- GREENING OF PLANET EARTH
- Panel Discussion Following
- November 13, 1998
- Bismarck, North Dakota
FRED PALMER: President, Greening
Earth Society. Were 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. Were 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
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
Thank you all for being with us, today.
We will now take questions from the National Press Club in Washington.
ERIC ALLEN: Americas Voice.
Thank you. My name is Eric Allen, with Americas Voice
in Washington, DC. My question is about the Vice President. Yesterday,
he signed the Kyoto global warming treaty. Im 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. Its our lifeblood. Its
The Clinton Administration as
I say, we dont 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 cant 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 doesnt
give us any pleasure (and its 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?
MIGUEL SANDOVAL: Yes sir.
FRED PALMER: Panelists, lets
bring you in on this. Sallie, youve 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 weve 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. Ill 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 its a terrible thing!"
Well, if you took a straight-edge or
ruler and looked at the graph of warming, its 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 didnt 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 Its a good story, and one that the media ought to extend
and expand. But it hasnt happened.
BOB BALLING: I would combine
Weve seen a reporter, Eric, ask
us about the effect of Kyoto and I think were 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, well
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] well achieve
93 percent of that warming anyway. It barely slows up global warming.
Thats the type of message that needs to be conveyed to the
PAT MICHAELS: I would add another
point right here that I think is germane to the first and second
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 theres 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
youve presented seems to be historical data, factual evidence.
What is your response as scientists when youre 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,
SALLIE BALIUNAS: Science starts
out with a speculation, developed into a hypothesis and then is
weighed against the facts. Thats what science is. Theres
no exception to that.
PAT MICHAELS: Its unfortunate
that we really rely upon models an incredible amount.
Heres 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, thats 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. Theres 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 dont know
that I have much to add. This has been the controversy all along.
Youve got theoretical models predicting something of an apocalypse
and you have datasets that are collected that dont show a
pattern thats altogether consistent with the models. Its
not to say that there arent some patterns consistent with
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, Im
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?
ETHAN HOLMES: I did.
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. Weve
had a forestation taking place in America. We know the plants are
being fertilized by carbon dioxide. Theyre 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!
Its an amazing finding to think
that America could become a sink or may be a sink
for CO2 right now. Maybe were 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
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, thats fine, youll
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, weve 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. Were 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
FRED PALMER: We call it "the
greening of planet earth." We also have a suggestion for the
Administration. If were 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,
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 thats mainly in Siberia and northwestern
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 dont 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, youll
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: Ill start
with the panel on this, then Ill have an observation. Lets
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 youll 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.
Thats six one-hundredths of a degree Celsius. You couldnt
find it. You wouldnt notice it. Yet everybody would notice
a substantial economic cost.
The real question here is whether it
even makes sense to reduce emissions because youre not going
to get any climate differential out of it. I would argue that one
hundred years from now we probably wont be a fossil fuel-based
economy. But it wont 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 Administrations
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
Administrations 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. [Theres]
no reason. I cant 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,
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, theyre
trying their best. They think we have a problem on our hands. But
there is another reality here.
Were 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 cant tell
you how many telephone conversations Ive had with my colleagues
that go something like this one of them won a MacArthur Prize,
recently. "Yes, Michaels, we know. Yes, its exaggerated.
Yes, its probably not going to be all that bad. But hasnt
it been good for research?" Ive had a number of those
SYLVAN WITTWER: Scientists have
learned that frightening the public gets research dollars.
FRED PALMER: Heres 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, lets start with
you on this one.
BOB BALLING: Weve 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 its industrial activity that has caused the rise in CO2
during the period of the last 100 years.
SYLVAN WITTWER: Thats 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 thats human activity.
PAT MICHAELS: Thats 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 thats burned.
SALLIE BALIUNAS: I agree with
all those statements.
FRED PALMER: OK, then lets
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
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 Im in bed. But every morning, I get up and say, "Lets
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 doesnt occur and when people finally
say, ten years from now, "Yes, it was over-predicted, were
sorry," that could have disastrous consequences for the publics
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.
