you the IPCC is saying, you’d find that the entire IPCC is quite consistent with the viewpoints that have been articulated here today.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  I don’t have any comment.

FRED PALMER:  Pat, you’ve been involved in this process. What do you have to say?

PAT MICHAELS:  The misleading interpretations about what the IPCC says are truly disturbing to me.

The IPCC’s latest report contains a statement something to the effect that "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." Then it goes on to say we don’t know the magnitude of this influence. It may be great. It may be small. Somehow the press polarizes this in saying there is a group of scientists who don’t believe this and that there are some renegade scientists or something like this.

I don’t think anybody at this table disagrees with the notion that there’s evidence that suggests a discernible human influence on climate. The point is that it is very small and primarily in airmasses that are so cold you don’t want to be in them anyway.

FRED PALMER:  Do you have any comment?


FRED PALMER:  Here is a question with respect to sea levels. "It is well known that Ice Age fluctuations in sea level occurred. These caused lower and higher sea levels compared to present-day levels, as much 80 meters below today’s levels. These probably involved natural changes in global CO2 levels. Jacques Cousteau proved this when he discovered stalactites 80 meters below sea level in an area off Honduras. What will happen to major cities and coastal areas if we have radical levels of sea level change in the future?" Who wants to take that?

PAT MICHAELS:  I’d be happy to. The estimates of sea level rise have been coming down as the estimates of warming come down. That shouldn’t be very shocking. These sea levels do not just rise all at once. It takes a goodly long time. I suspect people aren’t going to notice. I’ll give you an example.

Where I live in Virginia, due not to global warming or anything to do with the climate – it has to do with geology – sea level has risen twelve inches in the last 100 years in tidewater Virginia. No one has noticed.

The City of New Orleans is six feet below sea level. It didn’t just get there at once. It gradually subsided. People adapted over the course of a couple of hundred years.

If we’re going to worry about an eighteen-inch sea level rise over the course of the next 100 years, I would caution you that people in North Carolina have adapted to, and prosper, in homes that are sited where the sea level rise is twelve feet in twelve minutes. It’s called a hurricane. Property values are very high.

[Audience exclamation]

FRED PALMER:  A question on climate variability. "The ground-based temperature record shows some warming. Can this be distinguished from natural variability and if so, how?"

BOB BALLING:  Well, that’s the question we’ve all tried to answer.

Even if we concede that the climate record shows one-half a degree of warming over the past century, is that outside the bounds of natural variability? The answer is resoundingly "no."

The IPCC says, repeatedly, that we have observed no trend in temperature through this century which hasn’t been observed many times before and which is outside the bounds of natural variability.

PAT MICHAELS:  But, on the other hand, one has to look at the type of temperature change that we’ve seen.

We really don’t have very good records before World War II. But, as Sallie pointed out, at least half of the warming in the 20th Century is before World War II, which is not likely to have been a human cause.

If you look at the sparse data that we have, it looks like that warming was a true "global" warming, that it warmed just about everywhere. If you look at the warming after World War II, that warming really tends to congregate in these very cold airmasses in Siberia and northwestern North America.

Greenhouse theory predicts that the driest airmasses are the ones that should show the most profound influence from global warming. Most people don’t like to live under those airmasses, except here in Bismarck (which may explain the population of North Dakota).

FRED PALMER:  Do you know who your host is here?

[Audience laughter]

I have to hang around this guy all the time and I assure you he insults me regularly. That wasn’t meant as an insult, I know that. Pat’s been here – what? This has been his third trip here. I think we have had cold weather this week in November the three times he’s been here.

Here’s a question that goes to energy policy and talks about, correctly, the polarization of thinking on energy policy in the United States and wonders whether we can find common ground and, if so, under what circumstances until we have more certainty with respect to this climate issue.

The problem with this situation in the Plains states and the Rocky Mountain West – in the areas of the country that depend on coal-fired electricity – having put in these power plants in good faith and [having] invested billions of dollars in these power plants, you are at the top of the "food chain" when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions from human sources.

So, in the United States, when – and you read this all the time and you will read it over the weekend following these discussions that occurred in Buenos Aires, this week, and the signature of the Clinton Administration to the Kyoto Protocol – you read about companies positioning themselves through getting credits for what they call "early action" or taking action to reduce emissions. They expect to get paid later if we get in an environment where carbon dioxide is turned into a currency. That’s really what these proposals are all about.

