]]]]]]]]]]]]]    THE GREENHOUSE CONSTITUENCY     [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[
                      by Petr Beckmann                    (3/30/1989)
     A speculative explanation for a slight warming is being 
       given the status of a verified scientific theory. 

    (From CHIEF EXECUTIVE Magazine, New York, March 1989)

       Yes, we are now experiencing a slight warming trend that has 
raised the average global temperature by about 1.5F since 1850 
       Yes, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, now about 
340 parts per million (0.034%), has increased by some 14% over the 
last 100 years. 
       And yes, there is such a thing as a Greenhouse effect; it is 
misnamed, but demonstrable in the laboratory. 
       To explain the warming -- by Greenhouse or other effect -- 
honest science untainted by politics or ideology would accept a theory 
that explains many observed phenomena, is contradicted by none, and 
surpasses its rivals in simplicity. 
       The theory that attributes the warming to carbon dioxide due 
to fossil-fuel burning rests on shaky data, is contradicted by the 
historical record, and has some rival theories to contend with; its 
overriding advantage over the others is that it gets all the publi-
       The Greenhouse effect consists of the following. White sun-
light contains all the colors of the spectrum. If it falls on a red 
Stop sign, the red is absorbed, the rest is scattered back into the 
sky or to other objects. Stop signs warm up during the day, but at 
night they cool, releasing their heat as infrared radiation. If the 
atmosphere were perfectly transparent, as much energy would be radi-
ated back out into space as arrived from the sun, and the earth's heat 
balance would be maintained. But some gases, notably carbon dioxide 
(CO2), methane and ozone, absorb infrared (heat) radiation. They let 
in most colors of the spectrum except infra-red; but these other 
colors are then changed to infrared, and trapped between earth and 
       No serious scientist doubts the existence of this effect, 
which can be demonstrated and measured in the laboratory. But this is 
by far not the only effect that can lead to heating of the atmosphere, 
and the unresolved question is the extent, if any, to which the Green-
house mechanism is responsible for the warming. 
       It is not, for example, responsible for the warming of a 
Greenhouse. Experiments conducted as early as 1913 showed that the 
temperature difference between Greenhouses with glass and (heat-trans-
parent) quartz roofs was insignificant: greenhouses do not get warm by 
the Greenhouse effect, but by lack of ventilation (as one can also see 
by opening a window in a moving car that has been standing in the 
     Quite similarly, there are competing theories explaining the 
warming trend. J. Lovelock, an eminent British scientist, has long 
pointed to the interaction between climate and biosphere: as the 
plankton and other living organisms thrive in a warm climate, the 
earth and its oceans reflect more of the incoming sunlight, that the 
climate cools again and a slow oscillatory process sets in. (This so-
called "Gaia" theory is now gradually gaining acceptance.) Dr Hugh 
Elsaesser of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory points out 
that convectional heat transfer far exceeds the radiative effects of 
the orthodox Greenhouse theory. Dr S.B. Idso of the DoA's Research 
Service in Phoenix maintains that the selective opacities of CO2 and 
water vapor will screen out so much of the incoming solar radiation 
that it overcompensates the orthodox Greenhouse effects and leads to a 
net COOLING of the planet. And then, of course, there are scientists 
like W.S. Broecker of Columbia University, who push no particular 
theory, but point to the lack of knowledge in this area and who call 
for research by a scientific organization "isolated from immediate 
political pressures." 
     But the alternative theories have little chance of being dis-
cussed in public: if they do not preach doomsday or accuse industry, 
they have little chance of making it into the Sunday supplements. 
     Comparing the relative importance of the Greenhouse effect with 
these alternatives is not easy. Carbon dioxide circulates in nature: 
it arises in photosynthesis, burning and other processes, and it is 
absorbed by the seas and decomposed by plant respiration. If we knew 
the exact amounts circulating through each channel, the carbon budget 
would be balanced; in fact, no less than 30% of it is still unknown or 
under dispute. Suppose your company were losing money; could you pin-
point the causes if your income statements and balance sheets had 
blanks amounting to 30% of the total? 
     Nor can we, as in the laboratory, run control experiments (to see 
what happens WITHOUT fossil fuel burning). But we can do the next best 
thing: look at the historical record. 
     And that does not support the Greenhouse theory. The natural 
temperature fluctuations over the centuries and millennia are clearly 
not caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Ice core drillings and 
analysis of marine sediments show sudden, unexplained jumps of the 
atmospheric CO2 concentration over the last 16,000 years, and it does 
not correlate with the temperature cycles. For more recent times, ice 
drillings in the Himalayas reveal a high CO2 content in the late 17th 
century --just about the time when the earth went through the "little 
ice age" (including the harsh winter of 1683-84, vividly described in 
Blackmore's novel LORNA DOONE). And more recently still, fossil fuel 
burning INCREASED during the COOLING period of 1950-70. 
      But these are not the only difficulties. Carbon dioxide (and 
other "Greenhouse gases" such as methane) is produced by a variety of 
sources other than fossil fuels (including those used in transporta-
tion). About as large is the contribution by deforestation -- the 
destruction of a CO2 sink -- in the Third World. (This has been known 
to scientists for decades, but is only recently being admitted by the 
"environmentalist" lobbies, whose main thrust is anti-industrial.) 
     More important, it seems unlikely that ANY man-made activity 
could be significant in comparison with the vast quantities of CO2 and 
methane released by volcanoes, swamps, animals and other members of 
pristine nature. For example, the CO2 released in the digestive pro-
cess of termites alone is estimated some 10 times higher than that due 
to fossil fuel burning. This criticism is sometimes rejected on the 
grounds that termites are normal participants of the carbon cycle who 
have always been there, whereas fossil fuel burning now artificially 
releases CO2 from hydrocarbons formed millions of years ago. But apart 
from the illustration of the quantities involved, the argument does 
not hold for the methane produced in the digestive process (belching) 
of ruminating animals, which again is estimated to be of the same 
order as fossil-fuel burning. The world's cattle population has NOT 
"always been there:" It has been boosted by man, and in the industrial 
countries of the Free World has been rising much faster than its popu-
     Now beef-eating is clearly a luxury that could be dispensed with 
far more easily than the energy now obtained by burning fossil fuels; 
in addition, the crusaders for energy conservation would have to 
notice that beef production (especially of grain-fed beef) is energe-
tically vastly more inefficient than the production of cereals, vege-
tables or even fish. In its fear of the alleged dangers of the Green-
house effect, the environmentalist lobby would therefore more logi-
cally have to advocate the extermination of cattle than the abolition 
of fossil fuels (and in their love of petty arguments they would have 
to point out that the grass consumed by cattle is a CO2 sink); the 
fact that they do not do so is one of the many signs that the campaign 
against fossil fuels is waged by anti-industrial social engineers 
using environmental concerns as a cover for their agenda. 
     But better proofs of that point are available. Foremost among 
them is the campaign against nuclear power. It is easy to demonstrate, 
not by computer simulations, but by readily available statistics, that 
per energy produced, nuclear power and its entire fuel cycle is vastly 
safer than the burning of fossil fuels or hydropower in terms of 
deaths and disease incidence, whether by slow causes or sudden disas-
ter. This fact is covered up by the environmentalist lobby (with the 
inadvertent help of the nuclear industry, which does not want to 
offend their best customers, the coal-burning utilities). Environ-
mentally, nuclear power is overwhelmingly more benign than fossil 
fuels; for example, with reprocessed and bred nuclear fuel, the same 
amount of electric energy is produced by disrupting 5,000 times less 
land than by burning coal. 
     Even in the case of the alleged greenhouse dangers, nuclear power 
is superior, since it does not produce any of the Greenhouse gases (or 
the emissions allegedly responsible for acid rain). Yet the so-called 
environmentalists continue to oppose it. A single hot, dry summer has 
thrown them into panic: they now shower us with articles "Why nuclear 
power will not save us from the Greenhouse Effect," in which they no 
longer use the "we cannot afford to wait until we are sure" line. 
Instead, they suggest conservation by coercive (not market) forces as 
well as ``alternative'' sources that, because of their inherent and 
unavoidable diluteness, cannot substitute for large-scale energy pro-
     More realistic opinion leaders suggest "another look at nuclear 
power." However, nuclear power should be used above all because of its 
superior safety and healthfulness compared with other sources, and 
also because, when unobstructed by scare-mongering and costly delays, 
it is cheaper than coal (let alone oil). 
     It does not need shaky arguments like the Greenhouse effect. 
Figure Captions:

