My Position on Climate Change By Hendrik Tennekes

My Position on Climate Change by Hendrik Tennekes  July 14 2008

The so-called scientific basis of the climate problem is within my professional competence as a meteorologist. It is my professional opinion that there is no evidence at all for catastrophic global warming. It is likely that global temperatures will rise a little, much as IPCC predicts, but there is a growing body of evidence that the errant behavior of the Sun may cause some cooling in the foreseeable future.

It is also my professional opinion that the severely limited predictive capacity of the natural sciences is no adequate basis for globally orchestrated mitigation efforts concerning greenhouse gases. Any political basis for global mitigation efforts, such as a cap-and trade system for fossil fuel consumption, is outside my professional competence. Opportunities for local and regional mitigation and adaptation projects, however, are plentiful and promising. Societies have a long track record on adaptation and mitigation on local and regional scales, often with considerable success.

The political dichotomy about climate change is fueled by gross exaggerations and simplifications on both sides of the fence. There is no evidence for a catastrophic sea level rise or an irreversible loss of Greenland’s ice cap. Other human interferences with the climate system are ignored or dismissed. Political interest in the causes of local and regional climate change seems to be minimal, though local and regional climates may change considerably under human impact, even if the globally averaged temperature remains unchanged. I wish I could join those who believe that global climate change is of catastrophic proportions, but my personal interpretation of professional integrity forbids me. I refuse to join the crowd.


On occasion I tend to dream of a strong and fair World Government, which would have the power to curtail the negative impacts of the unbridled globalization of free enterprise. However, I know this is an illusion, because nation states will not yield their sovereignty as long as there is no imminent danger of global collapse. Also, I am not at all confident that democracy would prevail. However, since I believe that no climate collapse is occurring, I cannot join those who use this imaginary threat to advance their political goals.


We should keep in mind that local and regional climates respond not only to greenhouse gases, but primarily to changing land-use patterns. Civilization has a long history of dealing with unintended regional climate change caused by large-scale deforestation. The present deforestation in the Amazon basin and in Indonesia threatens to repeat the many mistakes made in the past. The incessant emphasis on CO2 and its effects on globally averaged temperatures leads many to ignore the fact that changes in the distribution of precipitation are far more threatening to agriculture and biosphere than any slight temperature changes. In precisely that part of the problem, however, the predictive capabilities of global climate science are practically nonexistent.


Here in the Netherlands, where I happen to live high and dry, some forty feet above sea level, the threat of catastrophic sea level rise has anchored itself in the public mind. This threat is imaginary, too. I concur with Dr. Marcel Stive, a civil engineering professor at Delft University and member of a blue-ribbon panel that advises Holland’s government on the maintenance of our coastal defense system. In a recent interview with the alumni magazine Delft Integral, Dr. Stive said:


“Fortunately, the time rate of climate change is slow compared to the life span of the defense structures along our coast. There is enough time for adaptation. We should monitor the situation carefully, but up to now climate change does not cause severe problems for our coastal defense system. IPCC has given lower estimates for the expected sea level rise in four successive reports.”


This statement deserves to be generalized. I venture this:  


“Fortunately, the time rate of climate change is slow compared to the rapid evolution of our institutions and societies. There is sufficient time for adaptation. We should monitor the situation both globally and locally, but up to now global climate change does not cause severe problems requiring immediate emission reductions. Successive IPCC reports have presented no scientific basis for dire warnings concerning climate collapse. Local and regional problems with shorter time scales deserve priority. They can be managed professionally, just as the Dutch seem to do.”


This is where I stand.

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