PAT MICHAELS: I thought you were
going to move to Winnipeg!
BOB BALLING: Theres 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 Im not worried about global warming either.
FRED PALMER: One question and
then well 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 its
an experiment, we dont know the outcome, that its 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, its
not quite an experiment, in the definition of a scientists
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
PAT MICHAELS: Its certainly
not an experiment. Its 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 were doing is were
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
SYLVAN WITTWER: We are inadvertently
conducting a global experiment, but change does not necessarily
mean something bad. Im not sure where were going. No
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
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 wed
have to deal with it at that time and adapt to the climate cards
were 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. Were
going to have this; we have in the past. It will continue in the
PAT MICHAELS: Heres a little
story. In 1976, the temperature of the free atmosphere thats
the atmosphere above the surface and below 50,000 feet jumped
about 0.2°. It didnt 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 well 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. Im a resident here in the Basin Electricnorthern
climate. Ill just read this question Ive got. "Under
some circumstances, youve shown that CO2 does promote plant
growth. But, what about when other factors that limit growth are
introduced? Doesnt 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
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 weve been able to examine. Papers have
been written on this subject.
Whether its water stress, whether
its temperature stress, whether its air pollution stress,
whether its a deficiency of nutrients if theres
any stress on plants exposed to elevated levels of atmospheric carbon
dioxide that stress is alleviated to some extent. Not entirely
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. Its true of all limiting factors.
FRED PALMER: Lets 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?"
Lets start with you, Dr. Balling, since you are with the IPCC
BOB BALLING: Youve 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. Im sure Sallie has been for most of the decade. So were
part of the 2500. Its 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.
Ive 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, youd find that the
entire IPCC is quite consistent with the viewpoints that have been
articulated here today.
SYLVAN WITTWER: I dont
have any comment.
FRED PALMER: Pat, youve
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
The IPCCs 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 dont 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 dont believe
this and that there are some renegade scientists or something like
I dont think anybody at this
table disagrees with the notion that theres 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 dont want to be in them anyway.
FRED PALMER: Do you have any
SALLIE BALIUNAS: I agree.
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
todays 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
PAT MICHAELS: Id be happy
to. The estimates of sea level rise have been coming down as the
estimates of warming come down. That shouldnt be very shocking.
These sea levels do not just rise all at once. It takes a goodly
long time. I suspect people arent going to notice. Ill
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 didnt just get there at once. It gradually
subsided. People adapted over the course of a couple of hundred
If were 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. Its called a hurricane.
Property values are very high.
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, thats
the question weve 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
The IPCC says, repeatedly, that we
have observed no trend in temperature through this century which
hasnt 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 weve
We really dont 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 dont 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?
I have to hang around this guy all
the time and I assure you he insults me regularly. That wasnt
meant as an insult, I know that. Pats been here what?
This has been his third trip here. I think we have had cold weather
this week in November the three times hes been here.
Heres 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
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. Thats 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 youre 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. Thats
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, its 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
] 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
thats 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 nights
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. Its 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. Thats whats going
Its an iteration of an argument
weve 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.
Nobodys 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 dont do that, then this country
is going to be a lot different ten or twenty years from now. The
people here arent going to like the results.
Well, thats my speech.
[Sustained audience applause]
Thanks. Lets 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: Id like
to ask a question. I dont 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 whats happening as far
as this Kyoto treaty and stuff?
FRED PALMER: An increased number
of people emit CO2. Were making a lot of CO2 in here, today.
The increased number of people on earth just from being a
human. Its 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 theres hardly any error between CO2 and population levels.
If the question is: Isnt 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 thats
not relevant. We are increasing it. And we are increasing it with
our industrial activity and were 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 thats being emitted compared to the other segments
of our society. We as a people and the animals
have the figure, but it must be quite small comparatively speaking.
FRED PALMER: Were 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.