On Dec. 5, I attended the Ruth Pauley lecture by Professor Michael Mann in Southern Pines regarding climate science. I was disappointed to hear him make many misleading claims.

Climate science is so politicized and commercialized that much of what you hear about it is nonsense. For instance, you’ve heard there’s a scientific consensus that carbon dioxide helps warm the planet, and that’s true. But do you realize there’s no consensus that it’s harmful?

In fact, scientists call warm climate periods “climate optimums.”

But Mann didn’t say that. Instead, he fanned the flames of irrational climate hysteria by blaming a litany of problems on climate change, none of them supported by evidence. By the end, I half expected him to blame the heartbreak of psoriasis on climate change.

The best evidence is that man-made climate change is modest and benign, and carbon dioxide emissions are beneficial for both mankind and nature. I am one of over 30,000 American scientists who signed a “petition” attesting to that fact.

Carbon dioxide, commonly referred to as CO2, is “plant food.” All plants and animals are “carbon-based life,” and the carbon comes from CO2. That’s why commercial greenhouses use “CO2 generators” to raise CO2 levels, about eight times more than outdoor levels have increased. Extra CO2 makes plants healthier and more productive.

When I was young there were often terrible famines in places like Bangladesh. Until recently, famine was one of the great scourges of humanity, the third Horseman of the Apocalypse.

But famines have become rare, and CO2 is one of the reasons. CO2 emissions have improved global crop yields about 20 percent and mitigated drought impacts. Now Bangladesh and India have abundant food, every year.

CO2’s harms are just hypothetical, and mostly implausible. But the benefits have been known to science for over a century, and measured by thousands of studies. In 1920, Scientific American even called CO2 “precious air fertilizer.”

CO2 does have a modest warming effect, but mostly at frigid high latitudes, and it’s not harmful. We could get at most a little over one additional degree Celsius of warming by 2100. That’s like moving about 70 miles south. Farmers could fully compensate by planting a week earlier, and benefit from a slightly longer growing season.

So the promoters of solar and wind “renewable energy” hype supposed indirect harms, like sea level rise, droughts, hurricanes, and threats to wildlife. But those problems aren’t worsening.

Mann blamed hurricanes on climate change, but hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons haven’t worsened. America’s worst and deadliest storm was the Galveston hurricane of 1900, and North Carolina’s worst was Hazel, in 1954. In fact, searching the scientific literature finds titles like, “Recent decrease in typhoon destructive potential,” and the frequency of strong tornadoes has sharply declined.

Mann blamed sea level rise on climate change, but coastal sea level trends haven’t detectably changed since the 1920s. He even blamed Tangier Island’s sea level rise on climate change, though he surely knows its problem is subsidence.

Mann also blamed droughts on climate change, but droughts haven’t worsened, and drought impacts have declined. America’s worst drought was the 1930s “dust bowl.” NASA satellites show the Earth is “greening,” especially in arid regions, and National Geographic reported that even “the Sahara desert and surrounding regions are greening.”

Mann even blamed forest fires on global warming. But the worst and deadliest wildfire in American history was in chilly Wisconsin, in October 1871. Fire trends are driven mostly by land management practices, not climate, and NASA’s MODIS satellite instruments have measured a 25 percent global decline in annual acreage burned from 2003 to 2019.

Mann attributed pushback against climate alarmism to stupid Republicans and evil fossil fuel companies. But it actually comes mostly from scientists like President Obama’s undersecretary for science, Dr. Steve Koonin, who examined the evidence and discovered the truth.

Mann even hinted that the Climategate scandal was unjustified persecution. It was actually the worst scientific scandal since Piltdown Man, and the revelations about Mann’s own scientific malpractice shocked me.

CO2 emissions are harmless, but there are things we should do for energy security. N.C. State University has a top-five nuclear engineering program, rated better than any California school. We should support that work and encourage the development of innovative nuclear power technologies, like thorium, and molten-salt reactors, for reliable, affordable base-load power generation.

This could free the world from its reliance on fossil fuels, which wind and solar energy can never do.

(4) comments

Peyton Cook

A very reasoned article about the benefits of CO2. I wonder why the Left has no longer cited nuclear power as an alternate power source. It is the main source in France and they have had no problems.

ken leary

One could look at who financially supports Mr. Burton's lobbyist group to discover their motivation. Mr. Burton is all for continued nuclear development, and continued use of fossil fuels. He is probably well paid for his efforts and those of you who are willing to gamble with your grandchildren's future should invest in his vision. Unfortunately, for Kent's legacy, I believe Germany is doing away with their nuclear plants. I wonder why?

Kathy Webster

But....what about his claims? Are you saying because of lobbying efforts, he is wrong? Why should a scientist who is against global warming theories be denied credibility? Reminds me of the biologist who doesn't believe in Darwin's Theory. Good luck finding a job, eh? He makes some excellent points, and I am pretty sure could pull out come credible statistics in which they would not be viewed as logical by people who want to believe in global warming theories. I am glad some scientists still have some independent thinking as we need those people to keep us looking at all sides of the equation IMO.

Kent Misegades

Terrific column. I came to NCSU from Alabama specifically to study nuclear engineering. At that time it was rated one of the top two nuclear engineering programs in the country. Thanks to Jimmy Carter, in my junior year (1977) the entire commercial nuclear business stopped and jobs disappeared. I ended up doing nuclear work overseas. Mann is a huckster like most of the climate alarmists. Feeding much the hysteria is the NRDC, whose Chairman Emeritus Is Dan Tishman, whose family business controls AECOM, one of the largest global builders of solar and wind farms. The NRDC has received funding from Putin through some nefarious means, his effort to demonize the amazing US developed technology of fracking and directional drilling. Americans are staggeringly ignorant though on where energy comes from. One very smart business lady once told me of her concerns of CO2. When I explained to her it was what we exhale, she claimed that was “another form of CO2”. She was a government school graduate.

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