     Fig.1. Small temperature variations with durations of centuries 
are superimposed on the large variations between ice ages probably 
linked to the precession of the earth's axis (a 25,700-year cycle). 
They were present long before the introduction of fossil fuels and 
have not been harmful to mankind as a whole, though they slightly 
favored or harmed individual geographical regions. 

Fig 2. Carbon dioxide concentration in th eatmosphere over the last 
150,000 years, as determined from organisms in marine sediments (thin 
line) and from ice core drillings (heavy lines). By the logic of the 
environmentalist lobby, the sudden sharp increase about 16,000 years 
ago was presumably caused by the Public Service Companies of the Plei-
stocene Epoch. 

Fig.3. Methane should account for 20% of the Greenhouse effect, as 
against 50% due to CO2. However, while the CO2 concentration has in-
creased only by some 14% over the last century, the atmospheric 
methane concentration has DOUBLED within the last 200 years, after 
being roughly constant over the preceding 3,000 years. The reason for 
this sudden increase is unknown. Hundreds of millions of tons per year 
are produced by bacteria-mediated fermentation of organic matter in 
low-oxygen surroundings, which includes termites' guts, rice paddies, 
cows' stomachs and natural wetlands. There is also a contribution from 
natural gas leakage and biomass burning. None of these sources are 
attractive targets for the ideologically motivated environmental 

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