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William O'Keefe
CEO, George C. Marshall Institute

William O'Keefe

William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy. He is a former COO at the American Petroleum Institute. ALL POSTS

Reassess scientific knowledge

Q: As the controversy swirling around the IPCC deepens at the same time some are questioning the significance of global warming now that large portions of the U.S. are buried under record-breaking snow, what kind of information do policymakers need to make decisions about climate change?

Attempting to use the recent snows to bolster assertions that either confirms or undermines the notion of human-caused global warming adds more confusion to the debate and misdirects where we should focus our attention. No small number of weather events are sufficient to draw a conclusion about human influence on the climate system.

Over the past two decades, the climate debate has done more to confuse than inform and more to polarize than to reach political consensus. The current state of the economy, the imperative to focus on job creation and economic growth, the climategate e-mails, acknowledged flaws in historical temperature records, and recent revelations about errors and misuse of information in the most recent IPCC scientific assessment report are more than adequate justification for calling time out and for conducting a more objective and transparent reassessment of the true state of knowledge and the actions that flow from it. The IPCC, which has become an epicenter of controversy, has clearly shown signs of Group Think and is not a reliable basis for policy at this time.

We know that temperatures have risen since the end of the little ice age. We know that CO2 levels in the atmosphere have increased and changed its chemical composition. We know that human activities have had an influence on the climate system, primarily from land use changes and the use of fossil energy. It should be clear from the East Anglia controversy and more recent revelations that we don't really know how much of the warming in recent decades was the result of human activities and how much was natural variability. A better understanding of these two factors is imperative.

Legislative proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would have a significant economic impact on our economy. Although members of Congress supporting these proposals and the Obama Administration assert that emission reduction mandates are justified by our state of scientific knowledge and will not cause significant economic harm, those assertions rest on a foundation of faith; not robust and convincing analytical and scientific information.

Before taking this country down the risky path of cap-and-trade and energy rationing, Congress and the Administration would serve the national interests by reassessing the true state of scientific knowledge, the assumptions used in climate models, the major uncertainties in our climate system, and the validity and robustness of the historical climate record. The recent admissions by the former head of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University about past temperatures and that there probably has not been significant warming in the past 15 years clearly justifies taking a close look at the past temperature record and correcting known and serious flaws before using it justify restructuring our energy system and economy.

This does not mean doing nothing. There are sensible, cost-effective actions that make sense. Two of these include implementing a strategic R&D technology plan and removing barriers to the more rapid deployment of energy technologies, and accelerating the turnover of the capitol stock.

By William O'Keefe  |  February 18, 2010; 11:48 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Missteps and moisture | Next: Avoid solutions worse than the problem


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What amazes me is that O'Keefe and others can claim that rising CO2 levels will not lead to rising average temperatures without stating any scientific model, theory, calculation, and laboratory evidence supporting their view. Instead, they concentrate on limited errors and mistakes by those providing evidence that what should be straightforward, a greenhouse gas should cause average temperatures to rise, is in fact happening. Please O'keefe, provide the mechanism by which rising CO2 levels don't lead to global warming. Skip the personal attacks.

Posted by: jreed11665 | February 21, 2010 10:20 PM
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First paragraph--no quarrel there. From the second paragraph on, Mr.O'Keefe shows that he and Mr. Lieberman are cut from the same cloth. The debate has been confusing because organizations like the the Marshall Institute have causing confusing as part of their mission statement--it is their very raison d'etre. Mr. O'Keefe is either ignorant or disingenuous (or worse) when he refers to doubts about "errors and omissions" int the IPCC Scientific Reports. E.g. regarding Himalayan glaciers, he is referring to a two sentence comment about possible consequences of climate change in the Working Group 2 report, not the climate science contained in the Working Group 1 report. Nor did the error make its way into the summary report or the information for policy makers. (Mr. O'Keefe--perhaps you should read the work of Lonnie Thompson et al. at the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State about the parlous state of low-latitude glaciers, then report back-- it's available for anyone who cares to look)
The IPCC has become an epicenter of controversy because groups like the Marshall Institute get equal time in a "he said, she said" journalism model. The fog of disinformation is pretty thick, so Mr. O'Keefe should probably get a bonus from his masters.

Posted by: wavey1 | February 21, 2010 9:04 PM
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On the Marshall Inst. see:

Posted by: mike_midwest | February 21, 2010 3:55 PM
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It doesn't matter whether there is global warming or not. We must get off middle east oil to balance trade deficits, and phase out coal for it's other pollution and health risks.

Nuclear critics should check out what Obama can possibly mean by the next generation of safer, cleaner, cheaper, more efficient nuclear reactors before they make up their minds all things nuclear are bad.

Nuclear critics will have to come up with some new arguments. The old arguments no longer apply when you can burn the waste as fuel.

When will we start thinking outside the box? There are other types of reactor designs possible, besides the meltdown prone, fuel wasting, antique model T clunkers we build today.

Arguments against uranium do not apply to thorium. Say no to uranium, and yes to thorium.
Releases in 1982 from worldwide combustion of 2800 million tons of coal totaled 3640 tons of uranium (containing 51,700 pounds of uranium-235) and 8960 tons of thorium. The population gets 100 times more radiation from a coal plant than from a nuclear plant. So in 2004 by burning 4.6 billions tons of coal, we released 5980 tons of uranium into the air and 14720 tons of Thorium. This is like 80 truck size dirty nuclear bombs releasing 1 ton of radioactive material every day, or a Chernobyl twice a week.

Posted by: fabco | February 20, 2010 9:48 AM
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