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A Geologist's View: Alarmist reports on global warming usually don’t suggest tough measures

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New dire warming reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tell of collapsing Arctic ice, new storms and heat waves, rapid sea level rise, dying coral reefs and more. And the problem is not of the “distant future, but is happening now,” a report says.

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A check with the National Snow and Ice Data Center today shows that Arctic ice sheet coverage is below the 30-year average, but it is near average for the past three years. And the Antarctic, with most of the world’s ice, is at its greatest ice levels since radar coverage began in 1979.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s data on world sea levels indicate that sea level rise since the last glacier melted has slowed to about 1 inch every decade. That’s a long-term concern for Venice and other low areas, but for most of us there is no immediate need for Noah and his ark, except in local movie theaters.

As to the frequency of extreme-weather events, we have a recent TV interview by Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, one of world’s largest casualty insurers. Buffett noted on CNBC, “While the question of climate change deserves lots of attention, it has no effect on the prices we’re charging this year versus five years ago. And I don’t think it’ll have an effect on what we’re charging three years or five years from now. Hurricanes in recent years have been all profit. Future catastrophe forecasts appear to be no different than in the past.”

Oceans are less alkaline than in the recent past, and this is a serious issue affecting coral reefs and other sea life. Whether they can evolve, as they did in past ages in response to ocean acidity, is not clear.

There are claims of a “97 percent science consensus” that most of the global warming observed since 1950 was manmade. However, as Legates et al. (2013) demonstrated in a review of 11,944 papers on climate published in the 21 years from 1991 to 2011, the largest such review ever published in the scientific literature, only 64 papers — or 0.5 percent of the sample — explicitly endorsed the proposition.

We are returning carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from which it once came, and it will be likely to cause some global warming — though the record amounts of carbon dioxide we have emitted recently have not caused any warming at all for up to 17 years.

Few of these alarmist reports suggest tough and effective measures like carbon taxes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Neither do our legislators offer unpopular proposals. Those who endorse even a few cents more tax on gasoline tend to lose in the next election. Coal use worldwide is rising. Legislatures provide big money for renewables like wind and solar which lack scale and are too variable to replace base-load power supply. In 2012, wind and solar combined provided about 1 percent of the total U.S. energy supply. They have a role in our energy future, but it will take more, such as carbonless nuclear, if we are really concerned about carbon emissions.

Rolf Westgard of St. Paul is a professional member of the Geological Society of America and teaches for the University of Minnesota’s Lifelong Learning program. His current spring class is titled, “Our renewable energy future; making it work.” He wrote this for the News Tribune.

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