Dec 112008
Authors: Alex Stephens

An article appearing in the Coloradoan by William Gray, professor emeritus of Atmospheric Science at CSU, challenges our understanding of global climate change by arguing that reducing CO2, carbon dioxide, emissions will be not only be wildly expensive and utterly pointless, but that increased levels of CO2 will actually be beneficial.

Gray doesn’t have much faith in our national science organizations. According to his arguments, institutes such as the National Academy of Sciences — one of the most prestigious in our country — lack an understanding of how deep ocean currents affect global temperatures.

To be sure, no one precisely understands the immensely complicated processes that involve ocean currents and how they affect land temperatures. Many scientists believe hurricane activity is linked to warmer global temperatures, and I’ll agree with Gray that they are wrong in believing so due to their unreliable weather models.

While his strength is in hurricane and weather prediction, the arguments he uses for potential benefits of global warming are debatable.

Gray claims “crop and vegetation growth would be stimulated by higher amounts of atmospheric CO2.” That’s nearly the same as what the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank that’s pro-warming, has to say: “More carbon dioxide in the air would lead to more luxuriant plant growth and greater crop yield.”

Likewise, a free-market think-tank called the Hoover Institute says, “. enrichment of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide will fertilize plants and make for more vigorous growth.”

I don’t know if Gray is subscribing to these institutes’ theories, but it sure sounds like it.

That doesn’t make much sense, though. The majority of CO2 emissions collect in the very thin layer around the upper atmosphere, miles above even the mountains, and tend to stay there.

Additionally, a three year study conducted by Stanford University found that increased CO2 concentrations actually reduce plant growth when combined with the other inseparable effects of global warming, as well as another separate study found that as local temperatures rose one degree Celsius in Panama and Malaysia over the past 20 years, tree growth was reduced by 50 percent.

As for potential “net-benefits” for humanity, as Gray put it, he might be referring to the argument that increased temperatures might make for “less snow shoveling, fewer days of driving on icy roads, lower heating bills, and reduced outlays for clothing,” or maybe he agrees that “a warmer climate would actually reduce disease and cut mortality . more people die of the cold than of the heat . more die in the winter than the summer” — both ideas of the Hoover Institute.

Even if he’s not, the benefits of shoveling less snow undoubtedly outweigh the disastrous effects of rising water levels on coastal countries and the mass displacement of hundreds of millions of people followed by the inevitable wars for clean drinking water and for land untouched by desertification. Hey, less car accidents, too.

In a recent city council meeting (I thank my friend Nelly Pierson, who attended) Gray claimed that we haven’t seen much global warming since 1998, and that a period of global cooling is on the way like in the 1940s and 70s.

It’s astonishing to hear him use these arguments of cooling periods because they are actually attributed to major volcanic eruptions clouding the atmosphere with dust, thus inducing temporary periods of cooling. At least that’s what I’ve been taught by other professors at CSU’s atmospheric science department.

I respect Gray’s knowledge of weather patterns and hurricane predication and am certainly not calling his decades of experience into question, but when it comes to the effects of global warming perhaps he should reevaluate his position.

Alex Stephens is a junior political science major. His column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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