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Kerry's first Policy Guidance out of touch with climate realities

By Tom Harris - posted Monday, 17 March 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry was right to tell US diplomats in his March 7 Policy Guidance that "meeting the challenge of global climate change is a critical mission." While asserting that "We're talking about the future of our earth and of humanity" was over the top, history shows that disaster ensues when societies do not properly meet the challenges of climate change.

But Kerry ruined his credibility on the issue when he told agency staff that "The scientific facts are coming back to us in a stronger fashion and with greater urgency than ever before."

The September 2013 report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change demonstrates that much of what we thought we knew about climate is wrong or highly debatable. The science is becoming more unsettled as the field advances. The secretary's push for a "whole-of-government approach to speed the transition to a low-carbon" energy future is vastly premature.


Contrary to assertions made in this, Kerry's first Policy Guidance, we do not actually know how much climate will change as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels continue to rise. We do not even know whether warming or cooling lies ahead.

That may surprise many people. We have been told for years that "future warming is unequivocal." Al Gore and others regularly cite the predictions of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a steady rise in temperature is inevitable with increasing CO2 levels.

But nature is not cooperating with such forecasts. While atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased about 8% over the past 17 years, even the IPCC now acknowledges that planetary temperatures have not risen during this period for reasons they do not understand.

They're also in the dark as to why their Fourth Assessment Report (2007) forecast of "a decline in the frequency of cold air outbreaks in the Northern Hemisphere winter in most areas" have failed so spectacularly in recent years. Across the world, new low temperature and snowfall records are being set with increasing frequency. To think that this is caused by non-existent global warming, as Dr. John Holdren, President Obama's Science and Technology Advisor asserted last month, begs common sense. Weather phenomena similar to what happened this winter also occurred during the 1962 - 1963 winter when global cooling was underway.

Of greater concern than hypothetical future warming is the possibility that the past decade's cold weather records are a harbinger of significant global cooling. Solar scientists are forecasting that cooling is inevitable as the sun weakens into a 'grand minimum' over the coming decades.

Solar expert Dr. Habibullo Abdussamatov of Russia's Pulkovo Observatory near St. Petersburg explained, "from approximately 2014, we can expect the start of the next bicentennial cycle of deep cooling with a Little Ice Age in 2055 plus or minus 11 years."


The last time the sun was this weak, the Earth was in a particularly cold phase of the Little Ice Age that lasted from about 1350 - 1850, a period ofgreat misery for people around the world.

We won't know for decades whether Abdussamatov and his peers are right, but history shows that cold periods are far more dangerous than warm times. That is why geologists call past warm epochs 'optimums' and cold times 'dark ages.' Yet governments across the world are planning only for warming, a relatively benign scenario and one that is appearing increasingly improbable.

So what should be done about climate change given that we don't know what will happen next?

We should focus on adapting to climate change, not vainly trying to stop it. Adaptation measures should include upgrading our heating, cooling, and irrigation systems, relocating populations living in dangerous areas, burying electrical and communications cables underground, reinforcing infrastructure, and preparing for continuing sea level rise, a phenomenon that has gone on for 10,000 years and is not likely to end any time soon.

To do this we will need massive quantities of inexpensive, high quality, reliable power. Yet in discussing his solutions to these dangers, Kerry promotes wind and solar power, the least reliable and most expensive options available. Moving away from coal and other hydrocarbon fuels to flimsy alternative power sources because of climate concerns would be suicide.

The secretary encouraged U.S. diplomats to "lead by example." To do that in any sensible fashion, State Department employees must acknowledge what science and engineering really tell us about these topics, not just what is politically convenient to the Obama Administration. Diplomats have no chance of properly responding to what Kerry called their "call to conscience as citizens of this fragile planet we inhabit" if they do otherwise.

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About the Author

Tom Harris is an Ottawa-based mechanical engineer and Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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