Global Warming: Impending Doom?


by Eric Peterson, Contributing Writer

Eric Peterson

As a brand-new electric cooperative member, I was pleasantly surprised to read the editorial in the July issue of Cooperative Living explaining the motivation behind the appeal to Congress for fair, affordable and achievable climate-change legislation, and very interested in the ensuing Mailbag letters about the topic.

I have followed this issue and studied global warming for more than 10 years, and my opinion has not changed much over those years. I have carefully examined large amounts of data and read many papers on both sides of the debate.

The bottom line is that manmade CO2 is real. Anthropogenic (manmade) global warming (AGW) from that CO2 is also real. Some of the warming heading into 1998 was obviously part of a natural El Niño, even though at the time it was depicted as an “acceleration” in manmade global warming. As we see now, global warming is not accelerating. Natural warming (and cooling) will always vary while a small, steady amount of warming is caused by increasing manmade CO2. The CO2-warming link is no “hoax,” as one Mailbag letter-writer implied. Perhaps he meant to question the notion of catastrophic AGW, which I will address next.

The Mailbag letter-writer who was concerned about more frequent floods should look at the raw data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS). For example, the peak stream flow at Front Royal over 100 years or so (with a gap in collection), taken from, shows no trend in extremes. Papers by statisticians showing otherwise should be treated with a great deal of skepticism. A statistical increase in the frequency of heavy rainfall events is likely valid, but those are localized and have not resulted in any upward trend in wider-area river-basin flooding.

Often the polar bear is used as a symbol of the impact of “climate change.” I would again ask for people to look at the raw data available at There is hunting of a magnitude that is unsustainable. For example, in the Baffin Bay population, often said to be in danger from declining ice, the harvest is about 200 bears per year (about half harvested legally and half illegally). That is from a population of about 2,000 bears. The decline in ice has nothing to do with the decline in bears, contrary to what some people say. Moreover, the current decline in Arctic sea ice is partly caused by a natural cycle, which has resulted in previous low-ice periods through which the polar bears have survived.

The important question is, what will happen to climate in the future?

The answer is uncertain, but it’s likely that it will take decades to see any serious consequences. Models showing particular catastrophic consequences (e.g., large amounts of melting ice in Greenland within a few hundred years) are often contradictory to model results with other catastrophic consequences (e.g., showing catastrophic drying in the Amazon).

Beyond those contradictions, I have little faith in such models, since they cannot model important details of weather. For example, will there be more thunderstorms (and hence more cooling) in a world with more CO2? The answer is unknown, but the answer is required as an input to the models. It is possible to create smaller-scale models with more accurate weather modeling, but it is difficult to integrate those results into the larger-scale, longer-term models.

If we assume the models have merit and catastrophic consequences are possible or likely, the next important question is, what can we do about the increase in CO2? The answer is primarily political for a very simple reason. The manmade output of CO2 is roughly 29 billion tons per year from fossil fuels, cement production and land-use changes. Germany, since signing the Kyoto agreement in 1997, has cut its CO2 emissions from 1,078 million tons per year to 1,002 million tons per year in 2005 (see for a chart).

That decrease in annual emissions is 0.26 percent of the world’s annual output of CO2, essentially negligible. All of the expense and sacrifice Germany has made still makes no difference in the real world.

Some people would argue that this is just a start, but that view ignores the problems and costs associated with switching to alternatives like wind and solar (both of which don’t work well in Virginia). Some would argue that fossil fuels are being depleted and/or are imported from authoritarian countries and we need a national energy policy for those reasons. Those are valid political arguments, but should not be conflated with scientific arguments based on speculative computer models. I would argue that a “fair, affordable and achievable” solution to energy is exactly what the free market provides without any government intervention.

It is my considered opinion that the large amount of government funding of climate research has resulted in predictions of catastrophe that can only be prevented by government intervention, due to an underlying conflict of interest.

That, of course, is a political opinion and I can easily be accused of biasing my science by my politics. I don’t think that is true; but regardless, the lowering of CO2 is clearly a political decision, not scientific, and we should push for the best political outcome that we can get. To that end, I was very disappointed when Senators Webb and Warner voted to allow the EPA “back door” regulation of CO2. Real reductions have a real cost to the economy; see for example: In this case, the reduction in industrial activity caused the reduction in CO2 emissions, but the opposite is also true.

We all have the responsibility to conserve to save resources for our own future and for future generations. With this, I believe the best case is if our elected representatives ignore speculative predictions of imminent catastrophe and choose a gradual approach. That can be made fair, affordable and achievable. If someone asks if it will be “effective,” then I would just ask them if shutting down a refinery will reduce the poaching of polar bears.

Eric Peterson is a software engineer in Front Royal. He is a member-consumer of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.

What's Your View?

This column is meant to provoke thought, so we welcome reader comments. Send e-mail to: (please enter “Perspective” in subject line), or send written responses to Cooperative Living, Perspective, Attn. Bill Sherrod, P.O. Box 2340, Glen Allen, VA 23058-2340. 




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