If and when that happens, you will have to pay them to burn your coal in your power plants. [You will have] to pay money to people like Enron or the oil companies that are now identifying with this (or whomever is on the receiving end, perhaps interests abroad, perhaps interests in Russia or in China) because you are at the top of the food chain.

If you’re going to reduce CO2 emissions from people in the United States, you have to go to the richest source first. And that is the power plants that we all are involved with. This is why this is so alarming to us, because we rely on them.

I say to my Board [of Directors of Western Fuels Association] when we have these discussions, "We have coal plants and we have debt in these institutions. That’s what we have." When someone starts talking about raising our costs by charging us money to burn our own coal in our own power plants – or to burn American coal in American power plants – to pay money to people in Russia or China, it’s going to come from here first. It has to be, by definition, devastating.

Finding a common ground under these circumstances, given the issues, as they have been defined, not by us… [Well…] We are reacting. We are protecting. We are defending something we think is worthwhile from onslaughts coming from others. [This] requires [that] we engage in this activity in an educational campaign. Not just with respect to the science – that’s what this is about – but also with respect to the benefits of what it is that you do for people. Because you do provide benefits for people.

The comments [at last night’s banquet] are right. You are important. You are important in peoples’ lives. You provide a necessity in this part of the country (in any part of the country).

Energy is a necessity. It’s like air and water. The idea of making it scarce and expensive is repugnant to everything we stand for. Fred Simonton always used to talk about the "caviar theory of energy": You make it so expensive that only rich people can afford it. That’s what’s going on.

It’s an iteration of an argument we’ve been having in various forums for the last two decades – in the struggle to get the Laramie River Station built [in the context of] the Endangered Species Act then, and in the onslaught against preference power in Republican administrations that now [has] been adopted in Democratic administrations.

Nobody’s going to take care of us except ourselves. Nobody is going to do this for us. It is not political. George Bush signed this treaty. The Clinton Administration is pushing the treaty. But it is something we have to undertake to protect our own interests, to protect our way of life, to protect the people we answer to. If we don’t do that, then this country is going to be a lot different ten or twenty years from now. The people here aren’t going to like the results.

Well, that’s my speech.

[Sustained audience applause]

Thanks. Let’s open this us to questions from the floor and the Bismarck press, any media questions or otherwise. OK. Well, did we miss anybody we should have offended?


AUDIENCE MEMBER:  I’d like to ask a question. I don’t know if you guys have the answer or not, but talking about the increase in CO2 levels, has anybody studied CO2 levels emitted by the animals and humans in the world and the increase in that compared to what’s happening as far as this Kyoto treaty and stuff?

FRED PALMER:  An increased number of people emit CO2. We’re making a lot of CO2 in here, today. The increased number of people on earth – just from being a human. It’s OK to be a human, by the way. I do like to say that. Is there any way to measure the impact?

PAT MICHAELS:  The CO2 level is very highly correlated with population. The correlation is so phenomenal that there’s hardly any error between CO2 and population levels. If the question is: Isn’t the human contribution of CO2 from industry small compared to the overwhelming amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the answer to that is "yes." But that’s not relevant. We are increasing it. And we are increasing it with our industrial activity and we’re beginning to see the evidence with a greener planet.

SYLVAN WITTWER:  The effect of humans and animals themselves, I think, is a small portion of the actual CO2 that’s being emitted compared to the other segments of our society. We as a people and the animals… I don’t have the figure, but it must be quite small comparatively speaking.

FRED PALMER:  We’re about to go off the satellite link and I want to thank everybody that participated in the satellite link for being with us today.

I want to thank the Basin staff for the fabulous job that they did on this. Before we give them a round of applause and before we go off [the air], Steve Schwartz, who produced The Greening of Planet Earth and the sequel The Greening of Planet Earth Continues, is sitting right here. Steve, would you stand for a round of applause?

Again, thanks to the Basin staff for all the hard work in making this happen. This has been a very thrilling event for us. I hope that you enjoyed the video. I want to thank the panel so much for coming and being with us today. You added immeasurably. I will wrap it up now. Thanks very much.