by  Dr. James J. O’Brien

President George W. Bush is taking heat for his stand on the Kyoto Protocol. I am a climate scientist and I am concerned – not about the U.S. not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, but about the missing facts in the discussion.

Nearly all of the physical climate scientists I know agree that minor limiting of carbon dioxide by the Kyoto Protocol will not stop the climate changes caused by the observed increase in carbon dioxide. And, I caution you not to believe the non-fact that CO2 is poisonous to our planet. Plants, forests, and crops all love the stuff. Carbon dioxide makes forests grow. If we limit CO2 too much, we will harm our agriculture.

How did we get in this confusing situation? It is because foreign climate modelers have used poor numerical models to estimate the change in the Earth’s climate 100 years into the future. They began with the current level of CO2 and projected one percent increases for each year.

Recent regional studies around the United States used fairly decent English climate change models and the "hot as Hades" Canadian models with CO2 concentrations that double in 75 years.

Unfortunately, no American Institute has had the resources – namely computer power – to integrate a good climate change model. This is very sad. Reports from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences document the pressing need to supply U.S. climate scientists with adequate computers so they can conduct this important research. Fortunately, the White House has recognized this need, and perhaps, by 2003, the U.S. will make the investment. (If you believe that bad climate changes are about to happen, don’t you also believe that the U.S. should invest in equipment to provide the best calculations and estimates of the future of climate change?)

The U.S. faced a similar type of foreign relations problem in the late 1960s. The myth of that era was that the ocean was full of fish that could feed the starving world, and the bottom of the ocean was covered with minerals that could make everyone rich. The United Nations proposed a Law of The Sea that would force the U.S. to pay to collect all this food and wealth, and distribute it to the rest of the world. We prevailed by proposing a decade of ocean exploration to study the problem. It cost $150 million to prove that these expectations were not true; but at the same time we were able to modernize the oceanography textbooks. We need to do the same thing for climate change. We need to invest $25 million a year for 10 years to settle this complicated debate. That amounts to less than the cost of one fighter plane!

The Earth’s climate is very complex, when you consider all that relates to the air, ocean, sky, the land, and all of the Earth’s inhabitants. Our climate system can adjust to handle massive changes. The ocean offers a prime example of this. The ocean can absorb as much carbon dioxide as we produce, it just can’t do it quickly enough. We must consider all of these components when we make long-term predictions.

Let’s look at another oceanography fact that shows how leaving out one climate component can skew scientific findings. There is evidence that our usual weather storms over the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans seem to have been stronger in recent years. We record this in the wind-wave climate. When the winds are stronger, more whitecaps appear in the ocean; and these white, foaming areas reflect more sunlight. Scientists from California have recently estimated that the increased whitecaps may reflect enough heat to account for up to 40 percent of the increased heat storage due to trapping of heat energy by increased CO2.

Would you believe that these physics facts are not included in any of the foreign global climate change models? Hopefully, they will be in an American model, when we get around to providing our own research.

Here in Florida, the EPA has tried to scare everyone with overestimates of sea level rise. They say that most of Florida south of Orlando will disappear, because several years ago, poorer Earth/climate models, which omitted all of the ocean data, estimated a 6-foot rise by 2050. This would scare anybody! The fact is, the global average rise in the sea level in 2100 is estimated, by using the foreign models, to be 20 inches. While improvements in the climate models have yielded revised estimated of only 20 inches, the EPA has not revised its website information, and is still predicting that all levels up to 3.5 feet will disappear by 2100.

Clearly the models need improvement. The U.S. must commit funds to research global climate change to discover what is brought about by natural and man-induced activities. This is vitally important for both our economy and our planet.

Contact me at www.COAPS.FSU.EDU

Dr. James J. O’Brien is a Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of Meteorology and Oceanography at Florida State University.

 He is also the State of Florida Climatologist. His website has his entire vita.

In 2000, he graduated his 32nd PhD. Student. He is the Director of The Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies.

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